This may be inviting ruin upon myself, but I’m going to be very careful in this post so as to both appear rational and not offend anyone who liked this movie. Case in point — the title of this post! I think it’s fair to say that BvS has many narrative problems, but it’s also fair to say that people can still like movies with narrative problems (as in, there are other things to enjoy in a movie other than story). With that in mind, I’m going to lay out a road-map for a heavy script overhaul that would make this movie not only undeniably good, but the movie we all deserved.
To start, I want to lay out the basic gist of my plan because this is going to be a long ass post and I’m sure I’ll lose many of you in a few paragraphs. So, I’d rather you get the whole general idea than just some of my in-depth justifications for the changes I would make.
Anyway, the main idea is to greatly simplify the story in terms of how much is going on. Here’s how I’d do it in a quick list:
- Start the movie with a non-origin, character building Batman scene — possibly where Robin dies
- Make BvS take place, chronologically, ~1 week after Man of Steel
- Make Superman’s entire arc about coming to terms with and making up for the destruction he caused in Man of Steel. There is no shoehorned grudge against Batman.
- Remove Lois Lane’s conspiracy-busting journalist shtick and have her give Clark the tough love he needs to realize he can make up for his mistakes. Lay the foundation for their relationship
- Remove everything anything that has to do with the senate, import licenses, etc.
- Have Lex seem to indirectly manipulate Bruce into attacking Superman (when in truth he did it on purpose).
- Change Batman’s goal from killing Superman to proving that the world can still be protected from him should the need arise — and have him do it without kryptonite
- Have Superman win over public opinion through a series of heroics
- Have some scenes (montage maybe) where Batman preps for battle, Superman saves people, and Lex runs tests on the kryptonite to find out it will hurt Superman
- Have Batman lure Superman into his trap by engineering some false crisis
- Have Batman successfully subdue a Superman who a) does not want to fight and b) is surprised by Batman’s competency
- Just when Batman thinks he’s won, have Lex show up with an army of mooks and chase Batman off
- Have Superman be grateful for the help only to have Lex reveal his true intention with a hunk of kryptonite
- Have Lex take Superman back to Lex Corp
- Have Batman realize he’s been duped and understand that Lex is the bad guy
- Have a scene where Lex can monologue about his motivation
- Have Batman show up, kick ass, and free Superman
- Maybe have team-up fight against less OP (a.k.a. not Doomsday) Lex-created villain
- Have Batman and Superman think they’ve beaten Lex only to have Lex point out that they can’t really pin anything on him, leaving him out of jail for any potential sequels
- Have Bruce and Clark decide teaming up is a good idea. Superman supports this because he’s learned that he can’t save the world alone. Batman supports it because Superman has reminded him why he wanted to be a hero in the first place.
- Have Bruce introduce the meta-human data (ONLY THE LOGOS) and consider tracking them down, thus setting up Justice League movie
And that’s the quick and dirty version. Now I’m going to break each point down in more detail, because I think that’s where the meat of this argument is. It’s easy to say “I think it should have been done this way” and much harder to prove “this would have been a narratively and thematically stronger way to do it.” Anyway, let’s dig in, shall we?
1. Start the movie with a non-origin, character building Batman scene — possibly where Robin dies.
Not only is there, I feel, a lot of fatigue when it comes to Bruce’s parents dying on screen, I don’t think it does much in this particular movie. I think that’s something better saved for the Batman solo films. Plus, I think Snyder made a mistake having Thomas throw a punch at the guy. If anything, that encourages further violence and actually changes Batman’s philosophy from “protector” to something else.
Back to the point, I think showing something like Robin dying would do a lot for this film. I think, first and foremost, it would allow the movie to tease someone immediately recognizable like Jared Leto’s Joker (because it’s gotta be him that does it). People love that kind of crossover. But more importantly, it would show how the Batman in the movie’s present got to his psychologically broken state. We don’t need to know how Bruce became Batman. We need to know how an ideological Batman became a cynical and paranoid Batman. I think his eventual desire to take down Superman hinges on that.
2. Make BvS take place, chronologically, ~1 week after Man of Steel.
I cannot understand why the actual movie decided to rob itself of so much potential emotional momentum by having BvS start a year and a half after Man of Steel. But, I think, there is a lot to be gained by making it take place right after. First off, you can both show Superman being remorseful for what he’s done to Metropolis and have Batman acting rashly/emotionally over what he perceives to be Superman’s fault.
