Zack Snyder's divisive superhero epic Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) will be remembered for many things. It's the first cinematic showdown between the iconic heroes Batman and Superman while also trying (and failing) to make Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy look lighthearted by comparison. But for the movie's detractors and critics, one name is all they need to summarize every gripe they have with Batman V Superman; and that name is Martha.
In Batman V Superman, Batman (Ben Affleck) only stops himself from killing Superman (Henry Cavill) when he finds out that their mothers are both named Martha. The scene in question was widely mocked for how petty it made its heroes look but in the face of continued criticism and the DC Expanded Universe's (DCEU) troubled reception, some big names in DC's cinematic branch came out to defend the movie's paternal twist of fate.
Johns and Lane Speak Out
In a recent interview, the DCEU's new creative head Geoff Johns and award winning actress Diane Lane talked about DC's first big step into making its own shared universe and the controversial scene that either left viewers laughing or dumbfounded.
Geoff Johns opened by explaining that as divisive as the final product became, Batman V Superman was envisioned as a unifying act for its heroes not just in a fight against a bigger threat (i.e. Doomsday) but in an emotional and personal way as well. He also credits the scene for giving emphasis to the heroes' humanity despite being "gods" in their own right.
The movie uses a great unifying thing, right? Martha.. They both have a deep connection to their parents, whether their parents are alive or dead. And that one word 'Martha' I think is a really cool connection. They share that, and they obviously share a lot. Because even despite their differences, at the root of it all, they are allies and friends.
Diane Lane - who played Martha Kent in both of Zack Snyder's Superman movies - also added her own interpretation of the movie's emotional turning point. For her, the twist that stems from her character's name was a great way to reveal how similar Batman and Superman really were even if they came from different backgrounds and ideological standpoints.
Superman and Batman certainly entered the superhero business from opposite roads, yet they have similar histories. There's the loss of your original family, so they're both orphans. And I don't think Batman sees Superman as human until he realizes that he has mother. And I think, when Batman makes the decision to rescue Martha, Superman's mother, in a way he's redeeming his own sense of powerlessness he had when he could not save his own mother.
Earlier this year, director Zack Snyder cleared the air and also gave a look at the thought-process that went behind the connection Batman and Superman shared.
You know, they’re both born and live in a world where someone can care about them and mourn them, and they can love their mother. And that’s the cool thing, you know we spend so much time with the Martha-Clark relationship that I think it kind of pays off there. You realize, oh, we needed that as viewers, so we could get to a moment with Batman where that moment with Martha resonates. Because we’ve lived on with Clark’s relationship with his mother, so that moment is like, “Wow, that’s ringing for me and I feel it.”
He then clarified the need to recreate the already redundant death of Bruce Wayne's parents, which he felt was integral to the movie's titular showdown.
When we were shooting the title sequence, that whole idea about, “Do we really need to see the death of the Waynes again,” is a big thing to take a shot at again. But you realize you need it, because it actually pays off. And I really wanted to do it all the way.
Momentarily ignoring the jokes, the intentions behind the Martha twist aren't even bad when you think about it. Debunking Batman's violent prejudice against meta-humans only after he realizes that Superman is more human than super-powered Kryptonian is a great way to unite the two heroes and for Batman to overcome his hatred, but the way Batman V Superman executed this realization made the supposedly emotional moment look melodramatic at best and ridiculously Freudian at worst.
It's nice of the people directly involved in the DCEU's creation to come out and defend one of the most notorious plot points in Batman V Superman but at this point, the idea of stopping two superheroes fight by yelling their mothers' identical name has lost what little dignity and status it may have had. Whether or not a similar paternal twist will be incorporated in Zack Snyder's upcoming Justice League has yet to be confirmed but if the DCEU wants to be a success with both audiences and critics, it has to stop taking itself too seriously while writing stories as deep as a an angsty teenager's superhero fanfiction.