“The Controversy Over BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016)”
Let me first just say that since this is being released as a “Rants & Ravings About Horror” article that it still belongs within the confines of this column because it’s still a “rant” and a “raving” and if you’ve been a long tern reader you know I occasionally like to write about the fantasy and superhero films that make an impact and no superhero film has made as polarizing an impact as Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). Many of you will be surprised to know that I actually thought the film was really good and one of the more interesting comic book based films that have recently been released but I will also say that despite the fact that I enjoyed the film, the film itself deserves all the criticisms that it is receiving from detractors.
In order to examine why this is I’m going to first take a look at the “bad” criticisms of the film before looking at the good so if you are someone who hasn’t seen the film yet and don’t want any spoilers I suggest you stop reading now. For everyone else let’s just dive right in.
WHY IS THE FILM GETTING BAD PRESS?
After making a tremendous splash at the Box Office its first week of release, Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice quickly faded in its second weekend due to many different factors. The biggest drop being that the second largest film market in the world – China, dropped the film from mos China is where the film had its second biggest debut next to the US so when the film disappeared from most of those screens in that country the film took a big hit. The executives behind this debacle should have seen this coming and waited until after the Chinese festivals to release the film. By the time these festivals are over and the film does manage to get more screens again (if it does) the damage will already be done. You may not think this is that big of a deal but in actuality China is the second largest market for international films and is expected to become number one within the next five years due to the fact that they are continuing to build more theaters to support the need in the country whereas here in the US we are at an over saturation point.
t of its theaters in order to support local films during their time of holiday spectacle.
The film is getting great reviews from “fan boys” but scathing reviews from general audiences. Let’s define the difference. A “fan boy” will not only be those people who read comics and know the ends and outs of every comic book character there is but it also includes audiences who love superhero films and go see them all on the big screen. General audiences may see one or two superhero films a year (if that many) and it will probably be with a group of friends or they like the actor in the film more than the concept of the film itself (i.e. the popularity of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man). These general audiences have never read Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and only know of Superman through the Christopher Reeves films and probably The Adventures of Lois & Clark and Smallville and Batman from the original Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher films (but probably thought the Christopher Nolan films were a little too dark). General audiences are who buy multiple tickets and propel films to extraordinary box office receipts through word of mouth and telling their friends. Fan boys see the film once and then buy a bootleg of the film so they can watch the film again a hundred times (some do revisit the film on the big screen from time to time). I hate to say this but Batman V. Superman is a dark and brooding film about dark and brooding characters that think philosophical about their place in the world while doing so through violence and complete disregard to all the other characters in the film. That and the fact that Superman dies in the film nailed the coffin shut on the overall future prospects of this film. Add to the fact that the film is neither fun nor contain any moments of humor to break up the dark moody characters and you have a film that’s too dark for its own good.
Another theme permeating through the film is terrorism and World ideologies about a God-like figure and you’ve created a film that speaks to both religious and political opinions which to most people a superhero film should never do. Plus they kill Superman at the end!?! Anyone who has read the boring and badly written comic book storyline Superman: Doomsday knows that Superman dies at the end. It was a great concept (although badly written) that opened the doors for a whole bunch of different storylines in the Superman comics (I won’t go into any of that here) but general audiences have no clue about any of this; they just know Superman dies at the end and what parent is going to let their child go see a dark and brooding comic book film where Superman dies at the end? If I had children I wouldn’t let any of them under the age of thirteen go see this film and I wouldn’t pay to let my children go see this film.
Unfortunately, for general audiences who bring families and friends to the theater this is not a film that they are going to see nor recommend to others because their impression will be that it is not a film that families should go see with their children (unless they are demented parents who don’t mind taking their young children to see films like the R-Rated Deadpool). Since studios and Warner Bros., in general, rely on this demographic to fuel the success of their films they should have expected the polarizing response to the film and the quick box office drop. This is not a film a studio should have put a reported $250 million into to produce if they thought it would make at least $1 billion back on its return.
WHAT THE FILM GOT RIGHT.
All the above being said, I pretty much loved most of what the film had to say. Zack Snyder is a very capable director with a very dark vision of everything he does. He’s directed two of the best and most faithful comic book films with 300 and Watchman (and crafted one of the best horror film remakes with Dawn of the Dead) but those films are obscure to mainstream audiences and were already R-Rated in tone so the violence and mayhem was expected. Snyder is lucky that I’ve always looked at Superman as a pansy and sissy and too altruistic character that’s too patriotic and bland (for the most part I feel the same way about the comic book version of Captain America). When Snyder released his film Man of Steel I was hoping he’d do something interesting with the bland and uninteresting farm-boy and for the most part he did. He melded an origin story within the confines of a coming of age story about a character who doesn’t know his place in the world and is just learning it. This is a very similar journey that the original young Peter Parker had to go through when the character was in high school (a fact I’m actually looking forward to for the new version of Spider-Man). General audiences were mixed on this film as well and “hard core” Superman fan boys (from what I know) hated what Snyder did with the character especially considering that he was responsible for the death of so many people (something never reflected in previous films). Snyder was obviously influenced by the success of the Nolan Dark Knight Trilogy, which is based on a darker character (who is always moody and brooding), but to utilize those same aesthetics for a Superman film was a bolder move. Man of Steel was a success allowing Snyder to bring his style to the ultimate match up of Batman verses Superman. Sounds like a great idea.
