Even if you loved BATMAN V SUPERMAN (BvS), it’s hard to deny how divisive it was. Projected to close WAY under its projected 1.5 billion dollars, director Zack Snyder’s second shot at the DC universe failed to find an audience. But why? Some moronically claim that the movie’s philosophy and themes were “too smart for Marvel fans;” others blame the movie’s dour tone; and still others point to the movie’s atrocious script.
As per usual, I’m in the third camp. BvS wears its philosophies on its sleeve, but it doesn’t execute them in a way that’s clear or entertaining. So how could it have improved?
With damn near a page-one rewrite.
HERE ARE OUR RULES:
- Good script notes understand a story’s goal and try to make the script the best possible version of itself. Batman v Superman wants to be a grim philosophy-fest culminating in dueling superheroes AND set up the Justice League? Sure. We can do that.
- BvS is a follow up to the just-as-polarizing MAN OF STEEL (MoS). It too had a slew of script troubles, but everyone honed in on the ludicrous amounts of violence, property damage, and implied civilian casualties. BvS was meant to address those issues and course-correct the franchise. Our script has to do that.
- Batman & Superman have an established comic book mythology with a worldwide following. While this doesn’t necessitate a slavish recreation (even the Marvel movies take liberties), it DOES indicate that, to one extent or another, these characters “work” and are cherished. If you’re using the characters, even in a deconstructionist sense, you NEED to be true to the spirit of their characters. Who are they at their core and why is that interesting?
STEP ONE: WHAT CAN BE CUT?
It’s no secret that the first hour-hour and half of BvS is borderline incoherent from too many plot-threads, interchangeable themes, bad internal logic, and terrible pacing. This leads to a climax that doesn’t feel like the big payoff it should and that doesn’t adequately establish why its shared continuity is exciting.
By removing segments that are confusing, contradictory, irrelevant, overcomplicated, or inappropriate for the material, we can VASTLY improve the material.
So, what’s on the chopping block?
1. The death of Bruce Wayne’s parents & the discovery of the Bat-Cave.
-Everyone knows Batman’s origin. Nobody needs this rehashed.
-It’s only there to establish that “Martha” is Bruce’s mother, which will be used as an on-its-face-stupid plot device later to connect Batman & Superman
-This is revealed to be a dream sequence, which is a piss-poor way of opening a movie. Opening with a dream sequence destroys the trust between audience & storyteller (unless the story is literally about dreams and questionable reality). This script isn’t about dreams.
2. Everything that happens in Africa and as a result of Africa. We get a stunning 9/11 re-enactment of Bruce Wayne watching the destruction of Metropolis in the wake of Superman & Zod’s fight. THAT is your Inciting Incident –the first implication of the central conflict. BvS ignores this, instead focusing on Superman being framed for murdering dudes in Africa after he saved Lois from a warlord.
-Superman has never used a gun in the series and he’s demonstrably more powerful than bullets. Why would he use them?
-The focus on Africa ignores Metropolis as an Inciting Incident, which is a sloppy choice.
-Neither Superman or Lois mourn the human loss in Africa, especially to their friend, Jimmy Olsen, who is gunned down right in front of Lois. Instead, they have sex in a bathtub.
-The African massacre is clearly there to echo the War on Terror, which Metropolis’ destruction already covers.
-That makes the African massacre confusing as to its motivation and effect on the plot.
3. The Superman Statue in Metropolis.
Half of Metropolis was leveled, and countless people lost their lives in the devastation. Superman would be an extremely polarizing figure. There’s no chance they’d build a memorial statue for him. In all rationality, they’d first try him for reckless endangerment, as the trailers seemed to suggest.
4. Every Dream Sequence.
-As established, Batman’s origin is a wasted sequence
-The “Knightmare” sequence in the post-apocalypse where Batman shoots & kills people and Superman laser-visions people to death. Countless people have been put off by the violence in the sequence, it’s not pertinent to the immediate story, and it’s baffling to non-fans.
-Flash’s cameo. Flash shows up in a dream/time-wormhole/who knows to Batman after the “Knightmare,” to warn Batman about Superman. Again, baffling to non-fans, Flash’s armor confused many existing fans, and it’s not motivated by anything in a script sense. If this paid off later (if we saw Batman send Flash back in time to warn him IN THIS FILM) it might make more sense. As it is, it’s a weird dream-within-a dream. This is not INCEPTION, people.
