An examination of what was and was not Lex Luthors plan in Batman v Superman by M.Schinke
In the course of the characters long life, Lex Luthor has been many things:
“The greatest criminal mind of our time”
A would-be galaxy conquering madman
A powerful and ruthless businessman
A clone of himself
President of the United States of America
A purple clad purloiner of Hostess Fruit Pies
The man has worn a lot of hats, and wigs, about his shiny bald head.
Since the debut of the character in in Action Comics #23 (1940) one thing has always been clear; Lex Luthor is a master manipulator with a seeming endless well of twisted genius to draw from. His ability to take advantage of the situations he finds himself in and turn them to his own needs is what truly separates him from the run of the mill comic book villains of the day. Luthors narcissism and ugly self interest are what has always put him at odds with Superman’s selfless nature, the chief cause of the friction between the two of them, at least since the 1986 Man of Steel reboot, being Luthors seemingly pathological inability to believe that Superman has no selfish ulterior motive behind his good deeds. The portrayal of the character in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice calls upon several different iterations of the characters long life to build it’s version of Lex Luthor while adding a more modern sensibility to create an entirely unique take on the character; one that combines his brilliant mind with a ruthless business savvy and a heaping help of psychological and existential issues that are not new to the character but combine with Jesse Eisenberg’s manic and twitchy performance to create a character that sprints up and down the spectrum from conventional crazy to full on, “WTF?”
While the character has been correctly observed to be operating from the shadows in BvS there has been a tendency, I believe, to give him too much credit for the events of the film. A narrative quickly arose wherein Lex became the architect behind the totality of the movies events. As those critical of the film have attempted to convince, Lex’s plan is to somehow, and for some reason, maneuver Superman and Batman into the conflict that the title suggests by having manipulated Batman for the two years between Man of Steel and BvS into fostering a deep hatred for Superman while at the same time painting Batman as a demented killer in Superman’s eyes. Lex somehow inserts his machinations into an interview Lois is conducting and uses his own hired muscle to frame Superman for a mass killing. He hires an actress to testify about the event to get the world angry with Superman. He then casts blame on Batman for a prison murder to get Superman to fight him. When that doesn’t happen he uses a victim of the Black Zero attack from MoS to blow up the US Capital building to make Batman so angry he would finally be ready to kill Superman but, just to make sure that Superman was all in, he kidnaps Martha Kent and uses her as leverage to push Superman a little further. And during all of this Lex is enticing Batman to steal the Kryptonite Lex’s men found in the Indian Ocean but not in a way to make it obvious to Batman that he want’s him to take it, while secretly creating DoomsDay to use in the event that Batman fails to kill Superman. Oh, and when we learn that Luthor knows both Batman and Superman’s secret identities as Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent all along, we question why he invited them to his charity party early in the film.
Obviously a story like this is full of holes and contradictions and things that just plain don’t make any sense. The first question being why in the hell he would want Batman and Superman to fight in the first place? How did he know about Lois’s interview and why did he think that anyone would believe Superman was capable of mass murder? Why bother to manipulate Batman for 2 years before acting? Why work so hard to keep Batman from getting the Kryptonite if he really wanted him to have it? If Superman was so into the idea of fighting Batman why would Lex need to kidnap Martha to make it happen? All of these questions would be perfectly valid if not for one key point;
Almost none of this is correct.
At least, it’s not in the correct context. Some of it is simple misunderstanding, some of it is equating events that have no relation and some of it is just plain made up. This issue of Lex’s, “Master Plan” to get Batman and Superman to fight each other has been a thorn in my side as far as the evaluation of this film has gone since I first started reading about it. I made the mistake of having read some reviews before going in to the film and there were several complaints I wasn’t able to shake while watching and one of them was this idea of Lex’s twisty, windy and completely non-sensical, “Master Plan”. I was never able to square what I had been told was happening with what I was seeing in the movie but I wanted to make sense of it, not so I could show people how smart the film was; but so I would have the satisfaction of knowing that it did, indeed, make sense. The problem is the more I looked into the film, the more I asked the movie specific questions about what was happening, the less I saw the connections between the events. Being thoroughly confused I began taking note of the fact that not only was the movie not drawing the connections between these events, it also was not attempting to paint the picture I thought it was. To examine the details of the piece was to find that the very idea of the, “Master Plan” was a folly created by callous observation. Instead of one large, over arching scheme I began to see plans made as reactions; a ripple of cause and effect that followed on from the films first action in the desert. It was during all of this that I came to the conclusion that the, “Master Plan” is a myth of our own making; something the audience decided was a thing that existed based on some notion that emerged from outside the world of the film. We have spent the better part of a year blaming the movie for badly enacting something the movie never once claimed it was attempting. This is a pervasive issue with the film critics, with many of them claiming the criticism is fair because the movie is not always explicit with it’s details; so it’s perfectly appropriate to toss your own narrative up there because the apparent vacuum makes it as true as any. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard people complain that a movie doesn’t go out of it’s way to make sure to tell you that it isn’t doing something it never claimed to be doing; it’s a confusing notion to contemplate.
