Last week, my Facebook feed took a break from the usual political mudslinging, black ops, and disinformation drives related to our upcoming national elections. Replacing these were discussions on the two biggest icons in comic book fandom, Batman and Superman. My friends, mostly geeks who, unlike me, try to catch the first screening of any genre flick, had very strong opinions on Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. About half of them loved it, the other half loathed it.
How could a movie be so divisive, eliciting such scathing gems as “BvS: sobrang tae!” or unbridled praise like “A sweeping reinvention of the superhero movie!”
What had Snyder done to polarize my friends whose opinions I value and trust? Why the hate from RottenTomatoes.com, which had given the movie a pathetic 29% tomatometer rating—even lower than Batfleck’s botched abortion at superheroics, Daredevil, which received a middle-of-the-road 44%? Surely, the only comic book movie that deserves a lower spot than Daredevil is Catwoman?
After absorbing what all my friends were telling me, both pro and con, I trooped over to the nearest theater with an open mind.
Spoilers now, so if you haven’t seen it, get out.
From the opening of the movie with the death of the Waynes up to the point when the whole “Martha” debacle drops, the film actually feels to me like a solid blockbuster written and shot for an adult audience.
Snyder draws heavily from the imagery of the Frank Miller masterpiece The Dark Knight Returns, even lifting lines and scenes directly from its pages. Affleck kills it as an older, more war-weary, more ruthless Batman, a Batman with guns. Henry Cavill’s portrayal of Superman also hits the right notes for the most part. I have to say, though, that I’ve never had problems with the way Superman was depicted in Man of Steel.
The movie is slow and deliberate, with more exposition than you’d normally have to sit through in a summer tentpole flick. What we need to admit is, we’ve been sucking at the teat that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the better part of a decade and that, perhaps, has conditioned us to reject something different. The MCU beats with a predictable rhythm—we know what to expect, really.
Snyder, on the other hand, takes time with his story, letting things unfold at their own sweet pace, taking the occasional liberty at non-linear storytelling with dream sequences, visions, flashbacks (or flashforwards?)—and, for the most part, it works. He imbues it with a gravitas that is reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, giving the DC Expanded Universe its dark, realistic tone.
This is shattered with the utter goofiness that starts when Batman has Superman under his boot. “Save Martha,” Superman cries. Or something like that (I couldn’t hear well over the sound of me laughing my ass off). It is at this point when Snyder shrugs off the pretense of adulthood and plunges into Silver Age comic book dorkiness.
“Magkapatid sila?” an old lady, overheard by a friend, said. Could you blame a little old lady for thinking that? Batman and Superman both have mothers named Martha, and that makes them fast friends.
So now, Doomsday shows up, created by a twitchy millennial Lex Luthor who masters genetic engineering using alien tech in, like, a day. That’s Independence Day let’s-install-a-computer-virus-on-an-alien-computer levels of whut? Jeff Goldblum makes a more convincing genius than Eisenberg. I do like his Luthor though, despite his theatrics.
Oh look, they fired a nuke. Again, lifted from The Dark Knight Returns, but a superfluous move just aimed at showing an emaciated Superman regain his strength from our yellow sun. What was the point?
Batman takes the fight to the abandoned Gotham Docks (ostensibly to avoid moviegoers complaining about collateral damage) only to be outmatched by the Hulk, er, Doomsday. Then Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman arrives, saving the day and the film’s third act in the process.
She is everything you could hope for in Wonder Woman. She looks like a Greek demigod (we dodged a bullet with Adrianne Palicki), kicks ass, and smiles at the face of Doomsday, as if to say, “Bring it on, you wuss.” Perfect casting to complete the DC’s so-called Trinity. Tie me up, please.
Then it’s the Death of Superman all over again. It’s something we’ve seen in the comics before, but unlike Batman’s TDKR homage scenes, this just felt like a rehash. Shall we see Shaquille O’Neal in the next movie? I sure hope not.
Did I like the movie? Despite my problems with it, yes, I did—immensely. Sure, some of it requires me to suspend my disbelief atop the Daily Planet building and asks me to forget all rules of logic. Sure, it takes my preconceived notions about iconic characters and burns them away with the most violent depictions of heat vision. Sure, I thought Zack Snyder fumbled the ending.
But what I am sure of the most is that I enjoyed watching it. And that’s the point of movies, isn’t it?