What I love about Snyder and his films are that like Nolan he has no interest in telling a simple superhero story. His films have deeper meaning and thought put into them (even Sucker Punch so give that film another look if you don’t believe me). Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice gets to the heart of what “justice” means in today’s world filled with terrorists and religious ideologies run rampant. There is no clear cut black and white but everything is in the grey. He uses these themes to not only compare and contrast the ideologies of Batman and Superman but to also compare and contrast their ideas of justice with that of God-like divinity and atheism as personified through the damaged Lex Luther who wants to destroy them both using his “god-like” ability to create Doomsday and destroy a God (Superman) through Krytonite. Snyder’s film also touches upon family (Bruce Wayne’s link to his mother and Clark Kent’s to his, both named Martha) and the things that also ground us to Earth which in Superman’s case is Lois Lane, the woman he loves and will do anything for. By the end of the film Superman sacrifices himself to save the people of Earth from the destruction caused by Doomsday; Superman has been grappling with his place in the world for the whole film and it isn’t until this moment that he realizes where he belongs and what it is he was meant to do. Batman’s journey is one born from violence, not only from that of watching his parents die in front of him but also watching his friends and co-workers die at the hands of Superman’s fight with General Zod. Bruce Wayne needs to put a face to the violence and unfortunately it is Superman (an alien being he doesn’t understand and whom desperate people look to as a God) a man he comes to hate and will do anything to destroy. Wayne’s journey is a different one yet also parallels that of Clark Kent and which culminates when they are forced to battle each other. Snyder’s themes come to a logical head at the end of the film and end the way they should.
Some people also try to criticize the actors. Everyone seems to be perfectly fine with Ben Affleck as Batman, which is funny considering the backlash of when he was announced as the latest actor to put on the suit. I’ve never been a huge Affleck fan but I’ve always maintained that pretty much anyone can play Batman and get away with it. Warner Bros. is lucky that Batman, and maybe James Bond and Jack Ryan, is one of the few characters that anyone can take over and the public won’t go too crazy over. Henry Cavill’s performance has not faired quite as well with most people claiming him to be too wooden but I think that is deliberate and actually perfect for the character. Cavill is playing an alien being that doesn’t understand all of human emotions and what it means to be human; that’s the point of the whole film which is to watch him grow and understand this through his relationship with Lois Lane and his experience with Batman (a contrast between normal human and “super”-human). If Cavill’s performance was the same as Affleck’s then there would be no way to tell the two apart. This is part of showing the complexities between the two characters. One (Batman) fights for humanity as a human and the other (Superman) fights for humanity as an alien. I thought they both did the perfect job at representing their characters and showing a change between them by the end. If you are still believe Cavill is not a good actor then you weren’t paying attention to the amazing dream sequence where Superman kills two people in front of Batman whom he believes killed Lois.
Although not given as much to do this go around Amy Adams does a fine job as Lois Lane and for the first time we get to see a genuine relationship between the two characters. Their relationship seems like a real one between a human and alien and never comes off as hokey. The relationship between Bruce Wayne and his Butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons) has never been as properly interpreted than in this film. In the comics Alfred was/is always helping Bruce with his “toys” but none of this has been portrayed in any of the other films. Snyder loves to pull from the actual comics because he’s just as big a fan as the rest of us. It’s a small detail but an important one nevertheless.
Now, getting into the other things that I like and dislike about the film.
Although I loved every minute of seeing Wonder Woman in the final act of the film there is no reason why she even needs to be in the film other than to set up future films. I’ve kind of gotten sick of all the “franchise” films setting up future films with scenes and bonuses that not only add to the film’s running time but also have little if nothing to do with the current film being told. Case in point, the scene of the Flash going back in time to warn Bruce Wayne or the apocalyptic nightmare of a future world that Wayne has. The only dream sequence I thought was fantastic was the opening one in which we see Wayne as a child when he discovers his destiny (Young Bruce being lifted through the cavern by bats was a fantastic touch).
Although none of the meta-humans storylines figure into this film I actually really liked the video clip reveals of Aquaman and Cyborg and look forward to both of these films. The one thing I did like is the final scene of the film with Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince at Clark Kent’s grave deciding they need to form the “Justice League”. Marvel has handled this type of bonus better by putting these style scenes at the end credits of their films so it’s just a little something extra for the fans but here it’s added time that should have been better spent on Martha Kent and the ramifications of everything she’s gone through especially the death of her son.
I actually really enjoyed this version of Lex Luther. Most people are criticizing Jessie Eisenberg’s performance but it melds really well with a character bent on destroying the God-like Superman and Batman (or characters that think they are God); this is an aspect of the character from the comics which has never been explored until now. Now in prison the character can prepare even darker schemes.
Overall, Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice is a film I enjoyed very much despite originally having no interest in the film other than it being directed by Zack Snyder with a score by Hans Zimmer (one of my favorite living composers). It was better than expected but deserves all the polarizing criticisms that it is getting. If Warner Bros. doesn’t want this type of backlash then they should have invested in a safer director to handle the film (maybe McG or Michael Bay). This being said, I think Snyder is the worst choice for the Justice League film which doesn’t need to be dark and brooding but a big adventure film with lots of action and humor to differentiate all the different characters. I would be more interested in learning how Snyder would resurrect Superman in a solo Man of Steel sequel examining the themes he’s already put in place from these two films. Instead, after the dismal response of Batman V. Superman I wouldn’t be surprised if Snyder was forced into compromises with his vision in order to satisfy a more mainstream (and thus profitable) audience. This would be a shame as Snyder is not a director whose style and vision you want to limit and make more “mainstream.”