THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS.
Many reviews of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice seem to forget one fact: Zack Snyder has a distinct directorial style. As I’ve noted before, anyone who buys a ticket for any film by the director of 300 and Sucker Punch—which includes Batman v Superman—and is offended by the lack of subtlety and Loki-style humor has not considered Snyder’s reputation as a director.
A director’s signature style matters. I would not see a Tarantino movie if I wanted a kid-friendly romantic comedy; I would not expect a film by Sam Mendes to highlight the positive qualities of suburbia; and I would not look for Spaceballs-style comedy in an Iñárritu film. Zack Snyder was never going to allow Batman v Superman to look or feel like Joss Whedon’s lighthearted and arguably formulaic Avengers films.
Below are ten reasons why Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is an entertaining and impressive movie.
1. The Opening Scenes
Critics enjoy mocking the excessiveness of Superman’s Metropolis-based battle against Zod in Man of Steel. Shortly after the movie premiered, the hazard-assessment team at Watson Technical Consulting quantified the damage. According to the team, “in terms of the strictly physical damage done to the city, the initial estimate is $700 billion.” And the death count is equally striking: “129,000 known killed, over 250,000 missing (most of whom would have also died), and nearly a million injured.” Many moviegoers look at these numbers with disgust.
So does Batman.
The opening scenes of Batman v Superman acknowledge the concerns of those who mocked the last half of Man of Steel. Didn’t appreciate Man of Steel‘s superfluous fight scenes? Neither does Bruce Wayne, a character whose first moments on screen include falling cement, screams, dust, and eventually a pair of glaring, uncowled Batman eyes that reveal a new, resolute hate for the alien who caused the destruction. Batman feels your angst, and he is going to do something about it.
2. Loss and Death as Themes
Batman v Superman is about connection, not schism. Zack Snyder’s movie is as much about the interconnectivity of humankind (which, in this context, includes Clark Kent) as it is about the seemingly irreconcilable differences between the edgy Dark Knight of Gotham and the somewhat naive superpowered alien from Krypton. As the film stylistically notes, both heroes have experienced loss, and both heroes have allowed those past losses to influence (or even dictate) their actions.
The juxtaposition of Bruce Wayne’s crumbling childhood mansion with verbal reminders of Kal-El’s obliterated home planet highlights a connection between Batman’s lost innocence and Superman’s lost childhood. Bruce Wayne lost his parents at an early age, sparking his desire to purge Gotham of its rampant criminality, and Clark Kent’s father died in an effort to preserve Clark’s anonymity as a superpowered being. For both characters, loss of innocence fuels righteous aggression, as if they are trying to kick and punch their way back to their childhood homes.
Zack Snyder’s film captures this connection by flipping back and forth between glossy, modern-day costumes and dusty, decaying relics of painful pasts.
3. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
Given the praise that Gal Gadot has received from fans and critics, this reason requires less explanation. According to Jordan Hoffman of the Guardian, Gadot’s performance is “the best thing in this movie,” and Jason Guerrasio of Business Insider claims that Gadot “steals every scene she’s in and has a look and swagger that are perfect for the superhero.” Scarlett Russell examines the cause of Gadot’s positive reception: “The praise, in part, is because Wonder Woman is not objectified or in need of saving. There are no love scenes and, while she might appear seductive opposite Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne/Batman, she trumps him at every opportunity, kicking the bad guys into touch with assistance from her signature lasso.”
The writers of Batman v Superman effectively created a strong female superhero, and Gal Gadot was the perfect choice to bring that superhero to life. Before she became a well-known actress, Gadot served for two years in the Israeli Defense Forces and was crowned Miss Israel. All of this—the effective characterization, the reputation of the actress, and even the subtle updates to the iconic costume—make Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman “the badass superhero we deserve,” as the Daily Beast puts it.
