Random reactions to “Batman v. Superman — Dawn of Justice.”

If you’re even a semi-regular reader of the 4thDaveBlog, you know I’m a little bit of a comics fan. I would never call myself a serious student of the genre, but I’m learning more and more as the years progress. I own a few trade paperbacks and most of the more recent film versions of these stories. That said, I definitely have my favorite characters: Superman on the DC Comics side, and Captain America on the Marvel Comics side. (Maybe I can talk about why that is, another time.)

So obviously, 2016 is a big movie year for me, as both of my favorites have major motion pictures in which they are pitted against former or future friends. First up this year was “Dawn of Justice,” a.k.a. “the studio got impatient and wanted to hustle the storyline along to set up the Justice League.”

In the days leading up to the release of SvB, the internet was ablaze with TERRIBLE reviews from professional movie critics (admittedly, not the target market, for the most part). People who were anticipating a great follow-up to 2013’s Man of Steel were worried that DC had failed to deliver on one of the most anticipated team-up movies in cine-comic history.

I’m sure you’re dying to know what I thought about it. (Otherwise, you wouldn’t have read this far.)

My non-spoilery reaction is: If you really liked Man of Steel, and you’re a fan of the characters, you’re probably going to like Batman v. Superman. It’s not a perfect film, and I have some specific issues with it, but on the whole, I enjoyed my first screening. I’d rate it a solid 7 or 7.5 out of 10. Some will call that a crazy-high rating, but that’s how I felt about it.

Check the film rating for content issues (language, violence/destruction, some sensuality) and use your discernment. I don’t think I’d take young kids to it, but it might be okay for older teens. (I’m not your kids’ parent, so.)

As for my specific feelings about the film–check below the fold.

[And it shouldn’t need to be said, but beyond the “more” button, there be spoilers. I’m openly going to discuss plot points and surprises. So if you haven’t seen the film, and want to be surprised by anything in the film, stop reading. After this point, it’s on you, man.]

[BEGIN SPOILERS]

 

 

Okay, let’s get into this.

The Cast: Let’s run down the major players:

  • Superman: I think Cavill is a fantastic Superman, both visually and dramatically. He demonstrates the weight that Superman carries without the palpable self-pity of a Brandon Routh. Weirdly, the moment of his that sticks out to me the most was the shot of his pained expression in the middle of the explosion at the hearing. He stands helpless to stop the unexpected  carnage, and you see on his face the sadness at the loss of life, the disgust at the senselessness of such brutality, and the realization of how this affects his campaign to regain the trust of the people.
  • Batman: I called it from the moment Affleck was cast–he would nail this portrayal. And I was right. This is the Frank Miller “Dark Knight Returns” Batman. He’s been fighting crime for 20 years, and has faced so much evil and loss that he’s lived “long enough to [almost] become the villain.” He is broken, he is jaded, and he’s so battle-weary that he can’t trust anyone to be an ally. Such a different version of Batman than anything we’ve seen outside of Miller’s books and the video games.
  • Wonder Woman: I have to admit, I had no interest in a stand-alone Wonder Woman movie, but Gal Gadot has won me over–and it has nothing to do with her appearance. She brings a fierce elegance to the proceedings, battling like a bloodthirsty ballerina. When she went beast-mode on Doomsday, I was cheering. I would love to see more than the paltry amount of screen-time that the Amazonian princess was given. Way to go, Gadot–you’re making me a fan.
  • Alfred: Jeremy Irons brings a dry sarcasm and edge to Bruce Wayne’s faithful butler that is more gruff than genteel, more authoritative than subservient. This plays more like a hardened version of the Alfred from the animated series, who was an SAS operative in his former life. This Alfred isn’t afraid to call Bruce to the carpet when necessary, more bluntly and harshly than even Michael Caine’s version in the Nolan trilogy.
  • Lex Luthor: I get what they were going for–Lex Luthor as tech-billionaire-brat and evil genius. I just don’t think Jesse Eisenberg was the right choice for the role. Part of the problem is that there have been some REALLY good Lex Luthors on multiple media platforms, and Eisenberg’s version is just one of the weaker ones. It’s a shame, really. He’s not a bad actor. It just wasn’t a good fit.

The Tone: A lot of digital ink has been spilled on the darkness of this film. And it is certainly dark. But that’s not necessarily bad, either. The DC cinematic universe is taking a turn for more serious, dramatic storytelling. They don’t have to be “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Ant-Man” to be good. Let Marvel have that slice of the market. There’s a place for both. Personally, I’m intrigued when something as seemingly juvenile as the superhero genre is used to wrestle with big questions in a serious way. I’m not saying BvS is Shakespeare or Faulkner, but I’m not opposed to showing some darkness (in tone, not graphic content) to ask questions about life and death.

