I’m a little bit troubled by what I feel to be a lack of legitimate reviews on this movie. There is a very well established network of print and social media where the general public should be able to trust professional and well-educated individuals to share their honest assessment of art, literature and film without promoting a non-related agenda. Art is one of the cornerstones of civilized society, and it’s important that every artist, no matter how big or small, have their contribution judged on its own merits. I has been disturbed to witness the negative social media campaign aimed at Batman v Superman since the film’s production was announced. Most of the criticisms I have read on this film have not been of a scholarly variety, and although I do not think this film is a “masterpiece” by any means, it is not a bad film, in fact I found it very interesting and thought provoking.
If “Batman v Superman” is only worthy of a 29% approval rating on Rottentomatoes.com, why is the viewer assessment of this film sitting at 7.2/10 on IMDB.com? Furthermore, the box office has been tremendous. There are indications that this film has fans, but according to my Facebook news feed, most media sources list this as a “disappointment” or a “train-wreck,” but, again, they do not provide scholarly arguments and rely instead on hysterical generalizations. It’s almost as if these reviews come from media sources that are owned by a corporation that produces its own rival super hero films.
But let’s focus on BvS instead of conspiracies. By far the best part of this movie is Affleck as Batman. There has never been a Batman on screen quite like this. Affleck’s version is the grittiest and nastiest Batman we’ve ever seen. BvS introduces Batman as a figure terrifying to both police and criminals. The first time we see him, he’s hiding from a police officer in a ceiling (very much the physical representation of a bat). When the officer happens to see Batman, he’s so scared that he fires a couple shots as Batman scurries away.
Now, that is a very interesting scene and it establishes the kind of universe we’re dealing with here. In virtually every other Batman film, Batman is an aid to the police. Sometimes they work together directly, sometimes they have a kind of gentleman’s agreement. However, in BvS, Batman is clearly a vigilante that the cops are concerned about.
This is a theme that hasn’t been addressed in other comic book films. Are super heroes actually heroes, or are they entities with too much power that threaten to infringe on civil liberties? I find this question interesting because it has corollaries in real life. Obviously there are no super heroes, but there are entities with power that claim to be “protecting you” while arguably working towards your enslavement. How much leeway do you give entities like that? Do you let them gain power to the point where you’re essentially committing suicide simply by opposing them?
Batman begins to view Superman as a threat. During the course of the film, this assessment is mainly due to the manipulation of Lex Luthor, but it remains a fascinating dynamic. Honestly, in all the negative reviews you’ve read of BvS, how many have complained that Batman wasn’t portrayed as “tough enough” to handle Superman? I’ve actually seen the film, and I think the battle is quite convincing. Both Affleck and Cavill bring an almost super-human physicality to their roles.
Batman comes to view his fight with Superman as his “legacy” fight. He reveals this in a conversation with Alfred, played to perfection by Jeremy Irons. In another discussion with Alfred (these discussions are also a highlight) Batman acknowledges that he and Alfred are “Criminals,” which, to me, makes him a more sympathetic Batman than others we’ve seen. One of the main criticisms of Snyder’s vision of this comic book universe is an apparent willingness for his super heroes to shed the blood of their victims. I attribute this anger to a kind of “innocence fallacy” where these fans think Batman is justified in performing his acts of vigilantism as long as he does so non-lethally. The question becomes: what attacks and defenses is Batman allowed to use to appease this need? A punch to the chest can be a lethal attack, yet most fans are content to watch their superhero smash villains repeatedly. Is the line at breaking the skin? A punch to the face with draw blood from the nose, eyes, and mouth. If a villain attempts to stab Batman, can he turn the knife back on the attacker? Is Batman not allowed to shoot somebody, even if that person is about to kill an innocent party?
There is always a cry to “take comic books more seriously,” to “perceive them as art,” to “perceive them as adult.” That’s fine, but there have been dozens of comic book movies now and sooner or later some filmmaker had to amp up the realism to the point where audiences start to squirm. Snyder has given us a Batman who is aware he is a criminal, but continues on in the name of justice. Why is that an issue? Although this Batman does appear to be willing to kill his enemies, this isn’t overtly portrayed in the movie. Actually, after the backlash to “Man of Steel” there is a lot of dialogue about how certain fights are happening in “uninhabited areas.”
Personally, I find the cartoon nature of the Avengers films to be boring. “Batman V Superman” has a lot more I can sink my teeth into. Yes, there are some problems with this film, I wasn’t a big fan of Jesse Eisenberg’s performance for example. He lacked the physicality of the other leads, and had a propensity for repeating his lines off into silence (blame the director and writers there). Actually there are a couple little narrative quirks like that which plague the film. Dream sequences are used too frequently. The first scene of Wayne being lifted up by bats is a divergence from the realism Snyder is otherwise determinedly pursuing. I did like the other sequence, however, featuring Superman and Batman soldiers. My other issue was the prevalence of cryptic messages scrawled or painted on: Superman’s statue, Robin’s suit, Newspaper clippings, and returned checks (all in the same handwriting more or less).
Overall, however, I thought this was an artistic film which was both ambitious and well-realized. It’s fun to watch Luthor brainwash the two combatants. Also, this is the first Batman film where Wayne gets a role as super detective (when he sneaks around in Luthor’s mansion). I’m not sure who the figure was leaning out of the computer monitor at him (at the end of the future soldier sequence), but I think that scene suggests some of Batman’s rage against Superman was the result of psychic manipulation on the part of another meta human. The denouement the Batman/Superman battle was well conceived. Wonder Woman was also exceptionally well realized, and brought a shot of life (and humor) into the movie.
The long and short of it is that there is plenty in Batman V Superman that is worthy of sincere critical discussion. I’m disappointed to think we live in a society where all reviews are bought and paid for and serve only the purpose of corporate agenda instead of overall greater human awareness and understanding as sometimes seems to be the case.