The online narrative around Batman V Superman is that it is the worst thing ever committed to film and that by watching it you are a terrible person. Like the worst. Especially if you found yourself enjoying it. If that happened then you need to revaluate your whole life and consider changing your name to something like Hitler. The film is just that bad you guys! In reality though it seems there is a disconnect between critical and fan reaction that I have not seen before.
The short-ish version is:
If you enjoyed Man of Steel, Batman V Superman is a good followup. It continues to expand the somewhat darker take on the DC characters that DC Cinematic Universe is building in a fun and very different way to the Marvel Studios movies and their slate of characters. Like Man of Steel it has a slower pace than other superhero movies and a lot of it is dedicated to building up the big conflict at the end of the movie. Ben Affleck makes a great Batman, Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is different in a good way (for me at least) and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman steals the show in the brief appearances she makes in the movie. The film also does a good job of building out the DC Cinematic Universe in a couple of cool ways. It is far from perfect and it has its flaws like Man of Steel had but it is still a good and entertaining movie.
Personally I really enjoyed it and would say it is on par with the majority of Marvel’s movies. For me it is a case of the critics and reviews being overly harsh with a lot of them boiling down to “This isn’t the same as a Marvel movie so I don’t like it!”, “This is not how I personally perceive these long established characters to be or behave, therefore this film is a crime against nature!” or “I hate Zack Snyder and everything he stands for so I hate this movie by default!” There is also the typical regurgitation without thought of certain lines of thinking that seems to plague all discussion on the internet these days. So much so that you could make a bingo card and have some fun reading through the comments and reviews for Batman V Superman. (FYI: “Zack Snyder loves Ayn Rand!” is the free space.)
If you are interested in the characters or the concept of the film, go watch it and crucially, form your own opinions on it because it has been given a bad rap by many.
The long version is a bit more complicated…
WARNING THERE WILL BE SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT!!! SERIOUSLY ALL OF THE SPOILERS!
Batman V Superman is a movie targeted at someone like me, a long time reader of DC’s Comics and as a result, super knowledgable about mythos of the DC Universe. Once again Zack Synder deep dives the audience into his version of the DCU, this time bringing a more comic book sensibility (in particular late 80s to early 2000s) to his semi-realistic take on what would happen if Superman appeared on the scene.
There are moments in the film that had me grinning like a child. In particular appearance of The Flash travelling back in time to warn Bruce of even greater threats yet to come. It was something straight out Crisis On Infinite Earths and it gave me chills.
It is a moment that made me realise that what Warner Brothers have planned for DC films could potentially be very, very cool. The film weaves this world building in multiple ways some more overt than others, such as Wonder Woman looking through Lex Luthor’s recordings of the other members of the Justice League which serves as snippets for what is to come in Justice Leauge. Then you have the subtler nods to the coming of Darkseid which are great and Lex Luthor’s sudden turn to crazed agent of Apokolips in the last act of the film is a nice touch that gets me very excited.
The film has a methodical buildup to the final act with the stakes constantly being raised as Lex Luthor’s fittingly ridiculous scheme comes to fruition. Also a lot of work has been done to improve the approach to things like Lois and Clark’s relationship over how it was handled in Man of Steel. In Batman V Superman it feels like these are two people who care for each other and that Lois believes in Clark even when he doesn’t believe in himself. Lois herself is given more to do in line with her character this time around, following the breadcrumbs to Lex Luthor being the mastermind behind Superman’s troubles. Sadly the film falls on the damsel in distress trope a bit too much. In particular at the end of the film were Lois unwittingly engineers her own distress by throwing Batman’s Kryptonite Spear into a pool of water then jumping into the water for it five minutes later. Henry Cavill’s acting is still a bit wooden at times but in the key moments he shows he is a good Superman and gets the core of the character.
Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor worked really well for me. He is cut from the modern tech billionaire mold rather than the traditional evil business man or mad scientist ones. Although elements of those (especially mad scientist!) are present. He does a good job of showing that he works on a different plane of intelligence than most and as a result his morals are a bit more…dubious than others. You also see the selfish and ugly sides of the character front and centre which is great. He hates Superman because he represents something Luthor cannot be. He only does things to aid himself. He twists, turns and manipulates everyone and everything around him.
In the Batman camp the dynamic between Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne and Jeremy Irons’ Alfred is straight from the comics. Alfred is there for Bruce no matter what and shows his concern for Bruce’s safety through his sarcastic wit. Both Irons and Affleck have a great rapport and play off each other well. Ben Affleck is also a natural Bruce Wayne and his more brutal The Dark Knight Returns inspired Batman is entertaining to watch. He treads the line between playing up the fun loving Billionaire Playboy image and brooding hero well. There are also a couple of instances of Batman cracking a few jokes of both the grim and lighthearted kinds which I enjoyed.