Doomsday: I really wish this wasn’t in the advertising leading up to the film. Because oh my goodness, what a reveal that would have been. That said–YOU GUYS, IT’S A FILM VERSION OF DOOMSDAY. DOOMSDAY!!! That is crazy. And yeah, “the look wasn’t right, blah blah blah”–SUPERMAN WAS FIGHTING DOOMSDAY ON-SCREEN, Y’ALL. Quit complaining. Which leads me to my next point…

The “Death and Return” storyline: I can’t believe they had the guts to go there in the DC cinematic universe. Granted, we certainly won’t see the “reign of the Supermen” arc with Superboy, Steel, Cyborg Superman, and the Eradicator. But the filmmakers actually went there, arguably the most pivotal story-arc in comic book history. My only question now is how the “return” part will be handled.

And I know that the original release date for this movie was May, but moving it to Easter Weekend? A little on the nose, Warner Bros. C’mon.

Easter Eggs: The first looks at Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. The “phasing” Flash appearance, a la Crisis on Infinite Earths. The Mother Box. The Darkseid symbol and wraiths in the dream sequence. The apparent existence of a dead Robin (Jason Todd?) in Batman’s past. There were a bunch of little hat-tips to fans of the source material, as well as several apparent nods to the future. Innnnnnnteresting.

This Proves NOTHING, Bat-fans: Despite what you may be hearing, the eternal debate of “who would win” was NOT settled by this film. The reason this Batman had the upper-hand on this Superman was ONLY because Superman was completely unaware of the properties of Kryptonite at this point. If he already had that knowledge, things would have gone a LOT differently. So just stop it. Superman would win. Your argument is invalid.

What Didn’t Work For Me: I thought there were three major weaknesses in this film (and one minor gripe).

  • Dial It Back, Jesse: I wanted to like this Lex Luthor. I hoped it would be a mix of the Kevin Spacey ruthlessness with the Michael Rosenbaum charm, but it ended up being a (more) unappealing version of Mark Zuckerberg mixed with a less-enjoyable version of Brad Pitt from 12 Monkeys. There were some scenes where I thought he nailed the tone, and others where I would have dialed it down two or three notches at least. In the end, there wasn’t enough material to understand the motivation for his malice. For all their attempts to make him as interesting as Heath Ledger’s Joker, this Lex just felt two-dimensional.
  • Martha Wayne was a SAINT, do you hear me? A SAINT!: The reason Batman didn’t drop the final coup-de-grace on Superman was that both of their moms are/were named Martha. And it took Lois being there to save Superman from getting skewered. …Huh. That seems really anticlimactic. In fact, a LOT of time is spent in this movie focused on the heroes’ relationships with their moms. (I’m not making it weird; I’m just making an observation.) And i guess it’s only fair, since Man of Steel is all about fathers and sons. Still. It’s not Superman’s repeated attempts to avoid conflict or his record of heroism that convinces the world’s greatest detective. It’s that he’s also a son-of-Martha. *shrug*
  • All My Dreams Are Never Quite As It Seems:  Flying-with-bats dream? Okay, it’s an artistic choice. Jump-scare in the mausoleum? Aside from the REALLY fake-looking bat puppet, okay, I get it–you’re playing up Bruce’s psychosis. Phasing Flash from the future? Um… unnecessarily vague easter egg? Apokalyptic future with Killer Superman: Seriously y’all, what in the world is going on here?  Snyder over-worked the “dream-sequence” motif to the point where it just became pointless. We GET IT, he doesn’t trust Superman. But after a while, it just felt lazy. Maybe I didn’t “get” it. [“Tell us, Director-of-Movies-Yet-To-Come: are these the visions of what WILL be? Or of what MIGHT be only? Because…we have no idea what’s going on.”]
  • So, is Doomsday, like, dead dead? Because…: After Superman “kills” Doomsday in the comics, he eventually comes back to life. After all, that’s what Doomsday does: whatever kills him literally makes him stronger, because he comes back invulnerable to it the next time. So…what happened to Doomsday’s body? Maybe this is one of those “different version, different rules” things, but it sure seemed like they were implying with his spiny regeneration during the fight sequence that he had healing properties. *shrug*

But Wait, There’s More: I haven’t even begun talking about the “deeper themes and implications,” as the great Trentus Magnus would say. There’s a lot of material to discuss here: the sassy, ‘sploding Senator; the political fallout from the original Battle of Metropolis; the Mexico rescue; the constant discussion of pitting gods against men (and the heavy theological themes in the film); and so on. But this is already a triple-scoop serving of the 4DB. So I’ll leave you to hash that out in the comments, if you like.

Final Thought: I went in, knowing how the film was being critically ravaged. Walking out of the theater, I found myself already starting to defend my enjoyment of the film, just in my own mind. I shouldn’t have to do that. I dug it. It was flawed, but it was also surprisingly daring. This wasn’t the “safe” or even “formulaic” buddy picture I was worried it would be. It was dark and it was heavy and it was muddled, but it wasn’t a disaster. I think people need to stop over-reacting and take a step back to consider that what we have here is the first-ever big-screen team-up of DC’s “big three,” taking on one of the biggest, baddest monsters in comics. For all of its imperfections, the film succeeds in being a comic fan’s dream-come-true. And i think that’s worth giving Snyder and co. their due credit.

