Acts of Terrorism – Escapism

Acts of Terrorism – Escapism

Now it’s no secret what my thoughts are on Batman v Superman and the DCEU in general. I’ve thrown up a few articles sporadically on this site espousing my love for this cinematic universe, as most sites capable of holding articles have done. Today is another such article, but one that’s a bit different. I’ve seen it again and again: the complaint that this type of movie should leave people feeling hopeful. The complaint that this movie is too dark. The complaint, essentially, that this movie is too real. I’m not one for overly long intros, so let’s just dive into it.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. A good way to start these things is to define what the thing actually is. defines it thusly:

an inclination to or habit of retreating from unpleasant or unacceptable reality, as through diversion or fantasy

That’s the long and short of it. It’s human nature to retreat to a world of gumdrops and ice cream when things get rough—whether that world is a galaxy far, far away or the halcyon days of yesteryear—we try to find comfort away from the harsh reality around us. That’s where movies come in. People want to escape the doldrums and sometimes unfairness of real life and indulge in the fictitious world where the hero can do anything and the bad guys always lose. It leaves a wonderful feeling, to be sure, but I feel, as with all things, there is a time and place for escapism—this is not one of those times.


By now it’s very well-documented that when Rome was in a time of hardship, the powers that were would orchestrate lavish spectacles to pacify the public, and whether this took the form of chariot races or gladiator fights, the objective was the same: give the people a means to escape the harsh reality of their society by distracting them. It’s hard to deny that we are in such a time right now. When one turns on the news one is bombaraded with stories of uprisings in the middle east, ISIS, Syria, the deaths of our heroes, catastrophic climate change, Brexit, and most recently, the United States’ new president, the uprisings his election has caused and the country the most divided it’s been in recent memory—with all this in mind it can be tempting to just want to shut it all out.

It can be tempting to rest on our past laurels as a society—tempting to remember what was and lose one’s self in it. In our internet meme culture, I’m sure at some point, dear reader, you’ve crossed paths with “Member berries“. This season of South Park, its 20th, is built on this phenomenon, where people withdraw from the world to dwell on nostalgia… which takes the form of Star Wars Episode 7. I (and so many others) too have talked about this movie extensively and why I dislike it, and the bulk of my issues stemmed from the fact that it was so safe—that rather than making a statement about our current world like Star Wars films have been known to do (Vietnam, for example), it instead indulges in nostalgic, self-referential decadence. The fact that this film made 2 billion dollars says that’s what audiences want: they want to go back to those lost halcyon days, leaving behind the uncertainty of the world as it is today.


Now, I know you might be thinking it’s in poor taste to relate all these serious issues to silly movies, but that’s the point. Entertainment doesn’t have to be silly; it can be thought-provoking and reflective of our current society. It doesn’t have to be silly entertainment, even though we might fall into the trap of wanting entertainment to escapist. Indeed, there’s a reason the US government paid Warner Bros. and Disney oodles of money during World War 2 to produce propaganda cartoons, or produced Why We FightThat’s because films are powerful: they’re audio visual tools that broadcast their message to a viewer receptive to the message. We know films affect us on a psychological level. That’s why to talk about human society, you have to talk about the ways that society entertains itself. Entertainment is intrinsic to society and its importance cannot be overstated. In that sense, it’s only natural; not poor taste.

That’s where Batman v Superman and Man of Steel come in. Man of Steel showed how distrusting we are of outsiders, and that more than ever should be readily apparent, given the current president-elect of the US, Donald Trump, built a campaign on anti-immigrant rhetoric. Batman v Superman carried that theme over, and interlaced it with how the powerful throw their clout around in their best interest, even if that means fooling the public with hate speech and a corrupt news media that will dogpile and perpetuate whichever narrative gives it the most views—another thing that should hit close to home.


That is why these movies are brilliant (well, one of many reasons). They are not dark for darkness’ sake; they’re dour to convey a specific and particular tone. They are not making light of real world issues, and therein lies the problem with many a critic and viewer alike. These films are not escapist; they are instead reflective. I’ve seen the excuse that Christopher Nolan’s masterful Dark Knight trilogy was also dark, but reviewed well with critics and audiences, and that these films are deficient because of that. If you look at Zack Snyder’s two films and Nolan’s two films, then deduce that they’re comparable because they’re earnest… well you’re doing neither auteur anything resembling justice.