What I am going to attempt, in my singularly inimitable fashion, is break down the instances of Lex’s activities and describe why they were planned, how they were implemented, what place they have in the story and why I believe they were regarded so wrongfully by critical audiences. I’ll go in chronological order as best I can and, of course, I will keep all of my information diagetic; so no novels, comics or any information from outside the film will be applied.
Part 1: The Nairomi Incident
There are some misconceptions in regards to the details of this scene but I believe, in general, that most audience members understood this part of Lex’s plan. Rightfully so as, I hope this analysis will show, this is the only incident Lex planned that was not a reaction to something else. I mean, it is a reaction to Superman’s existence, but it’s not a reaction to any specific event in this film. If there was ever a, “Master Plan” this is probably the only part of it we actually got to see as from this point forward, and as people defy his will, this is the only part of that plan that was implemented.
The plan itself is quite simple; create an international incident involving Superman wherein he is blamed for a diabolical event. The path to getting there is complex, but it makes sense. Lex uses Lois Lane as the bait to lure Superman out to a specific, highly volatile area of the world where men Lex has hired will stage the scene to create the illusion that Superman has committed an atrocious act while rescuing her from danger. The area is the fictional African country of Nairomi, where Lois has gone to interview General Amajagh, an impossible to locate person who is viewed as a terrorist by certain powers. Lois’s photographer has been replaced with a man named Jimmy Olsen; her regular camera man having, “trouble at the border”. The pair are whisked away to the General’s compound which is guarded by black clad private security contractors. During the interview Jimmy Olsen is found to be a CIA agent piggybacking Lois’s interview in an attempt to make a deal with Amajagh. The General kills the agent, which prompts the CIA to initiate a drone strike to cover up the mess. After Amajagh drags Lois off at gunpoint, the contractors begin to kill all the soldiers in the compound; piling up their bodies and immolating them with a blowtorch to simulate and attack by Superman’s heat vision. Lex’s men ride out of the compound just as Superman shows up to destroy the CIA drone and the missile it fired.
So the first question to ask is; what was the goal behind this plan. Many people are under the impression that it was just about accusing Superman of something to make him look bad. What I believe this fails to take into account is the placement of the scene in the films timeline. It’s not just a matter of rote plotting that the scene follows the discovery of the Kryptonite in the Indian Ocean and precedes Lex’s meeting with the Senators at LexCorps. As Lex makes clear; the Kryptonite needs an import license to legally be brought into the country. He frames it’s use as a, “deterrent” against a possible Superman incident. The Nairomi incident isn’t mentioned specifically in that scene but the storytelling, the placement of one scene after another, points to this; in my opinion. What we are seeing is Lex engineering the desert fiasco to create, if not a full on incident itself requiring action, then at least an example of what Superman is capable of in a negative respect. In any event, the A – B – C nature of the storytelling is; Lex wants official support to bring in the Kryptonite to use against Superman so he engineers a situation in Nairomi that would make the Kryptonite look like a potentially necessary tool; and then meets with the Senators to ask for legal permission to bring it in.
The second question is; how did Lex know about the interview in order to take advantage of it? It’s not a question I’ve heard a lot; but it’s come up enough times that I felt I had to look into it. What I’ve found is strong evidence to suggest that the entire affair was arranged by Lex from the ground up. When Jimmy Olsen asks Lois how she landed the interview with the general, she responds by telling him the thing she liked best about the photographer he replaced is that he didn’t talk. A minute later, as they are in the jeep which will take them to the compound, Lois mentions that their, “fixer” approved photographs as they are being divested of their electronic equipment. (This, by the way, also explains why Jimmy was using a film camera instead of a digital one; anything that uses electricity could be used as a tracking device.) When Lois sits down to talk with Amajagh, he answers her first question with, “They did not tell me the interview was with a lady”. Lastly, when Lois asks who was paying for the security contractors, the general changes the subject instead of answering. Now it would be impossible for either of them to know if Lex had arranged everything and there would be no reasons to suspect as much. Given what we learn about the event and it’s participants later in the film it does explain the setup. Lex arranges for private security for an interview he anonymously brokered between Lois Lane, the woman close to Superman, and a known terrorist hiding in the desert of Africa for the specific reason of luring in Superman and framing him for an incident to create a justification for his Kryptonite weapon. It’s questionable whether or not Luthor could account for the CIA’s involvement. I’m not clear as to whether or not Anatoly Knayazev knew where Jimmy was hiding the tracking device or if it was just his KGB training but it worked out in Lex’s favor anyway.