This also lets us maintain the whole “split public opinion about Superman” business without engineering some weird African terrorism thing that basically amounts to victim blaming. If I recall, the argument went “This is all Superman’s fault because if he hadn’t saved someone from terrorists, the terrorists never would have retaliated against us.” Which makes no sense, because it’s still always the terrorists doing the bad thing. It’s the terrorists’ fault every time.
In addition, doing it this way allows there to be talk about senate hearings and governmental consequences without actually having to SEE that happen. That’s a bonus because a) that scene was dull in general and b) saves us from having Lex blow up a room of people (including Mercy!) for reasons I never thought made sense.
Speaking of Lex, shortening the gap between movies also helps him out. By making it take place right after the events of Man of Steel lets Lex pilfer all kinds of Kryptonian secrets before any kind of government can put of blockades. This lets him nab the kryptonite without pointless arguments about import licenses and national security. It’s more like a savvy businessman capitalizing on confusion to steal revolutionary alien technology.
3. Make Superman’s entire arc about coming to terms with and making up for the destruction he caused in Man of Steel. There is no shoehorned grudge against Batman.
Superman’s arc in the actual movie is actually kind of muddled. Sometimes he’s off being a superhero, sometimes he’s frustrated/discouraged at/by negative public opinion, and other times he’s mad at Batman for poorly justified reasons. I think the entire point of Superman’s arc should tighten all of that up into something that almost has nothing to do with Batman. Besides, in the current movie Superman has very little motivation to be a hero. After all, his mother basically tells him “You don’t owe the world anything” and his dad died telling him “Don’t use your powers, son.” However, if have Clark want to make up for the damage he caused in Man of Steel, you have motivation. He’s atoning and realizes being a hero is rewarding and important.
Now, doing that turns Man of Steel’s much maligned destruction of Metropolis into a character building moment. Hell, it maybe even makes it good storytelling. Because this is a young Superman and it’s ok to show a young Superman making mistakes. So by having him question what he’s done, you can have him show remorse and eventual growth. You can also have Lois serve an actual purpose (instead of running around doing “things”) by being the person to give Clark confidence again. That also justifies their eventual relationship — which, in the actual movie, just kind of happens. And as an audience, we accept it because we know Clark and Lois are a thing. But that doesn’t mean it’s good storytelling. I think by having her be there for Clark, you make it good storytelling.
So just get rid of his forced crusade against Batman. Hell, Batman isn’t even on Superman’s radar yet. He’s got his own personal problems to deal with (and that level of distraction helps make it even more believable that Clark could get beaten by Batman later in the film).
4. Remove Lois Lane’s weird conspiracy-busting journalist shtick and have her give Clark the tough love he needs to realize he can make up for his mistakes. Lay the foundation for their relationship.
I will be a little surprised to hear if someone found this part compelling. And that isn’t to say that I’d be surprised to hear if someone thought it was fine — but no one was sitting on the edge of their seat going “Christ, would you just get back to Lois and the bullet!” Assuming that, I don’t think anyone will care if we cut pretty much that whole plot line out. In the end, it was just more bread crumbs proving the very obvious fact that Lex Luthor set Superman up multiple times. We know this and don’t need it spoon fed to us just so Lois has something to do. And frankly, between two main characters (Bats and Supes) and a well-developed villain, I don’t think we have time for Lois to do all that much. And if that’s a problem, well, that’s why we don’t often jam multiple superheroes together. It leaves less room for the badass normal people.
5. Remove everything that has to do with the senate, import licenses, etc.
This is just fat that can be trimmed to make a shorter run-time. By making BvS take place soon after Man of Steel, we don’t need to futz with this. Because, like I said above, who cares about import licenses and senate hearings? The less time we spend on this, the more time is spent developing the heroes! After all, they’re why we came to see this movie. If I want to go watch politicians argue and point fingers, I’d watch Fox news (zing!).
6. Have Lex seem to indirectly manipulate Bruce into attacking Superman (when in truth he did it on purpose).
I don’t have this part written out or anything so it’s a pretty general idea, but you can probably have it happen at a big party like the scene where Bruce and Clark met. Clark can still be there, too, giving them a chance to talk out of costume without knowing who they both are. Maybe Lex can even interrupt a philosophical conversation between them to pull Bruce away and share some information under the guise of being “wealthy businessmen from sister cities that care about their homes.”
Hell, maybe Lex can even slip some proof that Superman killed Zod. Because in this movie, I imagine, Superman would want to really stress the “I don’t want to kill anyone thing.” And he can admit that he indirectly caused deaths during his fight and that he messed up. But I imagine he probably won’t want to come out and say “I snapped Zod’s neck.” So, perhaps Lex points the fact that he killed Zod out. Maybe he even manipulates the situation so it looks like Superman could have taken him alive. The important part is that Lex pushes Bruce over the precipice in terms of taking a stand against Superman. Some conversation they have is “the last straw.”
