So the movie is out, reviews are in, and most critics agree that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is a bad movie. As of this writing it is currently holding a 30% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics calling it a “dour disappointment” and claiming that the creators of the film “managed to drain all the fun out of these characters and their world.”
Can it really be that bad?
No, it’s actually quite good, a visually stunning spectacle that delivers on its promise to bring together two of the most popular superheroes in the world for a fight that may decide the future of humanity. Zack Snyder remains a fantastic visual director, and Hans Zimmer’s score is electric. Ben Affleck does not disappoint as the Batman, there are Easter eggs aplenty to excite the comic book fans in the crowd, and the action sequences are wonderfully crafted.
So what went wrong? Why do so many critics say that this isn’t a movie worth seeing?
By now MARVEL Studios has trained the moviegoing audience to expect certain things from a superhero movie. (I say this as a fan of the MARVEL cinematic universe who just finished watching the second season of Daredevil and loved it.) MARVEL’s films tend to keep to a familiar formula and tone, and after a dozen of them we think we know what a superhero movie is supposed to be. (Even a genuinely lackluster MCU film like Thor: the Dark World ranks more than 60% on Rotten Tomatoes.) Most of the critics of Batman v. Superman are panning it for not being fun. And by “fun” they mean funny and lighthearted the way that MARVEL’s films are. To them, a serious superhero film is a contradiction.
Not that the film doesn’t suffer from being a little too dark and brooding. It does, but not as much as the critics would have you believe. The reason for this is probably that DC has learned over the years that their greatest critical and financial successes have come from telling darker stories (Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, their animated films, the Arkham video games…). Meanwhile, their attempts at lighter fare (such as the awful Green Lantern film) have not been as well loved, to put it mildly. The Dark Knight raked in over a billion dollars and they thought they knew what the audience wanted from their movies. It’s a misunderstanding that has haunted the current film version of Superman, who is consistently glum. Indeed, Superman is the one character that Snyder does not get at all.
Despite that, Batman v. Superman is a triumph of comic book inspired cinematic storytelling. To paraphrase another DC film, it may not be the movie we deserve, but it’s the one we need. MARVEL’s formula is beginning to show its cracks. As much as I enjoy them, I’m starting to walk out of the theater after seeing one with the feeling that I’ve seen that movie before. They are still fun, but they no longer feel special. Age of Ultron was a better film than the first Avengers movie, but it didn’t really give the audience anything they hadn’t seen before. The comic book movie craze is showing no signs of slowing down, but I find myself wanting something different. And Dawn of Justice delivers. It may not be a perfect film, but for every moment that falls short, another soars.
Batman v. Superman takes its heroes seriously. We get to see what it looks like when the gods come down from Heaven and make Earth their battleground. And even though this take on the popular characters is going to polarize fans, I give DC credit for daring to do something different with their familiar heroes. This Superman is not universally beloved by the world. He’s practically worshipped by some, and outright despised by others, and all his efforts to do good seem only to open the door to more tragedy. This Batman is not the bloodless ninja warrior from Nolan’s films. He’s grown old and bitter, even cruel. He’s so cynical that he’s not capable of seeing the goodness in someone like Superman. This Lex Luthor… is something we really haven’t seen before.
I love the character of Lex Luthor, and every on-screen portrayal of him has brought something new to the role. Gene Hackman gave us a charming but silly criminal mastermind. John Shea’s take on the character was a white collar criminal and romantic rival to Clark Kent. Kevin Spacey’s Lex was a darkly jealous supervillain. Michael Rosenbaum gave us the definitive Lex Luthor by portraying a noble young man who slowly lost his soul in exchange for power. We’ve seen the character from quite a few angles over the years, but Jesse Eisenberg’s plays the character with a manic intensity we haven’t seen before. His playful menace is hypnotic, and while fans seem divided over his performance, I was enthralled.
Even though the movie hums with new ideas, the hearts of these characters are still very much familiar territory. Even in a world that does not accept him as their friend, Superman is an awe-inspiring force of goodness with a very human core of love. Even though he’s let his life and home fall into complete disrepair, Batman is still out there saving the innocent and fighting the never ending battle. Even though he comes off as something of a goofball, Lex Luthor is still a genius who wields science as a weapon like one who would take on God himself.
I am excited to see where Zack Snyder and company take these characters in the upcoming Justice League film. Especially Superman. After that ending, there is a world of potential. For a hero like him, the sky is no limit.
They sure took the criticisms of Man of Steel‘s wanton destruction to heart, didn’t they? Unfortunately I think they went too far. There were no less than three different instances of assuring the audience that areas where the film’s final villain was rampaging were depopulated, which made the whole affair feel a little too safe. You shouldn’t tell viewers, “Don’t worry, there’s no one around for the monster to hurt.”
Seeing Wonder Woman in action was a pleasure, and makes me excited to see what she does with her own movie next year. It’s taken a long time for comic books’ premiere heroine to get her own film, but if what we see here is any indication, the wait might just have been worth it.
Snyder’s Ultimate Edition director’s cut is supposed to be half an hour longer. I’m still not convinced a film with Superman in it needs an R-rated release, but I’m eager to see the definitive version of this movie.
The glimpse we see of the other Justice League characters was kind of cheap, but at least it didn’t distract from the main event of the film. I was wondering how they were going to fit Aquaman into this movie. Wonder Woman’s role felt natural, even if a bit tacked on, but any more would have been too much.
Hans Zimmer’s score is a super-power in itself. I love his twisted, broken Lex Luthor theme.
Now that I’ve seen the DCCU’s Batman, I’m twice as excited for Suicide Squad.