In preparation for Justice League, I decided to re-watch 2016’s controversial Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It holds a dismal 27% on Rotten Tomatoes. With early reviews for Justice League looking much more positive, let’s take another look at its predecessor before opening day. There are spoilers throughout this article, so if for some unacceptable reason you haven’t seen BvS; turn back now.
First, let me say that I am a fan of the movie and think it deserves more credit than it has received. I really enjoyed it in the theater and contrary to most, think that the tone was perfect. Not all superhero movies need to be as light as the Marvel formula to be fun. The tone needed to be darker to have the necessary impact. That being said, the movie is definitely not without its flaws.
I would argue that the movie’s biggest problem is not the lack of humor or lighthearted moments. Instead, it just has too much going on. Take away all of the unnecessary characters, story layers, and numerous references to various comic stories and I think the overall movie would have hit closer to the mark. Part of the excess came from an over-passionate director, the other was DC rushing to try to catch up with Marvel.
However, that’s only one of the movie’s flaws. Let’s take a look at everything that didn’t work and then what did.
What didn’t work
An overcrowded script.
One of the things that should be a credit to Zach Snyder directing BvS is that he is a huge comic fan. However, instead of using that knowledge to craft one fantastic story about two heroes going toe to toe, he acted like a child who was allowed to play with all of the toys in the toy box. Snyder literally tried to shove as many comic book arcs, references, and themes as he possibly could into one movie: Doomsday and the Death of Superman, Dark Knight Returns, A Death in the Family, Injustice, the role of Superman and his place in the world, Batman’s morality, and the introduction of the Justice League. I’m sure there are a couple more I’m forgetting. It’s just too much.
On top of all that, there are too many unnessesary characters and sub plots such as the amputee guy, the Russian guy, the senator, and CIA Jimmy Olsen just to name a few. There is no way to do everything justice (no pun intended) in 2 1/2 hours. Even with the extra scenes in the “Ultimate Edition,” which is honestly the better, more cohesive version, it still ends up feeling rushed and over complicated.
Snyder’s storytelling style is unique, but not for everyone.
Snyder is a visual storyteller. Instead of telling the viewer what is going own, he prefers to show it through his cinematography. It makes for a cerebral movie; one where the viewer is required to decipher what is being shown. As a result, the movie almost certainly requires multiple viewings to catch everything. The problem is most moviegoers, many who only have a limited knowledge of comic history, are not interested in investing that level of analysis into a superhero flick. This is the polar opposite approach of Marvel, who has mastered making comic book movies that require no prior experience with comics.
The perfect example of this visual storytelling is the Martha scene… Ah that infamous scene that has sparked a firestorm of online meme’s. This scene will either resonate or will seem completely absurd. It’s meant to be Bruce’s great epiphany: when he realizes that this alien from another planet he’s been so obsessed with killing isn’t an uncaring god. He’s not the enemy. He’s just as human, maybe even more human than we are. And the only thing that is strong enough to break through Bruce’s stubborn hate and recklessness, allowing him to come to the realization? The love he has for his mother. The problem is, none of that is verbally stated or explained. So if the scene is taken only at face value with only the info specifically given then Superman and Batman put aside their differences because both of their mom’s are named “Martha.”
Batman breaks his one rule…
This Batman gets so many things right about the character. However, there is one thing that is difficult for people to forgive. Batman breaks his one rule. The cardinal rule that makes the modern Batman who he is: no killing. Batman doesn’t just kill in this movie, he straight up slaughters some folk. This was a huge issue for many fans and could not overlook it.
This version of Lex is very different than what we are used to seeing. He isn’t charming or classy…he is straight up insane. He also isn’t the same Lex. He’s actually Lex’s son, Alexander. Again, this was a decision that fans either liked or hated. There was no middle ground. Snyder probably should have played it safe and gone with a more traditional version of the character, instead of someone that reminded people more of the Joker.
What did work.
Gal Gadot was easily one of the best elements of the movie. While she received mixed reception before BvS released, she overwhelmingly proved herself as the perfect choice for the role. She brings a great balance of strength and beauty to Diana. Hearing her tell Bruce that he has never known a woman like her still brings a smile to my face.
DC’s trinity together on the big screen
No matter how much you disliked the movie, the moment Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman line up together to fight Doomsday is something special. It’s the money shot of the film, similar to the same moment in Avengers, when the camera circles around the full group for the first time. I’m hopeful for a similar moment in Justice League.
Affleck’s Batman got more right than wrong.
Despite him murdering people, this is by far the most comic-accurate Batman we have seen in a movie. The grey and black suit, complete with a Frank Miller inspired Bat emblem is spot on, Not only that, but the gadgets, Jeremy Irons as Alfred, and Bruce’s paranoia that Superman could one day become the world’s greatest threat…it’s perfect.
One final element of Batman’s character that is accurately displayed is his fighting ability. The warehouse fight scene was epic, and showcased just how brutal he can be in close combat. Proving again that Snyder does know his source material, the scene is instantly reminiscent of the hit Arkham game series. I think I’ve watched this scene more times than the movie as a whole.
As I already stated, the movie is gorgeous. The cinematography and imagery is incredible, even if it is confusing at times. Snyder is a master of imagery and knows how to put a scene together to give the biggest impact. The two best examples of this are the Wayne family’s death at the beginning of the movie and Superman’ s funeral montage at the end.
BvS looks great visually and has a lot to offer, but is overcrowded by so many story layers and references that only certain comic fans will enjoy the chore of watching more than once.
The last thing DC wants to do is repeat the same mistakes with Justice League. The future of the DCEU is literally riding on this movie. I can’t wait to see what direction they take the story after the events of BVS.
What are your thoughts about the movie? Let me know!
Great review. I also enjoyed the movie, though it is overcrowded, there is a lot of good in the film to be had. Namely Ben Affleck as Batman is one of the closest comic to screen adaptations of the character, with a combat style straight out of a The Arkham games.
As far as the Batman killing issue, this isn’t the first time that the character has been depicted on screen killing henchman left and right, the Tim Burton movies (which most people hold to be “The” defining Batman films, Batman had no problem blowing up, shooting, or tossing criminals off a church balcony.
Just need to put that in there for those who were turned off by the killing that Batman does in this film.
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Excellent point about Batman. He actually carried a gun in his original comic run as well. I also think there was a good reason for why Batman started using lethal force in this movie: the death of Jason Todd, the appearance of super beings who seemingly disregarded human life. It sent him over the edge. However it’s another example of Snyder showing that to the viewer, rather than explicitly saying it…so I think many didn’t pick up on it. Thanks for the comment!
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That’s what I took from the movie as well, but that was me using my knowledge of comic lore to fill in the gaps that were only presented visually, and which casual viewers might not make those connections.
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