It’s no secret that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice elicited a strong response from both fans and critics. While the film certainly has its fans, some took serious issue with director Zack Snyder’s incredibly gritty take on the film’s titular heroes, and in particular his decision to turn Ben Affleck’s Batman into a murderous vigilante—especially in the wake of the whole “Superman snaps Zod’s neck” debacle in Man of Steel. Traditionally, Batman isn’t really a killer in the comics. Writer/director Christopher Nolan’s approach to the character in The Dark Knight Trilogy found him wrestling with this “no-kill” policy (even though he kinda-sorta-definitely-does kill Ra’s Al Ghul in Batman Begins), which provided some interesting thematic fodder throughout those movies. But in Batman v Superman, the Caped Crusader is not just murdering dudes, he’s sadistically branding criminals so that they get mutilated when they go to prison.
On the one hand, this radical change kind of fits with Snyder’s vision of Batman. In the film, Affleck’s iteration is older, more grizzled, and haunted—he’s seen some shit. He’s kind of fed up with trying to play nice, which is why he has such a strong reaction to Superman’s arrival in the first place. On the other hand, there are some pretty essential tenets to certain iconic characters that, when you start to mess with them, you begin to lose what makes that character that character in the first place.
Snyder’s been pretty radio-silent the last few years after departing Justice League during post-production (for which his original script was never shot), but he recently took part in a Q&A following a screening of his superior “Ultimate Edition” of Batman v Superman, and someone brought up the complaints about Batman killing. The response was captued on video (via reddit) and Snyder’s answer was, well, interesting to say the least:
“Someone says to me like, ‘Oh! Batman killed a guy!’ I’m like, ‘Fuck, really?’ I’m like, ‘Wake the fuck up!’ That’s what I’m saying about once you’ve lost your virginity to this fucking movie and then you come and say to me something about like, ‘Oh, my superhero wouldn’t do that,’ I’m like, ‘Are you serious? I’m like down the fucking road on that.’ You know what I mean?”
Snyder continued, basically arguing that Batman v Superman is a deconstruction of those titular heroes, and to cling on to the ideals that made those characters iconic in the first place is naïve:
“It’s a cool point of view to be like, ‘My heroes are still innocent. My heroes didn’t lie to America. My heroes didn’t embezzle money. My heroes didn’t commit any atrocities.’ I’m like, ‘That’s cool, but you’re living in a fucking dream world.’ The cool thing is like mythologically speaking, I’m 100% fine—and by the way I love more than anything Superman and Batman—but in the same way that Alan Moore was fed up with the fucking like, ‘Okay no, they do this,’ clearly this is a response. Watchmen talks about comic books in the same way that this movie talks about comic book movies, but it talked about comic books at their most—they were broken, so he was just addressing that. The thing with comic book movies is—and you know I’m a fan, I go and see them, I love ‘em…”
The video cuts off there, but if Man of Steel and Batman v Superman weren’t evidence enough, Snyder makes explicit here that his approach to superhero movies is basically to make everything Watchmen. Moore’s iconic graphic novel deconstructed the idea of superheroes and continues to be a groundbreaking piece of work. But the truth of the matter is, not all superheroes need to be deconstructed.
I’m not really sure what Snyder means about embezzling money and committing atrocities. If his idea of Batman v Superman is that those two characters are the kind of people who would do those things, isn’t that kind of missing the point of superheroes in the first place? Heroes are flawed to be sure, but at a certain point in this kind of deconstruction they cease to be heroes and become villains. Which for a character like Rorschach, fine, whatever. But Batman? That’s a different story. Tony Stark is a jerk, and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe his arrogance caused great suffering at the hands of Ultron, but his motives were at least noble. He was trying to save humanity, not cheat it.
All fictional characters are up for interpretation, and as a massive fan of Iron Man 3, I’m all for radically reworking source material. But any major deviations from tradition should still maintain the core values of a character, or else that character runs the risk of becoming something wholly unrecognizable. Like a Batman who’s trying to stab Superman to death with a spear.