Batman v Superman v Batman & Superman

I’m about to lay out my take on Batman v Superman, so be warned, there are massive spoilers ahead.

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The majority of reviews were pretty harsh on this movie and, to be honest, mine will be as well. But there were some things I liked about Batman v Superman, so I’m going to hit on those first.

One big positive takeaway was that Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot were both very good in their roles. They really did the best you could expect actors to do considering the material they have to work with. Their performances managed to get me interested in seeing solo Batman and Wonder Woman films. One other sort of character note was that Doomsday was scary as hell, so they nailed that.

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This movie, like any other Zack Snyder film (even Sucker Punch), was great looking. Say what you will about his movies as a whole – and I will do so below – but the guy knows how to work an aesthetic. A more specific example of this is that, like in Man Of Steel, the fight scenes were all very well executed and exciting.

Some of the content from said fight sequences were questionable, but you can’t question that they were purely visceral. I’d like to also single out the scene towards the end where Batman systematically takes out a group of thugs is genuinely the best cinematic realization I’ve ever seen of the Dark Knight in full ass kicking mode.

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Now for the rest.

Batman v Superman was absolutely joyless. Everyone acted like a dick to everyone else, and it seemed like the movie took place in a parallel world where smiles were punishable by death.

I’ve seen Henry Cavill be charming in other things, like The Tudors and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. But he’s not allowed a single moment of levity in this movie. Superman was all dour and depressed and nothing else. You think that you’d got to at least give the guy a chance to show how simply awesome it is to be Superman, but apparently you’d be wrong.

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There’s a montage of him saving people and, in every example shown, he looks like he’s pissed off at having to pull these fools’ asses out of the fire (literally in some cases). That is not Superman. Superman, in pretty much ever incarnation, enjoys saving people and gets a sense a purpose and satisfaction from doing so. Zack Snyder’s version has more in common with Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen, a distant and removed God among mortals doing what we must for no other reason than because it’s expected of him.

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I’m well aware that Snyder directed a pretty good adaptation of Watchmen in 2009, but he clearly didn’t understand that Dr. Manhattan was meant to stand in stark contrast to Superman. He was written to be a version of Superman who lost his humanity, which is quite possibly the defining characteristic of Kal El. Even clinically gloomy Alan Moore wrote a more relatable Superman in stories like Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow and For The Man Who Has Everything.

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Batman, meanwhile, was blowing people up left and right with no regard for whether they lived or died. That works for a certain type of protagonist, but it is not who Batman is. Tossing severe beatings to the bad guys is very much within the Dark Knight’s wheelhouse, and flipping over their cars is par for the course. But Zack Snyder could not lay off the explosions. A flipped car here and there is cool but, for crying out loud, they do not need to explode and ensure that everyone in the theater has no doubt that those dudes are dead.

I was willing to give Jesse Eisenberg the benefit of the doubt in his portrayal of Lex Luthor, even though the trailers gave me some pause. But he played Luthor as a jittery bundle of nerves, which seemed like the exact opposite of an appropriate characterization. I’m all for giving an established character a bit of a different spin, but completely routing out the traditional cold and calculating core of Lex Luthor is doing a disservice to the character.

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Which brings up to the real problem. Warner Bros has never trusted the source material for their DC comics adaptations. Meanwhile, Marvel pretty much films the trade paperbacks panel by panel. As such, WB gave the keys to Zack Snyder and David Goyer, neither of whom seems to have any real affinity for the legendarily storied history of Batman or Superman.

Everything is darker, grittier, more violent, and more melancholic than it ought to be. And this comes from a guy who really liked the dark, gritty, violent Dark Knight Trilogy. But it’s just not the right tone for a movie that includes Superman and Wonder Woman. If I had to guess, I’d say the general flaw in their thinking is that they need to makes things as stylistically different from the generally bright and sunny tones of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As a result, they’ve painted themselves into a corner.

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Yes, Batman should have some edge and darkness. But Superman is meant to represent the diametric opposite of that. If the symbol on his chest stands for hope, then why is his outlook – and the outlook of this film – so hopeless? BvS just came off as Dark v Darker, and this ain’t Punisher v Wolverine (as awesome as that would be). The filmmakers simply pressed too hard for distance between their brand and the Marvel brand, and ended up in a shadow realm.

WB Films should take some notes from their TV brethren. Greg Berlanti and his team have made a fully fleshed out and realized world that is the closest thing to a comic book brought to life ever seen to television. Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl bring the heart and the fun to the party. In fact, the recent crossover episode they had might as well have been called Supergirl xo The Flash.

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But these shows also manage to hit the darker notes when they need to. The big difference being that they don’t start off somber leaving only a deeper abyss to descend into when they want to raise the stakes. When you feel the need to have Superman beaten down by Batman, blown up by a nuclear missile, and THEN stabbed through the chest by Doomsday in the same night to make a point about how hard it is to be a hero, then maybe you ought to reconsider your starting point.

There were other issues with BvS, such as too many nonsensical subplots, and an Apokolips teasing dream/vision sequence that absolutely no one would have missed had it ended up on the cutting room floor. Yes, it was cool to see parademons, Darkseid’s omega symbol burned into the ground and the classic Apokolips fire pits. But all that ate up 10 minutes of screen time that did nothing to serve the story as a whole.

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Here’s the thing, I did appreciate the film for what it was. It had a lot of heavy lifting to do in order to be the launching point for a new muti-film franchise. It wasn’t what I’d call enjoyable, but I will certainly watch it again when it’s released on home video, even if I happen to zone out through a good half of it. And I am glad that it had a massive, record breaking opening weekend. A unified DC Universe deserves the chance to exist on the big screen. The upcoming films on the slate simply need to do better in terms of quality.

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Maybe giving Snyder and Goyer a little time out, and allowing some DC people like Geoff Jones and CW people like Berlanti a place at the table would be beneficial. I’m not especially hopeful that WB suddenly decides that 80 years of continuous interest can translate to the movies, or that Snyder and Goyer will step back and re-evaluating their vision for the DC Cinematic Universe.

But the world of pop culture and entertainment will be a more interesting place with good, proper DC movies hitting the theaters every year. I just hope they can get out of their own way enough to get it right.

 

 

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