-Pa Kent’s “dead horse” monologue. Pa Kent shows up on top of a mountain to tell Superman that heroism will always cost lives. Beyond the fact that it’s demonstrably untrue in real life, every other living character has spouted off about the cost of heroism. It’s unnecessary. Being a dream, it further complicates the movie’s already troubled grasp on reality.
-Martha Wayne, the Demon Bat. Bruce Wayne has a nightmare that his mother’s grave is bleeding. When he touches the blood, a Demon Bat bursts out and attacks him. Is this supposed to speak to the darkness within Bruce? To his fears of fighting Superman? To his survivor’s guilt over his parents? What? It’s not a clear line to anything. It’s only there to look kewl.
5. Batman Violence.
Yes, this is supposedly the “best” Batman (I’ll always say BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, or if pressed, BATMAN BEGINS, because those have the fighting skills, detective skills, compassion, and respect for human life going for them), but he’s got a serious problem with violence. Remember, the movie says he’s opposed to Superman’s violence in Metropolis’ destruction. He has to be consistent and offer a rational alternative. We’ll remove…
-The Bat-Brand. He uses this to mark “the worst” criminals so prison inmates know to kill them. That’s not any Batman I recognize, and if fundamentally misunderstands who Batman is. He stops crime; he doesn’t perpetuate it, even indirectly. More, what criminal would go along with what Batman says? That makes zero sense.
-Removing the “Knightmare” sequence takes care of Batman murdering people. Mostly.
-Tone down the Batmobile. Yes, the Batmobile is awesome, no Batman shouldn’t be shooting people or literally monster-trucking them to death.
-Physical violence. Even outside of “Knightmare,” this Batman MAIMS people. Most of the people he fights in the warehouse won’t be walking again. Or breathing without medical assistance. He also directly killed the guy with the flamethrower. If Batman is this violent, SUICIDE SQUAD couldn’t exist in this universe; they’d all be in traction. The Joker –WHO KILLED JASON TODD prior to the movie- would be six feet under.
Lex Luthor is one of the greatest villains in comic books. A master genius, strategist, manipulator, he hides his villainy behind a spotless reputation as a businessman and philanthropist. Bearing in mind that in the comics he made his own anti-Superman Iron Man armor, you have more than enough to make him a physical threat too. So why bother with Doomsday?
-Doomsday is literally only there to kill Superman. His appearance alone telegraphs this, making it unsurprising to fans and baffling to general audiences. The death of Superman, cinematically, occurs too early in the franchise for this to have any emotional resonance. It isn’t earned.
-Doomsday doesn’t have any bearing on the plot prior to his appearance.
-The devastation of Gotham in the fight with him renders Batman’s anti-civilian casualties point moot. Seriously, it’s like an atom bomb hit Gotham. One-line explain-aways like “everyone in that district went home for the night” can’t cover shitty logic.
-Although Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman fight together, they absolutely do not communicate. Nothing in the fight advances any of their characters, save for Wonder Woman, who receives the bulk of her (slim) characterization here. This makes their team up against a generic villain blank and kind of boring.
-The whole point of Doomsday is the slow, growing certainty of failure and death. In the DEATH OF SUPERMAN comic, Superman makes peace with Lois and himself before knowingly giving his life to stop Doomsday. Using Doomsday as random a boss fight fundamentally misunderstands the psychology of the source material.
-That cave troll is not Doomsday.
Batman and Superman’s fight comes to a screeching halt when they realize that their mom has the same first name. This is cataclysmically stupid and has nothing to do with the multitude of previously established themes. It’s trite, easy, overly convenient, and, honestly, not very satisfying. It doesn’t even begin to address their philosophical differences, which, I remind you, are driving this story.
8. Bruce Wayne’s Training
Seriously, we’ve seen Batman kick 9 kinds of ass already in this movie. We know that he’s in peak physical condition. We don’t need to see him lift tires to understand that. More, we know that no human being is remotely a challenge for Superman. It’s wasted screen time.
9. Talking heads
Batman v Superman pays homage to THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS comic by all buy copy-pasting the talk shows that discuss the pros and cons of Superman. There are a few problems with this montage.
