A comic book fan’s take on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Regardless of whether you think the medium has evolved and aged with its readership or simply remains patronized by adults who seemingly refuse to grow up, the impact of comic books on pop culture is undeniable. Hollywood certainly thinks so, which is why the superhero movie genre has gone from being a refreshing novelty to a full-blown, yearly spectacle.
It is no surprise, then, that DC Comics has opted to kick-start their cinematic universe with a movie featuring their two biggest moneymakers. Who wouldn’t pay top coin to see these enduring icons – the colorful, messianic symbol of hope and the brooding Renaissance man who both represent, each in their own way, what mankind aspires to be – joining forces on the silver screen to fight an all-powerful foe, after a visually orgasmic slobber-knocker showcasing the best of what each of them can do?
On paper, that shouldn’t be too hard to pull off. Take an entire universe of established characters free of the irritating limitations set by inter-studio ownership rights, allow talented scriptwriters to craft a new and unique story that pays respect to the source material, and leave it in the hands of a director who has had experience with spearheading comics-based films and demonstrated a penchant for larger-than-life visuals. Sounds like a formula for guaranteed success, doesn’t it?
Sadly, to paraphrase the old saying, even the best-laid plans for men and supermen can go awry.
Before I continue, I would like to stress that I am writing this review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice not as a critic expecting an art film, but as a comic book fan who knows what he wants to see in a film, comics-based or not. I certainly will not discourage anyone from seeing this film, nor give anyone grief for thinking it’s an excellent movie. Lastly, I assure you that I am definitely not some spiteful fanboy who wants to see the DC cinematic universe crash and burn. In fact, I really wanted this movie to be good (that’s the only way we’ll get a Nightwing movie out of this). While some may argue that the key to enjoying this film is to turn my brain off and lower expectations, well… I don’t operate that way. To each their own, I guess.
Problem 1: The story
As far as the plot goes, my biggest issue with it is similar to the one I had with Iron Man 2. The film very nearly collapses under the weight of everything it tries to balance. Hardly surprising, as a film that bears the words “Batman,” “Superman,” and “Justice” in its title promises so much. Unfortunately, Batman v Superman ends up as a mere progression of action scenes and talking heads that turn the coolness factor up to 11, stitched together by a flimsy, hole-ridden excuse for a plot.
Most of the film’s conflicts would have been solved if some semblance of common sense had been applied. Some examples:
- What made it so difficult for Superman to communicate with the leaders of the world and explain his side? Were the eighteen months he spent being a journalist not enough for him to realize the value of good public relations?
- Superman had no problem finding and rescuing Lois Lane every single time she was in harm’s way, no matter where he was. How could he not have instantly found Martha Kent’s heartbeat — the heartbeat of his own mother, whom he’d spent most of his life with?
- Why did Superman waste so much time fighting Batman? He had the right idea at the start of the fight — as the more level-headed participant who was IN DIRE NEED OF HELP, he should have just kept talking while disabling Bruce’s multiple traps along the way. Seriously, he could have stopped hitting Batman the moment he destroyed the turrets. Everything that happened past that point was excessive (and his own damn fault).
- Was Superman’s last-ditch effort to convince Batman to help him really “wait until he brings me to the brink of death and THEN mention my mother’s name and hope for a deus ex machina?” Assuming that Clark knew Bruce’s mother’s name, it still seemed so weird and illogical. Then again, I suppose “save my mother” wouldn’t have sounded quite as cinema-worthy.
- For all of Batman’s paranoia and obsessive planning, how come it never occurred to him to find the person who kept sending him those threatening messages, or that he was being manipulated into fighting Superman by an unrevealed puppeteer pulling the strings?
- (I admit that I may have missed the in-story explanation here.) How did Lois know that she had to search for the very same Kryptonite spear she threw into the water just minutes earlier? Did she just happen to see Doomsday and think, “That looks like something that can be killed with a sharp, glowing object – it must be part Kryptonian!” Was she secretly listening to Batman and Wonder Woman’s conversation through a high-tech earpiece or something? Also, why didn’t Superman just toss the spear to Wonder Woman, the one combatant present who could deliver the killing blow WITHOUT falling prey to the weapon’s anti-Kryptonian effects?
- Here’s a big one: Since Lex Luthor’s problem was that he found the idea of a superior being such as Superman existing completely abhorrent, why did he think that creating Doomsday was even remotely a good idea? Did Luthor, meticulous mastermind that he was, completely forget to consider the consequences of creating a monster as terrifying and invincible as Doomsday if the creature succeeded in eliminating the heroes? Who was he planning to call, should things go south? How was he planning to stop Doomsday’s inevitable rampage? Besides, why did he even have Superman and Batman fight each other in the first place? A quick answer would be “to buy time for Doomsday to fully develop,” but it’s still quite a stretch. And no, “because he’s an anarchist” doesn’t cut it.
- Let me get this straight: So an old, jaded crime-fighter who brutally handles criminals spends nearly two years obsessively hating on a super-powered being who, aside from single-handedly stopping an alien invasion, had also done nothing but acts of goodness during that entire period, and is pushed to hunt down this all-powerful hero by a paranoia-fueled, nightmarish “vision” of the future followed by a warning from a costumed adventurer who somehow traveled back in time to talk to him through his DREAM (if that’s even possible)? Okay, sure.