The Dark Knight trilogy, far more than the DCEU movies, romanticize Batman. In a quote that is often misrepresented, Zack Snyder once said in an interview:

Everyone says that [that the movies are dark] about [Christopher Nolan’s] Batman Begins. “Batman’s dark.” I’m like, okay, “No, Batman’s cool.” He gets to go to a Tibetan monastery and be trained by ninjas. Okay? I want to do that. But he doesn’t, like, get raped in prison. That could happen in my movie. If you want to talk about dark, that’s how that would go.

It’s true. Christopher Nolan’s masterwork isn’t dark; it’s cool and it’s escapism. In Nolan’s Batman, you can indulge in the fantasy that is Batman without any of the repercussions. You can watch Bruce Wayne blow up a monastery full of ninjas, but because you never see their bodies burning, them screaming in agony, and them maimed and dying it’s okay. Batman can ram through a trailer in a chase scene, and because Nolan never showed their bodies, it’s okay. Catwoman can shoot Bane with a high powered rifle and kill him, but because the movie doesn’t dwell on it and she says a one-liner, it’s okay. All of these examples remove the consequences from the heroes’ actions. It allows you to indulge in the fantasy and think these heroes are great, but that feeling of elation you get is disingenuous as the films just pretend that people aren’t dying.

Again, I am not belittling Nolan’s work here. For all people complain about how dark Nolan’s movies are, his themes tend to skew more idealistic than most other filmmakers. From his central theme of love transcending time and space in Interstellar, to him showing that the good in man will prevail in the end in The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan views humanity very optimistically. Zack Snyder, on the other hand tends to end his movies in bittersweet ways—there is never a clean triumph. Victory is earned with blemishes. Zack Snyder isn’t entirely idealistic, nor is he pessimistic. He’s both, as most things in life tend to be. That’s our world: things are rarely purely one thing or another; most times things are both to varying degrees. There is a misconception that Batman v Superman and Nolan’s movies are comparable because they’re DC movies about Batman, but that’s where their similarity starts and ends: Snyder’s films skew darker than Nolan’s.

Indeed, this is all to similar to  Batman: Arkham Knight, where the player uses a set of commands to have the batmobile use its massive guns to shred tanks and then use those same commands to mow down random thugs in the street. This would raise several flags, if not for the game telling you that they’re okay because when you’re about to mow down people the batmobile magically switches to non-lethal rounds. I mean what? Do you see how contrived that is? You get to simulate murdering dozens of people, with that same animation, but the game holds your hand gently and tells you they’re going to be fine, so you can go wild. All this just to preserve the escapism instead of making the player have to deal with the fact that they’re relishing in using Batman’s tools to murder the defenseless.


Zack Snyder has, on more than one occasion, talked about how consequences are very important to him. How he can’t have characters mowing down people without showing their bodies and the grisliness of the action. How he thinks it’s irresponsible and glorifying violence not to do that. In that respect, Batman v Superman is a deconstruction of the concept of consequence-free action. If you want to see the cool batmobile rampage through the streets, you will, but you will also see the consequences of it ramming through cars. You want to see Batman beating up criminals? Okay, but you’ll see how their limbs snap when he hits them and how they scream in agony when he takes them down. Truly, there is nothing wrong with this, nor is there anything wrong with Nolan’s approach; both are different and there’s room for both. The issue is we don’t need everything to be escapist. Sometimes facing the reality of the situation is necessary.

Earlier this year, Go Compare did a tally of the top 653 most deadly films. The list chronicled the films with the most onscreen deaths and ordered them accordingly. With how strong the backlash to Man of Steel’s destruction was, surely it topped the list. Well… it didn’t make top ten, top fifty, or even top one hundred. Ultimately, as far as the death count went, Man of Steel ranked 243rd. So why, then, did it feel like there was so much death? Well, before answering that I wish to compare Man of Steel’s climax with the 10th place holder’s:

If The Avengers is number 10 on that list, well above every Michael Bay movie ever, and Man of Steel is 243rd, how can Man of Steel‘s destruction and death feel so much more impactful? Simple, really. The Avengers doesn’t show the conflict from the perspective of the civilians. It pretends people aren’t getting killed en masse. Its destruction and death is a prop. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not disparaging the film for this. It never set out to be more than a fun, escapist blockbuster, and that is entirely okay. Man of Steel, however, has the destruction shown from the people running away’s perspectives. It shows their bodies getting mangled by the Black Zero’s gravity. The destruction and death matter, we’re faced with the reality that people are dying, and it’s focused on—it is decidedly not escapist—and that’s why this drummed up so many emotions.


