Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (spoiler free)
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice had two strikes against it before it even hit theaters. The first, and probably most glaringly obvious, is the ridiculous title. But the second, which hopefully time will prove wrong, is something wholly not Warner Bros. fault: Angry nerd mobs on the internet. You know the type. The ones who sit at home in their mom’s basement and spend hours upon hours yelling at strangers about fan theories, miscast characters before they even see the film, and, you know, people who believe Stan “Marvel Comics” Lee is an infallible God. It will be nice to see people get over the title when they see the movie anyway. And it will be even more enjoyable to watch the skeptics be overwhelmingly outnumbered by what I like to call “the general population of the entire freaking planet.” This movie is 75 years in the making. Is it perfect? Is that even possible? Will any movie, especially one with three-quarters-of-a-century’s worth of history and mythology ever truly please every fan, whether they be lapsed, die hard, or casual?
Superman would think so. But Batman knows that’s not possible. Hence the importance of seeing this movie for what it is: a greatest hits of sorts for the fans, an introduction to the newbies, and a film that is, as opposed to the other comic book movies of the last several decades, actually for everyone. Marvel movies are great because, for lack of a better way to put it, they are for children. The two Tim Burton Batman films and the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy were fantastic for adults. And the seemingly endless slew of comic book films that fit in-between try their best, but usually fail, to hit everyone else. But have any of them actually grabbed everyone? And by everyone, I mean kids, adults, jaded, hopeful, smart, lazy, and even, dare I say it, non-moviegoer? This one might… if the internet gives it a chance.
Ben Affleck is a polarizing person in Hollywood, whether it be his personal life or his acting, writing, and directing career. He is loved by some. Hated by more. But when it comes right down to it, he’s perfectly cast. His biggest supporters claim that this movie might be the one that puts him back on the map, but really, isn’t he already on the map? Did he ever truly fall off? Or, like Batman, didn’t he just reinvent himself time and time again when we needed him most? More accurately, Affleck has continued to rise, despite his harshest critics, to become not only one of the highest paid people working in the business, but one of the most genuine. He might be naive and living in his own little fantasy world. Or he might be getting the bigger picture that no one else seems to get. Or maybe, just maybe, he might actually be clinically insane. Who does that sound like to you? A millionaire, philanthropist, playboy with a passion for social justice that knows no bounds. Are we talking about Bruce Wayne or Ben Affleck? Can you even tell? Well, you won’t be able to while watching this movie, and that’s why this truly is the beginning of the DC Cinematic Universe. Marvel works because of Robert Downey Jr. Without him, they are nothing. So it’s only fitting that without Affleck, there’s no DC.
But what about the rest of the actors? Jeremy Irons is the first true attempt at Alfred that film has ever seen. Jesse Eisenberg is great as a slightly-updated but still very-crazy Lex Luthor. Diane Lane nails her small but important role as mother of the year, Martha Kent. Gal Gadot makes me believe in Wonder Woman for the first time since Lynda Carter. Even Amy Adams does good work as Lois Lane, redeeming her cardboard performance from Man of Steel. And Henry Cavill simply is Superman. Period. Rounding out the cast with a bunch of other stars isn’t always smart, but this movie never really seems like a movie. It actually seems like a comic book that could realistically be happening in the real world. Which is insane. And impossible. But that’s director Zack Snyder’s specialty.
Snyder made The Matrix look outdated by using special effects and CGI with good actors in 300. The guy made zombies scary in the remake of Dawn of the Dead. He made us care about an army of cartoon owls in Legend of the Guardians, elevated a bunch of scantily-clad girls fighting for their lives from video game to feminist battle cry in Sucker Punch, and adapted the “unfilmable” Watchmen in the one piece of comic book history that actually surpassed the pages. So it only makes sense that he be allowed to create the DC universe on the big screen. He makes the tough decisions. Some of those directorial choices alienated fans. Some of those directorial choices won him new ones. But the fact still remains: every frame of this film is recognizably his.
The script is solid, moving gracefully back and forth from flashback to present to even a strange-but-altogether comic booky “glimpse of things to come.” No gimmicky post-credits scene. No gratuitous cameo for the sake of setting up a future film, or in this case, series of films. In fact, the only weak point in the script is where moviegoers are just as confused as the character experiencing the scene, which I like to think was the point. It’s scary. It’s dark. And because it drives us a little bit crazy, it only makes sense that the character who shares the experience with us is driven to the brink of insanity. You get lots of little Easter eggs in there for the die hard fans, but they don’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the film. This has yet to happen in a single Marvel film.
So, long-windedness aside, it’s safe to say that I loved this movie. I knew I would, but it was refreshing to see my two favorite comic book heroes share screen time (pretty equally, which was a bit of surprise, to be honest) in a film that isn’t too dark for kids, but isn’t one-liner after one-liner to detract from the seriousness. I like Marvel movies. They’re fun. But the humor always outshines the drama, the action overshadows the urgency, and the acting isn’t really acting. I don’t see Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor fighting Loki or Ultron or saving the world. I see Robert Downey Jr. hanging out with his buddies and making millions on telling jokes and selling toys. The opening scene of this film reminds me that Affleck does not deserve our harsh criticisms. And neither does Snyder. When Wayne Tower in Metropolis is falling and the entire city is running for their lives as the world around them seemingly ends, Bruce Wayne runs into the smoke. He runs toward the action. That’s the type of crazy we haven’t seen on screen yet. He never seems human. Not once. Which is what makes him such a necessary addition to Superman’s world… because Clark Kent isn’t human, but he’s got more humanity in him than Bruce Wayne ever will.
Then there’s the ending. I won’t spoil it, but let’s just say, you’re going to have an opinion on it. It’s brave. It’s daring. And to be completely honest, it actually threw me off. I very rarely see a comic book movie and am surprised. In retrospect, this has been building since the opening scenes of Man of Steel, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it still was. There are lots of arguments raised by both MoS and BvS, but to be completely honest, that’s what we want. We want to have opinions. We want to argue. And Marvel’s just not going to give us that. It’s not safe. It’s scary. And I say props to DC and Warner Bros. for trying something different, to hell with the consequences. For every angry nerd in his mom’s basement, there will be a happy kid who might walk into a comic book shop. For every angry fan who remembers the 1970s Superman: The Movie and holds it to a gold standard, his or her grandson might believe in the Man of Steel or the Dark Knight for the first time in his life. And most importantly, and I saved this for last, there’s an entire generation of girls out there who finally have their own superhero. Wonder Woman shows Marvel (and by extension, Disney) that they not only believe in their female characters, but their female fans, as well. For a movie with so much darkness, that sounds like a lot of hope to me.
I cannot wait for Justice League. And I hope the world is ready to finally accept the greatest heroes (and villains) in all of comic book history. In closing, I”m going to just throw out what I’ve wanted to say since this film was first announced: Move over, Marvel. You had your turn.
My Rating: 5/5