Spoilers follow for Batman v Superman. Please leave if you do not want to be spoiled for this movie.
Like any Zack Snyder movie featuring men with undulating muscles in costumes so tiny and tight, the director's attempted superhero epic Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is full of mixed messages. Lex Luthor conflates being psychotic with being too intelligent. Lois Lane talks about being a journalist before being a woman. And perhaps the film's greatest sin is that it never provides a logically sound reason for why the two main heroes have so much animosity toward each other.
But amidst Batman v Superman's heap of broken themes and stories, there is one thing that Snyder, perhaps unintentionally, makes abundantly clear: Batman is the most prominent "Not All Men" supporter on the face of the planet.
In more than one instance, Batman uses a permutation of the "not all men" rebuttal to correct Wonder Woman's notions about Earth — never mind that she is a longtime observer of its cyclical nature of man-made wars and strife. There's also a grand sacrifice at the center of the film that's as much about saving the world as it is about Batman proving that he's "a good man."
Batman v Superman isn't the only superhero story to explore the idea that our world is full of people who are exceptions, both good and bad, to the norm. These stories offer writers a chance to explore complex subjects — authoritarianism, political beliefs, vigilantism, etc. — without the constraints of reality.
But what Batman v Superman does is peculiar in how much weight it places on Batman's worldview, suggesting that his view is the only one that matters, and that Batman knows best. The movie presents him as a wrongly scolded victim. And when you start to crack his mentality, it helps you understand the film's psyche a bit more.
Batman: Not all men are selfish
When people use the phrase "not all men," it's a punchline that mocks someone, most likely a man, who tries to deflect valid conversations about topics related to diversity and tolerance (sexism in the workplace, racism, homophobia, etc.) by exempting themselves of any criticism. My former colleague Kelsey McKinney wrote an entertaining explainer on how the phrase came to be, but the basic traits that characterize Not All Men supporters are shortsighted, condescending men who tend to live anonymously on the internet.
The first time the concept of Not All Men arises in Batman v Superman is about midway through the film. Diana Prince, a.k.a. Wonder Woman, (played by Gal Gadot) steals a hard drive from Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. Batman (Ben Affleck), that contains data Bruce hacked from Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). Bruce tracks her down at a museum and asks her about the stolen drive.
"You know it’s true what they say about little boys," she tells Bruce. "Born with no natural inclination to share. I didn’t steal it — I borrowed it."
Diana can't access what's on the drive, though, because Luthor encrypted it. She gives it back to Bruce, who can break the encryption. And when he's done, he sends her some information via email with a subject line in the vein of, "Boys Share Too." Bruce emails like someone who isn't particularly tech-savvy (with weird spacing, sporadic caps, and fragmented sentences), includes a creepy photo of her, and asks her about her possible immortality. And he presumably Googled or hacked Luthor's drive her to find her email address, then contacted her through email the way an earnest Not All Men believer would.
I don't think I've ever heard anyone say that little boys are born with no natural inclination to share. When Diana suggests to Bruce that it's something people say, it's the first I've ever heard of the idea. It even goes against real-life studies, like one conducted in 2011 by researchers at the University of Washington that found babies as young as 15 months have the ability to identify when their peers have unequal amounts of food or toys, and to exhibit traits of fairness or altruism.
Even if the interaction between Bruce and Diana isn't based in any kind of reality — and since Batman v Superman is a fictional story, it has no obligation to be — it sets the tone for this world. Men don't share. Men are selfish. Wonder Woman is better because she shares.
But Batman is the exception — and he isn't afraid to remind her of that.
Batman: Not all men are bad. Men are still good.
On the official soundtrack for Batman v Superman, there's an icy, heaving instrumental called "Men Are Still Good":
The song corresponds to a pivotal moment late in the film, when Wonder Woman is ready to return to her home on the island of Themyscira. Her work is done, and she seems ready to step back into the hedges and vanish from the public eye for a while. This is in line with Wonder Woman's original comic book mythology (her origin story has been tweaked multiple times since) — she and other Amazons live in isolation on the island because they've seen how nasty mankind can be.
In keeping with this, Wonder Woman tells Batman that she's seen the ugliness of Earth's wars and that she disappeared a century ago (during World War I) because she was tired of seeing men muck it all up. But he doesn't let her go that easily. He tells her that she needs to find other metahumans like herself and assemble a team. Why?
"Men are still good," he tells her.
Never mind that she's been around for a century, is exponentially stronger than him, and has saved the world before. He clearly doesn't care that she's seen a lot more of this world than he has, nor does he care how he fits into her observation. He simply tut-tuts her hesitance until she decides to stick around.
Of course, since there is a Justice League movie in the works, Batman is totally right; there will still be "good men" who will fight to protect the planet from evil. But he's ignoring Wonder Woman's larger point — that man has consistently found a way to disappoint her over the century or so that she's been kicking it on Earth. And perhaps, in Snyder's eyes, Wonder Woman is the real sexist.
Superman died for Not All Men
Despite repeatedly insisting to Wonder Woman that there are still good men out there — including himself, of course — Batman somehow fails to see how Superman can be good too. There is no benefit of the doubt to be given. Because Superman fought a battle with General Zod that ended up damaging and affecting the lives of some of Bruce's employees, Batman sees Superman as a threat that must be eliminated.
It's notable that, for as gung-ho as he is to punish Superman for the damage he caused, Batman is seen murdering and torturing people throughout Batman v Superman. Killing Superman is something he feels must be done to save the good people of this world, even though the movie contains a specific montage in which Superman saves people in all kinds of ways.
It's confusing for Batman v Superman to depict Superman as a villain. He saves plenty of people, and we can probably assume that at some point, Batman would ostensibly agree that Superman is doing some kind of net good. However, only Snyder knows for sure whether that's true.
In the end, what (temporarily) saves Superman from doom and redeems him in Batman's eyes — and I am not kidding — is that Superman's mother and Batman's mother have the same name. There is literally a scene where Batman is ready to murder Superman and Superman says the word Martha, which cleanses Batman of his bloodlust.
Not all men have mothers named Martha.
At the end of the movie, Superman dies a dumb, avoidable death (explained here), and it basically canonizes him as the patron saint of Not All Men. It's his final act to show Batman and anyone else who dislikes him (Batman v Superman is never clear on how the public feels about Superman) that he's good. It's a moment where he proves Lex Luthor wrong and shows that all-powerful men can be entirely good. And as he dies while plunging a Kryptonite spear into Doomsday, he might as well be screaming, "NOT ALL MEN," in a "THIS IS SPARTA" fashion.
Superman's death changes how many people, including Batman, see him. And it prompts Batman/Bruce to create the Justice League. Did Superman really have to die for us to realize how good he is? I mean, besides it being ammunition for Batman to tell Diana, "Not all men"?
By the end of Batman v Superman, Batman is a reformed man because he realizes he was wrong about Superman.
But he still hasn't changed his "not all men" stance, and in Snyder's eyes, he doesn't have to. After all, he's convinced Diana that the metahumans are good people and they can protect this world from evil.
Batman, in Snyder's iteration, isn't so much fighting to keep good people safe as he is asserting his worldview. He cares more about punishing Superman than about saving lives. If he did care about people as much as he said he did, then he wouldn't be running his Batmobile all over, destroying buildings, and we'd see some reflection or some deliberation about the deaths he caused.
Instead, he's fighting because he has able to assemble a team of men (and one woman) who, just like him, are an exception to the rule — people who are good in this sea of bad. And he isn't looking to change the world that Wonder Woman dislikes — the same one that Superman cherishes — as much as he is out to affirm what he believes.