And, it’s also worth mentioning, that Lex does this knowing a) Bruce is Batman and b) that this will distract Batman while he pilfers the goodies from the Kryptonian ship. This is also a crucial point and is the main motivation Lex does this in the first place! He assumes that Batman would notice/hear about someone poking around the ship and intervene. And so we should probably throw in some lines from Bruce to Alfred about wanting to check in on the ships earlier in the movie. But yeah, that is Lex’s motivation.
As a final note here, it’s also worth mentioning that Lex’s plan doesn’t hinge on whether or not Batman can win. He actually doesn’t care one way or the other. He just needs Batman and Superman to be distracted.
7. Change Batman’s goal from killing Superman to proving that the world can still be protected from him should the need arise — and have him do it without kryptonite.
Ok, this one can be a little more up in the air depending on how much you like murder!Batman. Personally I prefer a Batman who is clever enough and still psychologically together enough not to kill. And he can be brutal — savage even! But I think directly killing people has to be the last line he’s yet to cross. So I think his goal in attacking Superman won’t be to kill him so the world is safe. It’s to prove a point to both Superman and the world: that humanity won’t be at his mercy should he suddenly not want to play ball. Batman wants to demonstrate that he can still protect his city even without a bunch of crazy powers. Because he’s Batman and he’s a damned genius.
It’s also important, I think, that he does it without kryptonite. Why? Well, because I think that the little green rock tends to be a poor weakness for Superman. A cop out of sorts. And I don’t think Batman needs a cop out because, like I said, he’s a damned genius. What’s more, this also gives Superman more struggling, which is far more endearing to audiences than characters who win all the time. It’s ok — good even — to see Superman lose to Batman without kryptonite.
Plus, we don’t want the emotional crux of the film (this fight) decided by a MacGuffin. We’ll let Lex use the kryptonite, as we’ll talk about a little later.
8. Have Superman win over public opinion through a series of heroics.
Anyway, we’d then have a portion of the film where Superman gets to start feeling better. He’s helped the world in a handful of ways and proven to everyone (himself included) that he is a force for good. And you have the world start to accept/love him for that. But what you DON’T do is have them deify him. I would not want to see any of this weird, almost racist use of another culture to make Superman out to be a god. Just have a little kid give him a hug. Have an old man shake his hand. Have a young girl say “thank you.” Humanize Superman and build him up.
And this is hugely important for a character like Superman, who already struggles with relatability in all forms. He is basically an invincible God, and most people have a hard time connecting with someone like that considering the fact that we’re squishy meat bags who can’t fly. On top of that, Clark is arguably the most human of all Justice League members, and that’s pretty central to his character. He wouldn’t let people deify him.
9. Have some scenes (montage maybe) where Batman preps for battle, Superman saves people, and Lex runs tests on the kryptonite to find out it will hurt Superman.
This is a point just for narrative housekeeping, so that people aren’t surprised when Batman is ready for Superman and when Lex shows up knowing that kryptonite will hurt Clark. It can be a few scenes back-to-back or you can even do a little montage. But either way, it’s really easy to just show non-specific forms of preparation while also having Superman save more people. It kind of sets expectations.
10. Have Batman lure Superman into his trap by engineering some false crisis.
With Superman built up and excited to be helping people, he wouldn’t think twice to spring some well-engineered fake crisis orchestrated by Batman. It doesn’t have to be anything super flashy, but it basically just needs to get Superman to an abandoned area where the two can fight.
11. Have Batman successfully subdue a Superman who a) does not want to fight and b) is surprised by Batman’s competency.
This is the part where they actually fight — and let it be known that I don’t want this fight going down the same way it did in the actual movie. Not by any means. I know it’s a trope that heroes have to fight before finding common ground, but it was handled poorly in the movie. I think it makes much more sense for Batman to surprise Superman (with his existence even) and just put the hurt on him. Or, maybe not hurt him, but immobilize him. Almost incapacitate him. Give Superman an initial close call.
How does he do that, you ask? Traps. Lots and lots of traps. You see, the thing about Batman is that he is an amazing strategist who has probably been studying Superman’s heroics. Conversely, this would basically be Superman’s second real fight, after Zod. Someone with Batman’s expertise would be able to predict exactly what Superman would do and capitalize on that.