This death and destruction led directly into Batman v Superman, where we see it play out again from a different perspective, showing just how integral to the DCEU’s narrative this battle is. Now I’m not saying Man of Steel is Hacksaw Ridge, but both are cut from the same cloth. They both try to hammer home the cost of battle, but one is an R-rated movie and the other a comic book movie. People went into one expecting escapism and went into the other expecting realism. People did not expect this kind of earnestness from a Superman movie, clinging to, indeed, the member berries of the Donner films—craving that escapism where one could believe a man could fly. This is not to knock the Donner films, mind you, as they were good for their time, but we need to understand and accept that the time of those movies have passed and that we need more contemporary movies reflective of our world.

Escapism has created some of the most significant stories of our generation. Indeed, George Lucas has gone on record saying he created Star Wars initially because kids needed something to look up to and look forward to in a time where every movie was. At the time, the world needed escapism. In our current climate, where there is so many cinematic universes and blockbuster franchises, all dealing various kinds of escapism, there’s nothing wrong with one franchise attempting to be reflective of our world and deconstructionist in its approach to heroics. Variance is the spice of life, after all. I leave you with this, it’s tempting to try to escape, to go to Canada, but that won’t accomplish anything.



8 thoughts on “Acts of Terrorism – Escapism

  1. DC movies just need better reviews and responses. They are playing like Transformer movies right now. Or even worse Twilight. They have their supporters but let’s keep it 100 these movies have a horrible reputation. At the end of the day movies will be judged by their merit and how the public saw them or see them at the current time. Right now BvS and SS are viewed as mediocre films and our considered some of the worst in the genre. They are in the same league as Batman and Robin, Superman 4, X-Men Origins Wolverine Blade 3 and others. This is just a fact. The DCEU has it’s fans but it has no artistic merit and that’s a problem


    • Thank you for reading. Just a few things I need to clear up with what you said:

      1. Argumentum ad populum is a fallacious non-argument. Something being popular in no way makes it good. Something being liked by a majority of people in no way makes that thing artistically relevant.

      2. Artistic merit is not determined by critics. Reviews are just tools to tell consumers if they should consume certain media. They are by no means objective, nor do they determine quality. There is a laundry list of films currently considered masterworks that were absolute eviscerated by critics back when they were first released.

      3. The artistic merit in DC movies, whether it be 1989’s Batman or 2016’s Batman v Superman, the vision of a director encapsulating a film—that has never been in question. Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is very calculated, made so as to offend as few people as possible while reaching the widest audience have very little artistic vision behind them. They’re movies made by committee. Dr. Strange is the most recent offering, but it’s already been forgotten as far as our zeitgeist is concerned, while BvS, released 8 months ago is still being heavily discussed.

      It is obvious which work has the most “artistic merit”. It’s the work that remains relevant.

      Liked by 1 person

    • No they’re not, because there’s a large ground swell of people that will inform you how deeply intelligent and brilliant movies like MoS and BvS are, no one would say that of your list.
      Plus even the so called “haters” are all still looking forward to the continuation of this franchise.


    • This is a deeply disingenuous comment for several reasons.

      1. Where have you seen anyone analyze Batman & Robin, Superman 4 or The Transformers films in the same manner that fans do Batman V Superman?

      2. Even the most strident critics of Batman V Superman (including caricatures such as Devin Faraci) have said that Batman V Superman is in no way as bad as Fantastic Four, Transformers or Batman & Robin. They consensus among critics is that the film is more mixed negative and is a victim of an internet era of hyperbolism.

