Zack Synder is NOT Trying to Kill Superman
***WARNING Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice SPOILERS BELOW***
Before you go any further, please read the following as my post is an open response to the article:
First off I find it odd that I feel so passionately about Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice when it’s a film I didn’t particularly enjoy*. (https://houseofgeekery.com/2016/03/31/movie-review-batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice-second-opinion/) However, I think it’s because of my strong feelings about these two superheroes and the fact that the film is, in my opinion, undeserving of the massive hatred it is receiving. Secondly, I want to say that I have tremendous respect for Devin Faraci and his work. His knowledge of film and mastery of the written word is second to none. I love how he never gives ratings for the movies he reviews as (like myself) he believes that the movie experience is completely subjective. This recent demand for objectivity in movie and gaming criticism is ridiculous to the point of absurdity. He’s the type of writer I aspire to be and Birth.Movies.Death. continues to be a website I frequent for movie/geek news.
While Faraci’s article Superman And the Damage Done is a well written piece of work and contains many valid points, it’s also brimming with contradictions, weak logic, and hyperbole. I rarely, if ever, respond to another author’s work, especially when it comes to film. As I stated it’s a topic that’s completely subjective. I’m not going to outright dismiss someone’s contention that Shakespeare In Love deserved the Best Picture Oscar over Saving Private Ryan, even though I vehemently disagree, just as I disagree with the majority of Faraci’s article. That’s not my job. I provide insight regarding MY take on a particular topic. That’s my job. What people do with that information is entirely up to them. Keep that in mind while reading this post. You may agree with Devin. You may agree with me. Either way what you take away from my article belongs to you alone.
Mr. Faraci’s first several paragraphs reflect my own opinions regarding Superman and the original film starring Christopher Reeve. Within these opening statements Faraci refers to Supes as a “paragon of decency” and “a rallying cry for optimism.” Superman: The Movie, as the author points out, released at a time when America was struggling. The United States was in the midst of a recession and still dealing with the painful aftereffects of the Vietnam War. Trust among our politicians was also at an all-time low five years after Watergate.
I’d argue the same thing applies in 2016. Terrorism, bigotry, economic uncertainty, politicians running for office that care more about getting reelected than helping the plights of their constituents-these are facts we deal with every day. Our world needs Superman more than ever. A certain TYPE of Superman. One that Henry Cavill’s Superman provides, albeit in a different manner.
I’ll come back to that. For now suffice it to say that Faraci’s opening parallels my own thinking on several fronts.
Where I begin to differ with Mr. Faraci begins with his sentence, “Watching the 1978 Superman with modern eyes it’s perhaps hard to realize just how corny and out of step Superman was.” From a sentence standpoint, I’m not exactly sure what he means here. Does he mean that it was out of step for audiences in the 70s, a juxtaposition of the reality of day-to-day life? Because despite my love for the first two films, Superman IS corny regardless if it’s 1978 or 2016. I thought that when I first watched it as a child and I think it now. It doesn’t lessen my enjoyment of the first two films, however. (And lest you think I’m speaking through the eyes of a Millennial, I’m only four years younger than the author.)
I would argue that THAT Superman, the Christopher Reeve Superman, is even more out of step with the world of 2016 than the world of 1978. Faraci says the 70s needed a hero to cut through the “morally grey bullshit.” Yet if that’s the case, and the author holds Reeve in such high regard (which he clearly does), why did Superman in the original film turn the world back in time and save Lois but not try to stop the nuke that Lex Luthor launched? It’s not a morally gray issue to me to save thousands of extra lives as stopping the warhead would have done. If Superman is supposed to be this shining beacon of altruism where doing the right thing is paramount, I would argue that the right thing to do would have been to stop the nuke period.
While it’s all well and good to have a morally upright hero that’s forthright and just, I contend that this is not a Superman that reflects the times. The 2016 version of Superman lives in a morally gray world like the rest of the human race. That’s not to say that there aren’t clear examples of right and wrong in the world or that because things are morally gray it’s a justification to do evil, just that things aren’t always as simple as they seem. There are unintended consequences to doing what’s perceived to be the right thing. If you bomb an ISIS terrorist cell hiding in a village, you may also be killing families with no affiliation to ISIS. If you drag a ship to safety through the ice (as Superman does in BvS) you may be killing whales unintentionally. Snyder isn’t trying to say that’s a reason not to do the acts I described, just to be aware that there are unintended consequences, something I’d point out that Marvel’s The Avengers didn’t address. (Although it looks as though Captain America: Civil War means to do just that.)
