He has the power to wipe out the entire human race. If we believe there’s even a one percent chance that he is our enemy, we have to take it as an absolute certainty.
In developing the story of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” the question arose as to whether or not such a Superman can openly exist in 2016, or if he is purely a creation of a more innocent time. Can all that he stands for survive in a world as complicated as ours, with so many competing and conflicting agendas and alliances? With today’s all-access 24-hour news cycle, how does one fight for global truth and justice without fear of indictment?
The filmmakers determined that after the details of a seemingly successful rescue are somehow turned against him, the world, too, begins turning against Superman—his country’s government and media, and even a fellow crime fighter, leading the charge.
“When we started talking about what would be Superman’s challenge for this next movie, we knew we couldn’t find bigger physical stakes than the destruction of the Earth,” Zack Snyder says, “so we had to make the emotional stakes higher. And who is a more worthy foil for a philosophical war than Batman? Once you say that out loud, it’s hard to go back.”
To bring Batman organically into the story, we learn of Bruce Wayne’s own experience during the Black Zero Event in Metropolis, and how he has begun to take a proactive approach toward destroying what he now perceives as the enemy. This unexpected turn of events and view of the Bruce Wayne and Batman characters were key factors in drawing Ben Affleck to the role.
“When I was a kid, I was a fan of the character, particularly Frank Miller’s Dark Knight,” Affleck states. “While ours isn’t the same story, what interested me about playing our version of him was that, on one hand, he was very much in keeping with the Batman we recognize, but he had evolved into a bit older, more world-weary slugger nearing the end of his tether, and that was really intriguing to me. Superman’s actions cause a rage in Bruce Wayne that is almost irrational, and that desperate anger and hatred was a fascinating place to build from.”
“It’s no secret that Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is my favorite comic book and contains what I would consider the coolest Batman/Superman philosophical confrontation,” Snyder says. “Ben and I talked at length about using Miller’s character as a template in the sense that he’s a veteran, he’s been doing this now for 20 years, and he’s lost a lot of friends along the way and become really reclusive. So in our film, all Bruce has left that matters to him are Alfred and being Batman. He’s thinking, as we all eventually do, about his legacy. He even says to Alfred that instead of just pulling weeds—yanking one criminal out of the mix to find another growing in his place—wouldn’t it be better to do something about this global problem of Superman?”
Affleck adds, “When I first heard Zack’s idea to imbue the story with real-life themes that resonate with people, I wanted to be a part of that, and of the first DC film to bring these heroes together.”
While playing a character immersed in anger, Affleck greatly enjoyed his director’s upbeat temperament. “Zack is incredibly optimistic and good-natured, which is nice to be around,” he says. “He also knows all the minutiae of comic book history inside and out, but welcomed my ideas and feedback, and it was really special for me to watch it all come together.”
“Ben really has a great ability to morph between the two worlds of Bruce Wayne and Batman, staying in the groove with both personas separately but also, as our story required, blurring the lines a bit,” Snyder says.
But what of pitting a very mortal Batman against a Superman in top form? Can Batman, even with his array of weapons and well-honed battle strategy, hope to defeat an invincible being? How great a price will he pay for this act of hubris?
Unfortunately for Superman, he is not as invulnerable as he believes. Superman never sees the threat coming until it lands on his doorstep, and when it does he dismisses Batman as a minor irritation. “In an all-out to-the-death fight, who would win? Clearly, Superman,” Henry Cavill asserts. “But that’s not Superman. He doesn’t agree with Batman’s idea of justice at any cost; he wants to solve the problem as cleanly as possible without stooping to Batman’s level. So Batman immediately gains an advantage.”
“Combining Batman and Superman in one film was no small feat; it looked easy in the script, but it wasn’t,” Affleck cites. Even taking their physical abilities out of the equation, “these are two very strong personalities with competing philosophies about how to do good in the world but facing the same dilemma: how evil do you have to become to effectively fight evil? These guys are essentially the Alpha and Omega of Super Heroes, and their mutual misunderstanding and mistrust ultimately lead them into conflict with one another. I think…I hope…we did them justice.”
