When I walked out of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, having spent what I considered to be an enjoyable two and a half hours, and found that the rest of the world was brandishing pitchforks and torches, I thought it was because I’m not a true fan. I am admittedly a Marvel fangirl and much of my DC lore comes from various cartoons. Perhaps my knowledge was just too shallow to understand how badly DC screwed up this film. But as reasons for the negative reviews became clear I began to see this as merely a difference of opinion.
Let me start by saying that each review is valid. You are free to have hated BvS with the passion of a thousand suns. If you are looking for a review that more closely matches that emotion, may I direct your attention to Sioban Rich’s review. Let me follow up with, I get the complaints made about this film. I do. Jesse Eisenberg does not hit the right note of super-genius aplomb that I’m used to for Lex Luthor, for instance (though I think it’s still a fabulous character, just non-traditional). Where I differ in opinion, is that I don’t think BvS did anything too badly and I don’t think it could have happened any other way.
The argument that this film ought to have been multiple movies holds water. The film has a lot of storytelling going on and is messier for it. Though, I would mention that the same complaint is made of Avengers: Age of Ultron but we’re not trying to raze Marvel to the ground over it. These films, BvS and A:AoU, are set-up films, filler. They’re bringing the threads together and will never be satisfying in their own right (see: any second film of a trilogy).
But, for the sake of argument, let’s say DC did decide to push back BvS in favor of one more solo film. The obvious choice would have been another Batman solo film. This film would have introduced us to Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne, shown his twenty-year long fight for Gotham, the death of Robin, and given us insight into why this expression of Batman is on the edge of breaking. But would audiences really have gone for another dark and gritty Batman solo film? Ben Affleck is the fifth incarnation of Batman in just 27 years, which sounds like a long time (1989 was forever ago), but consider that James Bond is only on his sixth actor in twice that time (weirdly, it is exactly twice that time, 54 years). Consider too, that a Batfleck movie would be going directly toe to toe with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series, widely considered to be the epitome and not yet five years old. More importantly, is there anything in a solo Batman film that they weren’t able to tell us in under twenty minutes of BvS? Adding yet another Batman movie to the repertoire of DC cinema would be almost as ridiculous as giving Spider-Man another solo film (oh wait).
So, what then? Perhaps a Wonder Woman solo film leading up to BvS? I do think this is the one choice DC could have made to smooth out the BvS plot. Establishing Wonder Woman in a solo film prior to the release of BvS would have given audiences another established character and her motives throughout the events of BvS might have been a little more clear (their attempt at mystery was ham-fisted, at best). A WW solo film also could have given DC a chance to introduce Lex Luthor, by touching on Diana’s previous run-in with him. However, I understand hesitancy in releasing a Wonder Woman film without having previously introduced her, given DC’s history with female led superhero films. It’s not a good reason but it’s their reason. In such case, Batman Versus Superman must carry the weight to:
- Remind audiences about what happened in Man of Steel
- Further the plot of Clark Kent/Superman (including his relationship with humans, Lois, & the Daily Planet)
- Establish a particular expression of Batman, why he is the way he is and his feelings regarding Superman
- Introduce Wonder Woman leading up to her own film
- Introduce and set up Lex Luthor/Darkseid as the next big bad
- Set up the Justice League film and indicate its major players
- STILL have enough breathing room for you to care about the characters
In this regard, I feel like Batman v Superman comes through with flying colors.
The other major argument I’ve heard made about this film is that it’s too dark and takes itself too seriously. I have a couple of points about that. The first would be, have you seen the Nolan Batman movies because I think the prize for “dark and gritty” has already been given away. Second is that DC has always been the more somber brother of Marvel, the Strong Sad to Marvel’s Strong Bad. If audiences were expecting an Avengers film I think the fault lies with the viewer. For all that, I think this film was meant to be humorous, sardonic even. There were so many tongue-in-cheek moments in BvS, little moments where DC was laughing at its own seriousness. The Batman car literally booped Superman’s chest. Maybe these moments were unintentional but I have to believe that any movie with Mrs. Incredible heading up an Anti-Cape hearing has a sense of humor.
Then there are the things this movie got so right, mostly expressed in the Trinity. Henry Cavill and Amy Adams as Clark Kent and Lois Lane continue to shine. The chemistry established in Man of Steel continues here. They are not only believable as Clark and Lois, they are lovable. Touches of their ordinariness – a woman who loves her job too well, a boy scout boyfriend who is protective to a fault, a man who loves his mother, a couple who has dinner together – seep through the busy noise and action of this blockbuster. Likewise, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman/ Diana Prince is superb. The Wonder Woman film should do better for having had this taste of her amazingness, though with negative reviews et al, it may prove opposite. Lastly, this film got Batman right, more right than ever before. Ben Affleck as Batman is, in my not so humble opinion, the best Batman to date. This is because Ben Affleck isn’t playing Bruce Wayne, he’s playing Batman, because Bruce Wayne died at the age of eight in the alley with his parents. This expression of Batman puts on the mask of Bruce Wayne in order to make money and to survive in the world. This Batman lives by the justice code of an eight year old boy who lost his parents to violent crime and has been fighting back the slog of that same crime for twenty years. This Batman has made sacrifices, lost lives (Robin), and still nothing changes. He’s bitter and unhinged and it’s why something as sappy and simple as hearing his mother’s name can stop him in his tracks.
So, is Batman Versus Superman perfect? No. Are there plot holes? Absolutely. Is a lot left up to inference (But how did Luthor know to send those pay stubs to Bruce Wayne?)? You betcha. But this film was hemmed in by circumstance and still came through without being an absolute bore. And, come on, Green Lantern didn’t get this amount of vitriol.