I never saw Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice during its theatrical run. I saw reviews, the scathing piling on that had DC partisans crying conspiracy, claiming the only way the critics could say it was that bad was if they were on the Disney take.
I assumed the movie was bad. And maybe it was. But the Ultimate Edition, which adds what I gather are quite a lot of missing scenes, isn’t bad. In fact, it’s pretty great. I watched it on a whim, not expecting much, and found myself consistently surprised. This may be the most I’ve enjoyed a superhero movie since Nolan wrapped his Dark Knight trilogy. It makes me excited for Justice League, which isn’t something I expected.
What I liked
The visuals. The Marvel movies have a specific aesthetic, the result of their broader approach to making superheroes live action. Namely, they’re shot to look like what you’d get if you dropped costumed vigilantes into the real world, the world we actually live in. It’s our world, it just happens to have these minor gods walking around in it. Zach Snyder goes for something different. He brings the look of the comics to the screen. Batman vs. Superman isn’t our world, it’s a moving comic. The result — as we got before in Man of Steel and Watchmen — is far more visually interesting than anything from Marvel Studios. Snyder frames his shots with more attention to detail, composes them more carefully. There are moments of genuine beauty in his use of color and light. I’ve long thought that superheros are better served by animation than live action. They aren’t meant to look real and so when you make them real — putting an actor in a suit — they come off more like cosplay than like characters brought to life. Snyder’s aesthetics keep that from happening. The MCU’s do not.
Ben Affleck. Here’s a guy who was born to play Bruce Wayne. And he owns the role. Others, like Christian Bale, are better actors overall, but nobody — nobody — looks more like he stepped off the comic page than Affleck. (The only thing that could’ve made him better is if they’d dubbed in Kevin Conroy’s voice.) A perfect casting.
Lex Luthor. The trouble with many comic book flicks is their forgettable villains. The second Thor movie, Guardians of the Galaxy, really any of the Marvel films without Loki or Ultron, all of them are just big, tough bad guys with gravelly voices and rage. There’s no charisma. Same thing held with earlier DC Universe films. But Batman vs. Superman’s Lex Luthor works. I’m not sure his plan works, but you can see why he does what he does and how he’s crazy enough to think it’s the right plan.
What I didn’t like
Batman and guns. On the one hand, the angrier, more violent Batman we got was cool. This is an older Bruce, the Bruce of Dark Knight Returns. He’s sick of this shit and wants to break things. But having him mount actual for real bullet shooting guns on his bat vehicles crosses a well-established line for the character. Having him hold a gun in his hands and kill people with it goes even further. It was unnecessary and I hope they walk it back in future films.
Alfred. Jeremy Irons needles Bruce, as he should, but he somehow manages to make that needling come off less like frustration and more like contempt. The whole point of the Alfred/Bruce relationship is that Alfred, no matter how much he puts up with and no matter how many times he’s disappointed, loves Bruce Wayne. He wants, more than anything, to see Bruce happy, even if that means — especially if that means — giving up Batman. Irons’s Alfred does not love Bruce Wayne. He despises him.
The other super guys. Wonder Woman was okay. But our brief glimpses of the rest of the JLA, especially Flash in his silly outfit, brought the movie back in that cosplay direction Synder’d been otherwise so good at avoiding.
What I didn’t care much about either way
The plot. Yes, there were plot holes. Far fewer, I take it, than in the theatrical release, but still plot holes. A plot that holds up on further reflection is too high a bar for super hero movies, though. What matters is that the plot not be so nonsense that it distracts while watching the movie. This test the film passes. It’s silly, yes, but so were all the plots of Scott Snyder’s magnificent run on the Batman comic. You have to just accept those things, as long as they’re not too bad. And Batman vs. Superman’s plot wasn’t too bad.
The thing about super hero movies for me is that, other than Batman, I don’t much care about any of these characters. I don’t have anything invested in the DC or Marvel universe because I don’t often read comics anymore, and when I did, I wasn’t a super hero guy.
What this means is I approach these movies differently than a fan would. There needs to be something to grab my attention beyond seeing a dude dressed up as Iron Man or the Green Lantern. Batman vs. Superman gave me that, particularly with its frequently stunning visuals and its remarkably excellent score.
It wasn’t as good as Nolan’s work, but it was better than all but a couple of the Marvel movies and Zach Snyder deserves far more credit than he got.
But, then, I felt the same way about Watchmen.
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