Like Affleck, Cavill is conscious of the worldwide affection for his character and the responsibility that goes along with it. “Superman genuinely matters to a lot of people,” he states. “The more people I’ve met since playing him, the more I’ve realized that the decisions we make in telling his story now and in the future must take into consideration their care and love for the character.”
“I think that these characters and stories are not only highly entertaining, but they provide a terrific example of what to do or not do, how to behave or not behave, and enable us to compare ourselves and our actions against them,” Cavill continues. “In the last film, the world was attacked by aliens and nearly destroyed. That event thrust Superman into the public eye, and since then he’s continued to try to do the right thing and get a closer connection to humanity, but he’s left questioning whether humans really want his help or not.”
While many in need still call out for his help, what people like Bruce Wayne, Lex Luthor and even the U.S. Senate have begun to question are Superman’s motives behind his actions, beginning with his destruction of the Kryptonian forces led by General Zod. Did he defend the planet and its people for altruistic reasons or for self-preservation, to ensure he remained the sole of his kind on Earth, his power unmatched by any other being?
“The concept of a being who could destroy the entire human race if he wanted to has to give some people pause, whether or not they think he’s a good guy,” Snyder says. “Humans are trusting his benevolence will continue, but some, like Lex and Bruce, are thinking long term.”
Superman may have saved the world, but the landscape and the people remain scarred. From his experience as a vigilante, Batman also finds further justification for his feelings toward the alien. Roven suggests, “Batman has seen so many men corrupted by power, and here’s one with absolute power, so it’s only a matter of time before Superman will be corrupted.”
The social backlash is difficult for Clark to understand or accept. “He’s knows he’s an alien, but he sacrificed everything of his own culture and race to save the planet he feels just as much a part of,” Cavill states. “He made a choice to give up some of his anonymity in order to do good, yet there are those who put a negative spin on that either for media attention, to stir up trouble, or out of fear. What they won’t seem to acknowledge is that he’s this incredibly powerful being, but at no time has he used it for his own gain, which in this day and age is remarkable.”
“I think it says something about how deep and rich these characters are that even though these heroes have superpowers, they go through some of the same things we all go through,” Deborah Snyder remarks. “They’re just trying to find their place in the world. Whatever their strengths are, they still have flaws and weaknesses, they’re still trying to overcome things, and they still want to love and be loved.”
While others turn against him, one individual who remains steadfast in Clark’s life is girlfriend Lois Lane; their relationship is a source of comfort and acceptance for him. Cavill states, “He wants to make her happy and he wants to be as normal as possible with her. But it’s not a normal relationship—how could it be? One of them is an invulnerable alien.”
The other is a journalist with a dogged determination to find the truth about the latest incident tightening the noose around Superman’s neck. Amy Adams eagerly came back to the role of Lois Lane.
“What I liked about Lois’s path in this film is that she’s still in pursuit of the truth—she needs to find truth in order to have a sense of self, that’s always a part of who she is,” Adams relates. “But now she also needs to find the truth in order to help her man clear his name. So she’s not only approaching this as a journalist, but as a woman wanting to help the man she loves the only way she knows how.”
“Lois in many ways is the center and the heart of the movie because she is constantly turning over rocks to get at what is going on,” says Roven. “Through Lois we uncover a lot of the plot and the mystery behind who’s pulling the strings. And then there is her complicated relationship with Clark/Superman. Amy does an amazing job of revealing the complexities of her character and the situation Lois finds herself in.”
One of the reasons Adams was keen to return was to work with director Snyder again. “Zack has so much respect and reverence for these characters, but at the same time he isn’t afraid to let them grow, to show people a different way to look at them,” she says. “He’s fearless that way.”
