Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has just recently opened in theatres, and of course being a Zack Snyder film it has caused a massive divide. Audiences have been receiving it quite well based on the information out there and word of mouth, but critics have largely destroyed it in an overly harsh fashion. The critical reception of Batman v Superman has pushed me enough to want to respond to it and point out some hypocrisies of critics, as I was one myself for games for over five years.
For the sake of simplicity and neatness let’s divide these sections of discussion up with nice headings. Don’t worry I won’t be spoiling anything about the movie in this piece, so it’s a safe read for you if you haven’t watched it yet.
Humourless & Too Dark
The most common criticisms levelled at the movie is that it’s too dark and gritty, devoid of humour and quite joyless. I hate these criticisms with a passion. Why? Because they imply that humour and light-heartedness are prerequisites for a comic book movie. Something that stems from the old days and from the current generation of Marvel movies.
The moment you walk into any movie with a checklist of what it should be is the moment everyone loses. Unlike some comic book movies like Iron Man 3 that chose to mislead you about the tone of it with its trailers, Batman v Superman has, from the very first teaser, advertised exactly what sort of movie it was going to be. It never gave you the impression that it was going to be anything but dark and Watchmen-like. By criticising it for being exactly what it advertised itself as being you’re essentially saying that comic book movies cannot be this dark.
There’s this whole ‘what about the children’ bullshit that’s been perpetuated by the family experience Marvel offers in their films. Yet if we think back to the 1989 Batman movie and its sequel Batman Returns these movies were so dark they actually scared kids. The comics Batman v Superman draws inspiration from, one of them being The Dark Knight Returns (my favourite book), are extremely dark so why can’t the movie be? It has a PG-13 age restriction for a reason. Keep your five-year-old child away.
Beyond that fun itself is a subjective concept. Is The Revenant a ‘fun’ movie about a guy basically suffering for two hours? Or is it a great film because of its acting, cinematography, visceral violence, sound and other factors? That goes to say that just because you didn’t find something fun doesn’t mean it doesn’t have merit in other areas. You don’t go to see Watchmen to have ‘fun’, but to be engaged, provoked and entertained in other ways.
The audience reception contradicts these criticisms and is quite positive thus far, as those polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of “B” on an A+ to F scale, which implies 80% and above reception. The Revenant received a ‘B+’ by comparison. Even among audiences below the ages of 25 the movie got similar ratings. Hell if the movie was so joyless why would my mother who doesn’t always watch ‘heavy’ movies have loved it so much?
This leads me to my next point.
Marvel’s Monopoly And Superhero Fatigue
Marvel has earned the right to make anything they want. I’ll happily give them that. I love Marvel. Spider-Man, my second favourite superhero after Batman, is over there and that means I genuinely love both sides. However Marvel has not earned the right to dictate what the comic book movie should or should not be, and no one has this right. Critics have assigned Marvel this power by virtue of the popularity its movies have. What it feels like, ever since the reception of Man of Steel, is that Marvel has some kind of monopoly over the comic book genre.
If I had it my way I wouldn’t even bring up Marvel in this discussion because DC is trying to do something completely different. But sadly I have to bring up Marvel to point out double-standards and hypocrisy.
Before you bring up the X-Men films by Fox you should consider that despite being great movies they too stay closer to the Marvel way of doing things even if they are a bit more serious. They have humour, they have light-heartedness, heroes are heroes, death is saved for villains and they fit the ‘family fun’ bill.
What this has led to, since Marvel knows its demographic extremely well and caters to them excellently, is a homogenisation of the comic book genre. The words ‘superhero fatigue’ have begun to creep in and its a stage that all trends and crazes eventually do reach as the volume increases. Just look at the zombie and vampire crazes that we had last. However with Marvel movies largely feeling the same bar some spectacular exceptions like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and great spin-off TV series’ like Daredevil and Jessica Jones (which were both ironically praised for being dark and gritty), people are begging for something different.