There are a few more matters to contend with on this topic. For instance, the bullet that Lois recovers is a big sticking point for many. They will ask why Lex would arm his men with a unique round that is traceable back to him if he was trying to remain secretive. I believe this question is just a matter of lack of complete thinking. Firstly, the incident took place in a sovereign foreign country. US intelligence or law enforcement would have no jurisdiction to order an investigation of the incident. Secondly, the incident involved a botched CIA attempt to make a deal with a known terrorist. While I’m not entirely sure that’s legal, the movie treats it as something that no one is supposed to know is happening. When Lois pressures Defense Secratary Calvin Swanwick about the incident he has to suss out the intel in the background. When asked to go pubic with it he tells her, “It’s classified. And I happen to like my job”. The members of the Committee on Superman Affairs weren’t aware of what their own intelligence agency had found. So even though the US government had information that pointed to Lex’s involvement, they were never going to make it public or move on it because the incident involved a CIA agent who’s cover was blown, resulting in his death, which the agency tried to cover it up by ordering an unsanctioned missile strike on the compound, knowingly putting a civilian in danger. Hell, Lois got lucky to even end up with the bullet in the first place. The CIA cover up is the reason that Lex is able to use Kahina Ziri to spread his story to the Senate committee. The lack of information, what Senator Finch wanted to find, is exactly the reason that Kahina’s testimony is taken so seriously. If Lex want’s to pursue his agenda he needed to control the narrative surrounding the desert incident. Lois cannot come out and testify to what happened specifically because she didn’t see it; the General had taken her inside the compounds main building before Superman showed up; she cannot say what happened between the time Jimmy was killed and when Superman came crashing down through the ceiling. The entire desert plot plays directly to Luthors advantage but he is undone by the one thing that continually confounds him in the movie; people. In this case it’s Lois’s determination to find the truth that will result in her being where she needs to be to save Superman from Batman, and Batman from himself, so together they can save countless lives from DoomsDay.
You may have to do some backtracking in the film to see where all the pieces fall into line, but it should be easier to do when you see Lois realize for herself how she was used to set Superman up, which comes after she finds out that Lex was behind what happened in the compound. If I have a criticism of the scene it would be it’s placement on the films timeline. Placing the desert scenes after the scenes of Lex meeting with Senator Finch makes more linear sense. In this way you have Lex asking for an import license for his Kryptonite and, when his request is met with push-back, creating an incident that makes the weapon seem necessary. However I do think I understand why the movie wasn’t constructed this way. Firstly, it make Lex’s involvement in Nairomi far too obvious. Secondly, it pushes back the first appearance of Lois and Superman while revealing Luthor much to early in the film. I think revealing Lois this early in the movie also sets the stage for how important she will be in the end as without her involvement Batman could not be saved, and the devastation that DoomsDay could have caused would be incalculable.
Part 2: The Party
This is possibly the most confusing area of the film if one is holding to the, “Master Plan” angle because inviting both Bruce and Clark to the charity party appears to deliver no tangible benefits to Lex. Neither Bruce nor Clark have any idea who the other is so, while there is subtext delivered to the audience in the dialog, it comes without awareness to the characters themselves. If the assumption that Lex knows the identities of both of the heroes at this point is true, and he never takes advantage of their proximity to one another, then why did he bother to invite them? Of course, the crux of the problem comes from that assumption. We learn later on in the film that Lex has known of Clark’s identity at least as long as the timeline of the film. And we know by the end of the film that at some point he’s learned of Bruce’s secret, but this doesn’t mean he has known it for the whole film. The movie doesn’t even present the idea until after the capital bombing, and there is a logical point in the film when he could have sussed it out. But even if we make the assumption that he knows who both of them are at the time of the party it’s still a stretch to assume that inviting the two of them was part of some plot, especially given the fact that the movie, as all the critics point out, never makes this out to be anything. Bruce is notorious for not visiting Metropolis, given Lex’s statement to him, and he is a billionaire with a large philanthropic foundation. It’s reasonable to assume that Lex invited Clark because they have never actually met if their interaction is any indication. If Lex is aware that Bruce is Batman there is no way that he can know, given again what the movie tells us, that Bruce is looking into him for any reason. The White Portuguese, the ship Batman has been investigating, is not Lex’s ship; it belongs to Anatoly Knyazev as part of his operation. Until Lex’s cargo is on the ship, whatever happens to it is none of his concern. Additionally, Lex himself is not portrayed to be a criminal, so what has he to fear from the Batman? There is nothing illogical about Bruce being invited to the event. It’s a real event and Bruce has real money.
If there is nothing in the movie providing any information to suggest that there is any larger machination behind the invitation of Bruce and Clark to Lex’s party, then the assumption of such is being made outside the realm of the films information delivery mechanism. Again, most films aren’t required to tell you specifically that they are not doing something they give no indication they are attempting to do. If the movie never tells us this scene is part of a larger scheme by Lex then it should be taken for what it is; an organic interaction between Bruce and Clark wherein they meet and exchange thoughts that support each of their characters motivations, all without knowing who the other one is.
