My first thoughts watching Batman V Superman were “Do we really have to see the death of Martha and Thomas Wayne again?” This is a scene that anyone who has followed this franchise has seen again and again to the point of numbness. At the end of the film, it all made sense, in that Director Zac Snyder was creating a narrative framed by funerals. In the first, we see the creation of Batman, whereas in the second, we basically see what will become the creation of the JLA.
So just what is this movie about? Is it about Batman? Is it about the JLA? Is it about Superman? Is it about all three? Starring Ben Affleck (Bruce Wayne / Batman), Henry Cavill (Clark Kent / Superman), Amy Adams (Lois), Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Laurence Fishburne (Perry White), Jeremy Irons (Alfred), Holly Hunter (Senator Finch), and Gal Gadot (Diana Prince / Wonder Woman), “Batman V Superman” tells the story of Batman’s quest to break or kill Superman because of how much of a threat he poses to the world.
Going into this, I was most concerned with Affleck’s take on Batman. I’m not entirely certain why that was, but knowing just how good Affleck can be, I was cautiously optimistic. Perhaps my worry was brought on by the nay-sayers of the internet, but I have to say that Affleck owns this role. His portrayal of Bruce is subtle and nuanced, and in a few scenes, I could totally see him excelling as an American James Bond. The humanity he shows with Alfred is also touching, displaying a much deeper partnership than mere butler and master. As for his Batman, he is quick, bulky, and powerful – a visual force to be reckoned with. It is very much in line with the Batman portrayed in the comic that so mightily influenced this movie: Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.
Throughout much of this movie, we see Batman’s quest for a way to kill Superman, though many of the elements lie in the step-by-step process of Batman the detective working out the details through the brilliantly strategic mind that so powerfully defines this hero. To offset this character-driven mission, we are given the passive story of Lois Lane, who gets into trouble thrice, forcing Superman to save her each time.
Sadly, Superman’s role in this movie can be summed up a little too accurately as Mario to Lois’s Princess Toadstool. With the exception of the final battle, where Superman is forced to battle Batman, and one other moment where Superman directly encounters Batman, every single aspect of his role is limited to pawn of US propaganda, Lois’ personal shield, the scapegoat of Batman’s obsession with illegal immigration, or Luthor’s manipulations. I think that because of this, Superman feels like a plot device, a stagnant tool wielded by all the myriad forces in the film. While this may seem to do injustice to The Man of Steel (as a character, at least), I actually applaud it in that it is a creative way of looking at just who Superman is. And really, in the social-media-driven world we live in now, where personal interpretations have bullied their way into the forefront of our lives, it is actually a rather inspired take on the character and what he means to the people of Earth: savior, alien, subject of discrimination, personal guardian, lover, scapegoat, tool. It makes him a vessel for all the insecurities of the current age.
A different vehicle of the current age that I feel Snyder and Christopher Nolan (who directed the recent Batman trilogy) are completely disregarding is that of a sense of humor. Certainly, there is darkness in this world, and that there is a whole lot to be concerned about, especially as represented by the threat posed by an alien with the power to level cities, but amid all that, these directors are forgetting the human factor. By this, I mean that humans are still humans, and that even in the face of utter horror, it is our very humanity that make our lives worth living. The only two moments in this entire movie that I feel managed to do that were Alfred making asides regarding Bruce Wayne’s failure to maintain the Wayne legacy, and Clark entering Lois’ bath fully clothed. These were the only two beats in the entire movie where any levity came out.
Humor is the biggest area where I see DC falling behind their main comic-book competitor: Marvel, whose sense of humor has brought such movies as Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Deadpool into complete blockbuster-hood. DC’s sense of humor, contrarily, is all but tossed aside for mania, which is completely different. As an example, I give you their TV show, Gotham. The first season was fantastic, with rich characters and well-placed humor (mostly through sarcasm, but it worked), but the second season threw the Joker’s mania into every single criminal in the series, creating a stagnant note of manic madness that utterly killed the show for this audience member. In Batman V Superman, it is exactly this same Joker-like mania that afflicts Luthor. While his motivation for madness is partially explored, and his manipulations and interactions with people are wonderful, the mania he depicts feels disingenuous, forced, out of place. I appreciate madness, but there are levels, there are different styles of it, and this? This is the single-shtick that belongs in Gotham. Give us these more of these individuals with their own idiosyncrasies and stop borrowing from Joker’s deck of cards.
