REVIEW: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Before I had a chance to see this movie, I read a review that said, “Ultimately, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a movie for comic book fans made by comic book fans.” This statement could not be more true, and I think that’s why the reactions to it have been so polarizing.  Spoilers ahead, so govern yourself accordingly.

First of all, let me say something about this movie as is relates to other superhero movies, particularly the Marvel films. Don’t get me wrong, I love the MCU, and I am super excited to see Captain America: Civil War in a month or so. But Zack Snyder is clearly building an entirely different animal than Kevin Feige. You see, the Marvel movies and the characters therein, for the most part, are somewhat rooted in reality. I mean, Iron Man is a rich industrialist who builds a mechanical suit. Cap is a solider who is essentially given a huge dose of steroids. Hulk became what he is due to failed science experiment. The X-Men are explained through genetic mutation. Hawkeye and Black Widow don’t even have powers. Even the Thor films, with all their fantastical elements, eschew the idea of our hero being the literal Norse God of Thunder, and instead make him part of an alien race that primitive humans may have worshiped as gods due to their power and technology.

Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed trilogy of Batman films were also very concerned with realism and believably, so it seems more appropriate to discuss those films instead, as they are also DC properties. I saw someone write once that Nolan didn’t try to make good Batman movies; rather, he just tried to make good movies that happened to have Batman in them. Heck, Nolan doesn’t even like comics. And while his films are great, it almost feels like they’re embarrassed to be comic book movies. Nolan’s version of Ra’s al Ghul is no longer a centuries-old supervillain with access to the life-restoring Lazarus Pit, but instead is just the charismatic head of the League of Shadows. Bane’s facemask is no longer used to pump strength-enhancing Venom into his brain, but simply to supply him with painkillers after a debilitating injury from years earlier. All of the Bruce Wayne’s equipment, including the Batmobile, came from military weapons research. You get the idea. A character like Superman would never have fit in Nolan’s world, and characters like Wonder Woman and Green Lantern would be totally ridiculous.

The point I’m trying to make here is that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is the most unapologetic “comic booky” comic book movie since Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. It’s not trying to be rooted in reality; rather, it revels in its own epic, fantastical source material. This is a world in which an immortal Amazonian warrior gets to help a flying alien with laser eyes and a vengeful detective in a bat costume fight against a giant, speechless, genetically-engineered bone monster. Can you imagine any of that ever working in a Nolan movie? Me neither.

I listened to a podcast discussion on SupermanHomepage.com in which they said the following about negative reviews:

From the time Man of Steel was being made all the way up until now, it’s all similar stuff. ‘Superman doesn’t smile. There’s no Christopher Reeve. Richard Donner would never do this. It’s not Marvel. Don’t expect a fun Marvel movie if you go to see this.’ Which leads me to believe that most of these people made up their minds long before the movie was cast, long before it was written, and long before it was released, saying that, ‘Zack Snyder can’t make a movie. We like Marvel and we like the way it goes. We like seeing the same film and the same feel-good tone. We like the jokes. We like not taking things too seriously and we don’t like darkness, so we’re not going to like this.’ And they make that decision before they even see the film so when they go in — not that some of what they say might not have merit — but they’re looking for all that stuff.

So yeah, this is not the Christopher Reeve version of Superman. And while I love those films, I also love the character in the comics, whose best stories always center around an internal struggle, a crisis of conscience, his difficulty dealing with humanity or restraining his power when he knows he could do more. This is the guy we see in Superman: Birthright, in What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?, in Kingdom Come, and in so many others.

Personally, I loved BVS. Loved every minute of it. For a DC Comics nerd like myself, I loved the fact that I could see iconic images, character beats, and plot-lines from my favorite graphic novels. Does BVS have its flaws? Of course it does. But it’s certainly not a “bad” movie by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, Superman IV is a bad movie. Batman & Robin is a bad movie. The Phantom Menace is a bad movie. Battlefield Earth is a bad movie. And what do all these crap films have in common? Poor acting, stupid costumes, cheesy/cartoonish special effects, cringe-inducing dialogue, etc. But BVS has a fantastic cast, including particularly good performances by Ben Affleck and Jeremy Irons. In my humble opinion, Affleck is the best on-screen Batman I’ve ever seen, with the exception of Kevin Conroy’s unmatched voice work in the classic animated series. The costumes are great as well. I mean, not to keep harping on the Dark Knight, but this is the first time a film-version of Batman has looked like he stepped right off the comic book pages (specifically those drawn by Frank Miller). They also did an awesome job of making Wonder Woman look badass instead of corny. And what about the special effects? I don’t think I’ve seen anyone criticize the visuals in this movie — it’s one thing that Zack Snyder has always done very well. As for the dialogue, I know several critics seemed to dislike the grandiose, philosophical banter than goes on between many of the characters, but I’m the kind of guy who likes his heroes to be operatic and larger than life, so it didn’t bother me. Heck, that’s probably the same reason why I love Queen and Meat Loaf so much.

