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It’s been four years since Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice landed in theaters, ushering in a wave of conversations and strong opinions that have remained a constant since the film’s release in 2016. To mark the occasion of the film’s anniversary, and following a string of director commentaries that have become prevalent during this coronavirus pandemic, director Zack Snyder provided a live commentary of the Ultimate Edition of film Sunday morning through the social media app Vero. Many of the insights provided by Snyder over the course of Batman v Superman’s runtime were aspects picked up on and discussed by fans of the film upon release, but this look into Snyder’s thought process, and the pearls of new information, will undoubtedly keep the conversations and strong opinions about this film going for a long time to come.
Here are the key points about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice from Zack Snyder’s live commentary:
Snyder has discussed his storyboarding process previously, but in his live commentary we got an actual look at just how meticulous that process is. The filmmaker storyboarded every frame of the film, and gave viewers a look at some of his pages, which he’s collected across four volumes. Snyder told viewers that he’s “not a big fan of the shot list” and that when shooting he encourages the crew to look at the storyboards rather than the script because that is the most current vision he has of the film.
Get to the Chopper!
While not having any particular bearing on the film itself, Snyder did share a couple of fun actor tidbits, both involving helicopters. During the opening scene in Metropolis, we’re first introduced to Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who hops out of a helicopter before it fully lands. Affleck wanted to showcase the sense of urgency the character felt, but he got into a bit of trouble with the stunt supervisor for taking that leap off the helicopter early. And later in the film, when a kidnapped Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is brought to meet Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), Snyder revealed that the scene was shot on the ground with a green screen background because Amy Adams does not enjoy flying in helicopters.
The collapse of Wayne Tower was intentionally reminiscent of 9/11, and while the visual similarities received criticism, particularly in Snyder’s previous film, Man of Steel (2013), the comparison was important to the director. He described the 9/11 imagery as an example of “psychic trauma,” not only one that the audience would be attuned to, but also Bruce Wayne. The collapse of Wayne Tower serves as a secondary trauma for Bruce, following the death of his parents, in that it was the death of his family as an infrastructure.
As for the massive amounts of damage Metropolis accrued during Superman’s (Henry Cavill) fight with Zod, Snyder said “I don’t like the idea that’s there’s no consequence, that these characters get to knock around in our world and don’t create and solve giant problems.” Snyder compares these superheroes and supervillains to Greek gods whose actions also had consequences, both positive and negative for mankind.
Africa and Jimmy Olsen
Superman’s entrance in Africa was originally a much bigger action scene but Snyder decided to go with a simpler entrance, a “lightning bolt entrance” that he said is paralleled when he confronts Lex as Superman later in the film. While Snyder did not comment on whether that larger action scene saw Clark interacting with Jimmy Olsen (Michael Cassidy), he did talk about the decision to kill him off, and confirms that yes, Jimmy Olsen was dead for good within the universe he was building across a proposed five-movie arc. “The ones that die off, die off for a reason,” Snyder said, adding that “hopefully they teach us something as they go.” He alluded to this idea of each movie being like falling dominos and setting a new stage, one in which Olsen’s sacrifice may have had larger consequences.
Through the Fog of War
Snyder said one of the things he was interested in exploring was how Superman’s morality is perceived, and how that perception changes when it becomes tied to a foreign war and political hearings, and the imagery we associate with those conflicts. “Superman with his clean morality having to deal with these grey areas is what this whole thing is about,” Snyder said.
Snyder commented on the inspiration he drew for Lex Luthor, which was a blend of his original comic book appearances, complete with the red hair and a modern concept of the bad guy. “Lex is a very interesting sort of study … we wanted him to be less of a corporate brute and more an intellectual, a modern study of what a super-villain might look like.” He also discussed the villain’s speaking rhythm and word choices, saying that Lex’s word games give him this air of intellectual superiority. He doesn’t care if people follow him from word to word, or think he’s speaking nonsense, which he never is if you pull the words apart and look at their connections. It’s a way to challenge people to catch up with him.
