In Defense of: Batman v Superman
The DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has finally begun. I’ve seen Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice twice now in the first two days of release, once in a standard theater setting and once in IMAX 3D. I have to say that I disagree with many of the critics: I liked this move. This is not so much a review but an answer to all the comments I’ve been hearing about the film. Comments that I just don’t think are fair; not fair to Zack Snyder; not fair to Affleck and Cavill, and not fair to the film as a whole. Now, first off, I will admit that if you’re not a fan of Snyder and didn’t like Man of Steel, you probably won’t like Dawn of Justice. That’s just a given.
One of the biggest complaints I’ve been hearing is about the pacing. The first act moves through different character storylines pretty quickly, in a fevered race to get them developed enough for the third act, as well as subsequent films. Now we know Snyder had to make some hard choices in editing and plenty of scenes were cut or trimmed to get it down to a watchable two and a half hours. This undoubtedly caused some plot holes that we as the audience are being asked to infer and fill in the blanks. This is nothing new. If we are invested in a film as an audience member, we can do it with little effort. It’s a comic book movie, use your imagination! I had no problem understanding the character arcs that were being laid out, but then again, I pay attention to a film when I watch it and work to understand the references and what’s in the background. I’m sure we all know those filmgoers that go in to watch a movie but spend most of the time looking into their popcorn, checking their phone, looking around, and then only really watching when there is action on screen. Then, afterwards they ask what happened and say that they didn’t understand what was going on. Sometimes with these films, you just can’t afford to do that. You really have to watch and pay attention, occasionally taking that leap the director is asking with filling in the gaps.
Another complaint I heard was that the film was too serious. Some say that the film was too much of a morality tale with religious or political undertones. However, DC made it clear from the get-go: you want fun and light-hearted, watch the DC television shows. The films were going to be serious and darker. That was one of the reasons none of the television character actors were being included in the DCEU – the powers-at-be didn’t want viewers to confuse the two separate tones and “universes”. They are all part of the over-reaching DC multi-verse but the tone of the cinematic universe is going to be much more thoughtful than the fun DC stories on television (though “Arrow” can get a bit dark sometimes, but nowhere like the movies).
How about the future-Justice League member cameos? Critics say they were poorly placed within the narrative. Okay, I admit I would’ve put them in a post-credits teaser scene. In an attempt to differentiate them from Marvel, DC has chosen to forego the whole post-credits teasers. In this instance, it would’ve made sense to have one. However, if you think about the film’s epilogue and the fact that Snyder had to establish who Diana Prince really is, it made sense to put the cameos into the same scene that establishes Wonder Woman. I could be wrong; it is a stylistic choice and is debatable. Regardless, Aquaman and Flash were cool! Cyborg’s appearance was a bit disturbing but it did pretty much follow the comic. It accomplished its goal whetting our appetites for more of them in the upcoming films.
Then you have our stars: Ben Affleck’s Batman and Henry Cavill’s Superman. Just about every critic agrees that Affleck was on point! His version of Bruce Wayne was incredible. Many were hesitant when Affleck was cast and with Daredevil in his past, it was understandable. Nonetheless, this incarnation of an older, more veteran Batman is one of my favorites to date. Affleck is a great actor and he brings it in this film. That being said, these same critics have said that Cavill’s performance was stoic and lackluster. I counter that the performance I saw showed Cavill bringing the same humility he possessed in Man of Steel (again, if you didn’t like that one, you probably won’t like this one). Let’s face it, Superman was raised a farm boy in a small town, he’s not Bruce Wayne. He’s an orphaned alien raised in an ‘aw shucks’ community where honesty, integrity, and being helpful mean something. I thought Cavill represented that well. Additionally, how could the critics cite no emotional range given the rage he exhibits when you mess with the two women in his life? Also, Superman, at this point, doesn’t really understand why everyone hates him so much. As Affleck’s Batman tells him, “You’re not brave. Men are brave. You say you want to help people, but you can’t experience their pain…their mortality. It’s time you learned what it means to be a man!” It’s a hard lesson Superman has to learn. Regardless, Cavill’s Superman, in this film, is not as endearing to the audience, he is kind of the protagonist in his matchup against Batman, and that was the point of the story. Their opposing ideologies are what makes their confrontation and eventual combining so appealing to everyone who loves these two characters. Snyder effectively makes everyone cheer for Bruce Wayne, the darker character, while the honest Superman is vilified and he can’t understand why.