-This sequence was used in the comic to be political and philosophical babble. Satire meant to mock the hyper politicization of the 80s-onward and to show how far society has fallen. IT IS NOT serious political and philosophical discourse. Portraying it in this way misses the point.
-The talking heads are over a montage where Superman repeatedly saves people. This does not advance the plot in any meaningful way beyond “giving Superman something to do.”
-These people are stating multiple conflicting themes in a movie that already states multiple conflicting themes. Just because you state those themes doesn’t mean you execute those themes. Just because something’s on the screen DOES NOT make it intelligible.
10. Chasing experimental bullets
We already cut Africa, but so this is clear, Lois is kept “active” in the story because she’s chasing down experimental bullets that Lex’s mercenaries in Africa used. These bullets are meant to create a conspiracy that leads to Lex Luthor. Here are the problems:
-Experimental bullets that lead to Lex? How cartoonish and obvious can you get?
-Why the hell wouldn’t mercenaries just use normal bullets?
-Again, if this is meant to incriminate Superman, it’s far beyond his modus operandi
11. Kidnapping Martha Kent
Lex Luthor forces Superman to fight Batman by threatening to kill his mother if he doesn’t.
-Superman has demonstrated super-hearing in this script. No doubt he could find her in a matter of moments if he tried. Coupled with Superman’s x-ray vision, wtf is Lex thinking?
-All Superman has to do to prevent the fight is to tell Batman that Lex Luthor has kidnapped his mother. Instead, Superman decides to fight Batman out of chest-beating masculinity.
-Kidnapping? Really? That’s the best criminal mastermind and tech CEO Lex Luthor has to offer? C’mon…
12. The Destroyed World Engine
Early in the movie, children find a giant hunk of Kryptonite, Superman’s weakness, in the remains of one of the giant terraforming devices from Man of Steel. Why is its twisted wreckage just sitting there? Wouldn’t Superman have thrown it into space or the military have seized it? It’s bad world-building.
13. The Death of Superman
We’re not killing Superman. We’ve established that killing him in this way has no resonance and would mean nothing this early in the series. Let’s hold off until it CAN mean something after Justice League 3 or something.
14. Wonder Woman
Of all the pledged cuts, this is the only one I feel bad about, as Wonder Woman was one of the few things that audiences across the board seemed to like. She was cool, she liked to fight, she had killer theme music, and that WWI picture of her was fantastic. The problem is that she’s largely inactive when she’s undercover, having go-nowhere scenes with Bruce Wayne, and when she suddenly shows up to fight Doomsday, it feels like deus ex machina –like an easy out- for the main characters.
Yes, Wonder Woman is a major part of “The Trinity;” yes, she’s a major Justice League character; yes, we need more female superheroes; yes, Gal Gadot looked awesome… No, it wasn’t the best way to use her. No, it wasn’t her story. No, she didn’t add interesting themes to a movie that was, principally, theme-driven.
Because she was so loved by the fanbase and by general audiences, I’m willing to concede on this by saying that she can stay in the movie IF she can be given a more integral role so her appearance at the end doesn’t come out of nowhere.
15. The White Portuguese
Are you trying to tell me that Batman, the World’s Greatest Detective, the guy with a giant-ass crime-computer, couldn’t figure out the name of a boat?
By removing all these things, we already have a slicker, more understandable movie that’s prepared to tell the story it’s advertising: Batman v Superman. It also has more time to investigate the heavy themes that are so important to it. While this makes the movie more approachable, it doesn’t solve some other key issues.
STEP TWO: WHAT SHOULD BE REARRANGED?
Next, we’ll talk about what elements could be rearranged to make the story more entertaining. As it stands, DEAR GOD, BvS is poorly paced. If it’s not taking an excruciatingly long time to reach major plot points, it’s padding itself with sequel-baiting. Some of these issues can be fixed simply by placing them somewhere else.
1. The title fight
Why is the main fight between Batman & Superman saved for the end of the movie? Up until that point, they barely interact, save for glaring and Superman trashing the Batmobile. They disagree on… something. Collateral damage? Threat to society? That philosophical difference is all the movie cares about, not the actual fight. As a result, 2/3rds of movie feels like empty build-up.
