(Warning: Contains Spoilers!)
In a perfect scenario, I would have been able to attend an advanced screening of Batman vs. Superman and spend several hours in my study digesting the movie away from the opinions of the masses and other critics, allowing me to focus on my own feelings about the film’s shortcomings and strengths. However, I’m not in an ideal situation, and given the implications of this movie, I would be remiss if I didn’t address the negative reviews as a point of my own critique. I, like most people by now, have been inundated with thought piece after thought piece on the movie. The reviews from both average moviegoers and critics alike have taken on a life of their own, giving rise to countless memes and fueling social media discussion concerning the direction that DC is taking with its answer to the wildly successful and largely critically-acclaimed (Thor movies notwithstanding) Marvel Cinematic Universe. While people have been calling the critical response to the film “mixed”, the connotations of that phrasing often suggests that there is relative similarity in the size of supporting and dissenting factions, but I sure you, this is not the case. A solid number of moviegoers, albeit a minority, thought the movie was decent (not awesome, not great… decent), but the overwhelming majority found it, well, underwhelming. The film has abysmal Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic scores. As a comic book aficionado of sorts (read: person that casually reads comics, mostly Marvel), I feel that the movie was nowhere near as bad as people are making it out to be. The negative reviews are the result of a combination of media hype (it does have two of the biggest stars in all of comic history as titular characters; not to mention countless classic animated and comic encounters between the two as a backdrop), the inevitable comparisons to Marvel films, and reviewers completely willing to judge the movie as if it were supposed to be an Oscar contender.
In comic circles, it is important to note that Batman and Superman are both polarizing characters. Batman is sometimes characterized for lack of powers, while Kent is often berated for his seemingly invincible status. Of course, neither criticism tells the full story of either hero, but casual fans and fanboys alike bring such biases to the theater with them. Many people came to the theater already balked at the idea, just assuming that Batman couldn’t possibly stand up to Superman, which makes little sense if you actually understand Batman and/or Superman.
The Marvel comparisons are very much valid. After all, no one else had ever tried to recreate a comic book universe for live action cinema before Marvel, so it is perfectly logical to compare the Dawn of Justice to what is literally its only point of reference. However, one has to understand that DC was at a clear disadvantage from the very outset. Marvel had been laying the foundation for broad crossovers between the movie characters for some time, at least as far back as Edward Norton’s Incredible Hulk film. In that film, which was released four years prior to the first Avengers film, Tony Stark has a cameo where the Avengers Initiative was hinted at. Marvel had ample time to release a host of movies for world building, setting the stage perfectly for a superhero collaboration. DC, on the other hand, is essentially hustling backwards, trying to build a world in a single film. The idea feels like they’re trying to play catch-up and rushing things, whereas Marvel’s flushed out endeavors have made the team-up seem like the next logical, organic step.
The rushed nature of DC’s plight was apparent in Dawn of Justice. You got brief, easter egg-esque introductions to all of the major players in the Justice League cinematic universe. The metropolitan area that the heroes primarily inhabit was shown in detail. However, I feel like you don’t get enough depth in the actual origins of the initial conflict between Batman and Superman. Yes, you get a rousing exchange or two better Ben Affleck’s Batman and Jeremy Irons’ expertly acted Alfred Pennyworth (seriously, he was a standout character) about the looming threat of Superman, but the film makes this seem like in afterthought, which is odd. The emphasis was placed on setting up future films, not necessarily making the clash of epic proportions happen. The beef between Batman and Superman was a mere plot device, used to better the heroes together. The filmmakers even introduced a top-tier Superman villain into the fray, further taking the eye away from the ostensible prize. This wasn’t in line with audience expectations, and it might have made sense to simply call the film “Dawn of Justice” because that’s what it was. It was a set up film. It was not the epic showdown between god versus man that fans wanted, and those who wanted that have every reason to be upset…
But instead of articulating the aforementioned grievances, we have gotten lots of pseudo-intellectual, film 101 takes on why the movie was bad. For example, people have been saying that things were shown in the movie that were not explained, such as the appearance of a future Flash. This did indeed happen, but why is that such an issue? Books, TV shows, and indeed other serial films have inserted mysteries in the first tales in a series only to revisit them later. Anyone who has read the Harry Potter series can attest to this. Another critique that has been thrown around frequently is why certain things are just taken for granted, like how Lex knew the identities of both Batman and Superman. Seriously, people are asking how one the richest, most intelligent, most well connected people in the DC universe found information. You also have people saying the movie was too dark (yes, people are saying a movie featuring Batman and Lex Luthor, two very dark characters, was too dark). Some are saying that the Batman desert dream sequence was confusing, despite the sequence following logically if you remember that one of core plot points is Batman worrying about facing a tyrannical Superman and another being Batman dealing with his one demons (or you could see the demons as foreshadow for issues to come). These criticisms and the like are completely meritless.
I do not think the movie was perfect. Indeed, it was far from it. I thought the dream sequences were used far too often and most of the ones involving Batman were unnecessary. The one involving Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent revealed important information, but it’s placement and execution were nonsensical and seemed to be more or less a crutch for Snyder to continue the narrative when they reached a gap in the writing. As I alluded to before, I don’t think the title “Batman vs. Superman” was fitting, as this wasn’t front and center in the film. During the only real showdown between the two heroes, it is pretty ridiculous that Batman would suddenly stop trying to kill the being he thinks is capable of enslaving the planet because he and Superman’s mothers have the same name. You could try to explain this, evoking knowledge of Batman’s generally unhinged nature stemming from seeing his parents’ murder, but it would be a reach. The audience learns almost nothing of pertinence about Wonder Women. Also, I personally do not like the use of Doomsday, a particularly powerful and important Superman villain in this film. He was barely shown, and that’s pretty disrespectful in my opinion. Doomsday can’t really be killed (good for Snyder to leave his status ambiguous in the film), so he could show up later. However, he just wasn’t utilized enough for me.
Despite my criticisms, I found the movie enjoyable. Affleck and Irons were a tour de force, consistently giving performances that rose above a relatively mundane plot. Every superhero movie will be compared to Nolan’s Batman, which raised the standards for superheroes films that followed. This is very unfortunate, however, because it takes away for the fun of the action genre…. And yes, superhero films are and should continue to be traditional action films first and foremost, no matter how many get released that venture somewhat into spy thriller, crime noire, and space caper territory (also a film does not have to be bright, colorful, and happy to be fun… It’s 2016). When you look at Batman vs. Superman for what it is, in and of itself, without the comparisons and without the film critic lens, I guarantee you’ll see a fun and visually appealing movie with a number of flaws that are not altogether fatal. That was enough for me, but then again, I’m not expecting every superhero film I see to win an Oscar either.