And then, in the next stage of the fight, have Superman constantly trying to de-escalate the situation (which is what I think he’d do anyway). He’ll pull punches, disarm Batman — things like that. More passive almost. But, where everything changes is when Superman both realizes his pleas are falling on deaf ears and that he can’t actually stop Batman. No matter what he does, Bruce has a contingency. He never seems to run out of answers to the ever changing array of Superman’s powers. Then he gets frustrated.
Once he gets frustrated, that’s when he gets sloppy. He starts fighting more aggressively. Putting more power into his blows. Getting a little unhinged almost—like he was with Zod. And that just convinces Batman to fight harder, because he sees the “monster” coming out again. Anyway, Superman eventually slips up to the point where Batman has him pretty much incapacitated. Bruce is very exhausted and beat up, but he’s won.
12. Just when Batman thinks he’s won, have Lex show up with an army of mooks and chase Batman off.
Then, just before Batman can say the words “recognize” (not really that though), Lex shows up with a bunch of faceless muscle. And under normal circumstances, Batman would probably make short work of them. Hell, he probably would have seen it coming and been prepared. But he just got done fighting Superman and he is not ready. Plus, he honestly thought Lex was on his side (Lex hasn’t become “evil” yet). So, Batman is forced to retreat and try to figure out what the hell just happened.
13. Have Superman be grateful for the help only to have Lex reveal his true intention with a hunk of kryptonite.
At first, Clark’s reaction is one of gratitude. He’ll, like the nice guy he is, thank Lex for coming to his rescue. But Lex just smirks and tells him not to get ahead of himself. Superman, also exhausted, doesn’t quite get it. He still thinks most people are on his side now. And that’s when Lex pulls out his hunk of kryptonite. Superman is horrified as all his strength is sapped, and Lex’s men cut Superman loose from whatever trap Batman had him in. Wilted like a flower in a heatwave, they load Superman into some kind of helicopter with Lex ridding right next to him, green rock aglow. From the look on his face, he thinks he’s won.
14. Have Lex take Superman back to Lex Corp.
And this is probably just a short aside in the above scene, but they make it clear they’re going back to Lex Corp. The reason will be revealed latter, but for the sake of setting up the Justice League, it should probably have to do with wanting DNA for one nefarious scheme or another. And maybe dead DNA didn’t work, so that’s why he needed Superman instead of Zod. There are a million reasons you can probably pull from comics for what Lex could do with a captive Superman before wanting to kill him.
The main point of this is so Batman, who double back to see what the hell was going on, finds out where they’re going.
15. Have Batman realize he’s been duped and understand that Lex is the bad guy.
This is when you cut to Bruce in the bat-cave, lamenting to Alfred how Lex totally manipulated him. Alfred gets to say something witty and clever while Bruce broods. But in the end, he realizes that if Lex put him up to it, Superman is probably not so bad. Also he assumes that Lex’s plans are probably more lethal than his were — and he never want Superman to die. So, he resolves to save him.
16. Have a scene where Lex can monologue about his motivation.
Then, cut back to Lex and Superman. The latter is detained somehow, and still in the presence of kryptonite (though not so much so that he looks like he’s gonna die). This is when you get the giant villainous monologue. And you have a lot of options for why Lex wants to harm Superman, I think. For a first encounter, I think it could probably just be a matter of business, because Lex is pretty cold-blooded like that. Maybe you can even tinge it with a hint of resentment for how everyone accepted him as a hero so quickly when Lex has spent his life trying to build a company that helps the world (even though his own ego and greed forced him to also cause plenty of problems).
This is where you can show Lex’s own character weaknesses. But this scene mostly exists to show Lex’s true motivation, and let Superman know what is in store for him. This can also be an opportunity for Lex to hint about the other meta-humans. Maybe he wants to clone Superman as deterrent in some possible war with meta-humans?
Like I said, choices are a thing.
I should also mention that a friend who helped tune this fix up is very adamant about setting this scene over dinner — Tarantino style. Apparently it has to do with using food to display positions of power. Lex is dining on a steak like a refined gentleman while Superman can’t even hold his glass of water without dropping it on the ground. It would definitely show who is in charge, but I don’t think a scene like this is necessary. But it’s an option.
17. Have Batman show up, kick ass, and free Superman.
Here you can basically have the Batman saves Martha from the warehouse scene with less killing and in a nicer location. Basically just have Batman being Batman, savagely kicking the absolute shit out of everyone. And sure, he’ll take his punches like he did in the actual movie. But just let us revel in the glory of the Dark Knight.
