Batman v Superman Is Bad But It’s A Decent Justice League Prologue
When the first reviews for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice surfaced, I was in a state of disbelief. How could a movie this huge be such a massive bomb in the eyes of critics? Less than 30% on Rotten Tomatoes is bad enough and worse, it’s dangerously close to the abysmal Batman & Robin (11%).
Then opening weekend came and went with audiences calling the film flawed at best. Fan reactions were collectively warmer than critics but not enough to melt the ice surrounding Zack Snyder’s glacier sized superhero epic.
Still, the film performed exceptionally well around the world. It never stood a chance at breaking records at a pace similar to Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens but it held its own. Then came the enormous drop off in sales during the film’s second weekend at the box office. The film suffered a drop of nearly 70% proving repeat viewings and overall staying power had faded all too quickly. The numbers remain positive (?) overall but the financial and critical fallout has caused a ripple effect throughout Warner Brothers.
Release dates were moved and the company’s overall strategy reportedly shifted to a leaner release schedule focused on franchises. Man of Steel was certainly divisive but Batman v Superman was supposed to change all that. But here we are…
I finally got a chance to see the film in its third week of release and I certainly understand many of the criticisms hurled at the production. I just don’t understand the malice and anger that accompanied those complaints… (Actually I do, I’m just not as angry I suppose) Critics and fans were promised a massive clash between two of the most popular characters in all of fiction. Son of Krypton vs Bat of Gotham! In the end, the titular battle amounted to less than 15 minutes and featured a remarkably quick and somewhat unbelievable resolution. In that regard, the film is disappointing but the blame can be placed squarely on the broad shoulders of Disney and Marvel.
Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is one of the most profitable film franchises of all time continually building on its successes with each new release. Ten years ago, the idea of producing a series of connected films seemed impossible. Today, every major studio is struggling to duplicate a business model that changed comic book blockbusters forever. Sony tried to expand their Spider-Man universe with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 but failed. Why? They tried to rush too many references, cameos, villains and plot threads without taking time to tell a good story. Warner Brothers and DC stand the best chance at competing with Marvel but Batman v Superman repeats the same mistakes that left Sony’s Spidey Universe in ruins.
YOU CAN’T RUSH A SHARED UNIVERSE!
At first, Marvel produced standalone films that existed within the same universe. It took years to create enough material to begin crossing the streams. Captain America: Civil War features dozens of characters from multiple franchises because it happened organically. To get to this point they had to release:
Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, Iron Man 2, Marvel’s The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is trying to do in one film what Marvel accomplished in twelve! I have to admit, I really thought they could do it but the film ultimately collapses beneath the weight of its own ambitions. There’s simply too much going on. Too many Justice League members to establish. Too many references to fit in. Too many random scenes that exist to setup future films instead of focusing on the story of Batman vs Superman. The film suffers a great deal as a result.
Lex Luthor does enough behind the scenes to convince Bruce Wayne that Superman needs to be destroyed. Did we really need the inexplicable dream sequence? Fans understand the Darkseid references but what about general audiences who only know the main players? No doubt that scene (ahem) flew over a lot of people’s heads. I actually thought The Flash cameo was well done but we won’t get an explanation for years. Why was he too soon? How is Bruce able to have visions? It’s not clear but we now know Darkseid will play a role in the Justice League movie thanks to well-placed Omega symbols and Parademons. But what does it really add to Batman v Superman?
Diana Prince is a fantastic character in BvS. Isn’t a violent Kryptonian deformity enough to convince her Batman and Superman need her help? Nope. We need three cameos of The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg first. I personally loved the scenes but they weren’t necessary. Iron Man wasn’t watching old Captain America footage during in the 40s. Fans were still excited to see The First Avenger. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still excited to see Wonder Woman, The Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman down the road but there are certainly more subtle ways to establish these characters in the universe.