Part 3: The Prison Murder
The prison murder holds an interesting place in the plot as it is one of the easiest to misunderstand; especially in the film as released theatrically. In the Ultimate Cut we see that the man Batman brands in his first scene is being transferred to Iron Heights prison in Metropolis, from Blackgate prison in Gotham. We see Anatoly Knyazev talking to a prisoner during visiting time, then that same man killing the branded person. Pictures of the mans dead body are sent to Clark Kent, who then shows up during Batman’s assault on the caravan transporting the Kryptonite to LexCorps. It’s easy enough to see the A-B-C logic of Lex having someone killed to get Superman angry enough with Batman because this is true; but only partially. What I feel many people do not do is take a big step backwards and examien the big picture element of what is happening.
We know from early in the film that Batman has been sniffing around Anatoly’s activites at the Port of Gotham, paying specific attention to a ship called the White Portuguese under the guise of investigating a possible dirty bomb. It’s never stated, but it’s not an illogical assumption to make that the people working for Lex would inform him that Batman was causing issues in their operation. Lex is using the White Portuguese to bring the Kryptonite into the country because he was denied permission to legally import it by senator Finch. Lex really want’s that Kryptonite, but if his people alone could stop Batman they would have likely done it by now. So Lex needs a weapon that can deter Batman. It’s never stated that Lex knows Batman want’s the kryptonite or even knows anything about it but we can surmise that Lex would want an extra level of security against The Bat. We don’t know whether or not Lex arranged for the prisoner to be transferred to Metropolis as the movie doesn’t specifically say, but not only is it not outside the realm of his influence; it makes the most sense if he want’s to bring the issue of his death to Superman’s attention. Then there is the timing of the act. Again, this is a matter of the scene sequencing of the films plot. It’s difficult to put that into context without talking about the Superman story line in the film and I wanted to save that for another entry, but I’ll do my best only to concentrate on the relevant information. The timeline is set in motion when Bruce cracks Lex’s drive after the museum gala. At the end of his conversation with Alfred he says, “14 hours”. Now I can’t say I, “know” for sure, but I believe this is setting a timeline for the events of the next few scenes, giving the plot a 14 hour window to get to the caravan assault. The inmate had been transferred to Metropolis sometime before the museum gala; the same morning that Wallace Keefe (more on him later) is bailed out by Lex and at least a day or two before Bruce gets the drive back from Diana. It’s night time when the pictures arrive at Clark’s desk and he’s wearing the same clothes as the previous scene, so it’s reasonable to assume that this is still that same day; which is the day of the museum gala. If my reading of the 14 hour time line is correct, this gives Clark plenty of time to go to Gotham the next morning to investigate the situation. Here he has a conversation with the mother of the dead man’s child. We know that Clark has been investigating Batman with the intent of using his power as a journalist to address the issue of his recent violence, but no one in a position to do so seems to want to assist with that. The conversation with the dead man’s beau drives home the point that if he is going to stop Batman he is going to have to do it as Superman. The logical way to address that, considering that a man is now dead in Metropolis in connection with Batman’s actions, would be to confront him at the next available opportunity. That opportunity happens to be that same night; the night that the Kryptonite is set to arrive in Gotham. So the timeline and events paint the picture that Lex’s goal with the murder of the branded criminal and the pictures sent to Clark was not to create an antagonistic tone for Superman that just happened to manifest on the same night as his Kryptonite shipment, but to deliberately maneuver Superman into a position where he would unwittingly prevent Batman from endangering Luthor’s prize; confronting him during the heist as it is the next time he would be able to. In my opinion, and given this information, the plan has nothing to do with Lex trying to manipulate Superman into, “hating” Batman for some long term scheme.
There are a few questions that can be asked of this scene which are easily resolvable. The first and, I think, most obvious is how would Lex know that Superman would take the bait? Obviously while he could make an educated guess based on what he has learned of the man there is no way he could have known definitively. However this is not the real world; this is a movie. The plot does not need to be airtight in that these events happened the only way they possibly could; that’s not how movies work. The plot only needs to be tight enough so that the events seem possible, not specifically inevitable. I believe the writers to have been successful in this regard. It’s complex, but the information lines up in my estimation.
Another question that might be asked is why Superman decides to stop Batman but let’s Lex’s men go, considering they are mercenaries and criminals. The issue with that is; Superman does not and cannot know any of that. Firstly it must be understood that Superman is not omniscient. As he states at the end of Man of Steel, he takes the job as a reporter so he can keep his ear to the ground. So even though he is Superman, the character is set up in these films in a very specific way. In this regard, Superman cannot act if he does not know something is happening, so he has to wait for information before he can. Yes; this flies in the face of how Superman is portrayed in modernity but not in the classic iteration of the character; his need to be fed information to act on was always the impetus behind his decisions to become a reporter. There is no reason to assume that he had been observing the situation at the port for any length of time and, even if he had; he cannot know what is going on other than someone is unpacking a crate for shipping and Batman is attacking them. How is he to know who is a criminal and who is just a regular Joe doing a job? Sure, the men are firing back at Batman, but Superman only knows of Batman’s actions to this point. None of this should be difficult to grasp unless one is completely unwilling to shake the notion that Superman would simply, “know” what was happening.
