By Carter Glace, Staff Writer
To be honest, talking about “Dawn of Justice” has been losing its passion for me. I genuinely wanted the film to be good, and at this point I kind of just want to try and forget about it. Especially because I was hoping to do an article on something other than superheroes for a change. But, I digress.
Holding out for a Hero (Literally Any Of Them)
While the fight between Batman and Superman was a disappointment, the concept could still be salvaged in the film. After all, the ‘v’ could have been used as an interesting character study, as the heroes’ ideologies and beliefs clash. But that never happens. Neither side is ever asked to justify themselves, their actions, or their hatred of the other side. Superman is never given a chance to explain why he let Metropolis be destroyed, while Batman terrorizes, tortures, and brands people without giving a justification. Neither of them even has the high ground of not killing people. Batman continues to talk about Superman’s destructive potential as he uses the Batmobile to wantonly murder an entire dock of people without remorse. (And that’s before he starts using guns.) Superman doesn’t seem to want to help people, outside a montage of glamour shots. And when both sides have a chance to prevent a fight by stopping and talking about the situation, they refuse to listen. As a result, both sides come off as childish frat-bros endangering entire cities with their beef.
What went wrong? A lot of things, really. But I think at the core of the matter is that Zack Snyder and his creative team seem to be holding up the wrong comics as the most produce DC story lines. While revealing the film several Comic-Cons ago, the constant frame of reference for “Batman v Superman” was “The Dark Knight Returns.” As we discussed in the very first column, Frank Miller’s signature work doesn’t hold up in the slightest. It’s cruel, mean-spirited, bordering on the fascist and its attempts at “edgy deconstruction” come off as angsty teenage rage. I’d talk more about “The Death of Superman” — the films other narrative inspiration — but frankly, it was a forgettable run where a brand new villain shows up out of nowhere and punches Superman to death. The only thing it has in common with the film is that a death that should feel powerful and emotionally resonate turns out to be hollow. These descriptions capture “Batman v Superman” perfectly. It is an angry, bitter film. It seems to have nothing but contempt for the source material, portraying its heroes in the worst light possible. It sees humor and color as inherently childish, going instead for brooding and melodramatic. Violence is perfectly acceptable, because these characters aren’t for kids, right? Right? “Batman v Superman” follows in the footsteps of “Returns,” a decade-long tradition of denying the industry’s’ roots and trying to gate keep superheroes exclusively for an older audience.
That’s probably what infuriates me the most. People defend all of this because it makes the DC Universe “adult” and “serious.” All of the violence, dreariness, and unpleasantness makes it “complicated” and “sophisticated.” One of the worst blowbacks from the critical praise “The Dark Knight” received in 2008 is that creators and fans alike think the only way to be taken seriously is to be superficially “adult.” So “Batman v Superman” tries to make itself operatic and epic, carefully composing each frame and bellowing a massive soundtrack. Superman is presented as a god, hovering above us and Batman as some kind of supernatural monster. Jesus allegories are near-constant. Themes about humanity and justice and identity are splashed across the film.
But all of it is so damn meaningless. The themes and concepts mean nothing because they are merely brought up without any discussion. The violence and anger feels juvenile and angsty. The compositions mean nothing because we don’t care about anyone on frame. Superman being a conflicted, burdened Christ figure betrays Superman as a character who has an innate need to help others, not because he is a prophesied savior. Batman being a murderous draconian maniac contradicts everything the character has stood for in 99% of his existence. “Batman v Superman” is an Emperor’s Clothes moments for Warner Bros, DC and Zack Snyder, where it is revealed that all of the maturity and complexity is actually just a front for angst, pretentiousness, and embarrassment that they are stuck with this source material.
But at the same time, I get why so many fans buy into it. I wanted this film to be great, too. I want to see my heroes on the screen. And I empathize with comic book fans who feel like their hobby isn’t respected like other art forms. But we have to demand better than this. The characters of “Batman v Superman” aren’t our childhood heroes. They are cheap, cynical imitations flaunting themselves as something greater. They aren’t, and I think deep down we know that.
“Batman v Superman” for me represents almost all of the worst trends in comic books, superheroes, comic book movies and pop culture in general. While it might be too late to stop “Batman v Superman” from being a hit, I still hold out hope that some day, fans will reject these hollow revisions of the characters we all grew up with, because I simply want to see Superman bring the same joy and wonder to future generations as he has ours. I want to believe a man can fly again.