However, Gal Gadot steals the show for me as a near perfect Wonder Woman. She is beautiful, powerful and elegant. She has a nice otherworldly feel to her and the move to make her more European in her mannerisms, accent and look gives her the global protector feeling that I love about the character. Despite the little time you get to see her do her thing on screen I found myself transfixed by it. Both Batman and Superman fumble in the fight with Doomsday at the end of the film but Wonder Woman truly holds her own against the monster. Relishing in the fight while making tactical moves to try and neutralise Doomsday. It was awesome and I cannot wait to see more of her take on the character in the upcoming Wonder Woman solo movie, teased heavily throughout Batman V Superman.
I am also happy that the film takes the time to build up its story rather than having it being a giant punch up. I loved how the opening act deals with the fallout of the events of Man of Steel. Which leads to both Clark and Bruce following the bread crumbs that ends them to butting heads in the film’s big action sequence. The fight itself does a good job of showing Batman’s inherent skills and smarts allowing him to stand toe to toe with Superman. While Superman intentionally holds himself back because he ultimately needs Batman’s help and knows that Lex has played them both against each other. So in true comic book fashion it is a case of it being a non-fight. Which will be disappointing for some but for me rings true with the many other times Bats and Supes have sparred in the comics.
So yeah, I really do not get why the movie has been panned as badly as it has been. Granted, Zack Synder’s directing style is not for everyone but this film at its core is still an entertaining ride. Which as a minimum is what you want from a superhero movie. So while it is flawed, Batman V Superman has some great nuances to it. It is not a perfect film but it is an interesting one. I would rather the DC films try to do something different from Marvel Studio’s output like they are rather than simply trying to imitate what the Disney movie making machine does.
There are some problematic elements of the film such as Batman being okay with indirectly killing goons at a couple of key points in the movie. But you can waive it away by saying this is just how this Batman in this strand of the DC Multiverse is. Also it is not like we haven’t had a Batman that casually kills bad guys on the big screen before. Also there is a lot of characters and storylines crammed into the films running time. So much that you can tell that a lot has been left on the cutting room floor. (A lot of which will be included in the extended Blu Ray release of the film)
For me it was great seeing so much being adapted from the comics but I naturally have an easier time of following everything. I doubt the average viewer will know of or get excited by the presence of Parademons in Batman’s Nightmare/Vision of the future. Or get excited chills from Lex repeating “Ding, ding, ding” like a Mother Box’s “Ping, ping, ping” in his last scene in the film heralding the coming of the Fourth World. Like I said, this is a film made more for someone like me which is both a good and a bad thing. For me I get to see a lot of what I love about DC Comics realised on screen. For the average viewer beyond the basic entertainment of the film there is a bit of work and reading wikipedia entries needed on their part.
A lot of the criticism for the film seems to be around how characters do not look/behave as they “should.” A perfectly valid criticism when you look at it on the surface but then you dig into it and it essentially boils down to “This does not match with the mental image I have for Batman and/or Superman that I have had in my head for 30+ years!” It is a unique problem that the DC films and characters have. One that frustrates me when people wheel it out as a criticism both in the case of this film and the comics themselves.
Characters like Batman and Superman are so well known and engrained in popular culture that it is very hard for them to deviate from their firmly entrenched ideals. Superman must always be a certain way for many people, gooder than good, better than Jesus, perfect in every way which is weird because no version of the character has ever truly hit that ideal. Even Christopher Reeve’s Superman had a selfish side to him. Batman has a bit more freedom to be different because of his colourful past in TV/Film but he still suffers from being seen in one or two ways. The end result is that any change or deviation is fought against rather than embraced. These characters originally stood the test of time because they changed with them and reflected what was going on in the world at that point. The best stories for both are the ones that embrace their past, warts and all (see All-Star Superman, Grant Morrison’s Batman run, Geoff John’s Superman and Justice League work) or look at it and try to do something different (like the Earth One line of books, The Dark Knight Returns, Max Landis’ Superman: American Alien). So it frustrates me when people get so angry that there is some deviation. As long as the characters are true to their core concept which in the case of Batman V Superman they are, it is fine.
Discounting Spider-Man, Marvel does not have the same hurdles to overcome with their characters when making a film. Before 2008 nobody outside of comic book fans had heard or cared about Tony Stark and what his character was. Now I feel sorry for the person who will eventually follow in Robert Downey Jr.’s footsteps when the part is re-cast or rebooted at some point. That’s when we will see things like the crazed reaction to Ben Affleck being cast as Batman start to happen for Marvel’s characters and the beginnings of people shouting things like “Captain America wouldn’t do that because of REASONS!”