Another complaint I heard was Gal Gadot’s portrayal as Wonder Woman. Some said she wasn’t physically imposing enough to depict the Amazonian princess warrior. True, she’s a fine specimen but Gina Carano she is not. But I wasn’t concerned with how big her muscles were, I was more interested in her acting capabilities. I liked her in the Fast & Furious films and I think she did a fine job here (of course, Gina Carano was also in a Fast film…). Sure, you can cast one of the WWE Divas, but then you’d be complaining about the acting (not remarking on their acting abilities, just making an example). Her action scenes were top notch and she was genuinely fun to watch. I especially enjoyed that quick impish grin she gives during the fight subtly indicating that she is a warrior at heart and loves battle.
Seeing that photograph of her alongside World War I troops, including Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor, was a bonus. The accompanying score by Hans Zimmer was heart—pounding! It was actually a bit scary, which I guess depicted Bruce Wayne’s amazement pretty accurately – I mean how would you feel if you actually discovered a hot young woman you met was actually already over a hundred years old! I am optimistic to see Gadot’s Wonder Woman in her solo film. Hopefully they bring Zimmer along.
A complaint I had myself, before I really thought about it, was Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor. He comes off more like a narcissistic, neurotic psychopath than the greatest criminal mind of our generation. He chewed the scenery every time he was on screen and I thought he channeled a little too much Joker for my liking. However, I found that I was trying to compare Eisenberg to the powerhouse Gene Hackman representation in the iconic Superman (1978). That’s not fair to Eisenberg. To be fair, Eisenberg’s Alexander “Lex” Luthor does remark early in the film, “Lex Luthor” was his father and put his name on the company, LexCorps, and that he’s his own man (later we find out that he really isn’t; he’s got “daddy issues”). Is this Snyder’s way of distancing this cinematic interpretation of Luthor from all who came before? This younger, more unhinged, psychologically- damaged Luthor is probably the correct depiction of a son raised in the shadow of the classic Lex Luthor. We should judge Eisenberg’s Luthor on his own merits.
The supporting cast is top notch as well. Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch and her verbal duel with Luthor was a great scene. Jeremy Irons is the perfect Alfred. He is more a partner than a butler to Bruce Wayne and that is depicted all too well by Irons, who is also not above a snappy remark to take Wayne down a peg or two. Laurence Fishburne as Perry White has all the gravitas and passion as Jackie Cooper in the 1978 film, maybe more! There were no shortages of great acting performances in this film and I don’t think I heard anyone say otherwise (besides the aforementioned Eisenberg over-acting).
Now, I know what some are asking right now: but what about those nightmare vision sequences? Okay, those could be construed as confusing by anyone who is not a die-hard comic geek. Just because I was able to follow them doesn’t mean I can expect everyone else too as well. I can definitely see how those sequences could be distracting and draw from the plot flow. I believe their true purpose was just to setup future DCEU installments where all will be revealed. Except that one Jonathan Kent vision that Superman experienced. I understood it as helping to give Clark some perspective on his life and his choosing to aid others. But then again it did feel a bit out-of-nowhere.
So there it is, I liked this film. It may be flawed and it is far from a perfect film, but I believe it is a good film. Maybe it was a bit ambitious but it hardly deserves all the bad press it is receiving. It involved a talented cast, giving excellent performances, with striking visuals and an awesome score. Was it the beginning of the DCEU that we were all hoping for? Maybe not, but it wasn’t a bad one. I think people are holding it to a higher standard because it is the kickoff point to an extended franchise. If this was simply another movie and we knew nothing of what was coming in the future, it would be heralded as a success. That’s what I believe. So what I say to you is don’t take my word or that of a critic, go see it and judge for yourself. I think you won’t be sorry.