So move the fight to the first act turning point, or roughly 25 minutes in. Doing this allows you to get to the crux of the confrontation faster; highlights that Batman doesn’t have a chance; more clearly motivates him to find kryptonite; gives Lex more reason to scheme and maneuver; and gives Superman more cause to question himself and his role in the world. Doing this also allows you to have them fight more than once. The first time, Batman gets his ass kicked. The second time, with Kryptonite, it’s more evenly matched. After that, well… you get to the rest of the story.
2. “Freaks dressed as clowns.”
Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent attend a party held by Lex Luthor, where they trade barbs about each other’s secret identity, leading to Bruce making the above remark. It’s a great scene, and –cut like it was in the second trailer- it’s genuinely the best written scene in the movie. Here’s the problem: their dialogue hints that they both know the other’s secret identity, which at this point in the movie is impossible.
Move it to after the first fight. Maybe Batman gets unmasked by Superman, or Superman discovers his identity with X-Ray vision. Maybe Batman plants a tracking beacon on Superman or deduces it with keen detective skills. Hell, maybe the glasses just don’t fool Batman. The point is, this scene plays better if the dialogue is a verbal representation of their physical battle. It plays better if they know each other’s secret identity.
3. Move the Justice League cameos to the end.
Just as Batman and Superman are about to fight Doomsday, Wonder Woman watches some youtube videos of forthcoming Justice League characters –Aquaman underwater stabbing a camera, Flash stopping a grocery store robbery, and Cyborg getting fused to a Motherbox –a teleportation machine from a distant planet. These aren’t quick cuts, but long takes of each character that destroy the pacing of the movie, especially right on top of the climax. Although WB/DC is trying hard not to be Marvel, these scenes NEED to happen at the end of the movie so they don’t distract from the current movie. As to how to improve these scenes, well…
STEP THREE: WHAT SHOULD BE CHANGED?
BvS is failing so hard that some things need to be changed outright. Maybe they didn’t fit the movie’s tone. Maybe their theme is wrong. Maybe they push the movie in a bad direction. Hell, maybe they represent a missed opportunity.
What should’ve been changed?
1. The Justice League cameos
Film logic can be hard to explain to people who don’t speak the lingo. Think of a sentence that’s too long to be entertaining or easily understood. Think of a song that’s really repetitive. Think of watching someone walk toward you from over a block away. That’s how these scenes feel. The Aquaman scene goes on too long. The Flash scene is a little too staged. The Cyborg origin DEFINITELY goes on too long and has an inappropriate tone.
Maybe this should’ve been a montage? Batman or Wonder Woman looks through the secret files, and although they’re hidden camera footage, they’re arranged like a montage complete with music. Quick cuts, as much information as you need to see that your favorite characters are there and what might lie ahead for them. Aquaman stabs a camera; Flash stops a robbery and ties up the bad guy; Cyborg integrates more technology into his body or does a weapons test; Green Lantern gets his ring and blasts off into space; The Suicide Squad recruits a dangerous new member; etc.
Just showing audiences characters won’t get them excited. Showing them characters in a way that’s exciting will. Presenting information as action also gets people interested in future movies.
2. Batman’s captured criminal
So in a throwaway scene in Gotham, Batman saves a bunch of sex-trafficking victims by branding their slaver with a batarang. He then escapes the police. It doesn’t serve much purpose beyond establishing that Batman’s methods are extreme (even after what Superman did to Metropolis, it seems).
The scene could be marginally more interesting if he was taking down someone who’d appear in Suicide Squad. Maybe Batman stops Deadshot or Slipknot from assassinating someone. Maybe he books Harley Quinn or the Joker? Any of these would be a good tool for setting up Suicide Squad in a more natural way. After all, this Batman has been around for awhile. No doubt the criminals in Suicide Squad had to come from somewhere. Again, we removed Batman’s ultra-violence, so this scene no longer serves that point. Now, it’s here to establish that he can get the job done without collateral damage, and will do so at any cost. It’s also here to shamelessly plug future DC movies.
3. Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor
Did anyone like Jesse Eisenberg’s Max-Landis-as-Lex-Luthor? Yeah, Eisenberg is a great actor, but within a certain context. Not in this context. He doesn’t fit the established tone of BvS, and he’s a pointless reinvention of the character. What was your favorite Jesse Luthor moment? Him forcing a cherry Jolly Rancher into a guy’s mouth? The jar of piss? “The Red capes are coming?”