Especially, observes Adams, when it comes to the females. “Zack takes women like Lois and allows them to be strong without making them masculine,” she continues. “He’s not afraid of their feminine sides, and it’s so great to work with him because he doesn’t force the strength, he just trusts that it’s there. He also allows you to explore the layers of love and vulnerability along with it, which I think makes them appear even stronger. Because working through fear, working through vulnerability, that’s where true strength lies.”
One of the strongest influences on Clark has always been his parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent. Since her husband’s death, Martha has served as a lone reminder of a simpler time in her son’s otherwise extraordinary life.
Diane Lane, revisiting the role she played in “Man of Steel,” says, “Jonathan was filled with inspiration for his son, for what he could mean to the world, whereas Martha wanted to protect him. She didn’t trust humans to respond well to Superman’s existence, and now it seems that she may have been right.”
Now working as a waitress in a diner, “Martha’s slingin’ hash and keeping her secret while keeping an eye on Clark through the news, watching how the world is relating to him and all the problems they’re projecting on him,” Lane says. “He’s making people jealous over his powers and she worries how he’s going to deal with that. She still wants to protect him. She’s his mom.”
Also returning from the previous film, Laurence Fishburne steps back into the shoes of Daily Planet editor Perry White. “The first day I was back on set, it felt like no time had gone by at all,” Fishburne smiles. “There were so many familiar faces and the vibe was just the same, it was easy to pick right back up where I left off.”
The actor was thrilled to be a part of the new film with the additions of Batman and Wonder Woman. “Like Superman, these are heroes who are willing to sacrifice themselves, to do whatever is necessary to protect society. So knowing they were all in the story, I was super excited to be in that movie…and as a comic book fan, to watch that movie.”
Of course with Batman in the mix, another indispensable addition to the lineup is Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s closest confidant and partner in fighting crime. Making Bruce, and therefore Batman, a bit older and a product of perhaps a few too many nights on the hunt necessitated an update for Alfred as well. The filmmakers accomplished this by leaning into a different side of his history, evident by his impressive technological and mechanical skills.
Jeremy Irons took on the reinvention of the role, stating that “Zack immediately talked to me about a slightly more hands-on version of the character, one who came from a military background and was very capable with electronics and so forth.”
These new responsibilities, however, do not replace his parental instincts when it comes to Bruce. “He’s known Bruce all his life and, following the death of Bruce’s parents, tried to guide him, to make him look at the long view when it comes to serving up justice. Alfred sees justice as vengeance without the passion; for Bruce, for Batman, vengeance is all passion now.
“I don’t think Alfred is happy with what’s happening with Bruce, so he tries to dissuade him,” Irons continues. “He thinks he’s after the wrong enemy and, with an ironic sense of humor that comes from experience and age, he tries to tell him so. But Bruce is his own man and Alfred loves him like a son, so he does everything he can to help him, which in Alfred’s case is quite a lot.”
“When Bruce Wayne is Batman, he’s able to confront all the pain in his life in a real, therapeutic way,” Snyder says. “Batman is where he feels the most in control of himself emotionally. Alfred is always arguing on behalf of Bruce, to try to get that side of him to be more secure. Jeremy did such an amazing job of walking the fine line Alfred has to walk and wearing the many hats he has to wear. He’s funny and also very honest in the role, and the relationship between Bruce and Alfred has a lot of depth and is really fun to watch.”
As they had with the other main characters, the filmmakers sought to update the traditional Lex Luthor, imagining what sort of man he would likely be in 2016. They wound up with a much younger Luthor who had inherited LexCorp from his father, and found just the actor they were looking for in Jesse Eisenberg, who infuses the character with a very sinister humor, one that arises from an illogical obsession with Superman.
“If you look at Lex in the comics, there’s a brilliant absurdity to his scenes,” Eisenberg offers. “He’s always trying to concoct these very complicated schemes to kill Superman; it’s funny in the way that he is so focused on this one thing. And even though he might appear pretty serious, to me he’s this clever person who uses word play and puns to talk circles around people, to condescend to them. Lex uses his cleverness to his advantage in a dark way.”
