By Carter Glace, Staff Writer
I originally wanted to save this for next week, but I didn’t have time to see Thor, so here we go!
I have been a fairly vocal opponent of the DCEU and especially “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” “Man of Steel” was a disappointing misfire, “Suicide Squad” had a brilliant idea and theme at its core and “Wonder Woman” was a great film. But BvS is genuinely, and truly, irredeemable. From it’s unexpected and hasty seeming announcement at Comic Con in 2013, the following 3 years of bumbling pre-production followed by the toxic, miserable release sealed its fate as arguably the worst blockbuster of the decade. I saw the world premiere a week before its release and spent that week feeling as if I was going insane. That couldn’t be the movie, could it? How could this have happened? And how could DC fans be so toxic and militant in their defense of this?
But now with the impending release of “Justice League,” hoping to build off the success of “Wonder Woman” and fully right the ship of the DC Universe, I’ve decided to try take a step back. For all my toxicity, I wanted to be proven wrong, because I love these characters and want to see them at them best. So anyway, here are the few things I actually really like from “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice:”
- I like that visually, Superman’s scenes and Batman’s scenes are themed and shot differently. Batman scenes are often shot like a horror film, revealing him in frame, spiking the tension whenever he appears, or playing with the lighting. Meanwhile, Superman’s scenes feature static, painting-esque shots of him performing his various acts of heroism. On paper, this is a smart way of making both heroes feel distinct and mythic, but never develops beyond these superficial starts, and the film can’t think of anything interesting to do when both are in the same frame.
- In general, Batman’s visual design is great. His initial reveal, skittering around the ceiling, is legitimately scary. The often talked about ‘Warehouse Scene’ really is that good. It represents the first time since Adam West that a Batman actor can properly move around in his costume and fight. And said costume, along with the Bat-Armor, are up there as the best page to screen adaptations we have ever seen.
- I love the idea of the general public being untrusting of Superman even as he performs incredible acts of heroism. It plays into the narrative of the Richard Donner’s original Superman, a cynical world just can’t wrap its head around someone with so much power being there for good. However, this is undercut by the fact that Henry Cavil is playing every scene miserable. Whose idea was it to make Superman constantly burdened and dour?
- I love Wonder Woman’s theme. This is one time Hans Zimmer’s constant bombast pays off, creating something unorthodox, ridiculous, and energetic in a way you want from your superhero characters. I’m also glad his Superman theme made it into the film, as I genuinely think it stands up to John William’s work.
- The prologue scene of Bruce Wayne running through the destruction of Metropolis is genuinely good. It’s clearly a retcon to address the criticism of “Man of Steel,” but it is a well shot scene that theoretically sets the stage for the battle, even if the 9/11 imagery and metaphors are muddled.
- “Wonder Woman.”
- There are exactly two moments from the actual Batman v Superman fight that I thought were good. The first is when, after being hit by Kryptonite, Superman regains his strength, as Batman punches him in the face to no avail. The smirk Superman gives is a rare moment of personality he is allowed and makes me lament that Henry Cavil’s charm is being utterly wasted. The second is when Batman drags Superman across the ground then swings him through columns, while giving a monologue about his dead parents. This is a rare time when by constantly referencing his parent’s works, he captures the miserable fatalism that drives this character.
- I don’t hate the idea of Robin being dead and his costume being displayed on paper, but having graffiti still on it is ghoulish.
- I’ve always respected Snyder’s commitment to this arch, high melodramatic dialogue, conceptualizing these characters as tragic heroes of Greek legend. It just doesn’t work because the film is a humorous slog and the plot simply doesn’t work.
- Batman’s arc works in theory. The idea of Batman learning to be a hero again after watching Superman’s sacrifice makes sense. But it doesn’t work in the actual film because the plot is so convoluted it muddles his motivations and plan and Superman has never really been heroic or even that likable in this universe. Also, while I like having Batman as this mythic terror, it doesn’t work if he’s been Batman for years. In the “Justice League” trailer, Cyborg says “I didn’t think you were real.” How is that possible? He has worked with the police for years. There is empirical evidence of his existence. In general the “Young Superman v Old Batman” angle is an interesting idea that doesn’t work because they never really comment or use the age gap other than to make Bruce disillusioned.
- I maintain that the cast is very strong. It breaks my heart Henry Cavil will probably never be in a good Superman film, because he really does look like he could have leapt off the page. If Ben Affleck wasn’t given so much of a dud, unlikeable character, he could be our best Batman. I’ve gushed enough about Gal Gadot in other columns. Jeremy Irons has a great chemistry with Ben (even if the age difference between them makes no sense), I wish these films had something for Amy Adams to do, and even Jesse Eisenberg works on paper as Lex Luthor.
Note how on many of these, I say “in theory” or “on paper.” Because even as the most ill-conceived and thought out of the bunch, there are enough good ideas scattered throughout to have made Batman v Superman an entertaining film (even if there was nothing that could be done to save the Chernobyl level disaster of a plot besides starting from scratch). The problem lies where it always lies with the bad DCEU films, a complete failure to execute or flesh out any good ideas. Whether it’s the wrong creative teams are coming together, Warner Bros rushing these films out to compete with Marvel, or a refusal to sit down and narrow their scope down, the DC films continue to frustrate me because somewhere, somewhere, there are actually interesting thematic and stylistic ideas gasping for air underneath the pretentious weight of it all.
But could DC finally turn it around? Is “Wonder Woman” and “Justice League” the start of a new trend, where these films start living up to their potential and deliver meaningful, complete visions? I doubt it.