Faraci goes on to say that Zack Snyder feels nothing but “contempt” for Superman, that this is an “ugly new interpretation,” and that the character is “mean and nasty”. I’m baffled by these claims. Does someone who’s mean and nasty love his Mom and his lover like Superman does? Do they save families from flood waters? Do they safely prevent the destruction of human lives from the explosion of a space vessel? These are not the actions of someone who is “mean and nasty.” Other than Batman’s apocalyptic vision of a Superman obviously corrupted by some unseen entity (I.E Darkseid) I fail to see where Superman displays these traits. Faraci also states that Snyder’s interpretation “devalues simple heroism.” No. Rather it’s that Snyder is trying to say heroism is complex, that maybe sometimes we should question what we define as “heroism.” Some people see Kim Davis as a symbol of religious heroism for not issuing marriage licenses to gays in Kentucky. Others view her as a complete bigot. Heroism sometimes is all about where you’re standing. (For the record I believe she’s a complete bigot.)
The author remarks how Snyder’s Superman uses his powers as a cudgel over others and, “threatens first and asks questions later,” and “resorts to physical violence against Batman at the slightest provocation.” Oh a cudgel? Like The Hulk? I’m not talking about Bruce Banner but purely The Hulk. He’s nothing but a cudgel of violence and destruction. The Hulk is used solely for that purpose. However, I see almost no one raising concerns over The Hulk’s actions in the Marvel films. Also when exactly does Superman threaten anyone in BvS? I must have missed those parts. And Faraci’s statement about resorting to violence against Batman is just patently false. Superman in fact warns Batman to stop his shenanigans early in the film and then later tries to reason with Batman just before the fight starts.
I’ll grant that as Faraci says, Superman doesn’t offer any words of “comfort or wisdom” to people. (Say what you want about Superman IV: The Quest for Peace but his statement towards leaders at the end of the film rings true.) That’s something lacking that I hope the people at DC correct. The explosion at the US Senate was a terribly missed opportunity. The scene would have had a much greater impact had the explosion occurred after Superman addressed the committee. Moreover, I really wanted to find out what Superman planned to say. Also does a “mean,” “nasty,” and “brutish” being present himself to government officials for discussion? Seems to me he would ignore them outright.
Devin Faraci talks about grace a lot in this article including the grace of God. The suffix –el as he points out means God in Hebrew. Immediately afterwards he writes that Superman is not a Christ figure. Are you kidding me? This is preposterous. Superman has been a Christ figure over and over again in both comics and film. Man of Steel shows a crucifix behind Clark Kent when he consults with a priest. Later on Superman falls to Earth in a decidedly Christ-like pose. In BvS there’s a cross like image behind Superman as he floats above families that were victims of flooding. And perhaps most telling, Superman sacrifices himself for all mankind in the climactic battle with Doomsday only to have the hint of resurrection suggested at the end of the film. The storyline of The Death of Superman only expands on how much of a Christ-like symbol Superman is.
The author also mentions how Superman allows himself to be worshiped by a crowd of “cartoonish” Mexicans. First off I didn’t find the Mexicans at all cartoonish. Secondly, someone who allows or basks in someone else’s worship doesn’t deliberately look away to the sky as Superman does. I would expect them to demand his worshipers get on their knees and acknowledge them. That’s not even remotely what Superman does.
I can forgive Faraci some of his claims in that I get the passion behind them. However, about halfway through the article is when it descends into tin foil hat conspiracy theory paranoia. He states flat-out that Snyder rather than not understanding Superman (which from a certain point of view I can see), actually hates him. That Snyder is somehow trying to systematically destroy Superman. This sounds less like a cogent argument and more like a fanboy who is butt hurt that Snyder’s Superman doesn’t fit with their version of what Superman should be. Faraci believes that Snyder interprets heroism as a “catalyst for something terrible in the world” which to him is “insane.” I agree with the insane part, as in Faraci is insane for believing this. Snyder is not trying to say that ALL heroic acts can cause terrible things to happen in the world. Rather that however good your intentions, heroic acts CAN cause unintended negative consequences. The dream sequence between Pa Kent and Clark, where Jonathan relays a horse drowning story, proves this. This is a Superman that’s telling humanity to look deeper, to question where the intentions for our acts come from. In other words, think before acting. In a world where people often do the opposite (Twitter anyone?), it’s good advice.
Faraci also uses this quote by Snyder to advance his supposition that Snyder hates Superman:
When we find him, he’s been dealing with the everyday world of being a superhero, but there’s a paradigm shift happening in that the unintended consequences of some of those rescues are starting to come into fruition.
Like, if you’re just taking a cat out of a tree, you can’t touch anything or the arborists will say, ‘he damaged the tree branch when he got the cat down.’ Or, ‘the cat wasn’t neutered, so now there’s thousands of cats.’ There’s no winning anymore for Superman.
The author then follows this up with, “Somebody needs to tell Zack Snyder how cat reproduction works.” Not only is this unnecessarily snarky (Snyder was obviously using exaggeration to prove a point), it demonstrates how Faraci has completely missed the essence of Snyder’s words, especially that second paragraph. We’re in a society now where you can’t win for losing. That every act is scrutinized until its nothing but dust. The fact that “there’s no winning for Superman anymore” applies to everyone from a sanitation worker to Obama. Faraci uses a fairly innocuous quote to back up his arguments that all heroic acts cause terrible consequences all the time and that Snyder inherently hates Superman. He’s really reaching here.