This is getting into ad hominem territory, but when Zack Snyder’s Objectivist politics became known, it almost made sense that he wouldn’t portray Lex Luthor as his comic book counterpart. The comic book Lex Luthor IS an objectivist, and someone that Snyder would probably sympathize most with. Which is probably why he doesn’t like classic Superman –a guy who does good things out of the goodness of his heart. Snyder doesn’t agree with Superman’s politics. He can’t see him as the hero against an objectivist.
So, why not cast Lex Luthor as his traditional comic book self? The objectivist, bald, physically fit, manipulative genius of business and crime? He’d be a much more threatening foe, have fewer comparisons to the Joker, and still fall within the attempted themes of people seizing power for themselves. Why not have the most threatening version of the villain?
The only excuse I can imagine for keeping Eisenberg as Luthor was that he managed to break up the movie’s monotony.
Lex Luthor can still get the Kryptonian technology from MoS’s World Engines or from Zod’s crashed ship. He can still generate a physical threat (just not Doomsday), and he can still play both men against each other. He just doesn’t have to be an irritating asshole the whole time.
4. What the characters stand for
This isn’t so much a change as a massive clarification. BvS revolves around its themes, so it’s important for us to understand in no uncertain terms what the characters stand for.
Is Batman anti-alien? Is he anti-collateral damage and civilian casualties? Does he simply want justice for the people who died in Metropolis? Does he think that nobody should have absolute power to enact justice? If so, how does he reconcile his own actions?
What does Superman want? The movie indicates that he’s grappling with his own godhood. Fine, but what does that mean emotionally? “Am I a god or aren’t I” isn’t emotive. Is he trying to redeem himself after the collateral damage at Metropolis and Smallville? Is he anti-Batman violence? If so, why is he ok killing people? Does he feel that might makes right? Is he just trying to live a normal life? Without knowing his goals, it’s hard to say what he stands for thematically. Rather, most of the movie makes him an object to be acted upon.
BvS’ Lex Luthor stands for mortals seizing power for themselves, and perhaps doing it in a corrupt way. How does that play against Batman and Superman’s themes? Is it the correct theme for him? Do we even know what Lex Luthor wants, exactly, beyond a dead Superman?
Without knowing all of these things, it’s hard to tell a coherent movie with a clear division of philosophies. We need to have a clear idea of what these differing philosophies are and how they differ before we can understand why Batman and Superman would EVER come to blows. Otherwise, we’re just aping the imagery of The Dark Knight Returns without understanding how much its Batman/Superman fight was contextualized.
5. The senate hearing
This is one of the most important scenes in the movie, and it’s wasted. The senate hearing represents an opportunity for the characters to espouse their philosophies, goals, and methods, and to highlight the conflict of the movie.
Instead, Superman gets nothing to say, everyone stares at a jar of piss, and a guy in a wheelchair explodes, killing everyone. It’s meant to implicate Superman as a murderer, but how does that happen? We know from real-world arson cases that the source of the explosion could be easily determined.
The senate hearing needs to establish Superman’s platitudes, his goals, and his methodology. Or, more simply, what does he want and how does he plan to get it? That’s how EVERY movie works and neglecting it here is a major misstep. ESPECIALLY in a movie about themes and ideology. More, it needs to establish how society will deal with Superman. Will it take measures to assure his cooperation? Will it demand he leaves? What happens if he doesn’t agree with their decision?
6. No Darkseid
BvS heavily eludes to Darkseid as the JUSTICE LEAGUE villain, with a barrage of imagery in Batman’s “knightmare” and with Luthor’s implications of interacting with them.
All of this is horseshit.
Sure, Darkseid is one of those imposing foes of the DC universe, but he’s not the worst. More, although he was certainly the inspiration for Marvel’s Thanos, Thanos has already been seen on the big screen a few times now. Bringing Darkseid to your JUSTICE LEAGUE movie is only going to seem like you’re copying Marvel.
Trust me, Justice League has way more villains. Vandal Savage, Eclipso, Despero, The Injustice League, The Crime Syndicate, Amazo, Dr. Destiny, The Anti-Monitor, Prometheus, Circe, Starro, Queen of Fables, Imperiex, and some of the individual heroes’ most powerful villains: Ra’s al Ghul, Joker, Mr. Mxyptlk, Lex Luthor, Ocean Master, Ares, seriously, the list just keeps going on.