Part 4: Wallace Keefe and the Capital Bombing
This particular scheme isn’t as complicated as I originally thought but it is a little tricky to detail. The events themselves are simple: Lex Luthor bails Wallace Keefe out of jail. A double amputee, Wallace is provided a new electric wheelchair by Lex, who also arranges a meeting with Senator Finch. Wallace asks her to let him face Superman as an example of the consequences of his super-deeds, while Senator Finch wants him to account for his actions in the Nairomi incident. Finch calls the hearing for an unspecified number of days later and invites Superman to attend; which he does. Before the televised hearing begins, a watching Bruce Wayne recalls Wallace. After hearing Wallace say he has, “nothing”, Bruce inquires about the man’s receipt of checks from the victims fund set up in the wake of the finale events in Man of Steel, where a Wayne building was destroyed and lives were lost. It turns out Wallace has been returning the checks with cryptic messages scrawled across them; a final one arriving just before the hearing beings. During Senator Finches opening remarks in which she discovers a jar of yellow liquid labled, “Granny’s Peach Tea”, a reference to an earlier scene with Lex, Wallace’s chair detonates; the explosion ripping through the Capital building, killing everyone in the hearing room save for Superman, who can only stand by and mourn the loss of life. Bruce opens the final returned check to find a crude drawing of the Captial building on fire and a final note; the phrase, “You let your family die” scratched across an article about the destruction of the Wayne Financial building, where Wallace lost his legs. In the wake of the bombing the news begins to report that Wallace was responsible, with reports of, “credible tips” coming in and the police finding anti-Superman paraphernalia and bomb making material in his home.
There is quite a bit to unpack in this sequence of events so I think we should start by familiarizing ourselves with the key players; Wallace Keefe, Kahina Ziri and Senator Finch.
We are introduced to Wallace in the second prologue, the recap of the final two acts of Man of Steel, retold from the ground level perspective of Bruce Wayne. We meet Wallace as Bruce Wayne does; trapped under debris and crying out for help. Bruce and others are able to rescue him but he can be heard crying, “I can’t feel my legs”. We next meet him about 34 minutes into the film in his shambled apartment, the walls littered with newspapers clippings detailing Supermans heroic activities, on many of which he has underlined or circled the name, “Superman”. There are also two photographs; one of a woman and one of that same woman, Wallace and a young child. Wallace is cutting rope and taping it to some canisters, though we can’t see what he is making, but it is implied to be a device of some kind. He pulls the picture of the three off the wall and in an almost continuous shot we see him laying it at the foot of the memorial wall at the Superman statue in Heroes Park. Typically people leave items at a memorial in honor of those who have been victims of an events or in honor of things that have been lost. In this case it is confirmed later on that Wallace has lost his family; his wife leaving him sometimes after he lost his legs. He climbs the statue of Superman and spray paints the words, “False God” across it’s chest, right across the, “S” that stands for hope in the Kryptonian language. He is arrested for this, and the arrest is televised as we are shown Clark and various members of the Daily Planet staff watching it. Some short time later, the same day that the branded prisoner is transferred to Iron Heights, Luthor bails Wallace out of jail, presents him with a new electric wheelchair and arranges a meeting Senator Finch.
Senator Finch was introduced as the head of the Committee on Superman Affairs in the scene that follows the desert action piece. Luthor brings her and anther senator in to LexCorps to make the case for his Kryptonite weapon, asking them to approve an import license for the radioactive mineral as a mater of, “planetary security”. A short time later, Senator Finch visits Luthor at his home to tell him that she is blocking the import license as she will not allow him to use a potential threat to create what she called, “a weapon of assissination”, a decision Luthor is visibly displeased with. Finch takes a meeting with Wallace Keefe and agrees to call a hearing of the CoSA so he can face Superman, as well as giving the committee a chance to question him about the Nairomi incident. On the day of the hearing, Senator Finch is meets with Kahina Ziri, the witness in the first committee scene, followed by a confrontation with Luthor moments before the hearing is set to begin.
Kahina Ziri is a somewhat mysterious character and while her role in the film is limited it has significant impact. We see her twice in the early parts of the film; once at the CoSA’s hearing on the Nairomi incident where she lays blame for the attack on the General’s compound and the following government retribution at Superman’s feet, and again in a TV interview where she questions how Superman chooses who to help and when; the first time his autonomy to act is questioned in the film but certainly not the last. She is the subject of Clark’s first trip to Gotham, during which he first hears of The Batman. It is much later in the film when we next see her avoiding Anatoly Knyazev, eventually making her way to Senator Finch where she reveals that her testimony on the Nairomi incident was a lie forced by Luthor to sell the story of a Superman attack on foreign soil. She is murdered by Knyazev after leaving the Senators office, but the damage is already done.
