As a woman of colour and a child of immigrants and even as a female engineering student, I know that racism and sexism exist. I know that there is vast inequality in the world that can be seen everywhere. And I also know that I have it a hell of a lot better than most.
Maybe it’s a sign of my relative privilege that I don’t have to constantly engage with that fact, or maybe it’s just that life is stressful enough without having to face the fact that the world can be an awful place, but for whatever reason, I love escapist fiction. I like comedies that I don’t have to think about. I like fantasies that let me focus on problems that aren’t mine and that don’t exist in my universe. Zack Snyder’s DCEU movies don’t let me do that.
Snyder’s movies handle real problems, and handle them seriously. They don’t make jokes about genuinely awful things, because we shouldn’t find them funny. Bruce Wayne’s obsessiveness and paranoia and the way that he copes with his trauma by dressing up as a bat and beating up criminals in the night aren’t funny. They’re tragic. Snyder helps us feel for Clark, because he’s a person, not just some fantasy for people to project onto. These movies are thoughtful, not flippant, and they’re told compassionately enough that I can enjoy them, rather than feeling worse.
They don’t force me to confront things that I’d rather not think about without offering me any support, because they tell me that while there are things to fear, I don’t have to face them alone. That the world is tough, but it’s all of our problem. They never embrace cynicism. Characters aren’t mocked for idealism or naivete. They’re proven right. They’re the people we’re supposed to aspire to be like. Growing up doesn’t have to mean becoming jaded. It means being able to do something. In Batman v Superman, Jenet Klyburn told Lois that what makes her a good reporter is that the bad in the world still surprises her. That’s true. We cannot make the world a better place if we’re resigned to the fact that bad things will happen. We should prepare for the worst while still hoping for the best, and believing in the good of humanity.
Man of Steel and Batman v Superman are serious stories that force the audience to confront the issues that exist in our world through a fantastic lens. Despite that, they’re never pessimistic. They’re grounded in reality, but maintain a sense of optimism. The immigrant refugee can be accepted. The smart, decent guy that feels like an outcast can find a purpose and a place where he feels a sense of belonging. The unethical billionaire can be exposed for crimes and prosecuted. The innocent man can be proven innocent. The bigot can see the error in his ways and change for the better. The journalist can still be unjaded enough to be shocked and horrified at learning about corrupt officials or businesspeople. Oftentimes, these things don’t happen in our world. But Snyder shows us a world in which they can, a world that we can work together to create.
Snyder gives us a genuinely hopeful perspective of the world. He doesn’t try to tell us that the world is just fantastic the way it is, or that we have to love and forgive everyone to be good people, or that . He tells us that despite all the bad, the world is full of good people and decency. That it’s worth fighting for, because it can be better, and it’s up to us to improve it and be our own heroes. Cynicism isn’t maturity. It’s the easy way out. It’s a defence mechanism against disappointment, and it’s understandable, but it’s not the way forward. Nor is blind positivity. We have to recognize that, hey, the world is far from perfect, but we can and should make it better, and that the day we give up on that idea, the day we get too worn out to be shocked and angry about what’s going on in the world, is the day we all lose.
I don’t have the mental or emotional capacity to watch Batman v Superman every day. That’s not a bad thing. There are movies for different times, and there are going to be times when I need to see something less intense. Man of Steel is magical. It’s warm and makes me feel better all the time. It’s comfort food. But Batman v Superman? That’s different. It’s thought provoking. It’s not the reassurance I want when I’m just having a bad day and I want sympathy, but it is what I need when I’m looking for someone to be both real with me and compassionate about the state of the world.