Pick one that better resonates with your universe and doesn’t make you seem like a copycat.
Want more? Making Luthor the stooge of Darkseid makes him a less interesting, less individual character. He’s not goddamned Loki; he’s Lex Luthor.
7. Batman’s Age
In the BvS universe, Bruce has been Batman for a long time, however, Gotham police and Clark Kent act like he’s a new phenomena. “He operates in shadows.” Sure he does. He also pilots a plane that spews bullets and a drives a car that might as well be a monster truck. Why is Batman 50-60 years old? Why are the cops unsure about him? Gotham would’ve LONG made up their mind about him. What is the benefit of this, especially when this info is contradictory?
Because it’s a callback to THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. The other reason is that after the death of Jason Todd, Batman’s grown old and bitter, which is an excuse to have him use extreme violence.
I’d argue that his being an old man makes little sense, especially with A. how impulsive and overt he is. B. How soon the actor could age out C. How the universe responds to him.
Either he’s a relatively new urban rumor, or he’s a fixture of the city.
Ok, so by removing vast swaths of the movie that aren’t working and by reordering events to work better, we’re tentatively left with the “best parts” or “most vital parts” of the movie. That doesn’t leave us with much movie (the movie was singularly bad, and we’ve had to cut nearly all of it). That leaves our last step:
STEP FOUR: WHAT NEEDS TO BE ADDED?
1. Luthor kills a Bat-Villain.
Let’s go back to Batman arresting a known villain who could get inducted into Suicide Squad.
Instead, maybe he arrests one of his known-but-minor villains. Mad Hatter, Anarky, Calendar Man, etc. But, Lex Luthor is waiting at the police station, having paid off the arresting officers to turn a blind eye. Luthor talks to this villain about the injustice of the arrest at the hands of the Bat. The villain swears revenge. Luthor asks him what he’d do for revenge. The villain says “anything.” Luthor kills him and dumps the body in an alley around Gotham City, telling the police that if they breathe a word to anyone, he’ll make their whole family suffer.
Suddenly, it looks like Batman killed that guy. Won’t Superman be pleased.
Now you have a reason for Superman to want to fight Batman –”he killed a guy”- and the conversation can’t be ended as simply as “Martha.” More, Batman having murdered a guy allows Superman to do some soul-searching –after all, he killed a guy too (in MoS). Maybe he wants to take Batman down for both for justice and because Batman represents, to him, the dark side of himself –a reminder of his failures.
2. Superman is wracked with guilt from Man of Steel.
In the events of MoS, Superman is complicit in the destruction of Smallville, the destruction of a third of Metropolis, and the murder of General Zod. In BvS, Superman acts relatively well-adjusted, his chief worries about what it means to him to be a god. There’s no sense of character growth from the previous movie and little indication that he’s learned anything from it. Sure, he saves lots of people in this, but he also saved a handful of people in MoS from an exploding oil rig.
If BvS is a response to the criticism of MoS –you bet your ass it is- Superman has to show growth as a character. He screamed when he broke Zod’s neck. That indicates a perceived failure on his part (he’s not well-characterized in MoS for us to specify what failure that is), and a wish to change/improve. This is all the motivation we need to evolve Superman’s character into one that more closely resembles his comic book counterpart –the pinnacle of goodness of virtue, an inspiration to all of humanity in the universe to be better than we ever thought we could be. He WANTS to be that guy.
So yes, let’s make Superman wrestle with his guilt. Maybe he’s trying to save everyone in the world. He can’t let a single person die because if he did, maybe the world’s right about him. Maybe he’s a monster. Maybe he’s too dangerous to live. Over the course of the story, though, we see that this drive to save people is a natural state for him. He’s shrugging off the bad morals of the Kent family and coming into his own.
He genuinely wants to help people. And that might have to start with stopping someone who he perceives as hurting people –Batman: a person who he sees as embodying his failure.
3. The first fight between Batman & Superman doesn’t go so well.
In BvS, Batman and Superman only fight once. At the very end. That is a catastrophic mistake for a movie whose name suggests a massive battle. Their fight is brutal but bland, and their only other confrontation is just an exchange of glares after Superman trashes the Batmobile. That’s nowhere near enough.