      3. There more nuance to the issue than you are giving it credit. Here are the facts: BvS is reviled by critics (RT 27%). There is more of a 50/50 split within the fanboy community. And most of the general public enjoyed the film (almost $900m, #2 BR/DvD sales 2016 only behind The Force Awakens etc)

      So while, for whatever misguided, you may not like the film to try to equate it to the afore mentioned motion pictures is a disingenuous effort on your part.


  2. excellent analysis. the DCEU isn’t dark; it just accurately shows how dark the real world, which DCEU is based on, can be. it also, however, shines a light on the glimmer of hope, in the Super of Man(kind). “we can be better.” like the comics, the heroes (and sometimes villains) bring hope to an already troubled world. people just aren’t used to that realism approach and tone in a CBM. the problem is not in the execution but in its interpretation (or lack thereof) from the general audience and media.


  3. ‘Christopher Nolan’s masterwork isn’t dark; it’s cool and it’s escapism. In Nolan’s Batman, you can indulge in the fantasy that is Batman without any of the repercussions. You can watch Bruce Wayne blow up a monastery full of ninjas, but because you never see their bodies burning, them screaming in agony, and them maimed and dying it’s okay. Batman can ram through a trailer in a chase scene, and because Nolan never showed their bodies, it’s okay. Catwoman can shoot Bane with a high powered rifle and kill him, but because the movie doesn’t dwell on it and she says a one-liner, it’s okay. All of these examples remove the consequences from the heroes’ actions. It allows you to indulge in the fantasy and think these heroes are great, but that feeling of elation you get is disingenuous as the films just pretend that people aren’t dying’

    No offense, but I have to call BS on this comment, for a couple of reasons.

    a) When Bruce blew up the monastery, we saw debris falling onto the fake Ra’s al Ghul, killing him, and then we see his dead body lying on the ground. And while we don’t see any graphic injuries to the ninjas, the fact that they were struck by explosions shows their chances of survival were very slim. This really took me out of BB because it happened right after Bruce refused to execute a man (who we don’t even know if he managed to get out of there alive). It was ridiculous, and if any other director such as Zack Snyder directed that scene, it would’ve been condemned. But Nolan gets a free pass.

    b) Over the years, the Nolan films were highly acclaimed for their serious and “realistic” treatment of the characters and putting them into “complex moral dilemmas” and critics and fans loved analysing the supposed themes and subtext concerning Batman in a post-9/11 world. So no, these films weren’t treated just as escapism, they were described as a “thinking man’s movie”. One of the overblown reasons The Dark Knight gets praised for is the moral conflict between Batman and the Joker; no matter how high Joker raises the stakes, Batman will not cross that line and kill him. Because, what makes Nolan’s Batman unique, according to the fans, is he doesn’t kill.

    Yet, whenever I watch these movies, this feedback couldn’t be MORE wrong. Nolan’s Batman is just as guilty of having all the flaws that people criticise Snyder’s DCEU films for having, but for some reason, people overlook them. If Batman has to cross the line and kill Ra’s al Ghul, Talia, and Two-Face to save lives, then what’s the point of him not killing the Joker? Most importantly, what’s the point of making Batman say he has a moral code if he breaks it in each film, and it doesn’t have any affect on him? And if there aren’t any repercussions in breaking his rule, then how can anybody say that Nolan’s Batman is more sophisticated than your generic action hero? It undermines him, doesn’t it?

    As you might’ve guess, I’m not a fan of The Dark Knight Trilogy at all. While I do prefer Snyder’s DCEU films and I think they’ve done a much better job in exploring character arcs than people give them credit for, I don’t exactly adore them and I won’t hesitate to admit there are things that could’ve been handled better. But I tell you what, I found Batman’s arc in BvS compelling. He began BvS as a broken, cynical man let down by never-ending tragedy in his life, and redeems himself after recognising his blind fear of Superman was making become everything he fought against. For all the talk about the possibility of Superman going rogue, it was Batman who was losing his conscience and realised that before it was too late. And wanting to atone himself further, Batman seeks to start the Justice League as a way to honour Superman for his sacrifice. I don’t think BvS is a masterpiece, but honestly, that ending is a lot more hopeful than anything I got from Nolan’s trilogy.


  4. Pingback: Acts of Terrorism – Heroism | PGX

  5. Pingback: Superman – Site Title

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