If I can be permitted to speculate into the fictional world for a moment; besides casting a cold light on Superman once again, Luthor bombing the hearing provides other benefits to him. First, if we presume that his man would have told him of the fact that Kahina Ziri met with Senator Finch, then the bombing would cover up his involvement in the Nairomi incident by eliminating anyone who would have known of it; including, unfortunately, his assistant Mercy Graves. The second reason is just plain old fashioned revenge against Senator Finch for defying him. Even if Superman hadn’t shown to the hearing the bombing would still have been a success and framing Wallace would still have had an effect; with his actions possibly being framed as retribution against the committee for not taking action against Superman after the Metropolis incident. And even if Luthor is unaware that Kahina ratted him out, and Superman fails to show, he can still go in and hold her feet to the fire for blocking the import license for the Krytponite. I’m not saying the screenplay is airtight here but there does seem to be a lot of effort put into making sure the data points all line up in Lex’s favor.
I was initially confused as to the extent of Luthors manipulation of Wallace. When Luthor reveals that he was behind the message on the final returned check to Bruce Wayne I made the assumption that he had to have been behind all of them. This obviously led to a host of incongruities and questions:
When did Wallace pop up on Luthors radar?
Was Luthor intercepting Wallace’s Victims Fund checks and holding them? Returning them? Why? Was Luthor ruining Wallace to the point that he would finally become enraged at Superman and, thus, transformed into the perfect patsy?
Rightfully not only did these questions not result in any sensible answers, they also had no support within the film; and my rule is and has always been it has to be seen or heard on screen in some capacity to count as diagetic, “fact”. So as normal I went back to the movie and disregarded any assumptions I had previously held and by doing so I found what I believe is diageticaly factual to be so much more simple.
Like Bruce Wayne, Wallace has no need to be manipulated because his feelings are genuine. Due to Superman’s presence he has lost a great deal, so he didn’t need to be pushed by anyone to have animosity towards our hero. His act of vandalism was all his own and it’s that act that brings him to Luthors attention. Wallace’s arrest was was quite public and he literally shouted out that he works for Bruce Wayne. A volatile person with an ax to grind with Superman and yet still a sympathetic victim; this made him the perfect chess piece for Lex.
For a long time I had an issue with the returned checks. I couldn’t get my head around the idea that Lex had been intercepting them and sending them to Bruce, as had been so widely and rightfully commented on. If he was using them to push Bruce’s buttons it was a very poor scheme considering Bruce doesn’t see them until the day of the Capital bombing. And if Lex was keeping the checks from Wallace to push him, why wouldn’t Wallace have gone to his employer and asked about the money they likely promised him he would get so he could take care of his family? So again I had to shut out the voices and just listen to the film. A few key points stand out. Firstly is that Wallace does not seem concerned about money. His feeling of loss is one of pride;
“He made me half a man. My wife walked out on me. I can’t even piss standing up”.
Sending the checks back makes sense in this regard because this wouldn’t be a person looking for pity or charity. He still considers himself an employee of Bruce Wayne, something he is still proud of. Secondly, the newspaper clippings on the wall are all written on in the same red marker that was used to write the notes on the checks. Additional to that is, even the last one that Lex takes credit for makes sense because of the existence of the newspaper clippings. One can rightfully ask the question about how Luthor would be able to append his message to Wallace’s act of returning the checks as the movie does not say. One can speculate that Wallace may have told him, but it’s only speculation. Lastly the only information the movie gives us is that Wallace has been returning the checks every month. Everything in a movie is communication. You can say the person who speaks this line is mistaken or guessing, but when the movie flat out states something you have to take it at face value until or unless you are told otherwise. The only conclusion based on the movies information is that Wallace had been returning the checks unbidden and un-coerced; his statement about having nothing pointing to the loss of his family and his abiliy to work. Lex used his feelings to manipulate him into a position where he could be turned into a weapon; a fall guy that no one would think twice about blaming given his high profile arrest and the evidence planted in his apartment. The returned checks serve to paint a picture of a person with a long term fixation on Superman, the last one from Lex explicitly painting Wallace as having planned the Capital bombing. The returned checks themselves become evidence in the investigation since Wallace made such a big deal about working for Bruce Wayne, it would only be a matter of time before someone comes around Wayne Enterprises asking about him. It is, in my opinion, a diabolical piece of fiction that allows enough space for Lois Lane and her desire to find the truth to be the one to put all the pieces together.
