Has there ever been a more controversial scene in recent comic book movie history than the climatic “Martha” scene in Batman V Superman? That infamous Martha scene left many fans scratching their heads. It’s a beautiful yet odd moment that divided the fanbase forever.
As soon as Batman V Superman hit theaters, there was a constant (and surprisingly hostile) argument over whether the Martha scene was genius or just plain dumb. Even four years after the fact, it’s still a hot topic. Who the hell would’ve predicted that?
It seems like it would be an easy answer. Is the Martha scene good or bad? Naturally, there are strong arguments for both sides that makes consensus a lot murkier than expected.
There are the die-hard fans who will defend it no matter what. The haters will hate it in the same way. Here, we’re going to look at things from both sides and see why it works so well for some, but falls so flat for others.
Here we go: The Martha Scene decoded…
Why It Falls Flat
The strongest argument against the Martha scene is that it’s too convenient. Defenders of the scene are always quick to tear this one apart. If that’s you, then stop, put down the pitchfork, and open your ears for a minute.
It seems “convenient” because it comes out of virtually nowhere for Superman (again, hear me out). To quote Batman, “Why did he say that name?” Some point out that Superman knew it would trigger Batman because, after all, he is a genius. That’s true. Superman is incredibly smart even though it wasn’t portrayed much in the movies. But we can’t just assume something so pivotal as his brain in this moment.
The only hint that Superman knows anything about Batman is that he calls him Bruce at the start of the fight. That’s not enough for us to naturally conclude he knows Batman’s full story. We don’t know the extent of Superman’s knowledge. Maybe if Clark would’ve elaborated a bit more on Bruce’s past, the moment would’ve worked for more people. But he doesn’t and we’re stuck debating what is now known as “The Martha Scene.”
So why did he say that name?
Maybe Superman was in distress. Possibly, it was said as a last-ditch effort to save his life. Again, that doesn’t make too much sense. If someone is holding a gun to your face and about to pull the trigger, you’re not going to say, “You’re letting him kill… Denice!” No, you’re going to say something along the lines of “He’s gonna kill my mom!”
This is the reason why it doesn’t work for people. It makes sense in theory, but doesn’t feel natural. The line doesn’t feel like something that someone would actually say, nor is it set up enough to make us immediately believe Superman would say it. It would require thinking which is the opposite of what you want during such a pivotal moment like the dreaded Martha scene.
Why it’s Brilliant
The underlying intent of the scene–redeeming Batman–is nothing short of brilliant. The execution may not be the best, but it’s hard to argue that the idea isn’t great.
Batman v Superman depicts a Batman who has fallen so far from grace that he’s no longer seen as a hero. Bruce became so obsessed with killing Superman and holding him responsible for what happened in Metropolis, that he became the very thing he originally sought out to destroy.
Throughout the film, Bruce Wayne is haunted by the death of his parents. So when he’s standing there with the spear over Superman, ready to kill him, he falters when he hears his mother’s name during that climatic Martha scene.
It didn’t matter what he thought of Superman or how many people he’s inadvertently laid to rest. Bruce realized he became the person he never wanted to be. To him, Superman was no longer some god from another world, but just a boy wishing he could save his mother. He saw himself in Superman and by killing him, he was allowing it all to happen again.
These two events, origin and redemption, mirror each other beautifully, bringing Batman’s story full circle. By connecting them, it didn’t just show that Batman changed, but that he was reborn from that moment. The true Batman is back.
There are other arguments that support the scene, but this is by far the strongest.
Can’t we All Just Get Along?
The Martha scene is an incredible idea that wasn’t executed as well as it should’ve been. That’s a controversial statement I think a lot of people can agree with, especially after reading both points.
Sadly, I don’t think this controversy will come to an end any time soon. It’s an issue that is almost entirely dependent upon how the audience views a film.
Those who watch films passively or either care more about execution or consistently well-written narratives might call ‘BS’ on Superman saying Martha or on the whole line in general. There isn’t enough there to make them buy into it. On the flip-side, those who care more about character arcs or overall ideas might be more willing overlook all of that and see the Martha scene as genius.
I’m not classifying the defenders of the scene as a certain type of person, nor am I saying that everybody has to watch films in these ways. Nothing in this world is black and white besides… well, black and white.
Everybody has their own reasons for liking or disliking the scene and not a single one of them is more right than the next. In simpler terms: film is subjective (I know, cue the eye rolls). But it’s true. Everyone can be right if they just provide evidence to back them up.
I just proved that there are some kick-ass arguments for both sides. Neither one is right or wrong, nobody’s going to win, yet we’re still fighting and that’s likely not going to stop.
This my not have changed your mind on the scene, and that’s good. But what I hope it did do was teach you a little more about the other side, because that’s the best thing of all.