So give us a Batman/Superman fight at the first act turning point –about 25 minutes in. For this fight, we don’t need Batman in the Frank Miller armor; he’d take on Superman with the Batjet and the Batmobile and get owned. Batman uses both of his vehicles in tandem, and they’re swatted like flies. Superman isn’t even trying. Batman pulls out all the stops, emptying his utility belt to no effect. Superman just walks through the gadgetry, lecturing about stopping Batman’s violence. He grabs Batman, pledging to make him face justice –only to be distracted by screams only he can hear. He flies off, swearing to finish this another time. He leaves Batman scared shitless. Especially because he calls Batman “Bruce.” X-ray vision and whatnot.
Of course Batman planted a tracker on Superman, which he uses to determine that Superman is Clark Kent. Or, again, maybe he just deduces it. He IS the world’s greatest detective after all.
4. Batman comes prepared for the next fight.
In the second fight (about 50 minutes in), Batman’s had tons of time to prepare. The Frank Miller armor, Sonics, missiles, kryptonite, etc. Both men espouse their stances on justice as they fight. Batman gets the upper-hand with the kryptonite. Their fight causes a building to collapse, and Superman hears people inside. They work together, barely managing to save everyone before the building collapses.
In this moment, they realize that they’re opposite sides of the same coin. Both men just want to help people, but they have very different methods. They understand, from previous deeds or misconceptions, that maybe they don’t have all the answers.
You use action to show that these two can see eye-to-eye philosophically. It’s WAY THE HELL more believable than them becoming best friends over their moms having the same name.
5. Rooftop Heart to Heart
How weird is it that Batman and Superman barely talk to each other in BvS? Just a few sentences between them could’ve solved everything.
In our rewrite, these are guys who’ve been beating on each other for about half the script. After they nearly just killed each other in pursuit of justice, they realize that they’re more alike than they could’ve imagined.
So they talk it out. Both men explore their fears. Superman laments what happened to Metropolis and Zod. He wishes he’d been stronger… That he hadn’t been so impulsive …or so scared. He’d lived so long without limits that he didn’t realize that he SHOULD have limits. He can’t let it happen again. He has to be better than himself. He has to become a symbol of something greater. Batman explores his fear of loss. His parents; Jason Todd (the Robin Joker killed prior to BvS); and his employees during Metropolis’ destruction… He can’t let anyone else die on his watch. Even if that means losing his soul.
Naturally, Superman asks him why he killed that supervillain of his. Batman denies it, and, talking it out, they realize what’s going on:
6. Lex Luthor has orchestrated everything
Through crafty words and actions, Lex Luthor has turned public opinion against Batman & Superman, and he’s manipulated events to make them kill each other. He LET Batman steal Kryptonite. He supercharged the headlines to focus on Superman’s guilt in the destruction of Metropolis. He killed the supervillain and framed Batman.
Batman & Superman work together to figure that out. Complimenting each other’s strengths, they investigate Lex Luthor’s labs, and discover that Luthor’s been experimenting with Kryptonian technology. Just as they’re about to make a major discovery, Luthor’s security system activates, immobilizing Superman with a Kryptonite beam and Batman with a Kryptonian robot or something.
Luthor gloats, explaining that the destruction of Metropolis allowed him to profit like he never had before. Real estate, construction, infrastructure, technology. After its destruction, HE was Metropolis’ savior. He didn’t have to manipulate the media to become the city’s favorite son, and he wasn’t going to stop there. With a fleet of reverse-engineered Kryptonian drone ships at his disposal, he could stage “Kryptonian attacks” all over the world, fund the militaries that defeat them, and put the Lexcorp name on every building built on the ashes.
While this plan is almost as elaborate as Lex’s “plan” in BvS, it’s far more complete and with less extraneous steps. Moreover, the goal is not “a dead Superman, because reasons,” but superiority, domination, and control. It’s not quite as simple as “take over the world,” and its gleefully disregard of human life runs directly counter to the ideology espoused by Batman & Superman throughout the script.
It’s the antithesis of their character arcs.
It’s how you craft a resonant villain.
7. Lex’s secret weapon
Lex prepares to kill Superman with a knife. Batman, ever the escape-artist, manages to free an arm and disarm Lex with a batarang. Lex panics and runs while Batman finishes freeing himself. He manages to pull Superman from the kryptonite field, but Superman’s at death’s door. That’s when a pair of massive doors open revealing:
Lex’s battle armor. A kryptonite-powered death machine.