Thankfully film spends a lot of time playing around with the idea of what these characters stand for and how people perceive them. Superman in this film has to tackle with not living up to what the world (which is code for The Audience) expects of him. He even has a crisis of faith regarding it. It screams “meta” and does a good job of explaining that Superman can and should be fallible. He’s just a man from Kansas trying to do the right thing but forces outside of his control are working against him. It works well for me and shows a conflicted side to Superman you rarely get in the comics. It uses people’s preconceived feelings on the character to ignite a discussion both within the film and out of it. A result of which is Batman being inspired by Superman, vowing to make up for failing him before his sacrifice (more on this in a minute) by bringing together the other metahumans both he and Wonder Woman know about.
So while I enjoyed the film there are two big problems I have with it, one is the handling of the inclusion of the key parts of The Death and Return of Superman (a brilliant summary of which you can watch here). The other is that I felt the trailers for this film revealed way to much.
With the trailers I assumed, like most comic book movies they would show off some of the key beats and have some of the cooler lines of dialogue from the film in there. It turns out that beyond maybe two or three moments all of the big reveals, moments, bits of dialogue are in the trailers. Usually you get to a part of the film that was in a trailer and then you see what happens next. In Batman V Superman’s case you just get what was in the trailer and that is it. Which is a shame especially when you look at how the film handles a character like Wonder Woman. Her identity is gradually teased out throughout the length of the film until you get to the moment were Batman looks at the picture of her from World War I. Then you get the even bigger moment when she jumps into the big fight at the end of the film. If I did not know of or had seen her kicking butt in the trailers that build up and payoff would have been far greater for me and many other trailer savy viewers of the film. It would have been like the reveal of Nick Fury in the post credits scene of the first Iron Man film turned up to eleven.
I get that this is a criticism of my own design, I watched the trailers multiple times and I poured over information about the film. So I should not be surprised that I feel a bit empty. But part of me feels let down by the marketing though, most other films do not lay all of their cards on the table via their trailers quite like this one has.
As for Superman’s sacrifice I was both shocked and disappointed. Doomsday’s inclusion in the final act of the film made Superman’s death somewhat inevitable and I was glad the film went there and did it in such heroic way. It had meaning and pathos, also it serves as the spring board for Batman stepping into a larger world of heroics and uniting the rest of the Justice League. But god damn it the final shot of the movie ruined it for me!
Those specs of dirt floating up instantly took away the will they/won’t they feeling I had for the film’s epilogue. You see in the comics, when Superman died it was a huge deal. If you are old enough to remember it happening it was something that was widely reported on by the news media. It is a moment and a storyline that a lot of people are somewhat aware off. Also after Superman died, he stayed dead for a good while, almost to the point were it looked like he might actually remain dead. A lot of crazy stuff happened and just as things looked their darkest Superman comes back to save the day. It is brilliant comic book storytelling. The floating dirt takes that away. The audience knows he will be back without a shadow of doubt. Again it is a bit of a shame rather than something that ruined the whole film for me. Also I can see why it was put in there, imagine trying to keep Henry Cavill filming Justice League Parts 1 & 2 under wraps for the better part of two years…
So those are my thoughts on Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. I enjoyed it a lot, it has its problems but it is no worse than the majority of say Marvel’s movies or other genre franchises. It seems like a lot of people wanted to hate this movie before it came out and have proceeded to jump on it using it as a spring board for criticising the whole superhero movie genre.
Since the film’s release I have seen the usual resurgence of tired “there are too many superhero movies!” think pieces citing this as some supposed tipping point. To which I say, piss off. Superhero movies are here to stay so for the time being deal with it. Also they are not everywhere. 2015 saw a grand total of three superhero movies (four if you include Batkid) come out at cinemas. When you compare that to the number of spy/espionage related movies that came out last year (almost three times as many) it is nothing. So shut your traps you grumpy old people who can’t have fun!
Batman V Superman is a film worth seeing even if it is to see what all the fuss is about. It is a marmite film so you won’t know if it is for you until you watch it. If you don’t like it you will find it slow, cluttered and muddled in its approach and tone. Something that does not fit into the superhero movie template established by Marvel Studios in the past decade. If you end up enjoying it you will see a contextually rich movie with its deviations from the norm being entertaining and somewhat thought provoking. Also the inclusion of some pretty heady aspects of the DC Comics Universe will leave you wanting more. One thing is certain though, Wonder Woman and Gal Gadot are awesome!