Writing Tips and Film Critique

How Too Much Dialogue Can Get In The Way

In my previous post, I discussed the infamous, “Why did you say that name?!” line in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and how removing it changed the interpretation of the scene and brought sense to it. Now, we’re going through more dialogue to see how too much dialogue can actually bog things down a bit. The scene in question occurs before the big showdown between heroes, when Superman, having saved Lois once again, as if that’s not routine for him, flies up to the rooftop holding Lex Luthor, Jr.’s helipad, where Superman confronts Lex about Lex’s recent misbehavior.

Lex: Boy, do we have problems up here. …the problem of evil in the world, the problem of absolute virtue.

Superman: I’ll take you in without breaking you, which is more than you deserve.

Lex: …the problem of you on top of everything else, you above all. ‘Cause that’s what God is. Horace. Apollo. Jehovah. Kal-El… Clark Joseph Kent. See, what we call God depends upon our tribe, Clark Joe. ‘Cause God is tribal; God takes sides. No man in the sky intervened, when I was a boy, to lift me from daddy’s fist and abomination. I figured out way back: If God is all-powerful, then He cannot be all-good, and if He is all-good, then He cannot be all-powerful. And neither can you be. They need to see the fraud you are, with their eyes, the blood on your hands.

So far, so good here. We’re getting Lex’s motivation, which is fine.

Superman: What have you done?

Lex: And tonight, they will. Yes, because you, my friend, have a date across the bay. 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!” And now, you will fly to him, and you will battle him, to the death. Black and blue. Fight night. The greatest gladiator match in the history of the world. God versus man. Day versus night. Son of Krypton versus Bat of Gotham.

In the above paragraph, we have a bit of grandstanding repetition that isn’t necessary. It doesn’t add anything, so we cut it, and in doing that, we give more emphasis to what remains, which now isn’t getting lost among the extra stuff. There’s still some grandstanding, but it’s in that Goldilocks zone: not too little, not too much. (Just a note: I crossed out the unneeded parts so that if you want to skip over them to get a sense for how the dialogue works without the extra stuff, you can do that.)

Superman: You think I’ll fight him for you?

Lex: Yes, I do. I think you will fight, fight, fight for that special lady in your life.

Superman: She’s safe on the ground. How about you?

The crossed-out question muddles up Superman’s first sentence. Asking, “How about you?” makes me wonder if Superman is asking Lex if Lex is safe, on the ground, or safe on the ground. It’s unclear exactly what Superman is asking Lex. I know it’s supposed to be some kind of threat, but it’s not well-worded.

Lex: Close, but I am not talking about Lois. No, every boy’s special lady is his mother. [Lex displays photos] Martha, Martha, Martha. The mother of a flying demon must be a witch, and the punishment for witches – What is that? – that’s right, death by fire. [Lex deals photos onto the ground; Superman kneels to look at them]

The, “Martha, Martha, Martha,” repetition can be cut since it adds nothing to what Lex is saying. It seems as if the writer only wanted to prime the audience for the big “Martha” reveal later (Superman and Batman both having a mother named Martha). Besides, Lex says “Martha” plenty more times in the next paragraph. Also, Lex calling her a witch and saying she’s going to die by fire isn’t necessary as, only seconds after showing Superman the pictures, Lex lays out the terms of the deal, saying that Martha will die if Superman doesn’t fight Batman.

Superman: Where is she?!

Lex: I don’t know. I would not let them tell me. [Superman is about to shoot his heat vision at Lex] Nuh-ah-ah, if you kill me, Martha dies, and if you fly away, Martha also dies, but if you kill the Bat, Martha lives. [Superman stands down his heat vision threat] There we go. There we go. And now, God bends to my will. [Helicopter flies in for a landing] Now, the cameras are waiting at your ship, for the world to see the holes in the holy! Yes, the almighty comes clean about how dirty he is when it counts. To save Martha, bring me the head of the Bat. [Helicopter lands] Mother of God, would you look at the time. When you came here, you had an hour. Now, it’s less. [Cue dramatic music with choir as camera rotates around Superman as he stands]

In this last paragraph of Lex’s dialogue in this scene, we have more grandstanding and more repetition that can be cut. It does nothing to help the scene and, I feel, only hurts the scene and hurts how we view Lex as a character.

By the time we finish this scene, we’re tired of hearing Lex talk; we just want to get to the fight already. However, that’s not the feeling we should have at the end of this scene; we should leave this scene with a feeling of dread over what Lex has done, not with a wish that the scene didn’t go on for so long (The amount of time I cut from the scene turned out to be 1 minute and 12 seconds). In short, this scene is weaker because of the superfluous dialogue. So, we cut it down to essentials, which strengthens the scene by giving us just enough of what we need to get the point across without throwing too much at the audience and possibly tiring them. If you finish a scene and feel that you want less of that scene, then it’s probably a good idea to cut it down, so there’s less of that scene, which is what I did here. In my re-edit, Lex stays on point, doesn’t fall into needless repetition, and ends on a strong piece of dialogue that circles back around to connect with what Lex was talking about at the start of the scene. We don’t need to see Lex grandstanding and flying away on the helicopter. We don’t need to see Superman stand while the music attempts to lend an epic feel to the scene. All we need is a strong end to the scene. We can assume that what happens afterward is Lex leaves and so does Superman.

In addition, while the epic music was used to try to strengthen the end of this scene, it really doesn’t work as well as it’s supposed to. Ending on a good line of dialogue would have been the better option. Instead, there is too much dialogue, with the best line to end on getting crowded into the mix somewhere. However, we want that good line to stand out and be what the audience remembers as they go into the next scene. Concerning this scene, you just have to ask yourself which line is stronger, which line shows Lex to be the power-hungry, absolute, evil villain that he is, which line leaves you with chills as you anticipate what’s going to happen next:

“When you came here, you had an hour. Now, it’s less,”
“And now, God bends to my will.”

So, what do you think? Am I wrong? Am I crazy? Am I making any sense at all still? Do you agree with my assessment of this particular scene and the changes made to it? Is there anything else you would change? I’d love to hear your opinion.

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