Eagle-eyed fanboys would definitely have no trouble pinpointing the sequences that took inspiration from stories like A Death in the Family, The Dark Knight Returns, The Death of Superman, and so on. This focus on adding as many winks and references as possible (plus the repeated and unnecessary mentions of the word “uninhabited”) is probably why it ended up becoming nothing more than a collection of comics-inspired scenes with little to no connective tissue to justify weaving them together.
Problem 2: The characters
I could have forgiven the gaping plot holes if the characters themselves remained true to their core, or at least bore some resemblance to the ones I knew and read about. To their credit, they certainly looked the part. Unfortunately, for most of them, that’s where the similarities end.
Let’s begin with Superman. As someone who liked Man of Steel (and who chose to treat that film as the story of *a* Superman and not *the* Superman, or at least a Superman who was just on his way towards discovering who he really is and what he truly stands for), I found it severely disappointing how Henry Cavill’s version did not seem to grow as a character, at all. Despite the constant allusions to Superman as a Christ figure, the filmmakers seemed to have completely missed the essence of the character. It’s not the themes of alienation and omnipotence that define Superman; it’s his enduring role as a symbol of hope and inspiration. Superman is goodness personified, a godlike hero who truly earned the “man” in his name. It would have been interesting to see those traits emerge against the backdrop of mankind’s almost relentless persecution of him. Instead, what we got was a Superman who makes threats and hardly ever smiles. In a twisted way, his fight with Doomsday also proved his detractors’ point — the mere fact that he’s here DOES bring trouble to Earth.
Ben Affleck has received almost unanimous praise for his portrayal as Batman, and I’m inclined to agree. He’s the best live-action Bruce Wayne we’ve gotten so far. Aside from nailing the look, he’s also got the charisma. As Batman, he’s old, battle-worn, and weary; a grim crusader who has seen more than his fair share of loss. He is also a master of hand-to-hand combat, and is fully capable of taking on an entire room of gun-toting goons on his own. As satisfying as it is to watch him fight, however, he lacks a few key qualities that, for me, define Batman. For starters, this version leans more towards being a hit-first-ask-questions-later thug with little to no regard for human life. While I (surprisingly!) didn’t have much of a problem with him killing people, I had a bit of trouble accepting that he uses guns here. Furthermore, in a universe where Joker remains alive, this particular Batman’s stance on killing seems rather hypocritical. What’s really disappointing is that this Batman displayed neither intelligence nor supreme deductive skills, the two qualities of the character that I admire the most. Instead, he became a paranoid goon who prefers savagery over stealth. That’s really not Affleck’s fault, though.
Lex Luthor is off the mark, completely. In an apparent attempt to replicate Heath Ledger’s Joker, Jesse Eisenberg somehow manages to take the worst parts of Gene Hackman’s buffoonish interpretation and the petty, forty-cake-stealing Silver Age Luthor and turn them into a brand-new version that is unlikable for all the wrong reasons. All of that while looking like X-Men nemesis Arcade, to boot.
Doomsday’s inclusion here was unnecessary, a waste of both a potentially epic story and a possible trilogy bookend villain. In the comics, he was the result of a demented alien scientist’s twisted experiment, a perpetually evolving killing machine that brought death and destruction wherever he went until he landed on Earth. Cutting a bloody swath through Earth’s heroes, only Superman proved to be enough to stop him, at the cost of both their lives. In this film, he was nothing more than a twelve-foot-tall plot device, created solely for the purpose of killing Superman — a literal representation of the real reason why he was created in the comics (to keep Superman dead long enough to sync his comic book marriage to Lois Lane with the Lois and Clark television show). I didn’t buy that the whole world was in danger, and that Superman stopping this threat would mean making a sacrifice that would make everyone change their minds about him. I wasn’t convinced that Superman was the ONLY person for the job – a VERY important part of Superman and Doomsday’s story. Thus, Superman comes off as just an unfortunate casualty of a shortsighted scheme that could have backfired on the planet. (Thank God for that floating dirt on his coffin, right? I don’t think anyone didn’t see that coming, though.)
Wonder Woman was a pleasant surprise. Her accent initially threw me off, but I got used to it pretty quickly. The special effects were top-notch (though, in typical Snyder fashion, the use of slow-motion seemed excessive at times), and the action scenes alone make this film worth the price of admission. It also sets up the Justice League in an interesting (albeit somewhat shoehorned-in) manner. I’m interested to see how they’ll show these heroes coming together on the big screen. I suppose that means this film accomplished its goal.
Oh, and Batman fans who like seeing their idol winning will certainly give this film a thumbs-up.
Despite my gripes with this film, I actually did enjoy it. It’s an entertaining 2+ hours, and the money I paid was well-spent. As a comics fan who wanted to see a blockbuster featuring timeless characters in source-accurate costumes slugging it out, special effects and comic book Easter eggs and all, I definitely got my wish.
However, as a comics-loving moviegoer who wanted a story that respects years of comic book history AND my intelligence, I was severely disappointed.
See, I wasn’t expecting a blow-by-blow account of Superman and Batman’s first comic book team-ups (I have no interest in watching them fight over Lois Lane, nor do I want to see them beat up poor Magpie on the silver screen). I don’t expect the Justice League movie to feature Starro the Conqueror and mind-controlling starfish. All I wanted was to see films that honor these established characters while putting a new spin on their comic book adventures.
Ultimately, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice feels more like dusk, casting a veil of darkness over two protagonists who really didn’t seem heroic at all. However, the occasional ray of sunlight does manage to pierce through – and perhaps, that’s enough for now.
Was it good? 5/10
Did I enjoy it? 8/10
Final verdict: 6.5/10