Heroes shouldn’t become cynical
May 27, 2015
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The “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” trailer was released April 17, and the movie will hit theatres March 25, 2016. During the trailer, Batman said, “Tell me, do you bleed? You will.” When I heard that line, all I could think was, “Why does Batman sound like a ‘Mortal Kombat’ character?”
It’s clear that the style of this film, as with its predecessor, “Man of Steel,” is based off of the Christopher Nolan Batman movies. What “Man of Steel,” and likely Batman v. Superman, lack is the substance of the Batman trilogy. People have learned the wrong lessons from “The Dark Knight.”
The same thing happened 30 years ago. Comic creators learned the wrong lessons from “Watchmen,” Alan Moore’s landmark graphic novel, kicking off the period of comic book history often referred to by fans as the “Dark Age of Comics,” an era where many comics were as violent and sexified as an R-rated movie.
“The Dark Knight” wasn’t good because it was dark and gritty; it was good because a man who understands the art of filmmaking meticulously crafted it. Of course, there are many problems with “Man of Steel,” but the one that keeps jumping out at many people is the ending.
At the end of the movie, Zod, the main villain, tells Superman that the only way that their conflict will end is if one of them dies. And in the end, Superman kills Zod, proving him right in a movie that was marketed to children, a statement that is proven by the “I Can Read” books based on this movie.
When asked in an interview about the ending, director Zack Snyder said that it was in order to explain why Superman has a “no-killing” rule. “The ‘Why?’ of it for me was that if [the movie] was truly an origin story, his aversion to killing is unexplained…” That betrays a huge amount of cynicism on the part of the director. Superman has an aversion to killing for the same reason most people have an aversion to killing; because it is wrong. No other reason is necessary.
I like superheroes fighting criminals as much as the next person, but my superheroes are also compassionate. Not only does my Batman fight criminals he also tries to help them be better people. My Superman isn’t great because he can punch at the speed of sound, he’s great because he cares about everyone, even the ones who hate him. But people who have a teenager’s idea of what maturity means often lose this compassion.
Some people think that the problem with “Man of Steel” was that it was dark. That wasn’t the problem — the problem is that it was cynical. You can be dark without being cynical. You can have a story where bad things happen but heroism and kindness are valued.
The movie’s characters may talk a big game about how Superman is an “inspiration” but at the end of the day, that was still a movie that ends with the hero proving that the villain was right, directed by a man who thinks that Superman wouldn’t have a code against killing unless he had already tried it.
That cynicism in children’s media is a real problem. I include “Man of Steel” among children’s media despite its PG-13 rating, not only because Superman is a character that is ostensibly for children, but also because there were “I Can Read” books based on it. When we put cynicism in our stories for children, what are we teaching them? What wonders are we destroying with our darkness?
Of course, the movie isn’t out yet. It could be good. Maybe the only reason “Man of Steel” seemed cynical was because it was the first part of a longer saga.
However, the whole point of a trailer is to get people interested in the movie by showing what it’s about. If Warner Bros. was trying to make me want to see Batman v. Superman, they failed.