While Luthor is often used as a parallel to Superman, Snyder was interested in showcasing the parallels between Lex and Bruce as well. All three men are fixated on their fathers, and have maintained tombs in their memory. Lex took his father’s study and built a new house around it, and maintained its upkeep so that nothing fell out of place. Bruce held onto Wayne Manor, but let it fall into decay. And Superman keeps the memory of both fathers, Jonathan and Jor-El, as a part of his deeds and Kryptonian suit, forfeiting the need of physical space, which Snyder came back to when he discussed the Fortress of Solitude later in the commentary.
Beginning with the Day of the Dead sequence, Superman is viewed through the lens of religious iconography. “The more he saves people, the more miraculous things he does, the more these religious connotations are placed upon him,” Snyder said. Religious imagery is in our “collective psyche” from Christ to Atlas, and it was this artwork that inspired the Superman rescue montage. Snyder said later that while the film is not exclusively Christian in its imagery or messaging, he is attracted the Campbellian quality of it all, referring to famed comparative mythology professor Joseph Campbell.
On the nature of Superman’s godhood, Snyder said, “The lines could get blurred for normal humans. This guy floating in the sky, how do you not rely on him to solve all the world’s problems? But that’s not what he wants. He’s just a kid from Kansas trying to do the right thing.”
Perry White and Martian Manhunter
Batman v Superman is of course stacked with famous performers, and Snyder highlighted a number of them and what they brought to the film, and how they influenced his vision of this mythic conflict. On Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White, Snyder said that he saw the editor and chief as a bridge from the morality of the old America to the new America where morality has shifted, which has become less clear. One of Snyder’s favorite lines in the film, and one he discussed with screenwriter Chris Terrio a lot was the “it’s not 1938” exchange Perry has with Clark. Snyder said that he was really taken with the idea that the world in which Superman was created, in 1938, was no longer the world of today, and that Superman would be forced to grapple with that.
Holly Hunter’s role of Senator Finch was specifically written for her. Snyder said that she was one of his favorite actors and that he’d really wanted to work with her. Snyder also praised Tao Okamoto, who plays Mercy Graves, saying that he loved what she brought to the film and would love to work with her again. One supporting actor who Snyder had much bigger plans for was Harry Lennix, who Snyder previously confirmed was being set up to be revealed as J’onn J’onzz, better known as the hero Martian Manhunter. Snyder had previously shown storyboards for the reveal in his version of Justice League but in this commentary, Snyder suggests that this was planned since Man of Steel and that Lennix knew he was playing a character only pretending to be human.
One of the most talked about sequences in Batman v Superman since the film’s release is the “Knightmare Sequence” that sees Batman in a post-apocalyptic future. Snyder discussed his thought process behind the scenes and how it would have tied into Justice League. Snyder said the sequence is a byproduct of the Flash (Ezra Miller) using the cosmic treadmill and creating a rift in time. There was going to be scene in a later film in which we would have seen Bruce Wayne and Cyborg deliberating on what point to send the Flash back to so that he can prevent Lois’ death. Snyder revealed that it is Lois Lane’s death that leaves Superman open to being infected by Darkseid’s Anti-Life Equation, and the incident that would have led to the Knightmare future the Justice League would have attempted to avoid.
One brief but interesting bit of trivia is that Snyder didn’t want Affleck to put on a voice for Batman, in part because the other actors who’d played Batman in the past had done it and he didn’t want to invite a comparison. So Snyder decided that Bruce would digitally modulate his voice in order to make it sound deeper.
Sitting Here on Capitol Hill
Why didn’t Superman suspect that his testimony on Capitol Hill would be a trap? According to Snyder, “It’s not that he’s naïve, but the reporter in him believes the truth will be transcendent. That’s what I love about Superman,” Snyder said, “this optimism for humanity that not even we have.” The explosion causes Clark to be moved to tears over how badly he misjudged humanity. In the aftermath, in which we see him lifting bodies out of the ruins, the director comments on the fact that Clark can help with the physical labor but not the emotional labor because he understands that the complexity of this situation, and what he’s up against is more than just black and white.
The concept of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) being around for hundreds of years prior to the events of BvS and working with a group of soldiers was developed before Wonder Woman (2017) started filming. The WWI photo we see Bruce looking at had previous placeholders back when the filmmakers were still deciding on when Wonder Woman would be set. The Crimean War, which ran from 1853 to 1856, and the American Civil War, 1861 to 1865, were discussed as other possibilities for the setting of Wonder Woman’s first film before World War I was settled on.
