The Modern Superhero, Part 1: RYMS Reviews “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”
Updated August 21, 2016: Included “Reviewer Scores” section.
On March 25, 2016, Warner Bros. released Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS) to general audiences. A follow-up to 2013’s Man of Steel, Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) returned and was tasked with setting up the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), DC Comics’ parallel to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Due to Man of Steel’s mixed reception, the future of the DCEU was riding on the success of this film. Yet, when BvS hit the silver screens, it was critically panned despite its record-breaking success. Was it really as bad as “the critics” thought?
Inspired by FiveThirtyEight, Brandon (bkesso) had a roundtable discussion about the film via Slack chat with fellow RYMS editors Chris Walker (cwlkr20) and Tim Lewis (obi-don-ginobili) on March 30. All three have varying levels of comic book knowledge and fandom and decided to give the film a look from both audience and comic fan perspectives.
Note: This review contains full spoilers for the film. Please read at your own risk (or if you just don’t give a f–k).
bkesso: Ok all, the purpose of this chat is to discuss the recent film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I would like us to focus on a few key areas:
- Plot & Theme(s)
So! Let us begin with the easiest thing here: Characters. Who did you like? Who did you dislike? Who were you surprised to like/dislike? Why?
obi-don-ginobili: I think Henry Cavill played a conventional, albeit bland, Superman. Affleck’s Batman was grizzly but unintelligent. I liked his brutality but was hoping for a more tactical character. The kid playing Luthor was intriguing, although the psychotic angle and mannerisms were eerily familiar. And by “the kid playing Luthor”, I mean the 32 year old Jesse Eisenberg. I still believe he has some potential. Alfred was a disappointment. He looked to be in his 50s, and has apparently morphed from a sassy butler to an alcoholic scientist. Go figure.
cwlkr20: I thought for a stretch that Affleck just wanted a movie where he could fight, but at the same time he looks like Derrick Rose last season–you know he’s seen some stuff, done some great things and he’s been injured, but you also know at one point he was also really good. That’s how this Batman came off to me–like he’s tired. Also I thought it was super weird he was played like an underground character if the Joker and Robin exist in this universe. Cavill is boring but that’s nothing new. Eisenberg as Luthor is weird but good but I would like to see him as the Riddler. Amy Adams deserves better subplots. Shoutout to Jimmy Olsen for dying 15 minutes in so that he could get the bad guys for the country. Holly Hunter should have read Marvel’s Civil War before this role to add to playing a government figure who wants to control superheroes. Gal Gadot is an important bits and pieces character because she kind of connects this movie to JL. I liked how she played this role; understated but when she was necessary, she knew it and stepped up.
Also @obi-don-ginobili Jeremy Irons is 67 and I completely agree with you. They might as well have gotten Liam Neeson. Charles Dance at least looks his age. I thought the wheelchair guy was gonna become a bomber. That felt obvious. Diane Lane can do no wrong. Patrick Wilson is the voice of the President, which is only upsetting because we all know that Morgan Freeman is eternally free even when he has shit. His name is Freeman.
obi-don-ginobili: He might be 67 but a combination of his salt and pepper hair to go along with his Hollywood agelessness made him seem 10 years older than Bruce Wayne in the film. His part overall just sucked.
cwlkr20: The fact that he had a full head of hair angered me the entire time. Charles Dance should fire his agent.
obi-don-ginobili: It wasn’t his fault really. He was cast in a role where he had no hope but to fail. His script [was] very poorly written as well.
cwlkr20: Yeah. They could have given him a better round script instead of having him play basically the other Mercy except with more lines than her. Also, next time we see Luthor, I want robot Mercy, just for more Tao Okamoto.
bkesso: Agreed. I felt like they could have done more with Tao Okamoto overall. She was there to look sexy and that was it when she was previously the female lead in The Wolverine. Mercy was little more than a cameo. In fact, it felt like Lois — one of several living plot devices — was the only female with a plotline whatsoever. Batman’s portrayal — while comic book accurate (The Dark Knight Returns) — is a bit unexplained, at least to a general audience. And folks are expected to just kind of roll with it. It felt like Batman was a caricature of all the Man of Steel critics, using Superman’s destructive fight with Zod as the fuel for his murderous rage. Doomsday was alive literally to fulfill his comic book purpose (The Death of Superman). Wonder Woman kicked ass (props to Gal Gadot).
cwlkr20: Which is super annoying even for those of us who have read the comics. It felt like it was heavy without an overarching reason. We see a Robin costume, clearly spray painted by Joker, but we have no instance download of his recent troubles and trials.
bkesso: I wasn’t a huge fan of Lex but mostly because he was inconsistent. It felt like an homage to Heath Ledger but not nearly worth a second viewing. Alfred was kinda weak, which is sad since Jeremy Irons is actually a great actor. I will give Ben Affleck credit; this was a movie that made me like him more than some others. The problem was less him and more the writing. Tim is right in that he was brutal but largely unintelligent. It’s intriguing that we have a seasoned, veteran Batman of 20 years playing into the hands of Heath Zuckerburg without it being an earned trap. [And] Holly Hunter…was pretty much irrelevant.
