By James Hancock March 24th, 2016
***no spoilers for 1st paragraph***
To my overwhelming surprise I did not hate Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. In fact, I think I kind of liked it. It wounds me to admit this in that for the last year I’ve been hurling pebbles of condescension toward this movie in my most pathetic, snarky fashion. When it comes to comic book movies these days, most geeks online tend to be divided into two camps, those that have dubbed themselves as unofficial publicists for the project in question and those whose mission it is in life to destroy the project before it is ever released. Whether or not the movie is good or bad becomes immaterial as the two camps wage an online war of name calling and impotent death threats, never pausing to question their assumptions or revisit their thesis as new evidence or the movie itself comes to light. The reason the politics of superhero culture can be so pathetic is that the stakes are so low, however, when you’ve devoted a large chunk of your life to consuming these tales, we tend to treat each new superhero film like a life or death struggle for our own validation, especially now that both Marvel and DC have fully fleshed out separate cinematic universes with which partisan fans can ally themselves. I’ve been in Marvel’s camp for about 35 years now so naturally I enjoy gloating about the MCU’s dominance in the movie marketplace relative to the fledgling DC Cinematic Universe. That said, in the world of comics, this decades-long rivalry among fans and professionals has always forced both companies to stay innovative and original. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice might be riddled with stylistic inconsistencies, giant plot holes, and inexplicable flimsy story twists, but it is just good enough that Marvel will be forced to take notice. So much of the movie doesn’t work, but what does work works really well. My audience tonight repeatedly applauded and the middle-aged man to my right was openly sobbing at the finale. It would not surprise me at all if this movie were to become a monster hit.
***mild spoilers ahead***
No matter what grievances I might have over the screenplay and how the film was edited, I had a good time at the movies tonight. I frequently found myself rolling my eyes or just outright angry at some of the decisions made by Zack Snyder and his team but I think I prepped myself for the movie in the best possible way. Because I have been slyly rooting against the movie, I spent the last few days reading and watching every negative spoiler-filled review I could get my hands on. Consequently, I walked into this movie expecting to see another Fantastic Four, in my opinion one of the worst superhero movies ever made. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is dramatically better than that pile of garbage and I would also argue a significant improvement over Man of Steel (2013), a fun but deeply flawed film that influences so much of what takes place narratively in this new movie. The main problem with this movie is that it feels as if about thirty or forty minutes of story have been lifted haphazardly from the theatrical cut all while forcefully shoving in the necessary easter eggs to set the stage for more movies set in this continuity. If you’ve been eagerly anticipating this film, then you’ve probably already heard countless theories about the sequence where we see a vision of the future with Darkseid’s enormous Omega Symbol carved into the ground along with countless Parademons winging about (if those references went over your head, read more comics). The sequence is a blast to watch but the manner by which we (and Batman) get the chance to see it will be the biggest source of frustration for people who expect a little more narrative coherence from their comic book movies. Expect many heated debates from grown men who rarely have sex except for with their computers.
***massive spoilers ahead***
But now that I’ve gotten my obligatory griping out of the way, I want to end on a positive note. There was plenty about this movie that I loved and I am eagerly looking forward to seeing it again. I had not one problem with any of the members of the cast. The biggest shock for me was not despising Jessie Eisenberg who in the trailer reminded me of a hummingbird who had been force fed one too many amphetamines. His evolution from deranged tech titan to criminal mastermind worked just fine for me. Many people are going to shit their pants when they see Batman routinely killing people but in the context of this movie, his actions are understandable. Also the notorious shots of him wielding a gun in the trailer absolutely make sense now that I know the gun has one shot of Kryptonite gas he plans to use on Doomsday. This older version of Batman (played surprisingly well by Affleck) is haunted by loss and is lashing out angrily, but he is not a psychopath and when he comes to understand just what Superman is all about, they rapidly become the World’s Finest Team that comic book fans know and love. I was also very happy to see ingredients and lines of dialogue from Frank Miller’s ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ (1986) sprinkled throughout the movie. By the time I saw the Trinity in action (Batman, Superman & Wonder Woman) I was completely on board. Gal Gadot erased all my concerns about her ability to handle this part. The fight with Doomsday is some of the most epic superhero combat we’ve seen on the screen to date especially with the dramatic finish of all three heroes working simultaneously to shut Doomsday down (Superman’s sacrifice is what brought the man beside me to tears). I can only imagine what it will be like once Aquaman, Cyborg & Flash get stirred into the mix in the next film. But most importantly, I want to see more movies set in this world. The trailers for Suicide Squad look absolutely incredible and filming for the first Justice League film is already underway. The love/hate rivalry between Marvel and DC that has dominated comic book culture for 50 years is finally becoming a reality on the screen and personally I couldn’t happier. So while I’ll be the first to concede that every negative criticism you’ve heard about this film is 100% true, my only counter is that the movie needs to be seen all the same. For comic book fans, it is a very good time to be alive.
I am one of the Co-Hosts of Wrong Reel.
Highlights from Batman v Superman slugfests of the past.