Batman tries to sneak Superman away as Lex hunts them down. Lex uses thermal vision to track them. Superman, regaining his powers piecemeal, uses his heat vision to distract Luthor with another heat signature while he and Batman regroup. Batman’s set all kinds of traps, but they’re not stopping Lex. The battle armor is all but impregnable. Superman has a plan, but Bruce will have to trust him.
Luthor manages to get the drop on them, scattering them. Batman’s knocked unconscious. Superman, agonized, struggles to get to his feet, but he’s too weak. Lex blasts him with Kryptonite radiation, gloating in his torment. Finally, Superman goes still. Death by kryptonite exposure. Lex prepares to deliver the killing blow—
Only for Batman to rip his suit open from behind.
Superman leaps to his feet, his face covered, and he uses a grappling hook to rip the Kryptonite core straight out of Luthor’s chest.
That’s right. Batman and Superman traded places. And kryptonite radiation has no effect on Batman. With the suit’s remaining power, Luthor attempts to kill Batman. Superman casually dismantles the armor with his heat vision, talking about how no one should have the kind of power that Lex has. He’s shown that the risk of abuse is far too high. Luthor swears that he’ll get away with it. They’ll never be able to arrest him. The people of the world are still turned against the heroes, they—
Batman plays a bat-recorder, Lex’s own words damning him. Lex just glowers.
8. The Promise
Batman mentions they should probably do something about the kryptonite. Superman agrees. He laser-visions the rock, saying, “I meant what I said about power. Nobody should have unchecked power. You trusted me. I trust you.” Batman goes to the steaming kryptonite.
It’s been burned into a ring.
Superman: “If I ever step out of line… If I ever fail to be the hero the world deserves… I need you to be the hero it needs.”
Batman tucks the ring into his utility belt. “I’ll never have to.”
They shake hands.
This completely brings their arcs together in a way that’s meaningful, true to their characters, and true to the established themes of the movie. In a movie about power and responsibility (hell, nearly ever superhero movie is), both men find a proper balance. It also references the hell out of THE DARK KNIGHT, which should make fanboys happy.
9. Luthor’s fate
Luthor’s admitted to the world’s cushiest prison cell. He paid for it. It’s only a matter of time before the courts hear his appeal and he’s free again. And when he gets out… there will be hell to pay. Contacting his people on the outside, he tells them to begin prepping the Doomsday project.
10. Luthor’s secret files.
At the Batcave, Batman and Superman go over Lex’s secret files, showcasing a barrage of super-powered people. Aquaman, Flash, Cyborg, Wonder Woman, Vandal Savage, Parasite, Trigon, etc. The world’s a far bigger place than they could’ve imagined. Together, they’ll be ready for it.
Again, the timing here means it doesn’t interrupt the flow of our story.
11. Not enough for you?
Yeah, that was a little contained for a blockbuster, I guess. How about Lex escapes with his fleet of Kryptonian ships after leaving Batman & Superman to their deaths at the hands of a Kryptonian robot? Superman and Batman free each other and fly out to stop Luthor’s ships before they level Gotham? You could have the same climax described above, but with a helluva lot more action and a ticking clock. Hell, maybe Lois has been trying to sabotage these things the whole time and she gets wrapped up in the climax? Or maybe we swap Lois for Wonder Woman?
WRAPPING IT UP
I’ve heard it said that BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE fails because Marvel’s had so many more movies to establish its world and characters. I reject that idea. EVERY movie has a chance to establish its own world & characters. BvS fails because it couldn’t be bothered to tell a concise, understandable, genre-appropriate story. It could’ve -and should’ve- been the second-highest grossing movie of all time after STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS.
You CAN have heavy themes in your blockbusters. DAWN & RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES did that well enough. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD and INSIDE OUT knocked it out of the freakin’ park. You CAN tell revisionist versions of established characters to great effect. See THE DARK KNIGHT and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. You just have to understand why the characters work; why cinematic language and storytelling tenants are important; what makes your movie entertaining; and why a movie in a shared universe absolutely needs to stand on its own.
Let’s hope Warner Bros. learns their lesson.
P.S. I also wrote a Man of Steel retcon. Interested?