Mined from the notebooks, Tuesday, November 21. Posted Thursday night, December 7.
Breaking: Superman is back to being the Superman we know and love in Justice League. Too bad he’s dead.
Many of us who forced ourselves to sit through Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, despite our growing horror and disbelief, issued a collective WTF? When the plot of Justice League gets underway with the news that Superman was a beacon of hope to the people of Earth and since his death mortal men and women around the world have gone into a collective funk.
Without Supes’ example to inspire us, our hostility towards each other and our mutual distrust is increasing with each passing day when no one in Metropolis stops in their tracks to point upward and say, “Look! Up in the sky…”
The reason this came as a surprise and a shock to Superman fans like me is that up until now Snyder’s version of Superman has been anything but a hopeful and inspiring character. He spent most of Man of Steel in hiding, ashamed of his superpowers and extremely conflicted about whether he should use them to help people. And in Dawn of Justice, he was a scowling, humorless solipsist who seemed to begrudge the time and attention being a superhero demanded. Rather than inspiring hope, he inspired idolatry and mass hysteria, on the one hand, and hostility and suspicion, on the other. The United States Senate appeared to be on the verge of passing a law banning him from using his superpowers and declaring him an enemy of the state. Their intentions were left a little unclear as Lex Luthor blew up the Capitol before they concluded hearings on the matter, an act of mass murder he tried to pin on Superman. He may have succeeded. The plot of Dawn of Justice gets murky here, as it does throughout much of the movie, along with the lighting and the color palette. The point is, however, that Superman was either worshipped as a God or feared as threat to truth, justice, and the American way, and seemed to be courting both attitudes. In short, he wasn’t either admirable or likable.
But there he is---or rather was, since he’s dead, after all---in Justice League, universally mourned as having been both. And as if this self-revisionism on Snyder’s part wasn’t enough to cause moviegoers intellectual whiplash, Batman is in deep mourning for him too, as he’d lost his best friend, which, if Snyder had been true to the comic books in Dawn of Justice, he would have been. But in Dawn of Justice, the two heroes share far from the World’s Finest friendship. For the first half of movie, Batman seethes with hatred for Superman while Superman barely gives Batman more than a dismissive thought. Most of the second half Batman spends trying to kill Superman. In the last twenty minutes, they bond over their fact that their mothers share the same first name and start to warm to each other, but they don’t have time to really get to know each other and become friends, being busy trying to save the world and all, and then Superman dies, which puts a crimp in further communication.
But at the beginning of Justice League, the Caped Crusader is Batmanfully holding back the bat-tears, with nothing but good to say about his lost superfriend, and racked with guilt because he’s not living up to Superman’s noble example in as a beacon of hope and inspiration in his own right.
So, what happened, we wonder. Did Snyder forget his own movies? Was he so chagrined by Wonder Woman’s success that he wants his films wiped from audiences’ memories so he can start over? Does he want us to treat Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice the way many Star Wars fans treat the prequels, as open to revision in our imaginations, with us free to remember and accept as canonical only the parts we liked and to pretend the rest never happened?
My own initial attempt to make sense of it was to try to convince myself that there’s a gap of several years in Dawn of Justice’s storyline that Snyder failed to highlight between the destruction of the Capitol and Batman’s losing his mind during which some version of the Bruce Timm produced cartoon The Batman Superman Movie took place, with Superman growing up and getting over himself while Batman seeks therapy and comes to terms with his grief and guilt over Robin’s death (More on that in another post.) and stops projecting his issues onto Superman and the two became the good friends they’re supposed to be and Superman became the beacon of hope he’s supposed to be.
But Oliver Mannion and his cousin Orville have come up with a better explanation for what happened.
That’s the title of the Flash movie, and here’s the plot as summed up at imdb.
The super-fast hero the Flash travels into a timeline where Earth is a mess and its heroes are lost and scattered. It's up to him to put things right.
Putting things right requires multiple runs into the past and because of the butterfly effect doesn’t mean putting things back exactly the way they were. Time is still changed, just not in ways that result in the Earth being a mess. The Flash probably saves Robin, so Batman isn’t a grieving wreck, and, making a trip to Smallville twenty years in the past, gives Jonathan Kent a stern and earnest talking to, the gist of which is “Stop being an asshole and making your kid hate himself. Teach him to use his powers to help people.”
And though Flashpoint is scheduled to come out after Aquaman and Wonder Woman 2, according to Oliver and Orville’s theory, it’s set before Justice League and was already in progress during Dawn of Justice.
So in putting things right within the movies, Flash puts things right with the movies. Superman is Superman. Batman is Batman. And---spoiler---if you sit through the credits, you’ll see that Lex Luthor is Lex Luthor.
I like it.
Now, if only Zack Snyder does. We’ll know when Justice League Part Two comes out.
Follow the link to the first post in this series, A pretty good superhero movie.