4. The Visuals
Zack Snyder excels at making visually intriguing movies. 300 features blood-filled slow-motion battles. Sucker Punch offers audiences a choreographed fight between sword-savvy women and giant mechanical samurai. Watchmen includes impressive, glossy film adaptations of iconic comic scenes, particularly those of Rorschach. Snyder’s 2004 Dawn of the Dead features well-crafted scenes of bloody action, earning it its place among zombie cinema as one of the more visually engrossing zombie films. According to famous film critic Roger Ebert, Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead “is slicker and more polished” than George Romero’s classic 1979 version.
Batman v Superman follows this tradition, offering a wealth of glowing blue eyes and glistening red capes. When Superman and Batman both appear on screen, the camera focuses, and the passing of time is noted only by the rain that falls pitilessly on the two heroes. As they fight, the camera spins around their flowing capes, enhancing the bombastic punch-and-kick intensity of the battle. Shiny blurs of black and red crash into each other before materializing again as our protagonists. Then, as Batman growls his last one-liner, their frowns become bared teeth, and the fighting continues, fists flying through raindrops and concrete crumbling in the background.
5. The Tasteful Introduction of Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg
Prior to seeing the movie, the introduction of Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg worried me. All three characters, like Wonder Woman, have relatively complex origin stories and nuanced character traits. The origin story of Barry Allen’s Flash includes chemicals, lightning, and time-traveling murderers. Cyborg interacts with racism and terrorism. And of Aquaman, director James Wan says, according to an article by Dirk Libbey, that “there’s always something kind of cool about Aquaman still, the idea of creating a huge world that is on our planet. That’s the thing about Aquaman that’s cool is he’s not an alien, right? He’s from our planet and he’s from a society that we’re not privy to in the context of the story.”
It would be easy to ruin their first moments on screen, but Batman v Superman handles the task with skill.
Batman v Superman does not offer an elaborate introduction, which makes sense: Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman—the big three, the triple threat, the superpowered trinity—are the heroes of this story, not Fast, Fabricated, and Fishy. The brief clips we receive in the film are informative and amusing. Jason Momoa’s slow emergence from the watery darkness made me smile. More importantly, the clips are relevant to the plot. The World’s Greatest Detective has Bat-hacked Lex’s secret stash of evil projects, including his apparent collection of cryptozoologist-style Vine-length clips of superpowered individuals. This plot point also gives Batman an excuse to e-mail Wonder Woman, which sparks their comics-based, on-and-off-again, Ross-and-Rachel-esque flirtatious banter.
P.S. As a fan of his interstellar law enforcement organization, I am sad that Green Lantern will not enter the new DC cinematic universe until 2020, but I understand the hesitation. Green Lantern’s story is particularly complicated, and many fans are still aggravated about Martin Campbell’s 2011 Green Lantern.
6. The Batmobile
I did not like Christopher Nolan’s bulky, beetle-like Bat-tank. It was excessive, and it did not even nod to the original, iconic Batmobile, a polished vehicle that is on par with The Mystery Machine, the DeLorean, and James Bond’s Aston Martin in terms of popularity. Nolan’s Batmobile was a preexisting military vehicle that Bruce Wayne painted black. Neither Batman nor the audience had any emotional connection to the Tumbler. During an interview with Conan O’Brien, Zack Snyder explains that “the cool thing about our Batmobile is that it’s purpose-built by Bruce Wayne to be the Batmobile—allows it to slightly Battier.” In an era of repurposing superhero stories to match a Twitter-saturated 21st century, I appreciate Snyder’s decision to recapture some of the magnificence of the original Batmobile by creating a sleek, simple car for the Dark Knight.
7. Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor
Yes, Jesse Eisenberg. Ben Dreyfuss of Mother Jones calls Eisenberg’s performance as Lex “a bad performance clearly egged on by misguided direction, combined with thoroughly inane lines.” I disagree. On Twitter, DC comic book author Gail Simone defended Eisenberg’s performance, noting the emotions that Eisenberg’s twitchy, indignant, and unhinged Lex Luthor evokes from many viewers. Simone states, “I’m not afraid of purple bald robot suit guy. I’m terrified of billionaire boy genius who hates the world.” Simone even goes as far as claiming that “the greatest single bit of casting in the movie is Jesse Eisenberg as Luthor.” Whether you agree with Gail Simone or not, Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is a nuanced, modern take on a villain whose portrayals are often two-dimensional and boring.