To that end Deadpool was a massive burst of fresh air for being unadulterated and unashamed to be exactly itself, and daring enough to go for an ‘R’ rating in the pursuit of this goal. Deservedly it was praised. Yet when Man of Steel and subsequently Batman v Superman not only offer something completely different to other comic book movies on the market and take huge risks that you’d never expect a comic book movie to take, instead of praised for it they’re both torn down by critics. You’d have never expected the level of destruction at the end of Man of Steel and loss of innocent life, and neither will you have expected the darkness of Batman v Superman or the end of the movie which I won’t spoil.
We’re at a stage where we are begging for risks, freshness and diversity in the comic book genre, but we brutally shut down DC movies for trying to be completely different. I would much rather have a risky, ambitious and ultimately very flawed movie than a by-the-numbers, get-what-you-expect popcorn movie that plays it safe. We need movies like Man of Steel, Deadpool, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad (the first villain-centric comic book movie since Sony’s plans for Sinister Six died) to shake up the formula and keep the genre fresh.
This doesn’t make Marvel wrong though. Not at all. Like I said they cater wonderfully to their audiences and it’s okay if you enjoy all of their movies. But it’s a damn shame to make their movies the checklist of what it takes to be a comic book movie.
And it’s a damn shame to give Marvel so much power that they can literally make a mockery of Iron Man’s nemesis in the third solo movie and still get praised for it.
This criticism directed at Batman v Superman is so laughable that I can do little more than shake my head. Is the action excessive? Sure. But have you forgotten what the finale of Avengers: Age of Ultron was? It was literally all of the Avengers against an army of nameless, faceless robots in a fight that had zero stakes, rehashed its predecessor and had no purpose other than to show off potential wallpapers. It wasn’t even visually incredible – and I saw the movie in IMAX. Oh and let’s not forget the loud Hulk vs Iron Man fight that was just there to look cool. To be a spectacle. But while critics laud Avengers: Age of Ultron with no mention of ‘mindless action’ thrown around, Batman v Superman is accused of it because it dares to offer *gasp* a spectacle.
What a fine spectacle it is. Whatever you have against Zack Synder (the man certainly invites animosity and negativity) or visual entertainment (never mind that movies are a visual experience), Batman v Superman was beautifully shot with action scenes that delivered eye-candy unlike any other comic book movie. It had real style. It looked like a comic book come alive much like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 tried to do except with an actual epic scale. While both The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Batman v Superman have a lot of flaws (the former far more as it barely stood on its own two feet) the visuals and action are definitely not one of them.
I’m currently reading the Justice League comics from the New 52 and there are so many beautiful splash pages of the heroes battling together on a large scale. Yet when we see this come to life on the big screen, as Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman team up for the first time in the history of movies, we call it ‘mindless action’.
What kind of action did you expect to see in a comic book movie?
The Odds Were Stacked Against It
From before the very first teaser trailer was even released people have been against Batman v Superman picking apart its tone, direction and casting choices. The internet went crazy over Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jesse Eisenberg and the idea that the movie was trying to rush the Justice League and not do five solo movies first.
On top of all that with Zack Snyder at the helm you can bet your happy meal that people had hugely negative attitudes towards the movie all the way up until they sat down in the theatre. People even picked on the movie for showing off Doomsday in its second trailer despite the fact that Avengers: Age of Ultron revealed as much in its trailers including the movie’s final fight. It wasn’t a great trailer, but it was just another thing people rallied against the movie for.
It turned out quite funny that the very casting choices people went mad over are actually the best things about the movie. But I digress.
The point here is that people were basically writing it off and going into it with such negativity that it almost felt as though bad reviews were being written before the opening credits of the movie.
As I’ve mentioned a number of times I was a game critic for over five years and if you don’t know how to become a blank slate and set aside all expectations, strong opinions, external hype and preconceived notions before reviewing something then you’re probably in the wrong field.
That said one must remember that critics are not an authority on quality and are capable of getting things wrong. Critics exist to create a discussion around quality – not to dictate it. It’s clear from the audience reception to Batman v Superman that there is quite a disconnect between critics and fans, and it happens. The important thing to remember is that quality is not a binary discussion. It goes way beyond that, and at the end of the day the only opinion you can control and trust is your own.
Where’s The Praise For Its Merits?
