Comic book movies are at their core ridiculous. They’re movies about cartoons fighting other cartoons, most of the time literally as they’re augmented by animation or actual animated movies like the wonderful films released direct to video. The characters dress in costumes. They spout simplistic ideas. The genre usually only elevates itself by hiring gifted actors but they can’t overcome the truth. These are silly diversions.
And in 2016 the least likely film turned a simple concept into a war.
Before Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the Marvel/DC war was really more of a silly joke. I don’t think anyone actually was deep in the trenches on one side or the other. It was more like the end of DC vs Marvel where even if you liked one or the other more, you recognized the other as valid. I know I’d hate to choose between Spider-Man or Superman. It wasn’t a real fight.
Then it changed with this film. What happened here I’m not sure. The short version seems to be that critics preferred Captain America: Civil War (90% on RT) to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (28% on RT) and fans cried foul. That led to the idea that critics were biased in favor of Marvel. And a war was declared. The idea that critics are shills for Marvel continues as does the theory Rotten Tomatoes is rigged.
Now I’ll cut through what actually was going on really simply. Civil War is a much better film. Yeah it’s really that simple. Is it iconic best of the year great? No. It’s got flaws and it’s still fluff. But it’s a better constructed film and that’s what gets it past this film.
But I also get that fans of this film did feel put out. They really liked it and the critics were honestly a lot harsher than I think the film deserves. And that’s fine. I could do an entire article on films I loved that critics hated. It’s pretty common actually but I’m sure it was exacerbated by seeing product they didn’t think was better and was definitely safer get better reviews.
But no, that didn’t justify the constant violent abuse of people that followed. Nobody ever needs to be rude to anybody over an opinion about a movie and Marvel fans can get ludicrously pompous but the violent hate critics like Kayleigh Donaldson got because they found the films violent and unpleasant was way too much. These are just movies. No need to bully over them and no critiquing the film itself is not bullying.
That’s a lot of a preamble to put on a film that can really be summed up as a very silly 2.5 hours.
I want to be clear. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is an absurd, goofy, reptile brained film. It is on par with GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra for movies that feel like you let a hyper 8 year old tell a story based on his action figures fighting. It has nothing of any note to say about anything serious. It includes a piss joke that’s a plot point for the love of god. That THIS was a lightning rod and an endless subject of debate makes no sense.
But it also shouldn’t be ignored how much fun this movie is. BvS is indeed like a kid playing with his toys and by being such it captures exactly what the genre should do. It’s a movie to sit back with and smile with. It doesn’t play to adults. It plays to our love of the absurdity of the genre. It’s got some flaws, one of which almost breaks it, but I love this movie.
The plot? Batman (Ben Affleck) is convinced Superman (Henry Cavill) is a threat. He plots to bring him down. Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) pushes him to do so because he hates anyone more powerful than him. The mysterious art dealer Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is seeking a photo at the same time. All this is building to two big fights. The plot is an excuse for that.
Now would be a good time to be blunt about my favorite genre. The plots are hopelessly ramshackle. Think of your favorite superhero movie. The plot barely made sense if you think about it. Why does Loki let himself get captured? Why did Spider-Man lose his powers? If I say this movie does not make sense, I’m not implying any film in the genre does. This is an excuse for scenes.
And I’m happy to say it. Most of them are good. Snyder can’t shoot an ugly scene, even if the film is bad. This movie looks fantastic start to finish, especially thanks to the cinematography of Larry Fong. And it’s mostly very well acted. Affleck is on fire in the film, playing an angry intense Batman while Cavill is a perfect Superman. Amy Adams continues to be a spot on Lois Lane. It moves fast. The action is great. The fanservice is epic with the climax giving us the DC trinity fighting Doomsday! It delivers a fun experience and if I was just writing about that, it’s a hoot. I highly recommend it on that level.
But I’m writing about this movie seriously and I don’t get to just shrug and call it fun. That’s what counts mind you and that’s why I love it. But what makes this movie a mess is fascinating and deserves analysis.
This movie is indisputably a reaction to the complaints about Man of Steel and it feels like it’s angry at trying to be such. I don’t think for a second Zack Snyder wanted to actually address the complaints. I think he intended MoS to be a bold, heroic, upbeat film with an honest look at what being a hero means and I think he landed that. I think it bugs him people disagree. And he responded like most people do when responding to a critic. He lashed out.
Yes, this movie does acknowledge how much devastation was wrought and it does call it wrong. But it feels like it’s sarcastic. This movie is so over the top absurd in its portrait of how society reacted that it’s sour. Instead of an honest, poignant portrait it turns to us and goes “sucks doesn’t it!” And that’s because Snyder is indeed a devout Randian and he means the might means right story. Which is fine. That’s the genre! But this movie treats the concerns over this concept so poorly it absolutely should not have done so.
The biggest mistake it makes is putting the opposition in the form it chooses. Lex Luthor is a great character. THE supervillain. He should be the perfect way to vent concerns. A serious, hardworking man who believes in humanity. Lex Luthor is fundamentally a Randian hero himself with the key that he believes in selfishness. He is not an altruist in the least but he would be a perfect foil here.
He is without exaggeration the worst villain of the entire modern era. I’m serious. Whatever you’re thinking is worse? He’s worse. And that’s because instead of playing him seriously, he’s played like Jamie Kennedy in Son of the Mask. He is a ridiculous farce with constant absurd jokes and a vocal tone that enrages. Eisenberg gives truly one of the worst mainstream turns I’ve ever seen. Which is weird because he’s played Luthor’s IRL equivalent Mark Zuckerberg brilliantly on screen. That should have been the note.
The whole film winds up feeling like a debate between two entitled sides and both need to be told to shut up. And it’s weird because I don’t know that I truly feel like either side is the main character. The film’s thematic narrative really is Zack Snyder vs the audience and that’s an awkward sit.
As for the title fight? I’m going to go out on a limb. The Martha thing is very contrived, sure, but that’s only the most visible sign. This whole movie is built on a contrived argument. These are characters who believe in justice, in doing good. They aren’t enemies. Maybe they wouldn’t be friends but they’re not going to be enemies. The fight is fun but it starts on a silly contrivance and ends on one.
And that’s the thing. This movie shouldn’t have happened. A team up? Yes. World’s Finest is out there to be watched and is a classic. Public Enemies is fun too. But a fight? It’s a long prelude to what we know is coming. They’re going to team up. And they do, with Wonder Woman showing up to give us the purest DC on film sequence yet. It’s thrilling to see three of the biggest heroes ever teaming up. It needed to be this.
But I think that gets to this movie’s core and why I get both sides. This is a blast of a film to watch but frankly this movie is a ton of edgelord bullshit. It’s not a shock this movie comes from a director who’s adapted Frank Miller and Alan Moore before. It subscribes to that side of comics fandom and it exposes why Miller and Moore’s mainstream comics don’t really work. Because the second you put a moment of thought into what they are they’re exposed as empty nihilism.
And that gets back to the silliness of comics. Comics are a goofy art. They’re not modern versions of myths. They’re silly stories we tell about people punching. This movie tries to act like it’s about the idea of superheroes as gods but by working mostly as a silly pulpy slugfest it reveals how that doesn’t work. And it results in a movie that’s a blast as long as you don’t give it a second of thought.
The movie ends on a setup for Justice League. I’m going to get to the way this film set that up next time. Next time we’re looking at the great disaster. Or a serviceable film. Not sure.