You guys… I need to talk about Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
I know it came out a year ago, but I’m hopelessly behind the times. I don’t see most movies until they come to Netflix or DVD.com, even movies I really want to see. And I really wanted to see Batman vs. Superman. The first time in movie history Batman and Superman shared the screen? Sold! Wonder Woman joined them, too? I’m there opening night (in spirit anyway)! It has cameos from The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman? Shut up and take my money!
I knew it didn’t get positive reviews, to put things generously. But I figured, I’m a fan! It was made for me! I’ll love it! And the trailers looked amazing. That shot of the DC Trinity on screen together for the first time…?
Glorious! I don’t think I stopped smiling for days after seeing that first trailer.
And then, just a couple of weeks ago, I finally saw the movie, and… and..
And I felt like Barry Allen visiting his dad in prison.
Much like the Transformers live action films, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is what I call a YouTube movie. I’ll watch individual scenes from it over and over and over. But the movie as a whole? Never again.
So how did this one fail so badly? Let me count the ways:
Hey, I know how it is with comic book hero meet-ups: first, they fight, then they band together. But the fight between Batman and Superman was more than just fisticuffs. Batman was going to kill Superman. That’s not just too dark for me, that’s too dark for Batman! Didn’t anyone remember his “no kill” rule?
Batman was also way too liberal with the use of machine guns on the Batmobile and the Batplane. A few times, explosions caused by vehicular gunfire pretty clearly killed bad guys. Maybe it’s just not cool in modern day America, but Superman is not the only hero with a no kill rule. Batman is, too.
It was a filmed comic book script.
I once looked forward to another Zack Snyder directed comic book adaptation: Watchmen. And once was enough for me on that one, too, because I felt like it was too literal an adaptation of the comic book. Specifically, it was in the pacing. It was paced like a comic book, not a movie. Batman vs. Superman had the same problem.
For example, there’s a scene in Batman vs. Superman where we hard cut to the front yard of a Kansas farmhouse. Clark Kent is looking at the stars. His mother walks up to him and gives him some advice. Then, cut. Next scene.
In comics, this works fine. It’s a one-page scene, and a narration box at the top left of the page says, “Smallville, Kansas… The Kent family farm…” But in a film, I’d barely even processed that we were back at Clark’s boyhood home in Smallville, Kansas before the scene was over. It felt extremely fast-paced — Flash-paced, you might say — and not in a pleasant way.
So this one is well-documented, and I don’t need to beat a dead horse here. But let me just emphasize, again, that Batman was ready to murder Superman the same way a common criminal once murdered his parents, and if that weren’t wrong enough, he was stopped only when he learned his mother and Clark’s mother had the same first name.
Now that’s just dumb. But what makes it worse is: Batman should have already known Martha Kent’s first name at that point. We know Superman has figured out Batman’s identity because, during their fight, he calls Batman “Bruce.” But at Lex Luthor’s party, it is strongly implied that Bruce also knows Clark is Superman, what with his pointed criticism of the Daily Planet’s coverage of Superman. And the film’s climax reveals Lex Luthor has figured out Superman’s identity also.
Now I’m OK with Lex Luthor determining Superman’s identity, so long as the greatest detective in the world also knows, especially since Batman has been obsessed for two years at this point with preparing himself to face this “alien threat.” But the man who is always prepared for anything would also have run a full dossier on Mr. Clark Kent. He’d know where he lives, what car he drives, his annual income, his favorite breakfast cereal, who he spends his time with, and who his family members are.
But I’m supposed to believe that Batman only realized Clark’s mother and his mother shared a first name moments before driving a Kryptonite spear through Superman’s chest?
On the bright side, Wonder Woman was awesome
I called Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice a YouTube movie because I will watch scenes from it over and over again. So I don’t want to be a complete negative nelly. There was a lot I really liked in this film.
- Batman’s costume looked great — like right off the pages of Frank Miller’s Year One or Dark Knight Returns great.
- The secret entrance to the Batcave opened underwater, and the Batmobile had to jump off a ramp to reach it. I was giddy.
- You could feel the love between Clark and Lois. I’m a fan of stories in which those two are married, so I dug that.
- “Maybe it’s the Gotham City in me. We just have a bad history with freaks dressed like clowns.”
- The modern takes on Alfred and Lex Luthor were bold and worked really well for me. Today’s rich folks may not have butlers, but they do have directors of security. And Lex felt like an evil Mark Zuckerberg. I loved it.
- The picture of Wonder Woman from World War I. The surveillance footage of The Flash in action. The underwater camera that caught a glimpse of Aquaman. The glimpse into the origin of Cyborg! Justice League, baby, Justice League!
- And this. Every… single… moment. Of this:
As soon as Superman and Batman stopped fighting, and as soon as Wonder Woman joined the boys, the whole movie took an 180-degree turn for the better. Those final ten or fifteen minutes are my favorite scenes from any superhero movie that doesn’t star Heath Ledger as The Joker.
And I guess that’s why despite the fact that Zack Snyder disappointed me with Watchmen, despite the fact that he disappointed me with Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I’m still going to be there on opening night (which is to say, one month to the day after it becomes available from DVD.com) for Justice League. It stuck the landing.
There’s a very meta moment in the first trailer for Justice League where Commissioner Gordon tells Batman, “It’s good to see you playing well with others again.” On the surface, this is a hint at the Bat-family, and past Batman partners like Robin, Batgirl, and Nightwing. But it’s also a clear statement from Warner Bros. that its next DC Comics film isn’t going to be like the first 95% of Batman vs. Superman. It’s going to be more like that last 5%: fun and hopeful.
I’m sure hopeful that one doesn’t turn out to be a YouTube movie, too.