Fortress of Solitude
Although the Scout Ship, which served as Superman’s Fortress of Solitude in Man of Steel, was destroyed, the hero isn’t without his place for reflection. Snyder referred to the scene between Clark and his father, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) at the top of a snowy mountain as the Fortress of Solitude being internalized. Rather than the idea of a giant crystalline structure, Snyder wanted the Fortress to be “organic,” part of Clark himself. The answer he finds from his father in that moment of solitude is that “trying to do the right thing can have tragic results, but the lesson is you have to try because it is the right thing.” Snyder said that it is important that the lesson Jonathan imparted on Clark be related to farming, and tied to nature, which is what he sees Superman as inherently tied to. Bruce’s own moment of solitude in the ruins of Wayne Manor in which he reflects on his family’s fortune being built on hunting is tied to commerce and industry. Snyder said he saw both characters as being represented by natural elements.
The Spear of Destiny
Some viewers have raised the question of why Batman chose to build a Kryptonite spear in order to defeat Superman, when he had all of those resources at his disposal. Snyder said, “the spear is of course like the spear that pierced the side of Christ. It’s a very primitive weapon … a manifestation of the fact that he has to physically kill Superman” with his hands. It’s more personal than a bullet or another type of weapon Wayne could have made.
One of the criticisms lobbed at Batman’s fight against Superman was his decision to throw smoke bombs before attacking with the Kryptonite gas. Snyder said that the smoke bombs are actually filled with lead and points back to the scene in which Batman was crafting them where the periodic symbol for lead can be seen. Snyder also thought it was important to show that Batman had underestimated Superman’s strength, and that even in all of his preparation he wasn’t quite prepared for how powerful Superman was.
The decision to have part of Batman’s mask tear away during the fight was Snyder’s means of revealing Batman’s true nature, stripping him down to the man that he is, a man who at that moment is not unlike Joe Chill (the man who killed Bruce’s Parents), as Bruce is prepared to destroy a family.
Batman’s loss of his moral compass drives his actions in the film, and his strict morality only works if he forces it to, Snyder said speaking on Batman’s position as a killer. He’s become as bad as the bad guys in Gotham. The Martha moment, like fans of the film have been saying for the past four years, is Bruce’s opportunity to reconnect with his own humanity and the humanity of Superman. Batman doesn’t end the fight because their mothers have the same name, but because he recognizes Superman as someone with a mother, and thus a human, despite his alien origins. The battle against Superman is ultimately Bruce’s realization that he can be better and reconnect with humanity again. It’s not a redemption, or a full change, as he does kill mercenaries at the warehouse in the following scene, but it is a start.
One of the key moments in Superman’s introduction to Doomsday, according to Snyder, is when the monster stands between the statue of Superman and Superman the man. Snyder said that this powerful monster, this corruption of Kryptonian science, is caught between the symbol of the man and the reality of the man, dividing them, which is Superman’s central conflict in the film.
For the battle against Doomsday, Snyder said it was important that Wonder Woman was in the front during the Trinity shot because she’s the hero with the most experience and the only one who has fought monsters before. Snyder said that he wanted to bring a sense to the character, that even though what was happening was awful, that she felt alive and found some enjoyment in fighting Doomsday.
Snyder revealed that Superman’s death scream, which echoes, was the sound that awakened the Mother Boxes and would have alerted Steppenwolf, hence the Justice League line, “no Kryptonions,” which would have also been in Snyder’s cut of the film.
The film begins and ends with a death, that of the Waynes, and that of Superman. The canon shot fired at Superman’s funeral echoes the bullet firing from Joe Chill’s gun at the beginning of the film. Snyder said the cyclical nature of the film was important to him and the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne broke something, while the death of Superman allowed for healing to begin, not only for Bruce Wayne but for humanity. He said that as the film evolved, Superman’s sacrifice became more impactful on where the characters were left, citing an earlier idea to have Batman brand Lex at the end of the film, but instead showing him struggle with his rage and refuse to brand him, an initial effort to take Superman’s sacrifice to heart.
Snyder concluded the live commentary by cheekily saying there should be a sequel to Batman v Superman and that it’d be really fun to see what happens to these characters. And with that, the director was gone, with fires of the #ReleasetheSnyderCut movement stoked once again!
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