Lifelong comic book fans, other assorted nerdy individuals, scholars, movie critics, and just about the entire populous is weighing in on this movie, released last week. It has expectations abound; it cost a hefty ton to make, so there’s the money issue man Hollywood execs were nervous about; the banner behind the movie, DC Comics, is late to the film game, struggling to find an ‘in’ to a shared movie universe, as the other major comic company, Marvel, has seemed to figure out. There are the expectations of fans of this material, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, all major headstone characters from this universe; most have been portrayed on screen before; but this movie is 3 years in the making; how would it turn out now? I’m not here to figure all this out, or to critically examine every aspect of this movie, but god damn, has it been on my mind since I left the theater a few days ago and I’m ready to sound off!
(((((OKAY; THERE MAY BE SPOILERS LURKING HERE))))))))
First, I just want to jazz about what’s kept me thinking since I saw the movie. Well, this movie took major and significant plot points from two of DC’s most famous storylines, The Dark Knight Returns and the Death of Superman. These are 2 stories I think most comic fans have dreamed and desired to see realized on the big screen. Most will have to decide on their own if those worked in the movie, or if they were a disappointment. Secondly, the action was just as insane and titanic as in this movie’s predecessor: Man of Steel. And finally, these characters are completely f-d up! This is the most broken, demented version of Batman ever realized in live action or animation; this is the most devious and devilish Lex Luthor ever shown; and I feel this may be the most angry, tormented Superman we’ve seen yet as well (if not counting evil Superman from Superman III).
At 2 and a half hours, there’s a ton to digest from this movie and the pace of it goes from slow and deliberate to hypersonic warp speed. I did find myself wondering what non-comic fans unfamiliar with any of this material made of the movie, as that’s an advantage some may have over others. I felt that same way about Star Wars: The Force Awakens as well though. Perhaps the most confusing aspect of this from that perspective is why are these two heroes fighting each other? Well, from a fan’s perspective, it’s obvious; this is the oldest comic book trope in existence; you take 2 popular heroes, make them face off (in a mostly superficial circumstance) , you call it a draw when they are made to realize there is a common enemy, and you enhance both characters by the end. When Frank Miller drew and wrote the battle between Superman and Batman, he was hardly the first person to do this; in fact, go back to most Marvel movies and at some point, two heroes are going to fight. It may have confused people, but I believe they were using that marketing of seeing them battle as a selling point, even though the movie would take it in a different direction, per comic standards.
Let’s go 1 for 1: positive for negative:
Positive: #1: Visuals: Zach Snyder is a visual Picasso with digital film; it’s not a secret. He brings a certain style to his movies; it was there in Man of Steel and he brings it back for this film. Putting all the “Superman as Christ” lighting jobs aside, there’s a lot here you wouldn’t expect in a superhero movie. Stark simple images; cataclysmic images in the background of larger atmospheres; Batman melding with the darkness; treasure hunting in the Indian Ocean. The movie is not bright; it’s dark and gritty and the movie looks to match it’s mood.
Negative: #1- Editing: While watching this, I was reminded of a TV show; no scene lasted more than 4 minutes and some were as short as 30 seconds; there was a lot of plot, a lot of single scenes and it seems to be the way Snyder works. That could drive someone crazy. I think a lot was cut out of the movie that would have drawn it in better; establishing who Wonder Woman’s secret identity was and what she was doing, Luthor’s motivation, more Batman preparation, any moments with Superman talking to someone. I’m very curious to see the unedited version.
Positive: #2- The Action: While most (me at one point) lamented Man of Steel for it’s destructive appetite, re-watching it this week, there’s no doubt, taking all of that out of it, that has got to be the best superhero fight scene ever put to film. It was insane! This film keeps up that tradition. The actual “fight” between our two heroes was a stage show; because as Superman tells him “If I wanted it, you’d be dead already” Batman, for all his tricks and ploys, can’t match the unmitigated power of Superman. But, the movie still has Batman essentially “winning” much in the same manner as he does in Dark Knight Returns; in fact, most of Batman’s traps are directly lifted from the book itself. Then there’s the Doomsday fight; the first phase between he and Superman itself was a nice revisit of Superman-Zod with titantic implications, but when the Trinity itself form, and take on the monster, man, that’s some insane action.
Negative : #2- Characterization: You must know by now, you can’t draw definitive lines in the sand on these characters; to say Superman would never kill, based on who he was in the comics, can’t hold water in a film where he just became Superman. Killing Zod, philosophically, leads us to where we are here; same is true for Batman; Batman kills here. But,we know, historically, Batman took a vow not to kill. But, here he does. It’s not the way I would want it, but for the movie, for who that man is here, it works. When he tells Alfred, if there is a 1% chance Superman is here to destroy us, we have to take it as a certainty. When I think of Batman, he is the one character with backup plans upon backup plans; he doesn’t act in a straight line; he acts on all lines.
Positive: #3: Acting: I don’t care, these people brought it; from the craziest most tortured Batman we’ve seen, Ben Affleck owns this character. He’s enraged, he’s defiant, he’s downright vicious and it was a nice dimension to Batman that hasn’t been portrayed on screen before. He may be the best Batman yet. One thing superhero movies lack, most often, is a convincing villain with enough screen time and good writing to make an impression. Lex Luthor, or more so Jesse Eisenberg, is that villain. Michael Shannon in Man of Steel knocked it out of the park and I thought Eisenberg brought a madness combined with a deadly brilliance to his part and was great. Gal Gadot, our Wonder Woman, made a significant impression. Even background players like Laurence Fishburne and Holly Hunter showed power, authority and vunerability and added to the movie. As if Michael Caine could be outdone, in Jeremy Irons few scenes as Alfred, he emobodied everything you want in that character, even if the role was altered a bit from “manservant” to “assistant”. Amy Adams played her usual tough self and Henry Cavill, with more dialogue and meat, I think would have shone as well; but I still like his soft spoken Clark and Superman.
Negative #3: Luthor named the Justice League characters?: That’s just a bad flaw, no way around that; I like the idea his surveillance found all these special people but him coming up with their own uniqe symbols is a little strange.
Final Thoughts: Critics hate this film, badly. They say it’s a loud, destructive, brutish film with a mess of a plot and no direction. Some fans are calling for it’s head too, for the prostitution of DC Comics legacy and for it’s poor interpretations of its’ characters. I think, we rise above those preconceived notions or you just completely paint yourself as nothing more than a “fanboy”. This isn’t your Batman or your Superman; it’s the people that made this film; you either accept it, appreciate it for what it is, appreciate it for what it is and still not think it’s very good, or just outright hate the thing. Halfway through the movie, I thought “why did everyone hate this so much?” I liked the moving plot; the dialogue, the visuals. I think it set a nice stage for the Justice League (and being a lifelong Aquaman fan, I totally geeked out at that scene!). I ate up everything in this film; it’s not perfect; but it’s not heartless either. Bruce Wayne wants to protect his world, his city, like he couldn’t do for his parents; Clark Kent doesn’t know how and when to be Superman; he’s still learning and after his death here, the world, in our next film, will applaud his heroics and follow him into the sun.
In short, movie critics cango suck an egg; if someone would rather see superheroes than an overblown dramatic portrait or indy sensation, don’t judge them. And nerdy fans, if you hated it, hate it; but don’t try to make other hate it and ruin that experience for them.