Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice broke me. I attempt to do the same back.
Like a pimp desperately trying to sell one of his more coke-addled ladies to uninterested men on the street, the trailers for Batman v Superman heavily touted a scene in which Batman finds himself in an apocalyptic wasteland, fending off henchmen before coming face-to-face with Super(grumpy)man. Turns out this entire sequence is a dream, and like any dream, it’s a visually awesome section of the movie – but it feels drastically out of place.
Why? Perhaps it’s because the movie has an apparent inability to give any of its scenes a natural throughline of reason, either in terms of logic or emotion. We’re dropped into the middle of this sequence, with zero foreshadowing preceding it: typically, that wouldn’t be a problem. Get in, get out – it’s Screenwriting 101. Except most dream sequences in movies are usually well-thought out, even in bad films, because pulling one off contributes greatly to characters’ motivations and the themes of the story – and if you mess it up even an inch, you threaten to squash the audience’s suspension of disbelief. Even if we’re dropped into a dream suddenly without us knowing it’s a dream to start with, like BvS does, then dream logic will come into play. This Dream Logic will then typically creep into the apparent reality of what we’re watching.
A great example is a scene from Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, in which James Franco’s character becomes freed from the boulder that’s trapping him thanks to heavy rainfall, causing a deus ex machina flood that rapidly loosens him from his canyon prison. Sure, it feels totally implausible at this point in the film’s story, but it’s within the realm of actual possibility. Next, Franco rushes to the house of an ex-girlfriend – not a hospital? – and is met with complete indifference by her, her face obscured by hazy camera blocking, before we realise that while Franco’s mouth is moving to speak with her, to reconnect with her, no sound is coming out. We’ve a sudden realisation that he’s experiencing a dream – a conclusion made by our brains which have been studiously analysing the red flags presented to us through this entire sequence, as his fantasy increasingly falls apart. An impossible or completely fantastical moment has been finally reached; so what happens next? You know what happens next, even if you haven’t seen the film: he wakes up.
And this dream logic doesn’t apply just to dreams: Wayne could be experiencing a full-on vision, a hallucination, or whatever label you’d like to give it. But BvS isn’t Celine and Julie Go Boating, or Mulholland Drive; it’s not an avart-garde feast where its near-impossible to tell dream from reality. It’s a broad-stroke action movie, where clear character beats serve its story best. Clarity is key – and yet, BvS and almost none, making an already confusing, choppy movie even more befuddling early on.
In regards to actual plot, another problem with Wayne’s apocalyptic fantasy is that it just drops in totally unannounced, and seemingly disconnected to anything that’s happened in the story beforehand – like almost every scene, in that respect. Batman is almost immediately battling winged creatures in a landscape straight from Satan’s wettest dream, all while dressed like he raided the local exhibitionist’s wardrobe. Personally, the entire sequence hurts me the most in a film full of hurtful things: these precious few minutes inside Batman’s head are so valuable to the story, to his character, and yet they’re pissed away in the wind of the film’s inner lack of logic.
Is Batman’s dream meant to solidify Wayne’s concerns toward Superman? Is it meant to play as a trailer for Justice League, the premise of which an unrecognisable Flash attempts to explain when Wayne falsely wakes up? (Imagine your nan attempting to detail the plot of The Matrix, while being violently electrocuted. It’s the closest reference I have). Or is it just supposed to look bonkers and cool? Because it kind of does – but any gravity that’s lent by its visuals is robbed by the yawning void of plot beneath it. Coincidentally, this sequence is the first time we get our full in-action introduction to Affleck’s incarnation of the Caped Crusader (beside his shadowy, off-screen first scene) – and he happens to be battling winged alien-demons while wearing a trenchcoat. My brain’s only possible reaction: what!?!?!?!
Why doesn’t Snyder play up this Knightmare as the extension of Batman’s inner warped logic, of an increasingly paranoid mind in a world where a seemingly invincible and powerful alien exists? The shorter dream sequence where Wayne visits his mothers’ grave is similarly misguided, in which an inexplicable bat-demon-thingy jump-scarea the crap out of him. Some unwarranted psychological morphology going on there, guys. It just feels like putting Batman through the motions as the Batman everyone has come to expect, not as an individual character reappropriated for a new story. This smaller dream also leads to zilch.
I haven’t even got to Superman’s dream. While not as big a problem to the overall movie as Batman’s Fallout 4 delusion, but formally speaking, it’s a far more frustrating thing to watch. (At least Batman’s had some kind of concept to it.) I’m speaking, of course, of the moment when Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent, Kal-El’s adoptive dad, appears to Clark on top of a mountain, building… eh, I’m not entirely sure what it is he’s building. Just looks like some sticks thrown together to me. But Superman’s dad’s architectural abilities aren’t my concern with this (admittedly) short sequence; rather, it’s to do with basic film grammar. If something is portrayed with the aforementioned lack of dream logic, then you can only assume what you are witnessing is real. Of course, you’ll have your doubts – but those doubts are typically confirmed or debunked with a reveal of some kind, the ‘wake-up’ moment. Yet, there’s none here. So what does Jonathan represent here, exactly? Merely a dream? Perhaps a hallucination, a fever fantasy? A friggin’ zombie? It’s very difficult to concentrate on the lesson Father is imparting thanks to the absolute lack of clarity here, and while it’s a relatively small niggle in the midst of gargantuan niggles, it’s again representative of the empty vision on display from Snyder.
Also, what about the actual information Clark is receiving here? Is he merely remembering a story his dad once told him? Because the way it’s portrayed is like he’s learning it for the first time. Clarity, people – clarity. And what on Krypton is Kent Senior yapping about? His story about drowning the next farm over’s horses when he saves his own from flooding? I think the point the screenplay is trying to get at in this moment, is that no matter if Superman chooses to do something good, there could be bad consequences. Sure, it’s a nihilistic reading on the formation of Supes’ moral centre, but at least it’s an obstacle for the character to face: a contradiction inside himself, that he must overcome if he is to become… ah, whatever. The movie clearly doesn’t want to make enough sense to have any of this matter, so why should I make the effort for it?
So, why on earth do I care about these dream sequences so much? After all, they’re not what the characters are actually doing in the real story anyway, aren’t they? I’ll tell you exactly why: I care so much because it’s one of the rare times we get to step fully into these character’s heads without any outside influence. We get to see what makes them tick. What makes them Batman, what makes them Superman – and what makes Batman want to V Superman. (I swear V isn’t a weird euphemism here.) But no. What we get instead is a man dressed as a paedo-bat fighting oversized gnats, and some mopey guy surprised by his zombie dad shuffling sticks on top of a mountain.
Keep your eyes peeled on Flickreel for the next instalment of Everything Wrong With Batman v Superman. Man, I hate this movie.