This review contains major spoilers about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I know it might seem like I’m violating my spoiler policy by saying that, but this is a movie and if you read the policy carefully it doesn’t apply to movies. Director Zach Snyder pleaded with viewers seeing the pre-release to not spoil the plot, and even though the movie is out I’ll stick to his wish. It is truly a movie you have to go into spoiler-free.
To bump the spoilers down the page, here are some pretty photos. After them this review will begin.
How will they do this in a movie? I have been asking myself that question for more than 20 years since I put down The Death and Life of Superman: A Novel by Roger Stern. It wasn’t exactly the same as the comic book version, which is canon, but it was a page turner and remains one of my favourite books. It began my teenage comic book years, which did eventually circle back to include the death of Superman and the storylines that came after it. It was superb storytelling and I still go back and read it every few years. In fact I just re-read it today.
As I sat in the theater late last night and Alexander Luthor introduced Superman to his Doomsday I instantly realized the question would be answered right here, right now. The Death of Superman had come to the movie screen.
Except it hadn’t. Not at all. Superman dies in Batman v Superman, but this is not the Death of Superman. This was Doomsday thrown into the end of a sprawling, incoherent film that appears to exist for no other reason than to justify its sequels and the movie franchise they’ll be a part of. The Death of Superman was humble and heroic. It spared Metropolis. It was the only way to stop the creature Doomsday. It was…unavoidable.
His death here wasn’t. Batman could have got close enough to plunge the pure kryptonite (which he spent half the movie stealing from Luthor) spear into Doomsday’s hide. So could have Wonder Woman, who was more than holding her own against the unbreathing monster.
Instead we got Superman, who had just been rendered useless by simple kryptonite gas during his fight with Batman, grabbing this killer spear and maintaining the strength to fly it into the monster, take a spike thru his own chest and still being strong enough to thrust it into the chest of his doom. As Doomsday died, dead Superman fell from his giant hand. Batman lowered him from a pile of rubble into Wonder Woman’s arms, who gave him to Lois to hold for a few tears and a goodbye kiss.
Come on. This is not how it was supposed to be. Superman didn’t die in the dead grip of some monster. He died in Lois’s arms. I was mezmerized by the surprise of it happening and thrilled to finally see it. But it was all wrong. I’m not asking for it to be exactly like it happened in the comic books, but the spirit of it has to hold true. It didn’t here. There are not even any call outs back to Superman 75. No cape on a stick, no reflection in Jimmy’s camera lens.
The worst part for Superman fans and for moviegoers is that we only get one shot at this story. You can’t kill Superman in the movies twice. If someone tries to go back and tell the Death of Superman on the big screen it will fall flat because it’s already been done. The surprise is gone. I will give Snyder and his team credit on this point. After being surprised, I think that was the best way to present it to viewers. The comics made it known ahead of time, but comics have to sell comics. Warner Bros. doesn’t have to worry about people going to see this movie, so it could afford to hide the reveal as long as it possibly could.
That was well done. It was the only thing.
I feel some sympathy for the critics charged with viewing and critiquing Batman v Superman ahead of its release. It would be difficult to talk about it without talking about Superman’s death. But they were right to savage this movie. It’s a mess. There’s too much here. It’s the first movie with Superman and Batman and the introduction of superheroes who will appear in future Justice League movies. And it’s Superman’s death. That’s a lot to fit into one movie and it sucked because of it.
Prior to revealing Doomsday, the only scene that held any resonance was Superman appearing before a United States Senate committee on…on Superman. This seemed to be a forced reaction to fans’ reaction to the wanton civilian destruction in Man of Steel. But the scene was gold. From Superman walking into the hearing to him standing as the only remaining life inside an orange wall of fire it was perfectly done. In that moment you could see and feel his pain knowing that he was steps from a bomb he failed to detect, and it cost hundreds of lives. It proves there is some storytelling ability here.
Unfortunately it’s only a glimpse. Superman’s death has come and gone from the big screen. The final act in a movie that failed its content in every way.