If you’ve ever walked Main Street at a Disney park, you might have noticed something a little bit strange—the upper stories of the buildings are a little bit shorter than the ground-level stories. Some of that might seem practical; many are just set pieces, after all, not fully functioning buildings.
But—as with all things at Disney—a lot of thinking went into that detail as well. Walt Disney never wanted a visitor to one of his parks to feel small or marginalized. Every land, every ride was imagined as a story that guests were visiting, and in that story they were meant to see themselves as the main character, central and of ultimate value.
And one way (among many others) that this was accomplished was by making the buildings slightly smaller than they should be. In this way we feel slightly bigger and more important.
I couldn’t help but think of Disney’s philosophy as I watched “Batman vs. Superman,” Zack Snyder’s blockbuster sequel to “Man of Steel.” Like the last 40 minutes of “Steel,” much of the new film is captivated with presentations of repeated acts of mass destruction in highly populated areas. Early in the new film there seems to be an acknowledgment of the human victims (which the first film completely and disturbingly lacked), but in subsequent brutalizing acts that concern is completely forgotten. Snyder just can’t seem to help himself; he’s not interested in people, but in destruction.
Now, as you might have heard this week, the cool kids (AKA film buffs and critics) don’t like Snyder. They say he’s all style and no substance, and they’ve been saying that for a long time. Personally, though, I think “Man of Steel” and “Batman vs. Superman” show a radically unique vision of reality, one in which you and I are irrelevant and uninteresting and the only constant is apocalyptic-level violence.
Some might say it’s a superhero story for a post-9/11 world. But I don’t think that goes anywhere near far enough. Imagine if 9/11 had involved a small atomic bomb rather than planes and that events like this had been repeated multiples times since and in that context someone wrote a superhero story. This is that movie. There is no terror here, no sense of fear or hopelessness. We’re beyond all that at this point; obliteration is reality. The only real question is whether our heroes will stop its most recent iteration.
There are a few lighter moments in the film, when actual normal human beings like Lois Lane or Perry White or Alfred the Butler are given a few seconds to interact with our main players. And it must be said, despite all the pre-film naysaying Ben Affleck’s Batman is really interesting, a version of the character we haven’t seen. He and Jeremy Irons as Alfred have a great rapport. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is also fantastic. Anytime she’s onscreen, the film rallies from its death spiral.
But as a whole, “Batman vs. Superman” is a work of utter desolation, as close as I ever want to come to an actual experience of Hell. (And I’m not being terribly hyperbolic, either. The only other film in which I’ve had such a sickening experience of the meaninglessness of humanity was “Man of Steel.”)
I can see why Warner Brothers chose Zack Snyder to midwife their DC comic book universe. As a filmmaker he has talent and vision. But after these last two films, it is definitely time to reconsider. Because much like a walk through a Disney theme park, watching a superhero film is ultimately an act of wish fulfillment, a self-affirmation that adventure and joy and wonder and hope are possible in this life. It’s not a choice for self-annihilation.