There might be good moments in Batman V Superman, there might be amazingly grippingly eye-poppingly remarkable spectacle but if I wanted bleak, I’d watch the news, not pay $10 to see a movie with characters I actually love. Audiences go to movies to see dilemmas facing their heroes, maybe some wit, intelligence (or heart and humor), and some resolution at the end. If we are really lucky, we audiences will walk away smiling. When I left Batman V Superman, I was absolutely not doing that. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but I was not smiling because the tone of Batman V Superman is just too bleak and dark for me. Their upcoming film, Suicide Squad seems to follow in this film’s dark footsteps, too. It is like their whole tone is drama and mania for the sake of drama and mania, and my heart bleeds at this. I want to love these movies. I want DC to enjoy ridiculous success with their stories and media, but these stories depress me to the point where I don’t even want to watch. At one point in Batman V Superman, Superman comes across as a beacon of hope, and I want that. No, actually, I want him to be able to do more for us than just stand above us and rescue us from bodily threats. I want him to help us laugh again, maybe he can help us feel a thrill for something amazing.
Luckily, Snyder gives us someone who can actually do that. He gives us Wonder Woman. Let me tell you, seeing her fight brought out a huge cheer – not just from me, but from every single member of the audience. This woman, all smiles as she faces down Doomsday, an Amazon squaring off against a monster like the good old days, was exactly what this movie needed more of. She is a warrior with passion and love in her heart. I want Superman to be able to smile like that, like he actually has a purpose to his life. Batman is a dour sourpuss, and instrumental to the Justice League, but he is a foil to life despite being its protector. Diana, on the other hand, is all heart, and very much the emotional heart of the Justice League. She is the one who knows how deal with responsibility with joy and enthusiasm. I guess what I’m saying is that tonally, I wish this movie had Diana as the focus, rather than either Batman or Superman.
I’ve heard this movie described as “Orphan Fight,” and in titling it this, we get at a fundamental weakness of the male parts of DC’s Trinity: they are orphans, which, almost by definition, puts them in a darker place than a nuclear family generally sets up for children. By no means could we label Diana’s family as “nuclear” considering she was raised by a mother and countless aunts and sisters, but still, it is a much stronger – and far less angst-motivated – origin than either Bruce or Clark have. To be perfectly frank, I’d have found that far more compelling than the retread storyline that came from a dark writer like Frank Miller.
And speaking of “retread,” there are two details that I have very powerful criticism of: one in relation to a very poor choice in source material, the other being a facepalm of avoidance. The first is portraying a dream sequence in which Batman sees Superman as he is portrayed in the DC video game titled Injustice: Gods among Us, which is essentially an alien overlord who has subjugated the population of planet Earth. With all the stories that they could have drawn from, they decided to make a dream sequence of a video game? Really? Seriously?!? While I approve of seeing Flash time-jumping to talk to Bruce Wayne, the fact that even that was a dream, dispels a whole lot of faith in this tale. It adds a dishonest quality to the value of the story that – unlike Deadpool’s devastation of the 4th Wall, which works incredibly well – distracts the viewers and instead of adding urgency to the story, actually grinds the story to a halt. I’m sorry, guys, but this isn’t Nolan’s Inception. Keep the dreams out of it. If you’re going to have Flash jump through time, then have him jump through time!
Which brings us to the second, and final point: in the television show Flash, its star, Grant Gustin, is exactly who Barry Allen should be: lean, lithe, a runner with emotional range, who can be dark when he needs to be, and vulnerable when he’s called on to be so. Basically, Gustin is an actor who owns the character as much as Affleck owns Batman. In realizing his World of Emo Angst, Snyder passed up the opportunity to have Gustin reprise his Flash and instead brought in Ezra Miller. While I like Miller as an actor and feel that he is, without a doubt, a rising star, he is not the Flash. Gustin is. This is a casting choice, that – like the dream sequence starring the character – drags me right out of the movie and away from the credit-rolling euphoria that I want when I leave the cinema.
Overall, I am pleased to say that I didn’t dislike the film, but I did find it a little too much a dose of depression wrapped up in the façade of characters I love. I absolutely love parts of it (Gadot’s Wonder Woman, Affleck’s Batman, right at the top of the list), including a whole lot of the story elements and action, but in going ahead with Cyborg, Aquaman, and the Justice League Duology, I plead to DC to adjust the tone of these stories. Show us that our heroes can still be human amidst all the problems in their lives. Let the characters play off each other a little, like real people do. If you’re going to draw from the source material, give us a little bit of the humanity from the much-loved Giffen, DeMatteis, and Maguire run of Justice League. Let other movies depress us with funerals.