I’ll give [Snyder] some credit: [He] brought up a lot of interesting symbolism and ideas. The angle of Superman’s unilateral use of his abilities is nothing new to comics, nor is it new to comic movies (see Iron Man 2 and Man of Steel). The problem for me, from a writing perspective, is that none of those ideas actually seemed to matter. The themes and ideas he introduces early on either get aborted entirely or are in the “To be continued” territory. He was [so] caught up in the symbolism, setup, and ideas that he forgot he was still telling a story.
cwlkr20: I felt like there was a lot of conceding and giving up on things even though this is a 2.5 hour movie. Snyder should have stuck with the “Superman is a danger” theme more because then we would have a lot of story right there.
bkesso: Why didn’t Wonder Woman kill Doomsday? They handed a Kryptonite spear to Superman, someone who’s already proven to be a shitty fighter and who’s weak against said spear, to kill the monster instead of handing it to the demigoddess who’s already holding her own, therefore forcing him to kill himself in a moment of selfless, plot-induced stupidity. It’s as if the only reason he did it was because Doomsday is supposed to kill Superman. And because his name is in the title.
cwlkr20: B/c Snyder doesn’t give a fuck about plot holes.
obi-don-ginobili: Superman with the spear was really dumb. Didn’t make sense how he was able to fly with it. Could have driven a semi through that plot hole.
bkesso: [And] Lois Lane deserved more than “damsel in distress” status. So much more.
obi-don-ginobili: It was really bad. Superman with that puppy love. What was with the time travel flashback in Batman’s dream? Didn’t seem relevant to this movie.
cwlkr20: Am I the only person who thought that the movie tried to go for the entire “wait we know about civil war and people safety” thing for a minute with the government trying to keep Superman in check and then there’s a bombing and that’s kind of abandoned?
@obi-don-ginobili: we’ll find out in Justice League. Which should not be a 2 part movie.
bkesso: @cwlkr20: Nope. I literally thought “Civil War Lite” until the Capitol blew up.
@obi-don-ginobili: It was a warning from The Flash that Darkseid was coming. Which has nothing to do with the movie. Batman doesn’t even know him yet.
cwlkr20: Which makes the dream with the Parademons weirder.
bkesso: Also, Superman’s death lacks a lot of the impact it could have had despite [some] people in my theater crying about it.
cwlkr20: Yeah. That was a thing. People need to read Death of Superman.
obi-don-ginobili: Everybody knew Superman would live. What didn’t make sense was how. He had a huge hole in his chest and was closed off from all sunlight.
cwlkr20: I wish they went with how the TV show went for this.
bkesso: Agreed. That was a much better representation.
obi-don-ginobili: Or just let him die. What’s it matter?
bkesso: Superman is “dead” but it had no earned impact even in-universe.
We don’t really know what the world thought of Superman. We got very select viewpoints. No discussions from the [general] public. We’re basically told, not shown.
obi-don-ginobili: Fake dead. Batman should have just stabbed his ass with the spear. At least that wouldn’t be predictable.
obi-don-ginobili: Instead of becoming best friends because their moms share a name.
bkesso: “You have to save Martha!” That scene could have played out a lot better.
obi-don-ginobili: Yeah. Batman could have stabbed him. Superman would just come back to life anyways.
bkesso: Or he could have had actual dialogue with Batman since he never explained the issue at hand.
obi-don-ginobili: Right. He tried but batman just hit him with all the weapons.
bkesso: That’s the thing: He didn’t try. He just said “We need to work together!” Why? The last time you two met you threatened each other. Why would he suddenly work with you? Just because you’re a walking nuclear deterrent?
obi-don-ginobili: Lol true. P4P dumbest superheroes. Bet they both are voting for Trump.
bkesso: Actually, now that you bring that up there’s been some talk about the political propaganda in this film.
obi-don-ginobili: Yeah? What of it?
bkesso: Lex Luthor is an evil Silicon Valley CEO who destroys the government and almost destroys the very city in which he lives. Batman is very pro-gun. Jimmy Olsen starts by helping fight terrorists overseas and dies without being named. But Superman comes in to fight terrorists, too!
cwlkr20: Olsen is played by a guy who was on The O.C. for a season. That’s a loss.
obi-don-ginobili: Lol true. Just another reason to prefer Marvel.
bkesso: The propaganda is not really my argument but I’ve heard talk that a lot of it is rather right-wing. Which falls in line with Frank Miller comics. And now we have Batman assembling the Seven Samurai after Heath Zuckerburg already tracked them down for him.