Faraci then postulates that the message of BvS is to not get involved because it’s going to create horrible consequences. Again this is not the case, Snyder is simply pointing out that it can happen. If Faraci was correct Superman would just stop doing heroic acts altogether and not have destroyed Doomsday. Superman and the Damage Done then makes an incredibly contradictory statement; that the hands off attitude Superman demonstrates somehow promotes a nihilistic point of view. Nihilism means you reject all moral and religious principles and believe that life is meaningless. You essentially believe in nothing. If we accept the premise that BvS is a nihilistic film and Snyder is de facto a nihilist, then why would he care about destroying Superman in the first place? It makes no sense. Additionally, many of the characters believe in something in BvS. Batman believes in fighting crime because he thinks that criminals should be punished. Lois Lane believes in exposing the truth. Senator June Finch (Holly Hunter) believes in honoring those who have been unintentionally hurt by Superman’s actions. Even Lex Luthor believes in the possession of power over others. How are any of these things nihilistic?
Additionally, according to Faraci, because Snyder kills Superman at the end of BvS, (which anyone with even a passing knowledge of comics knows isn’t permanent) this somehow means he’s killed the character. To Faraci’s credit he points out that Clark Kent is also killed, so I’m not exactly sure how DC is going to resolve this fact, but presumably they will because….well…comics. However Faraci saying Snyder’s actually killed Superman as a concept? This is hyperbole at best, downright paranoia at worst.
The author further contradicts himself when he states that future movies will kill Lois Lane and that Superman will become a murderous warlord as in the comic Injustice. Yet immediately after this Faraci says he doesn’t want to question “what Superman would or wouldn’t do.” Devin Faraci literally just said what Superman would do going forward. He’s also spent the majority of the article implying what Superman should do. Am I splitting hairs with “would” and “could” and “should”? Maybe. But it seems like an odd statement given the article’s content up to this point. His justification for not engaging in the argument of “would” is because people use “random” or “unusual moments” to make their points or when Superman “wasn’t fully formed as a character.” Yet Faraci again has just spent the majority of the article pointing out the grace of Superman in the comics and how he’s consistently remained Faraci’s idealized form of Superman. Guess these examples of Superman and Batman killing don’t count because they are esoteric? (https://houseofgeekery.com/2015/12/10/batman-and-superman-dont-kill-people-except-when-they-do/) Again this is a weak argument and somewhat hypocritical as apparently Devin Faraci can draw on Superman lore to back up his points when it’s convenient but others cannot.
Now I’m not naïve enough to pretend that children don’t look to their heroes, whether they be in the White House, on the court, or on planet Oa, for inspiration. They do. However, Faraci believes that because of this truism, that children need a Superman who will, “Be a good guy, be polite, be kind. Every time.” I don’t know if Mr. Faraci is a parent or not but I’m of the mindset that parents need to set that example. Kids who get messages on life strictly through media are going to have a rough life. And in any event, today’s children already have that superhero. He’s called Captain America and he’s going to be in a new movie next month. Concurrently, I contend that BvS is a film geared more towards adults than children. That’s not necessarily good or bad, just different.
Snyder and Cavill’s Superman is not “cruel and selfish” as Faraci contends. Again the author doesn’t supply examples to back up this claim. Selfish and cruel people don’t sacrifice their lives to protect humanity as Superman does at the end of this film. And GTFO with this garbage that because Superman constantly saves Lois Lane that he’s selfish. Superman is ALWAYS saving Lois Lane in the comics and in the films. I think Faraci has completely missed the point of the kind of Superman Snyder is going for here. Whereas Donner and Reeve’s Superman was meant to be a symbol of goodness that people could follow, Snyder and Cavill’s Superman draws attention to the problems in the world and challenges the MASSES to fix the problem, not look for a Kryptonian savior to provide all the solutions. The epitaph on Superman’s memorial plaque at the end of the film epitomizes this. It states, “If you seek his monument look around you.” Not only is it a testament to the Christian ideal of redemption for all mankind, it’s a challenge for the human race to make the world a better place, without him.
Superman and the Damage Done closes with the words, “I feel bad for the youngest generation who has been handed a jar of granny’s peach tea instead of truth, justice, and the American way.” Devin Faraci isn’t sorry for the youngest generation. He’s sorry for himself that he didn’t get the Superman he wanted, the Superman who fits his idea of what Superman should be. He’s disappointed he didn’t get the nostalgic, idealized Christopher Reeve version from his childhood. He’s angry that Snyder had the audacity, the temerity to present the world with a Superman that doesn’t fit Faraci’s standard of the static Boy Scout we’ve had for almost eighty years. This is the essence of fanboy bitching, and quite frankly Devin Faraci is too good of a writer to descend into the pit of Keyboard Cowboy rhetoric those arguments represent.
*I’ve come to the realization that I need to see BvS again. I feel that I went into it with too many expectations and my own preconceived notions. I think I actually liked the film better than I first thought.
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