The First Honest Review of Batman V Superman

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, why is the viewer assessment of this film sitting at 7.2/10 on 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.

Why I Don't Trust Batman v Superman Reviews

Wouldn't it be nice, for once, if somebody expressed their honest opinion of something on the internet? 

Ever since Batman v Superman was first mentioned, people have hated this film. All through production, there have been all these articles about how "troubled" the production was. It has gotten to the point where anytime I see a picture of any of the titular characters leading an article, I know the article will be negative.

Now that the film has been released, the floodgates have opened. Doom and destruction is raining down my Facebook feed as everybody and their step-sister gets in line to dump on BvS. But is the film really that bad? Does it deserve a Tomatometer rating lower than "The Room"?

Well, I have to admit that I'm not the biggest comic book reader. I've seen pretty much all the comic book movies, and I know enough of the peripheral stuff to have an expectation when a character like "Doomsday" appears in a film (he has to do something very specific...). So, put me at the bottom rung of competent in understanding and appreciating comic books.

Is BvS the greatest super hero movie of all time? No, of course not, it's got some major problems. But it's not a total disaster either. It's way better than the recent Fantastic 4 film, and honestly, I didn't think that movie was all that bad either.

What bothers me is this social media campaign to bury the film without judging its merits. Hey folks, we live in America, everyone deserves a fair trial don't they? What would Superman say?

What strikes me as bizarre is that not only are the reviews negative, but the first hundred or so comments on most of these articles are as well. But don't take that to mean anything. Actually stop for a moment and read the comments. Do this because I'm starting to think that the comments are as phony as the original articles.

Put it this way. Do you remember how when Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out the internet had been virtually scrubbed of negative reviews for this film? Everything was 5 stars or better. But take a second to go to the Amazon page and check out the listing there. That's right, a 3.7 aggregate rating with 155 1-star reviews. Now look, some of these are certainly unfair "haters" but I think enough 1-star reviews exist to derail the thought that "Force Awakens" is a universal, all-time classic.

So why weren't there more critical reviews when the film was actually released?

Well, here's what I think: Many of the positive reviews were fake, or at least planted by Disney.

Amazon has very strict rules about what reviews are allowed. For example, if you have your Facebook account hooked up to your Amazon account and you are an author, Amazon will eliminate reviews from people who are your Facebook friends. Amazon has policies against "review exchanges" and you're even walking a fine line if you send out review copies. Amazon is basically the review gestapo...

But what about when a magazine or newspaper that is owned by Disney reviews a Disney film?

Ooooohhhhhhhhhhhhh, well, that's toooootaaalllllyyy fine as far as Amazon goes.

Well, guess what comic book franchise Disney owns...yup, Marvel.

So do you think I'm crazy to think Disney might be involved in flexing their media influence to create a negative reception for the film of a direct competitor?

What drives me nuts is the superficial way people are attacking BvS. Like I said, the film has its flaws, but I found it a bit more entertaining than the Avengers. But I should disclose that I never really "got" the Avengers. I thought the first half of the first one was boring and none of the Avengers movies are worth repeat viewings. I probably won't sit through a repeat viewing of BvS, but at least it tackled some interesting issues. 

Affleck, is really good as Batman by the way. I will definitely be first in line to see him don the cowl again. And I like the fact that a few baddies apparently meet their end at his hand. Look, you can't tear around major metropolitan areas in a tank at 120 mph and not kill anyone, also, why is it OK to punch people repeatedly in the face, but not shoot them in the shoulder? If somebody the size of Batman punches you, guess what, there's a good chance that's a lethal attack (face or chest).

I think people like to watch this punishment getting doled out and think, "well, it's OK because it's non-lethal." I have two responses to that:

1. It's not non-lethal and never has been
2. You're delighting in the abuse of another human being, so you're not innocent

I'm glad BvS exists because sooner or later comics have to grow up. This is the first step. Give it a chance.

The Shannara Chronicles is Pretty Good

Like many of you, I tend to let TV series play themselves out completely before I allow myself to get hooked. What's the point in watching something if it just gets cancelled after two episodes? Also, there's a particular aversion to watching a nostalgic fantasy novel get ruined, which is probably why I avoided watching "The Shannara Chronicles" until recently.

I remember reading the first Shannara book, "The Sword of Shannara," when I was in about 5th grade. At the time, reading a 600 page volume was a tremendous achievement, and I've always had a kind of affection for the book. It's basically "LOTR Lite" as the plot follows Tolkien's classic almost to the point of being an embarrassment (you can read more about the similarities in this great article on Black Gate).

There was a time when I would have exploded with joy at the idea of a mini-series being made of Brooks's work. However, when news first broke about MTV's project, I could only manage a feeble, "meh." Now that I'm in my 40s, it's pretty clear that there are better works of fantasy out there which are far more deserving of being shared with a wider audience (like the Sacred Band books).

I'd actually forgotten this mini-series existed until a friend of mine mentioned that he caught an episode and wasn't too disappointed with it. I did a quick search and found you can see episodes 1 and 2 on youtube for free:

What's my verdict on these?

Well, of course they aren't great, but hey, it's got decent production value and it's a fantasy series, so why not?

I'm up to about episode 6 and I have to say that I've enjoyed spending the last week burning through one or two of these a night. Sure, there have been a couple cringe-worthy moments, but there is always a higher possibility of that in fantasy adaptations (you find them in Peter Jackson...what makes you think they won't be present in MTV?). I think my biggest gripe is with the "Twilight" inspired love triangle...not the triangle itself but the way it's presented and acted in a kind of "Twilight" way. But then again, heck, I watched "Twilight" too because it had werewolves and vampires in it, so yeah, I'll watch!

It seems lately that some upcoming releases get caught up in a spiral of "internet boycott." For example, a lot of people have already decided that "Superman V. Batman" is going to be bad, so you see a lot of articles written from the perspective that this is a foregone conclusion. The same was true about the most recent Fantastic 4 movie, and although that movie was bad, it wasn't any worse than any number of other bad movies that have gone on to gross obscene amounts of money (I'll be intentionally vague about what other films I'm referring to because I don't want to get off on a tangent...but there are some widely loved movies that are absolutely TERRIBLE).

I think people get mad about the fact that one subject matter gets a film and another is passed over, but stubbornly avoiding certain shows isn't going to ensure your pet project gets made. If you want to see a film version of "The Sacred Band" or "The Reader of Acheron" you, as a lover of fantasy, have to do what you can to make sure "Shannara" gets a fair shot. 

The studio executives who make these things can't recognize quality, but what they can recognize is profit. If they become convinced that there is large profit to be found in Fantasy, then they'll acquire more properties and make more programs. If "Shannara" tanks...good luck getting the next fantasy series made.

Now, look, I'm not saying you have to like it. But watch the first two episodes free, then put your comments either here, on Facebook, twitter, or your personal blog. Get some buzz, good or bad, and let the executives know what you'd like to see done better. But don't just get angry and decide you hate it without giving the series a chance. 

I'll probably revisit this again after I've watched all of season 1. My short review is that I'm happy it exists and I hope MTV comes back with a season 2 treatment of The Wishsong of Shannara. Based on the fact that they call the series "The Chronicles of Shannara," I assume they started with some sort of plan to continue with more of the books.

Also, I have to admit, my dystopian fantasy "The Reader of Acheron," also set in the crumbling ruins of a future Earth, probably owes something of a debt to "Shannara."  It's good that fantasy of high production value exists. Given another season, the writers working on "Shannara" might start creating a truly noteworthy series. I hope it happens.