Eventually, he works his way up to where Superman is detained and frees him. Lex, so confident that he can stop Batman (hubris is his flaw, remember?) doesn’t resort to bringing out any bigger guns just yet. If anything, he wants to gloat about having manipulated Batman. Well, things don’t quite go as planned and Superman is freed. The kryptonite is either disposed of or neutralized somehow. Again: options.
18. Maybe have team-up fight against less OP (a.k.a. not Doomsday) Lex-created villain.
A friend who helped me work this out pushed for this point and I can see why. It makes sense to show these two finally team up to take something out. I do NOT think it should be Doomsday because I don’t think Superman should die at the end of this. There are plenty of options, like Metallo or something. Or it could even just be some kind of big robot—it doesn’t matter. This is mostly to satisfy fan needs and the needs of movie executives to have some big tent-pole, trailer-friendly, explosion-happy, cinematic battle. Personally, I think the ending can be just as strong without some big fight, but that’s just me.
The short version is: awesomeness ensues.
19. Have Batman and Superman think they’ve beaten Lex only to have Lex point out that they can’t really pin anything on him, leaving him out of jail for any potential sequels.
But, just when the Batman and Superman get to say “we’ve beaten you, Luthor,” Lex gets to shrug. “Did you? You’re the only witnesses to any of this, so what are you gonna do? You won’t kill me. So there’s the door.” Then he just kind of walks off, sure in his immunity to immediate persecution. Maybe Batman wants to kick his ass, but Superman sagely stops him with a hand on the shoulder, or something. Point is, Lex doesn’t go to jail and basically gets away with whatever he wanted. You could probably even have him flash the DNA sample he wanted to use in a later Superman solo film (Bizarro Superman, maybe?). Then, Batman and Superman are forced to walk out with little else than their safety and a budding appreciation for each other.
20. Have Bruce and Clark decide teaming up is a good idea. Superman supports this because he’s learned that he can’t save the world alone. Batman supports it because Superman has reminded him why he wanted to be a hero in the first place.
Then you cut to a scene where Bruce and Clark — NOT Batman and Superman, mind you — sit down and talk for the first real time. Superman admits that, like I said, he can’t do it alone. If Batman could beat him, so can others. He doesn’t have much experience like Bruce does, and he still has a lot to learn. Batman admits that, along the way through all the darkness, he forgot why he became a hero. And he thinks Superman would be a healthy influence in his life — and he probably also thinks he can teach Clark a lot about being a hero. This is the true moment where the Justice League is formed, and it’s a HAPPY moment. Not this fake, sad moment where Clark is “dead.”
21. Have Bruce introduce the meta-human data (ONLY THE LOGOS) and consider tracking them down, thus setting up Justice League movie.
And, at this point, if only because the movie is basically a glorified lead-in to the Justice League movies, you can tease the others. But you don’t show those videos because they were kind of…weak? I don’t know. They weren’t exactly how I wanted my first introductions to go. I think they’d be better served in other ways in the Justice League movie. Like I said, go nuts with the logos. Let the people know they’re coming.
I mean, there’s a lot of ways you can build this up cinematically too. Imagine the final shot being Clark and Bruce, after just looking at the logos, starting the videos. All you see are their faces, awed and smiling — with the reflection of the videos just barely reflected in Clark’s glasses as the music rises dramatically. I think that’d be pretty dope.
Aaaaaand, cut to black. Roll credits. Applause!
So, yeah, that’s how I would have done it. And I won’t admit to it being perfect, but I personally think it’s a much leaner, thematically solid story. I would also note that while Zack Snyder is a master at staging visuals in movies, I’d much rather have him in charge of principle photography than actually directing this movie. I’d rather have someone that understands narrative and character development a little better — but that’s just a personal thing. He could probably do a fine job with this structure.
Oh yeah! To those that would point out the lack of Wonder Woman as a flaw, I’ll preemptively counter with the fact that I think her inclusion packed the movie too tight. Now, don’t get me wrong. I loved WW in this flick. She was probably one of the high points, despite not having much to do. But that’s just it: there’s so much going on that I don’t think there’s much for her to do. And that’s ok! She will have her own movie and time to shine in the Justice League.
I’m sure there are problems with my idea, though, and I’m sure people will point them out below (if anyone even made it this far. God damn). But that’s also why I did this—because I want the world to know that we could have had a better movie than the one we got. And we deserved a better movie than the one we got. Of course, like I said, that doesn’t mean you’d be wrong for liking this movie. I just don’t think many would disagree that it could have been better.
Anyway, that’s a ~5,000 word long way to say, what do you think of this idea? Rip it to shreds if you’d like! Praise it if you think it’s good. I’d be just as happy to have others throw out ideas to make this better. Let’s just talk.