The interesting question here is whether the misguided story focus should be blamed on Zack Snyder (doubtful) or Warner Bros? (likely)
This is a story about Batman v Superman right? Let’s talk about that rivalry because it’s the strongest element of the film. Every scene shared by the two heroes is awesome including scenes between Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne. Thanks to Man of Steel, Bruce’s motivations are completely believable. Superman nearly destroyed two cities! It makes perfect sense to eliminate the risk of an alien gone rogue.
(As a side note, this film embraces the destruction Superman caused when he fought Zod in Metropolis. But the film also goes out of it’s way to ensure we know a city block is uninhabited or an island is abandoned etc… I digress)
Then came the big battle. Over 1.5 hours into the film. But it’s over in a flash (no pun intended) because they had to rush Doomsday. They had to align DC’s trinity of heroes. They had to setup the Justice League movies. So we are essentially forced to endure an extremely long setup for a minor tilt that ends because of one word. Martha. I get it. Their mother’s share the same name and it shows Bruce that Superman holds human relationships dear to his heart. But we just spent hours setting up how angry Batman is didn’t we?
“Martha? That’s my mom’s name.”
“Did we just become best friends?”
It felt rushed. It felt… Off… I expected the big battle to last a lot longer even regardless of how cool it was. That’s when it hit me. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t really that bad if you think of it as a Justice League prologue instead of a standalone movie. Forget the big battle and focus on the positives:
Positive #1: The new Batman is great
Ben Affleck is awesome as Batman and his version of Bruce Wayne is arguably the most faithful iteration of the character we’ve ever seen. He’s angry, flawed and dark.
“We’re criminals Alfred. We’ve always been criminals.”
This isn’t just a Batman origin story. He’s already been through a great deal. They managed to establish an unbelievable amount of depth and history in one film.
Positive #2: Wonder Woman, Superman & Batman have great chemistry
Wonder Woman is certainly a highlight of the film and Gal Gadot absolutely owns the part. Her solo film definitely got a big boost thanks to BvS but I’m more excited about her place within the eventual Justice League team up.
So far Batman, Superman & Wonder Woman fight well together. If that’s an early sign of momentum, I’ll take it.
Positive #3: The Cameos
They may have been forced into this storyline but the Cyborg, Aquaman and The Flash cameos are still interesting. I was particularly impressed with The Flash’s time travel abilities and what that sequence means moving forward. Will we see the opposite side of that scene in the Justice League movies? Was he warning Bruce about Superman? Lex? Darkseid? Or someone else entirely?
None of it fits within Batman v Superman’s plot but the seeds have been planted and that’s why I think BvS will be important.
Positive #4: We still have Suicide Squad to fill in… Some gaps?
The DCEU isn’t going anywhere and I believe Suicide Squad will solidify it’s place in the Superhero movie landscape. This universe already has a rich history and Suicide Squad will build on that idea with Batman’s inclusion and many new characters. (Word is Batman has a much larger role than we originalyl thought)
The difference is these characters and villains will have more to do beyond requisite cameos and throwaway scenes. I think it will be drastically more effective especially now that reshoots have been confirmed.
POSITIVE #5: IT'S ALL PART OF THE PLAN RIGHT?
Okay… So critics and audiences didn’t respond positively to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Like it or not, all the tangents, references and cameos were put in place for a reason. If you look at BvS as a prologue or setup for the Justice League movies then it was successful. It just didn’t work within the confines of a Batman v Superman concept.
The biggest gladiator match in the history of the world wasn’t all that great but big things are coming to DC’s extended universe. I believe (read: hope) we will look back on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as a vital component in the larger narrative.
Like The Flash’s time bending warning to Bruce Wayne, we might be too soon to pass judgement on Batman v Superman.
If I’m right the Justice League movies will answer a lot of questions BvS failed to answer. Sadly, Justice League Part 1 doesn’t release until November 2017. Until then, Suicide Squad looks like a ton of fun!
Question… What does Warner Bros do if Suicide Squad fails? Wonder Woman is almost wrapped and Justice League part 1 starts shooting… Pretty much now!
People have criticized Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice for being too dark. This is why I think a darker, different DC universe is exactly what comic book movie fans need!