UPDATED: Martha, Lois and the Fight
In my zeal to finish this article I neglected one key ingredient; the fight itself. I think by this point I’ve made it pretty clear my belief that getting to this, getting to the fight, was not an intention Luthor held. The main event in the movie is outside the scope of what Luthor had been driving towards; being the one to bring Superman low before the entire world to prove his theological point and solve his own, personal existential crisis. Look at the movie; look at what happens. Superman has no idea that Batman has anything going on in regards to him. It’s always amused me how closed the circle of events in is this film. Clark Kent is on the case of Batman’s increased violence at the Port of Gotham, and Batman’s reason for letting his moral compass sway is because he’s let his fear get the better of him and the Kryptonite is his way of beating that fear back. Luthor is again taking advantage of a situation that has presented itself to him. He is again exploiting a weakness in Superman, allowing him to manipulate him to his own ends. Once again, Luthor is not engaging Batman in any way; everything that Batman is and has been doing up to this point is all of his own accord. Superman has no intention of fighting Batman; if he did he wouldn’t have let him off with a warning before. And coming down from the mountain, after his internal, “conversation” with his dad, he has only Lois on his mind. She’s the reason he came back. It should be perfectly, PERFECTLY clear that Luthor snatching Martha was all about getting Superman to engage in a fight he clearly had no interest in pursuing. Stepping back into the speculative world; we have no idea how Superman would have reacted to Batman’s signal had Luthor not taken his mother. But the fact is that he did and he did it to force Superman’s hand.
Again the storytelling here is quite clear. Luthor comes up with the scheme after Batman takes the Kryptonite. He doesn’t call for it to be implemented until the Batsignal lights up the night. Whatever plans he put in place were accomplished in whatever time passes between Batman’s assault on Lexcorp and the night of the fight. There would have been no reason to create the plan before hand seeing as the movie never informs us Lex was aware of what Bruce was working on. Again; the movie shouldn’t have to tell you it isn’t doing something when it’s never hinted that it is.
Part 5: DoomsDay
I didn’t think this one would need any explanation but there are some lingering questions out there, so I’ll just touch on those points. Lex’s plan for creating DoomsDay was in direct response to Batman stealing the Kryptonite. The scene of him entering the scout ship and assuming command was definitely taken from earlier in the film but, used in this context, shows a clear intent to use the knowledge in the Kryptonian database towards what would eventually result in the creation of DoomsDay; a weapon to use against Superman. By moving the scene of his entering and assuming command of the Kryptonian ship to this later point in the film it creates a clear stimulus and response between one action and another.
I don’t believe the idea was just to unleash DoomsDay no matter what. I truly believe that Lex was playing the options. If Batman kills Superman, he’s made his point. If Superman kills Batman, he’s made his point. If neither of those things happens, he has DoomsDay to make his point. Now again, the movie does not say this specifically but there is a period of time, thirty seconds to be precise, between when Superman’s one hour runs out and when the final process to complete DoomsDay initiates that could indicate that there was an opportunity to abort the animation before it completed. Again, I concede that the movie does not specifically say this, but the implication is there at least. Creating DoomsDay was a plan of last resort in case either Superman or Batman did not comply.
Part 6: Bruce Wayne
There has been a perception that Lex had somehow been manipulating Bruce in the time between Man of Steel and BvS in order to push his animus towards Superman to a boiling point. This seemed to be based on a single piece of dialog from the Lex/ Superman scene on LexCorp towers helipad in Metropolis, as well as Lex’s comments during his charity party. During the party Lex makes a joke about not picking a fight with Clark and his intimations about the, “no good” his R and D has been up to when suggesting he and Bruce should partner up. In the helipad scene Lex mentions what it took to finally push Batman over the edge as well as, essentially, taking credit for Wallace’s final returned check. Because of this many people, myself included, assumed this meant he had been responsible for all the returned checks in a ploy to push Bruce into a confrontation with Superman. As I’ve previously said however, when you look at the facts of the story telling this doesn’t add up. Firstly, while the film makes very clear that Lex’s plan’s all revolve around Superman he shows no interest in Batman. The movie doesn’t give us anything to say Lex had been engaging with Batman before the Kryptonite Convoy, nor does it give the impression that he was overly concerned with him after the truck finally reaches the LexCorp’s compound; leading to his shock when Batman later raids the compound, decimates his security and takes the Kryptonite. The line Lex speaks to Superman on the helipad concerning Batman,“Ripe fruit, his hate. Two years growing but it did not take much to push him over, actually; little red notes, big bang, YOU LET YOUR FAMILY DIE!”,could be read in a couple of ways depending on your point of view. If you take the stance that Lex did not know of Bruce’s identity until sometime during the movies running, then the statement is one of interest or amazement at what it took before Batman finally decided to take revenge on Superman for the incident in Metropolis after two years; which is the deflection the movie has been painting for Batman’s actions. I find it highly unlikely that Lex would have known enough about Bruce to know that his entire life is motivated by the death of his parents, otherwise Lex would have included an article about the Wayne’s murder to push Bruce over instead of one about the Wayne Financial building collapse. It can support the surface story of Bruce going after Superman because of Metropolis or it can support what I believe is the true narrative of Bruce’s story; that this fight and all of his issues are still about him dealing with the death of his parents.
This is, I believe, another case where if the facts on film don’t fit the narrative you’ve developed, or contradict it all together; then most likely your narrative is incorrect as far as the films facts are concerned.
