The Dawn Of Homoeroticism In ‘Batman v Superman’
By Noah Berlatsky
Spoiler alerts ahead. But we recommend you read this story instead of watching the film if you haven’t yet, because the film is pretty terrible.
“I don’t know if it’s possible for you to love me and still be you,” Amy Adam’s Lois Lane tells Henry Cavill’s Superman toward the beginning of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Superheroes are supposed to be unattached; they save everybody, not just one person. Ben Affleck’s Batman has the right idea; we see him wake up from a nightmare with some naked woman in his bed, but we don’t even see her face. Forget kryptonite — the real danger to superheroes is women.
The narrative reason that women are dangerous is because they’re a distraction and a lever. Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) figures out that Superman loves Lois, and can then manipulate the be-tighted bozo at will. Using Lois, he sets a trap so that it looks like Superman killed a number of innocents; later he uses both Lois and Superman’s mom Martha (Diane Lane) to get Superman to fight Batman. Even in the big climactic battle, Superman pauses and then swoops off to save Lois, who has (again) gotten herself into a life-threatening situation. Loving Lois interferes with his job, causing logistical problems.
There’s more than just practicality at work here though; after all, there’s no law that says the scriptwriters have to make Lois keep stumbling into danger. If she’s incompatible with superheroing, it’s because Zack Snyder and company see her as a distraction from the main business. Which is, of course, guys hitting each other.
In her classic study Between Men (1985), queer theorist Eve Sedgwick argued that in literature, relationships with women often concealed, or excused, intense relationships between men. That’s exactly what happens in Dawn of Justice. The threat to Martha and Lois is the excuse for Superman to fly off and fight Batman. Batman for his part is obsessed with Superman for reasons which are never very convincing. Superman is too godlike, he might be dangerous someday, he tries to stop Batman’s vigilantism — there are various excuses, but the variety only makes them seem like excuses. The real reason the two have to fight is that you’ve got a movie titled after them fighting.
Or, perhaps, the two have to fight because fighting is the way that manly men express affection for each other. My wife breezily asked me when I got home from the film if Superman and Batman got back together in the end, and that is in fact a much more relevant question than which one “wins.” The battle ends when Batman stands over Superman holding a long, pointed, phallic Kryptonite spear. “You’re not even a man,” the Caped Crusader growls, in case we were in any doubt as to who was topping. Then the tension is diffused by the entrance of Lois, and the revelation that their mothers have the same name. Too much intimacy? Bring in the women.
It’s not just Batman and Superman who have these intense moments. Lex Luthor’s hatred of Superman is even less motivated than Batman’s, and his antipathy takes a similarly intimate form — he creates the monstrous Doomsday out of his own blood to fight the hero, mixing his bodily fluids with Kryptonian biological matter to create a misbegotten child. Superman, inevitably, shoves that phallic spear through Doomsday at the end, a climax accompanied by much grunting, grimacing, and pyrotechnics.
In Between Men, Sedgwick also argues that in many narratives, homophobia means that affection between men cannot be acknowledged. As a result, Sedgwick says, the passion between men is expressed as violence, while women are kept around as plot markers in the name of plausible deniability. The cute moment when Superman asks Batman if Wonder Woman is with him, and Batman responds that he thought she was with Supes, is a good-natured feminist dig at the two clueless guys; Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) doesn’t have to be with anyone. But it’s also a kind of nervous confession: Wonder Woman should be with one or the other of them, because otherwise, they might be with each other.
The film ends with Superman’s death — and shortly thereafter we learn that he was about to propose to Lois. Did Doomsday kill him, or was it the intimation of marriage? Superman can only be Superman when he is in clinches with other supermen; heterosexual coupledom makes him disintegrate. Better fiery cosummation with Doomsday than life as someone other than himself with Lois.
Dawn of Justice is a bad film in innumerable ways, but among its many problems is the emotional vacuity at its core. It can’t admit to or explore its real interest in Superman/Batman, but still views other commitments as distractions and impossibilities. All that’s left is an endless roar of violence, meant to drown out any possibility of love.
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