I’ve had hours to talk about this movie and I’m happy to accept so many criticisms regarding its pacing, narrative, characterisation and setups. I don’t mind anyone who didn’t like the movie or was disappointed by it. But what I can’t stand for is people not giving it praise for things it actually does well. What it does well is at the very least equal to its flaws.
My brother for example hasn’t watched 90% of comic book movies because they’re just average or popcorn movies. He thoroughly enjoyed Deadpool but thought Batman v Superman was okay with lots flaws but altogether worth watching. When I pointed out the fact that he’d consider it worth watching but he won’t even watch the good comic book movies I tell him about then surely critics are being harsh on this movie.
Let’s make a quick list of positives that I believe you’d find it really hard to argue against:
- The casting is mostly excellent. Ben Affleck is electric as Batman and Bruce Wayne, and he offers arguably the best and most comic realistic take on the character that we’ve ever seen in the movies. Gal Gadot is exceptional as Wonder Woman with most loving her appearance in the film. Henry Cavil is an excellent Superman even if the script doesn’t always do him justice. Jeremy Irons is a living, breathing Alfred. The rest of the cast is really good. I didn’t mention Jesse Eisenberg because he’s the only one people are really divided about, but if we’re talking about mad scientist Lex Luthor from the comics he does a pretty decent job.
- The visuals are gorgeous. The action is immense. There are jaw-dropping moments that if you see in IMAX you’ll jump right out of your chair.
- The musical score. While some may not like it, Hans Zimmer and co deliver some of their best work ever with tracks like a ‘Beautiful Lie’ and Wonder Woman’s entrance.
- Batman taking down the thugs is one of the most, if not the greatest comic book action tribute ever put on a movie screen.
- Batman v Superman does not spoon feed you. It demands that you think about it and watch it more than once. Even people who weren’t that positive about the movie still went more than once. Despite the divide what other comic book movie has spawned this much discussion since Nolan’s second and third Batman films?
- It doesn’t hold back. Not on violence, not on trying to explore darker themes and not on presenting a world that stands against heroes.
- The movie takes daring risks and has huge ambition, which is something completely absent from the comic book genre. Batman v Superman has balls of batsteel and it deserves to get praise for this fact. The beauty is often in the attempt, and despite its flawed execution at least it tried to shake up the established formula. Zack Snyder may lack the nuance and subtlety of a director like Nolan, but he certainly doesn’t play it safe.
- It’s a geek celebration of the first time members of the Justice League are seen on the same movie screen.
- Zack Snyder had a ridiculous amount of things to do in this movie, namely establish the groundwork for future movies, set up the main conflict, establish the world’s reaction to Man of Steel, resolve the conflict, set up the Justice League and so forth. On some level you have got to admit that he did a good job of bringing all of the elements into the movie. If you’re going to call it ‘forced’ or ‘out of context’ then I’m going to respond with Age of Ultron‘s nonsensical Thor: Ragnarok teaser that made no sense to any casual.
With all the praise for acting, visual spectacle, music, ambition, risk-taking and fan service it makes little sense to me how anyone could hate this movie and pick it apart more than any other comic book movie out there. I can understand calling it okay or average. I can understand not liking it. But ripping it apart without offering it praise from some of these categories? Tearing into it because it dared to be different from the rest in the genre? It’s ridiculous.
I loved Batman v Superman but I can admit to and accept a lot of its flaws. I just wish more people would take it for what it tried to be, and not for what they think it should be. It almost feels like there’s a bandwagon for hating it because it’s a Zack Snyder film and because of Man of Steel.
I would encourage everyone to watch the movie, because there’s so much the DCEU can offer building up from this foundation. More importantly because I know a number of people who were reluctant to watch the movie because of its critics, but were thoroughly glad that they did and ended up disagreeing with the reception.
There are popcorn movies I like to switch off the brain, unwind and have fun with, like the Furious films or Ant-Man. I did not go into Batman v Superman expecting this, and if you did you may want to consider the reality that you bought the wrong movie ticket.
If you’re looking to jump on the bandwagon and hate the movie Batman v Superman will give you the ammunition to do so, but if you look at what it tries to do and appreciate what it does right, its ambition, its difference and its risk-taking you’ll see it in a new way.