Let’s get one thing straight right away: in Batman v Superman, the Caped Crusader and Man of Steel don’t become super friends ‘just because their mums have the same name’. While it’s funny to boil down all criticism of Dawn of Justice to this one misconception, there’s actually a lot more going on in the infamous ‘Martha’ scene. True, in execution, Zack Snyder’s movie totally blows it. But on paper, it’s a brilliant idea.
Think about it. In this pivotal moment, Bats and Supes don’t just need to resolve their differences and stop fighting; they need to forge a real emotional bond and mean something to each other, not least because this relationship forms the foundation of the Justice League.
Up until this point, Bruce has lost his way. Fuelled by rage and revenge, he’s dishing out a literal brand of vigilante punishment. Clark, meanwhile, has lost faith. The Son of Krypton is questioning whether to continue protecting the people of Earth. So when Batman is about to deliver a fatal blow and Superman asks him to rescue his mother, it has multiple layers of significance.
For a jaded Bruce, the name Martha reminds him of the traumatic childhood incident that has defined his entire life and inspired his crime-fighting career. Clark’s plea shows him that Superman is more than just a destructive alien force. Essentially, it resets Batman’s moral compass.
On the other hand, the mercy that Batman displays in this instant shows Superman not only that this violent, self-righteous Dark Knight is capable of compassion, but that there is good to be found in humankind after all.
I’m not denying, of course, that it all plays out terribly in the film. Ben Affleck’s spluttery reaction is wildly misjudged, and the speed with which the two clashing crime-fighters go from trading punches to joining forces is simply laughable. But don’t blame Martha. To have a single moment in this film that creates a resolution for both conflicting character arcs simultaneously, while also creating the basis for a legendary partnership, is impressive.
To do all of that with just one word? That’s genius. Or is it just me?
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