As I said in the opening paragraph, this was a movie made by comic book fans for comic book fans. I loved the fact that they teased so many cool plots and characters, such as Darkseid and his Parademons, the Flash time-traveling, and (hopefully) Batman’s Under the Red Hood storyline. It’s not a kid movie. It’s not a Marvel movie. And that’s okay. Unlike Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, it’s a comic book movie that is not ashamed to be a comic book movie, and it absolutely revels in the source material. I should also let it be known that I like Zack Snyder’s style of directing (300, Watchmen, and Man of Steel all kick ass). I love the fact that he makes things kinda stylized and films shots that look like they were ripped right off the comic page.

Many critics have said that the movie is overstuffed and has too much going on. Like I said, BVS does have some flaws, and this is a legitimate complaint. I won’t go into too much comic lore here, but if you saw Man of Steel, that movie (the first half of it, at least) was kind of a loose adaptation of a graphic novel called Superman: Birthright. In that story, it follows Clark Kent in his early years as a freelance reporter just traveling the world and occasionally using his powers to rescue people in secret. He eventually learns about his Kryptonian heritage and begins his early days as Superman, but he’s still very unsure of himself and his place in the world. It definitely plays on the idea of him being an alien and an outcast. That book is also the origin of the idea that the “S” shield is actually a Kryptonian symbol for hope. Sound familiar? Anyway, in the second half of the book, Lex Luther tries to turn the public against Superman by blaming him for a destructive alien invasion. If you’ve seen BVS, this idea is obviously a part of the new movie. So yeah, if you ask me, they easily could have just adapted that story, even adding in the conflict with Doomsday, and excised the Batman part entirely to make a simpler, more streamlined film. But I certainly don’t think it was bad just because it was a bit overstuffed. It’s still a thrilling, action-packed popcorn movie.

One other criticism I’ve heard is that people are confused by the so-called “Knightmare” scene, in which Batman has a dream of a dark future in which the world is a post-apocalyptic wasteland and Superman rules with an iron fist. Based on my knowledge of the comics, this was a vision of a possible future if they can’t stop Darkseid from conquering Earth. That giant omega sign he saw on the ground is Darkseid’s symbol, and those flying creatures are Parademons, his minions from Apokalips. He’s basically the biggest bad guy in the DC universe. So when Batman sees a time traveling Flash imploring him to “find the rest of us,” he’s being told what he needs to do to stop that dark future from coming to pass. Also, Darkseid has frequently tried to coerce and/or manipulate Superman into joining his forces, so that’s probably what we’re seeing in the vision. If you ever watched Superman: The Animated Series, the two-part series finale centers on that exact scenario: Darkseid brainwashes Superman into believing he was raised on Apokolips and then turns him loose against Earth as a part of his plan to conquer the world. We’ll see how much of that storyline ends up being recycled into the upcoming Justice League movies.

I have one final thought. Superman’s sacrificial death at the hands of Doomsday should serve to bring the character to the exact point where he’s supposed to be as we move forward with this universe. Ever since Man of Steel, critics have complained that Superman is moody and conflicted, and that he isn’t the shining beacon of Hope that we’re used to seeing on screen. He spends much of BVS being hated, distrusted, and feared by large segments of the population, but during his funeral at the end, the world seemingly comes together to mourn the hero that they realize they’ve lost. So when Superman eventually returns, it will be with great joy and fanfare. This is no longer the strange alien who destroyed half a city and scared the hell out of everyone. No. This is the savior who gave his own life to protect mankind, and he will assuredly be treated as such. Batman changed at the end as well, realizing the error of his ways and taking it upon himself to make things right in Superman’s absence. All I can say now is that I can’t wait for what happens next…

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