=====

Your Turn: Did you see Batman v. Superman? What would you rate it? Did it drive you crazy? Did it make you cheer? Did I miss something huge that should be discussed? Let me know in the comments. (And remember: be polite. My house, my rules.)

 

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6 thoughts on “Random reactions to “Batman v. Superman — Dawn of Justice.”

  1. Ugh: forgot to discuss this, put a pin in it for later: this Batman breaks the “one rule.” And it is shocking. But makes sense for the Frank Miller Batman.

  2. I basically thought the opposite of you on so many points which is funny. The exact reasons you liked some thing were reasons I didn’t and vice versa, cf: Lex, e.g.

    I think what I learned after watching and reading reviews is that I’m not ‘really’ a DC fan, in general. So it wasn’t for me. That’s settled.

    From a general perspective though, I counted 4-5 blasphemies including Jesus’ name. That stuff only gets WORSE, in my experience. Unnecessary sensuality, particularly the bathtub scene and most of Wonder Woman’s outfits are another ugh.
    Again, maybe Marvel and DC will dial this stuff back, but that isn’t my experience. It is hard for me to live in a universal church where I read of so many men ‘struggling’ (if you can call it that) with pornography, and then encourage them to see a movie which cannot help but draw your eyes to at least one woman’s private areas. Where I was, even the preview of TMNT had to have a gratuitous few seconds of whoever their sex object du jour is in that movie. Those things just ruin decent (or good) stories for me. And Neil deGrasse Tyson.
    And Ben A? Sure, he did well. But I just can’t see him anymore as anything else. It’d be like Seinfeld being Lex, maybe he’d do well as an actor…but he’ll always be something else in my mind. My problem, not Ben’s, I guess.

    Thanks for the review. It was fun to read.

    • Hmm. I appreciate your pushback on this. (And you’re right, I had forgotten about the bathtub thing, which seemed out of place.) It’s possible that I’m not as sensitive to such things as I should be. Something for me to consider. Thanks for reminding me to take such things a little more seriously.

      • It’s a hard deal, Dave. I commend to you that if you desire to be a leader of sorts (which you kinda de facto are doing by having a blog) there are certain things we ought to do because we love the brethren. The details will vary.

        Don’t get me wrong. I recommend people go see God’s Not Dead 2 – and that movie has its problems as well, including random unnecessary placement of supermodels.

        So it’s like being in Amish country and everyone says your wife is immodest because they can see her calves. We all have to deal with culture and how it affects how we’ll view those things.

  3. Great review, Dave.
    Like you, I went to see this movie fully aware of the negative reviews. And like you, I liked the movie nonetheless. 8/10
    That said, I have a lot of thoughts.
    I think the bottom line for a lot of the negative criticism of this movie has to do with its juxtaposition of two story obligations. The first is a deconstruction of two well-known characters. You cannot see Affleck’s Batman and Cavill’s Superman without at least having some preconception of previous iterations. This movie would be a terrible introduction to Batman for someone with little to no knowledge of the character (ditto for Superman in “Man of Steel”), but it serves as an interesting reinterpretation. But at the same time, the second obligation is that it DOES serve as an (effective) introduction to Wonder Woman—and to a much clumsier extent, the rest of the Justice League. From a real-world standpoint, it makes sense, given that both Superman and Batman have each had several movies over the years while the rest of the DC universe has had flops like “Supergirl,” “Catwoman,” “Jonah Hex,” and “Green Lantern.” Nonetheless, for this particular movie, the balancing act between these two obligations was not seamless.
    I have two points that have not been brought up in any of the criticisms I have read. Firstly, when Lex talks about/to Superman, he uses religious terminology almost exclusively. This is in contrast to the political discussions about Superman that happen everywhere else, especially personified in Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch. The moral of the story? Good guys can have political disagreements with each other, but religious wars require us to take a side.
    Secondly, I was especially struck in this movie with the deconstruction of Superman’s character, particularly dealing with his motivation for saving the world. Even with the montage of Superman rescuing various people with voiceovers discussing various opinions about his actions, Superman himself does not seem all that interested in saving total strangers. He IS all about saving Lois. He has funneled all of his superior abilities into preserving her life; if keeping her alive means he has to save the world as well, so be it. This movie’s Superman has been stripped of his characteristic altruism—which is not necessarily a bad thing, but is something that might rub the casual moviegoer the wrong way.
    One big disappointment for me was the use of the Batmobile. It was almost too dark to see in action, and when it was in action, there was no tension. He was not escaping the bad guys like “Batman ’89,” and he was not protecting someone like “The Dark Knight.” He was a hunter pursuing his prey, and like Anakin’s podrace in Episode I, the outcome was never in question. (Until Superman collapses the front axle and rips off the windshield.)
    Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts and for reading mine.

    • Great observations. I do think the altruism is there (I don’t think I’m reading that into the character), and I think the Mexico rescue demonstrates that. He goes there, not because of Lois, but because he knows that people are in trouble.

      Martha’s lines about “owing them nothing” do seem to resonate with your idea, though. (Something interesting to consider: both Jonathon and Martha Kent give well-intentioned advice to their son that makes sense in their character motivations but to the outside observer seems to be wrong.)

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