cwlkr20: Who’s the 7th samurai?
bkesso: Probably Hal Jordan. Carol Ferris was a bonus character but she did very little.
cwlkr20: Makes sense. There’s a lot of “this is a prequel in a sequel” vibes going on. The random dream appearances of Ezra Miller as Flash and Parademons. Cyborg is made Cyborg because of bonding with a MOTHERBOX.
bkesso: Yeah. We know that Darkseid is coming. I kind of wish we had G. Gordon Godfrey instead of Lex Luthor. I think, narratively, Batman’s actions would have been [more] easily conveyed to the audience if we had seen Jason Todd’s death in the beginning rather than Crime Alley again. Everyone knows Thomas and Martha Wayne were killed; we didn’t need a callback to a flashback. Having Robin makes Batman less likely to kill since he is setting an example for a minor. Without Robin, he’s unhinged and takes a more brutal approach to crime-fighting.
cwlkr20: YES! That’s a huge thing. He kills a ton of people. There’s a legit body count for Affleck in this movie.
bkesso: Superman’s completely detached from this world that he’s oddly supposed to inspire hope to. I don’t see how he’s supposed to be a Christ-like figure when Christ literally spent time with the downtrodden and destitute.
cwlkr20: The parents dying was a wasted opportunity since we know this. This isn’t what has made him edgier. Maybe it’s power. The idea that since he has the ability and uses the ability, he is immediately higher. Then he does good acts like saving kids from burning buildings.
bkesso: I guess that’s true. Superman also didn’t get to explain his actions at all. Clark Kent and Lois Lane also didn’t attempt to.
cwlkr20: Also Godfrey would have been a great character choice for Eisenberg.
bkesso: Eisenberg would have been a believable Godfrey indeed. I can’t see how the world thinks Superman shot people in Africa. Like, he can tear down buildings with his pinky finger. Why would he just randomly shoot up a village?
cwlkr20: I think they wanted it to look like a chain effect. That he started a power vacuum. That might be what that woman’s speech is about. But it’s murky.
bkesso: I hope that’s what they were going for. I wasn’t a fan of the score. It was very jarring to me, felt overly dramatic and the rock effects were kinda random. But the visuals, while dark in some moments, were definitely good. The action was also good, though I think the Doomsday fight was actually better than the main event. Batman moved like Arkham City/Arkham Knight and that made me giddy AF. When he was hiding in the beginning, he was scary. When he fought he was powerful. The pinnacle of raw human strength. Todd VanDerWerff from Vox put it very well:
“Snyder’s films might hold some interesting ideas, but his images always get in the way, because they’re obsessed with how cool and tough and intimidating everything is. While his work occasionally considers deeper political and philosophical ideas, it ultimately has all the depth of adding a rainbow overlay to your Facebook profile picture to celebrate marriage equality.”
obi-don-ginobili: What they did with Batman was pretty awesome. Loved the combat. It was Bruce Wayne that was lame and overly sensitive. I wasn’t a fan of the flashbacks they used. Thought it was hokey. It’s like they tried to rapidly cover the back story and give a sense of continuity, but really just detracted from superheroes beating one another up. They could take some lessons from Marvel in character development.
bkesso: That’s true. It’s a little disheartening that a film with such interesting characters and themes is reduced to a visually stunning clusterfuck at absolute best. The script was ironically bad considering the talent behind it.
obi-don-ginobili: The action was beautiful though.
bkesso: Oh definitely. How was the audience for you guys? Mine was pretty bored. But they reacted like mad when Wonder Woman showed up. Full applause.
obi-don-ginobili: Theatre was nearly empty. Went at 1045 on a Monday night.
cwlkr20: A lot of woos for Wonder Woman. Packed as fuck.
bkesso: Yeah we were packed as well. Any final thoughts/ratings? Because I’m struggling to give this even a 5/10.
obi-don-ginobili: That’s what I feel is appropriate. It quenched my thirst for battle but didn’t make me feel the legitimacy of the DC universe.
cwlkr20: I don’t despise it. I despise Daredevil. I didn’t like Man of Steel. This I didn’t hate. Has obvious flaws but still. Better than I expected.
bkesso: I’m seriously disappointed but there’s more that I like about this than Daredevil or the final version of Fant4stic. However, while I didn’t like Man of Steel this film made me miss it immensely. Definitely an average film with good action and visuals but a very weak script.
obi-don-ginobili: It’s the worst film I might see again in theatres. That kind of movie.
bkesso: I envy your fortitude, fam. I had good food and a gin and tonic with me and I still couldn’t enjoy the film :(.
cwlkr20: I snuck in nips for jack and cokes. I thought about sneaking in Tasty Burger but I backed off. Overkill.
bkesso: But Tasty Burger was life!
RYMS Average: 4.67/10
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