8. The Gravity of the Narrative
Many film and television adaptations of comic narratives are dark. Netflix’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones both feature brooding protagonists and sinister villains. 1994’s The Crow, 2005’s Sin City, and 2012’s Dredd are all dark films. Even Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman and 1992 Batman Returns are fairly grim movies. Danny DeVito’s portrayal of Oswald Cobblepot still gives me nightmares. So when fans and critics mock Batman v Superman for being “too dark,” they ignore a rich, commercially and critically successful history of somber superhero films.
Even if Batman v Superman were the first dark superhero film, though, it would still be justified. Batman is a moody hero. If you need a reminder of this fact, read Batman: Year One or Batman: Dark Victory (or any other Batman comic, especially those after 1987).
Batman v Superman features a weathered, cynical Bruce Wayne and a Superman who is struggling to justify his place in the world. As Ray Bradbury reminds us in Fahrenheit 451, we should not be afraid of unpleasant emotions. Not every narrative needs comedic relief.
9. Batman’s Armor
In 2014, io9 reported that “to celebrate Batman’s 75th anniversary, artist Salvador Anguiano illustrated 75 of the Dark Knight’s cowls, taking us through the history of the Bat’s pointy-eared (and sometimes no-eared) costume.” Anguiano’s poster features a multicolored variety of disguises, including bat ears that look like TV antennas and the purple cowl of the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh.
Given the colorful history of Batman’s costume, Batman’s armor in Batman v Superman seems appropriate. Writers often adapt Batman’s costume to meet the needs of the scenes, and heavy armor is necessary when fighting the Man of Steel.
If nothing else, the armor matches the intensity of the film. The armor bends and cracks as Batman and Superman exchange punches, and the blue eyes glow like angry flashlights when the Dark Knight asks the Man of Steel if he bleeds (and then promises to make him do so).
10. The Realization that Martha Wayne and Martha Kent Have the Same First Name
It’s a simple revelation, but it is the foundation for one of the more emotionally gripping moments of the film. At this moment in the movie, we see two heroes who are both tired and angry. Both are weathered. Both feel as though they are desperate soldiers with impossible battles to fight.
Then one of them says “Martha.”
And that’s it. That is the catalyst for compassion, for teamwork, for the Justice League. The simple nature of this climactic moment works because empathy is not complicated. As Batman and Superman demonstrate, empathy requires understanding, not admiration. This moment suggests that the friendship between Batman and Superman—and likely the Justice League as a whole—is founded on a profound understanding that all individuals have experienced loss, and Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the others will fight to reduce the amount of pain that plagues the world.
If you are still not convinced, consider this: money talks, and “with international box office coming in at $254 million, Batman v Superman now has the record for the biggest superhero movie international opening, and the biggest all-time worldwide opening box office of the superhero genre at $420 million.” Mark Hughes of Forbes explains:
For weeks and months, we’ve listened to one negative rumor after another, seen one negative press/fan site claim after another touting some extreme hyperbole or outright fiction about the film and the studio, and watched as every trailer or marketing decision was second-guessed and complained about on social media and entertainment news articles. There’s also been positive coverage, don’t get me wrong, but I doubt anyone would seriously try to argue that the majority of press buzz for months hasn’t been mixed and involved a lot of handwringing and rumor-mongering. In the atmosphere of uncertainty, negative rumors and coverage, with a March release date instead of a summer opening, and after brutally negative critical reviews, Batman v Superman delivered a strong opening topping the freshman weekends for the acclaimed $1 billion Batman movies of the Dark Knight series…
In other words, the film is a success, and I believe that its success is fitting.
Zack Snyder: Director
Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer: Writers
Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, and Gal Gadot: Stars
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