The filmmakers were really pleased with this new interpretation. “We wanted a character who conveyed exactly what a young, compelling, constantly innovating, genius entrepreneurial businessman is like,” says producer Charles Roven. “Somewhat mercurial, always magnetic; someone you can’t take your eyes off. Jesse was perfect for this. His performance is truly mesmerizing. He surpassed all our expectations.”
Eisenberg enjoyed playing with Luthor’s fanatical nature. “Lex thinks of Superman as almost an existential paradox—he cannot be all good because he’s so powerful or all powerful if he’s all good,” he hypothesizes. “On the flip side, Lex wants to be the most powerful person, but for him that’s okay because he is a person, he’s earned it, whereas Superman is this horrible alien interloper who doesn’t even deserve to exist. Lex is so myopic that he views his own morality as the only correct belief system in the world, and anybody opposing him is immoral and needs to be kind of destroyed.”
A good deal of Lex’s bad traits may stem from his dad, which he alludes to in the film. “Lex has a degree of self-awareness about his own relationship with his father, who was this powerful but abusive guy, and he somehow draws a parallel to Superman that makes him automatically distrust him. Modern psychology would probably diagnose Lex as some kind of narcissistic sociopath who is funny and charming but isn’t capable of empathy. As an actor, it’s really fun because you’re able to behave in all sorts of ways that would probably get you arrested, but do it in a safe environment.”
One fun and entirely legal aspect of Lex’s character paired up nicely with one of Eisenberg’s own passions: basketball. “I’ve played since I was very young,” he says, “and when I read in the script that Lex has a basketball court in his offices, I said, ‘I don’t need a stunt double or any kind of computer effect, this is the one thing that I can do perfectly.’ Then I showed up to the set, played all day flawlessly until we got to the shot where he makes a three-pointer, turns around and says his line…and the ball would not go into the basket. It was like a classic Charlie Brown moment.”
While Luthor seems to have no shortage of employees to shoot hoops with, it’s unclear whether or not he has any true companions. “In the same way that Satan is often depicted as charming, befriending Lex is like making a Faustian bargain,” Eisenberg laughs.
Luthor does, however, try to make a friendly deal with U.S. Senator June Finch, a democrat from Kentucky and a true steel magnolia, portrayed by the venerable Holly Hunter, who enjoyed going mano a mano with Eisenberg.
Hunter offers, “The element of trust very much comes into play for her when it comes to Lex Luthor and working with Jesse was wonderful. He has a lightning-quick, verbose intellect and the speed with which he makes his transitions is captivating, and that makes Lex really exciting.
“It’s a fascinating and multi-faceted relationship they have and the script explored the terrain between them quite beautifully,” she goes on. “There’s a volatile undercurrent in all of their dealings and Finch senses it. She knows that if you can’t trust someone, you must listen even more closely to everything they tell you.”
“Zack and I have always been tremendous fans of Holly Hunter,” says Deborah Snyder, “so when the role of this really tough Southern senator came up, we knew it was perfect for her. Once we knew we had her, the role expanded. Senator Finch is head of the committee leading an investigation into Superman’s actions because she feels he should be accountable, but also that he should be judged fairly.”
What attracted Hunter most to her character, the actress says, “is the fact that she leads by reason, not emotion. Often in the political world, emotionality can take center stage because it draws attention. But that’s not Finch’s way. She considers the issue, for as long as it takes, until she organically arrives at a decision based on thought and what matters for the future, rather than any other component.”
Rounding out the cast, Harry Lennix returns as Swanwick, formerly a general but now Secretary of Defense; Tao Okamoto plays Mercy Graves, Lex Luthor’s statuesque right-hand woman; and Callan Mulvey is a mysterious figure whose actions have an impact on both Super Heroes. There are also several cameos from real-life newscasters, pundits and commentators, anchoring the film in the real world.