And as such, it is director Zack Snyder’s most successful film, because he accomplishes exactly what he has set out to do: Humiliate and murder Superman, and reveal Batman as a moral coward and fraud.
The plot, if there is one, seems to be about Lex Luthor’s need to desecrate the reputation of Superman as a prelude to murdering him. To accomplish this goal, Luthor must first attack and undermine everything Superman believes in and force the Man of Steel to make decisions completely at odds with his nature. Luthor first manipulates the murderous Batman into assassinating Superman and then builds “an abomination,” a monster called Doomsday, to kill Superman off.
By the end of the film Luthor has accomplished all his goals.
Superman loses and Luthor wins.
Like Luthor, Snyder manipulates the characters of Batman and Superman until they are unrecognizable. Batman is a murderer who feels free to kill everyone in his path. Superman is a moral wimp, driven by uncertainty and angst. The fight between the two is depressing. Batman simply sprays Superman with kryptonite gas and more or less punches him until he pulls out a kryptonite spear with which to kill him.
Only the fact that Bruce Wayne’s mother and Clark Kent’s adopted mother share the same name stops Batman from killing Superman. “Wait,” Batman seems to say, “Our mommies have the same name? Let’s be friends then.”
I’m not kidding.
Like Luthor, Snyder created an “abomination” to kill off Superman. Snyder’s abomination is the film itself. The film is an inelegant, rough-hewn kryptonite spear that Snyder drives into the heart of the character of Superman because just as Snyder’s Luthor both hates and doesn’t believe in God, so does Snyder hate and not believe in Superman.
I believe in Superman
I believe that we, like Superman, are called upon to do what we can to help, without hope of recompense or reward, because it is the right thing to do. We can’t fly like Superman, or stop bullets, but we can be brave. We can sacrifice our most precious possession, time, in the service of others.
Many people do not believe in Superman. They question whether anyone can act selflessly. They argue that Superman is impossible; not because he can shoot fire from his eyes and catch airplanes in mid air, but because he has all these amazing abilities, and he uses them to help, not conquer.
Power corrupts, say those who don’t believe.
With great power, comes great responsibility, say those who do.
In Batman v Superman Snyder depicts a Superman so unbelievable the character doubts his own existence.
“I defy reason,” Superman seems to say, “Not because I’m powered by sunlight and immune to nuclear missiles, but because I give a shit about people.”
At the end of the movie, when Superman teams up with Batman and Wonder Woman to fight Doomsday, the point isn’t to save people, like at the end of the imperfect but vastly superior Avengers: Age of Ultron. The point is to kill the monster that has been created to destroy Superman. Superman’s death then becomes a failed attempt at self-defense rather than a hero’s act of sacrifice.
Batman comes off no better in Snyder’s hands. At first glance it might seem that Snyder has some grasp of the character, but he doesn’t come close.
Snyder’s Batman is a murderer. He kills, using guns, the weapons of cowards.
Snyder places Batman in his Batmobile, firing bullets indiscriminately into the vehicles he’s pursuing. We watch as Batman grabs a gunman from behind and makes him shoot other bad guys in a wide arc as he uses the man’s body for a shield.
This Batman is a killer. He brands his victims with a bat symbol so they’ll be targeted for beatings and death in prison. He shoots and kills a man near the end of the movie, even though this was a hostage situation Batman must have confronted a thousand times in his twenty year career.
But just as Snyder doesn’t believe in Superman, he doesn’t believe in Batman either. In Snyder’s world, powerful beings kill. Snyder’s Batman is a sadist. He’s stupid, a bully, and a moral coward.
The Batman I believe in doesn’t kill
The Batman I believe in has made a hard, fast rule against killing and guns. He has handicapped himself in his war on crime and his enemies use that against him at every turn. How much easier would it be if Batman simply killed the Joker, rather than capturing him, insuring his eventual escape? Yet Batman knows that if he kills the Joker in some moment of weakness, then he has lost, and the Joker will have won. All the Joker wants is to drag Batman down and reveal his morality as a lie.
Snyder accomplishes this goal for the Joker with ease, revealing a Batman who stands for nothing and has accomplished nothing.
In subjecting Batman and Superman to humiliations and defeats greater than any wrought by their most powerful and insidious enemies, Zack Snyder has revealed himself as a visionary blasphemer, the ultimate pop cultural defiler and perhaps the greatest supervillain in history.
This was not an accident, it was by design. I don’t think Snyder is a creator who somehow missed the point and delivered a subpar interpretation of these characters. I think Snyder understands these characters perfectly and he went out of his way to destroy them. Snyder is Lex Luthor and the Joker combined, murdering our dreams and tearing down our pretensions.
In that sense, this is Snyder’s ultimate statement on what it means to be human: we are brutish, self-interested murderers who foolishly reach for a morality that doesn’t exist. Our better nature is a fantasy as unrealistic as righting wrongs with martial arts or catching people when they fall. In Snyder's hands our dreams are as dust...
...and yet, I still believe in Superman.