This leads directly into the question of exactly when Lex knew of Batman’s identity. While I believe there is a logical point in the film where this discovery could occur I do concede there is some murkiness concerning it where the party is concerned. However I stand by my assessment that Lex inviting Clark and Bruce was not part of any larger agenda. Also of note is that there is no folder for Batman in the data that Bruce took from Lex. There is also no folder for Superman in the, “Meta Human” directory but there IS a directory labeled, “Xenobiology”, assuredly to mean Superman. If Lex actually was aware this early on of Bruce’s role as Batman it would mark part of a trend in the film of Lex underestimating the man; not expecting him to have a backup plan if he was unsuccessful in his assault on the Kryptonite convoy, not anticipating his stealing the Kryptonite in an all out raid on LexCorps and not expecting Bruce to have a change of perception in regards to Superman to the point where the two become allies in the fight against DoomsDay. Perhaps the approach from a, “Lex’s narrative” point of view was since Batman was not a meta-human or an alien he simply wasn’t important.
Part 7: Odds and Ends
So this one is just plain stupid and not part of any kind of Lex plan but I think it needs to be addressed because people don’t seem to want to leave it alone.
The Metahuman Files.
You know how it goes, “did Luthor have some intern on stand by to make logo images for his files on Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg and Wonder Woman?”
First, the file folder was on Lex’s private server in his house. This wasn’t something that was being worked on by LexCorp’s; this was a private project. And as for the logos; they are icons for folders in his directory. It gets done. And the designs? Wonder Woman has a shape that looks like two, “W”’s on both her breastplate and her belt. Flash with the lightening bolt? The lightening is the defining visual in the security footage. Aquaman has arrowhead shapes all over his body. The only one that might take a bit of design work is Cyborg and even then it’s just a big, “C”; for cyborg. Not a stretch.
Another thing that seems to get to some people is the issue of Diana’s photo. I’ve heard it joked about too many times that it doesn’t make any sense for her to go looking for the photo on Luthor’s computers; wouldn’t he have back up copies someplace else? Of course the Wonder Woman’s solo film answers that question but it still bears some comment because it references the issue of people not listening to words that are being said in the film. When Diana was answering Bruce’s question, she doesn’t say Luthor has a picture that belongs to her; she says he has a photograph that belongs to her. A photograph is a very specific thing; a physical object. I think you can get to a place where it’s understandable that she wasn’t looking for the photo on Luthor’s server but rather information on where the photo might be. Yes, Bruce found a digital copy of the photo, but that doesn’t mean that’s was specifically what she was looking for.
I’m sure there are some questions that I haven’t covered but my intent was never to explain everything Lex does in the movie. What I believe I have done is lay out the confusion surrounding what agenda Lex had for the various players, how Lex went about deploying his various schemes and why they were necessary as far as the film is concerned. The very idea of Lex having a single plan that encompassed every action in the film is contradicted by the way the events play out on screen. This is why it’s so confusing to see and hear people deride the absurdity of Lex having this, “Master Plan” without stopping to consider the reason it doesn’t make any sense is simply because it doesn’t exist. Even as a staunch advocate of the film I was in the same boat as others but, having made the mistake of reading spoilers and reviews before going in, I cannot tell if my initial impression of the film was genuine in that respect or if I had prepared myself so much to see things a certain way that I wasn’t able to be completely objective in my observations. It’s a lesson I’ve learned going in to films since then, though as a consumer of pop culture it’s difficult to stay away from these things at times.
So why did so many of us decide to take to the belief that Lex had a, “Master Plan” at all? I don’t think it’s difficult to accept that we all assumed what we did because we all share a common, baseline understanding of who Lex Luthor is as a character. Most of us have watched him through shows like Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League/Unlimited and Smallville. Just by our proximity to the source material as comic book and comic book movie fans we assumed some over-arching, Machiavellian scheme on Lex’s part because that’s simply what the villains in comic book movies do. Adrian Veidt in Watchmen, Obadiah Stane in Iron Man, Joker in The Dark Knight, Zemo in Captain America: Civil War; even Lex Luthor in the older Superman films. That these characters all implement large, looming plots is considered de rigueur by our understanding of how these films work. So of course as soon as we get a whiff that Lex had any plans in BvS we assume he must have had ALL the plans, despite the fact that the movie never once tells us this. Was this a purposeful act on the part of the film makers in their particular take on the deconstruction of a super hero story, or were our assumptions a side effect of our propensity for always trying to be one or two steps ahead of any story we’re being told? I can’t say with any certainty where the rest of the public stands on this but I clearly fall into the latter category. I was so invested in getting out ahead of the story and trying to anticipate what the film was saying based on my own assumptions combined with the early commentary I had read that I was, essentially, putting words into the movies mouth. It wasn’t until much later, after long and venom induced arguments with others that I finally sat down to unravel the so-called, “mystery” of the plan, only to be shocked at results.
I’ve learned a lot from this experience. I’ve learned that spoilers get me into trouble, because you can’t trust the context the leakers are putting them into. I’ve learned that paying attention to a movie means more than just not getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the film. But mostly I’ve learned to trust an age old saying,
“When you hear hooves; think horses, not zebras.”
Clever endings aren’t my bag.
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