The UnPopular Opinion: Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
There have always been dichotomies in the entertainment industry: Star Trek vs Star Wars, Nintendo vs Sega, Coke vs Pepsi. The list goes on and on. What is clear in 2016 is that one of the biggest rivalries in Hollywood is Marvel vs DC. Marvel Studios has ushered in a golden age for comic book films, the vast majority of which they have released themselves. The entire conceit of the modern cinematic universe is because of Marvel. While no other studio has managed to capture that same creative spark, many are trying. One of those competitors is Marvel's longtime foe, DC Comics. DC has not quite hit the same level of quality with their comic book adaptations outside of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, but we are witnessing the first steps towards their shared onscreen world with the MAN OF STEEL follow-up, BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE. While nowhere near the box office juggernaut of anything branded with Marvel, BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE is nonetheless a unique and wholly satisfying film that presents movie buffs and comic fans with one of the most desired and exciting superhero match-ups ever. While lambasted by the majority, BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE is a hell of a lot better than anyone has claimed.
First off, we need to stop everyone's bitching about how dark the DC Extended Universe is shaping up to be. Yes, I am a proponent for the lighter, candy-colored comic book adaptations like Sam Raimi's SPIDER-MAN or even the maligned FANTASTIC FOUR films, but there is room for multiple types of comic book films. While Superman has often been a beacon of light and hope in comics and the original film franchise, exploring him as a symbol to strive for in a world of nihilism and xenophobia is a very timely and intriguing premise. MAN OF STEEL began that theme but was bogged down in the fans and critics decrying the scope of the destruction porn they witnessed in the second half of the film. Why would Superman allow so much death without a second thought? Why would Superman kill General Zod when he is supposed to never kill? Well, what we need to all understand is that these are not the comic books of the 1940s but a new vision for our contemporary world. It is also, like the Marvel films, a variation on the expected and not a tried and true remake. That is why they call them adaptations, right? Looking at the DC television properties, Arrow and The Flash have managed to find a balance between light and dark that allows them to feel different from Marvel while still staying true to the source material.
Now, I am not saying that BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE is without faults. Clearly, this film is not quite the masterpiece it could have been. But, does that mean it is a failure or even a bad movie? Not at all. BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE functions more like CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER: a placeholder to tease audiences for the spectacle that is to come. JUSTICE LEAGUE is going to be the true gauge as to whether the DCEU will succeed or fail, but it should never be measured against Marvel's output. It has become very popular to bash on Zack Snyder as if he were Michael Bay directing the TRANSFORMERS abominations. Sure, Snyder does rely on his bag of visual trademarks a bit too much but that is the hallmark of any filmmaker. What Snyder brings to this film is a gravitas and tone that creates an edginess to this universe. From the Knightmare sequence to the one on one showdown between the alter egos of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent, Snyder imbues this film with a scale that rivals anything in Christopher Nolan's Batman films or even any DC film to date. The true scope of these heroes and their powers is realized for the first time in cinematic history and it is something incredible to behold.
Barring any argument about plotholes or weak justifications of Superman's actions in MAN OF STEEL, lets talk about what is great about BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE. For all of the complaints people made at the casting of Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck as Wonder Woman and Batman, respectively, these two are absolutely spot-on casting decisions. Gadot makes Diana alluring and mysterious while also making her the first true female superhero on the big screen to look ready to go mano a mano with her testosterone-laden colleagues. No offense to Black Widow or Scarlet Witch from the MCU, but Wonder Woman is easily on par with Thor in terms of strength and agility. Even though it felt like a glorified cameo, I cannot wait to see WONDER WOMAN when it hits theaters. Affleck, someone I was excited about the moment he was cast, is simply perfect as this version of Bruce Wayne. With all of the variations and changes made to the character over the years, we have never seen Batman in this phase of his career and it is refreshingly dark. This Batman is someone who will kill when he sees the need and is only brought back to the light by the film's end, something that will setup a more familiar Dark Knight in films to come. But, I hope they don't change him one bit as this is the Batman we deserve.
But we should not sleep on Henry Cavill. Cavill is a physical specimen who embodies exactly what Superman should look and act like. MAN OF STEEL was his introduction and he feels more like a side character in this film, but one whom you cannot take your eyes off of every moment he is on screen. From the Congressional massacre scene to his death, Cavill makes Superman the most human character in this movie. My only complaint is that we don't get enough of his as Clark Kent, but something tells me that is going to be seen less and less as these films progress. I always loved the balance of the Superman/Kent personalities but I don't think the DCEU is going to rely on alter egos for very much longer. The duality of these characters has always been a defining trope of comic books, but these films are breaking with the cliches and traditions to give us something very different. A prime example of this shift is Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor. Often pointed out as one of the biggest failures in BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, I loved Eisenberg's take on Superman's nemesis. This is a 21st century Lex Luthor. There is no need for him to be physically imposing as he is often portrayed in the comics. This Lex is clearly a broken person, albeit a brilliant one. Eisenberg is a scumbag in the vein of Ramsey Bolton, someone you just want to see get destroyed on screen.
But, BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE is not a happy movie and it shouldn't be. Many critics complained about the lack of levity in the movie and found the few humorous moments to hint at a better film underneath. Rather, BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE starts as a film about hopelessness before transforming into a beacon of hope. Batman is a lost cause who fears the alien savior many see in Superman. Lex Luthor is the embodiment of the hate and fear-mongering that lingers within our modern society. Doomsday is a parallel to the hate and violence in our world and leads to the death of the one being who is good and wholesome. Even if Superman is not pure, he is better than all of us and still represents who we all should want to be. His death in this film and teased resurrection will evolve this universe into something more than what it currently is.
If BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE fails at anything, it is taking too long to get to the good stuff. Yes, this film has a very slow first half that is packed with exposition and talking heads. This is one of the hazards of building a cinematic universe and there was virtually no way to avoid it. DC/Warner Bros decided to go the route of starting with their team-up instead of beginning with individual superhero films. That means that BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE was destined to be the film that had to introduce all of these concepts and characters. While not executed in the most organic manner, Zack Snyder still manages to deliver on the spectacle and action grandeur we were promised. It never seemed quite feasible for Batman to hold his own against Superman, and the logic of it still doesn't quite click, but what Snyder managed to do here was deliver another decent Superman film and a damn good Batman movie. When all is said and done, BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE is going to be regarded as a much better movie in retrospect and could also possibly herald the introduction of the best movie Batman we will ever see.
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