We have seen Batman and Superman portrayed on film on countless occasions – which is unsurprising for two of the most popular comic book characters of all time, who have both been around for over seventy years. Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice takes those two icons, however, and delivers something entirely new.
The Superman/Clark Kent that we see in Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel and Dawn Of Justice is one that we have never seen before. Firstly, he is still relatively an amateur when it comes to public superheroics. While he is burdened with a heavy sense of morality and a critical conscience, he has also shown himself to struggle with impulse control (as evidenced by wrapping an unpleasant logger’s truck around a pole in Man Of Steel). This version of the character has also killed – having snapped the neck of General Zod in Man Of Steel.
Indeed, it is the destruction caused by Superman’s battle with Zod in Man Of Steel that sets off the action in Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, as The Dark Knight and other prominent public figures question the amount of power wielded by one, relatively inexperienced man. This is a Superman with deep inner conflict – much more so than the version portrayed by the great Christopher Reeve, and infinitely more so than the rather bland version presented by Brandon Routh in 2006’s Superman Returns. This is a Superman with clear and present demons of his own.
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The Batman/Bruce Wayne that we see in Dawn Of Justice is, again, a version we have never seen before. While the modern renditions of the character – as included in the films of Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher and Christopher Nolan – have become increasingly dark as the years have moved on, it is Zack Snyder’s film that delivers the version that is closest to the psychologically disturbed Batman of the DC comic books.
Historically, films have dealt with Batman in a curious way – effectively making him the least interesting thing in his own movies. Each Batman film has been structured in such a way as to have the villain of the piece be the real star, while Batman remains something of a cipher. This is, perhaps, intentional, because Batman is every-man – despite his wealth and influence. However, it means that he has remained in the shadows, while The Joker, The Penguin, Catwoman, Mr Freeze, The Riddler, Poison Ivy, Ra’s Al Ghul, and Bane have all hogged the limelight. In Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, Batman is front and centre, though – attacking Superman from a place of fear, and apprehension.
However, Superman also fills a negative role – because none of the death and destruction that has so riled Batman would have happened if Zod hadn’t come looking for Kal-El in Man Of Steel. Kal-El wouldn’t necessarily have had to reveal himself to the world if Zod hadn’t sought him out, and so this atmosphere of fear would not have arisen. Batman believes he is protecting humanity by attacking Superman. Meanwhile, Superman believes he is protecting the people by stopping the vigilante Batman. So if Batman and Superman are essentially two antagonists squaring off with each other, who could be the protagonist?