First Thoughts — Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

NOTE: This post got waaay too long, so I’ll divide it up and release over the next few days. There was a lot on my mind, apparently!

We will obviously be sharing our thoughts on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in our next episode (recording tomorrow, released on Wednesday, March 30), but I have some initial thoughts on the movie that I just need to get out of my head since it’s already been three days out from seeing it and I need to process these “out loud,” so to speak. Just to be clear: everything that follows in this post will be my (John’s) opinions alone. I won’t pretend to speak for the other guys!

So, please, check out our upcoming episode #60 on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice for the review from the full group of co-hosts.

SPOILERS FOLLOW. PLEASE DO NOT CONTINUE READING IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN BATMAN v SUPERMAN YET!!

Overall Reactions

I made a point of typing “Reactions” in the title, because I really have two different reactions to this film.

  1. Comic Book Fan/Action Movie Lover
    I loved it! We saw Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Doomsday, “Lex Luthor,” The Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg, parademons, Darkseid’s fire pits… all for the first time on the big screen. The Batman/Superman fight was awesome. Wonder Woman stole the show! Car chases, explosions… everything you could want from an action movie. These are the battles that you imagine as a kid. And whenever Batman and Superman would face off in the comics for some reason, you knew that it was going to be good, because this was a man vs a “god” — and how does Batman even stand a chance?

  2. Movie Lover/Person With Vested Interest in the Future of DC Comics Movies
    This was a mess. I’ll get into details on particular characters or scenes below, but story-wise, character development, setup for future movies… I’m worried. This might be currently breaking Marvel’s box office records for an opening weekend (at the time of writing this), but DC/Warner Bros. is continuing to fail at generating excitement for upcoming movies. I wanted to leave this movie pumped up for Wonder Woman, Justice League Part I, The Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg… but the more I’ve thought about those upcoming movies since I left the theater on Thursday night, I’m worried. I’ve always been more of a die-hard DC fan than a Marvel one… but I have to admit that Marvel is building excitement and anticipation for their movies. DC is building anxiety in the pit of my stomach. I get what they are trying to do. These films are more operatic and grand in their scale than the Marvel movies. The DCEU (DC Extended Universe) is working with characters who are “legends” and “gods”… they’ve been referred to as our modern mythology. It’s ambitious and I get it. I just don’t know if the storytelling and direction was up to that task.

Let’s get specific, though…

Dream Sequences/Prophecies

Let’s start with the dream sequences, since were treated to those from the very beginning of the movie. As far as I can remember, all of the dream sequences take place in Batman’s head — the first one being the death of his parents, the funeral, and the time in which he discovered the Batcave. My friend sitting next to me during the movie was constantly confused by these sequences — and the choppy editing that accompanied them.

Before this movie came out, I had seen scenes of the post-apocalyptic future — the one with the trenchcoat Batman (which some are calling the “Knightmare”). I didn’t realize how many dream sequences we were going to be privy to… In terms of the sequences as a whole, they felt overused and awkwardly placed, particularly when you consider the appearance of The Flash immediately following the “Knightmare.” We won’t even necessarily talk about the sound mixing in that particular sequence, because I thought it was horrible. I was able to pick out that he was trying to warn Batman about something and talking about Lois Lane being the key, but it seems like there were several other things that were said that I couldn’t catch. Other friends of mine that were with me were so confused by the visuals of a man suddenly appearing out of a ball of energy but they really weren’t even paying attention to what the person was saying, which made it even more confusing for them.

I’m also interested to know why Batman was the one experiencing these and how they were blurring the lines between dreams and prophetic visions. In much the same way Lex Luthor’s influence over events in this movie was confusing, if someone is feeding these visions into Bruce Wayne’s mind, there needed to be a hint of that somewhere. (Jumping to the comic books for a moment, there is the character of Metron who is involved with Darkseid and the New Gods who might be capable of sending such a message, though that would seem to only add confusion to an already dense film. There’s also the character of Wave Rider who can travel through time and see alternate realities… he could be feeding Bruce these visions. Those are pretty far out characters for the average moviegoing audience who doesn’t have a background in the comic books, but they weren’t fully understanding the sequences anyway without a grounding in the source material, so…

A Battle of Ideologies

I’ve stated this before and it should be blatantly obvious, but I’m no movie director and no one paid me millions of dollars to make this film. However, in my little head and my little world, I had an inkling of what I hoped this movie would be. To me, the argument of Batman versus Superman is an even bigger one than the upcoming Captain America versus Iron Man fight that we will see in Captain America: Civil War. Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) from Pulp Fiction summed it up nicely:

“My theory is that when it comes to important subjects, there are only two ways a person can answer. Which way they chose, tells you who that person is. For instance, there are only two kinds of people in the world, Beatles people and Elvis people. Now Beatles people can like Elvis and Elvis people can like the Beatles, but nobody likes them both equally. Somewhere you have to make a choice. And that choice… tells you who you are.”

This movie should’ve been about a battle of ideologies. This movie should’ve helped galvanize the arguments for why you’re primarily a Batman fan or a Superman fan. I see the breakdown as this: Batman is the type that takes whatever action needs to be done in order to hold back the chaos of a dark world. He’s “the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now.” (The Dark Knight, 2008) Superman is embodied by the quote from Jor-El in Man of Steel (2013):

“You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”

The Superman that was introduced in Man of Steel is one who has struggled with a world he doesn’t quite fit into… but he had the moral fortitude to turn himself in to the military because “if it makes them feel more secure, then… then all the better for it.” He was still a man raised by humans to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. There was a trajectory for Superman from that film going forward: he would have to deal with Zod “outing” him to the world, the destruction of Metropolis, the anguish he felt from having to kill one of the last surviving Kryptonians in order to preserve human life, and trying to live up to being “an ideal to strive towards.”

The Superman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ignored most of the character development that was begun in Man of Steel. When he had the opportunity to speak on his behalf, he was interrupted by a bomb. He showed almost no regard for the fact that he truly is the last Kryptonian… because HE KILLED THE NEXT TO LAST KRYPTONIAN. Leaving the theater after Man of Steel, I wanted to see him struggle with truly being the last of his kind, while at the same time being the (literal) embodiment of the entirety of Krypton’s heritage and bloodlines. Whether this is a failure in the writing, the direction, or both… I don’t know. All I know is that they had an opportunity to delve into the essence of what makes Clark Kent/Kal-El “Superman” and they missed it.

I won’t be the type of fan who screams “That’s not MY Superman!” (even though that’s how I feel). I will say this: this is not the Superman I connected with as a child. This is not the Superman I grew up with through the Super Friends, the Superman movies (I-IV), the Superman Animated Series, Smallville, and most of the comics from 1986-2011. I don’t know if it’s just me getting older, but I can’t relate to the current Superman of the comics who joins an underground fight club for money because he needs the cash and really enjoys letting loose and punching people. The Superman I connect with isn’t sitting astride a motorcycle and when a kid asks “You really are Superman, aren’t you?” he’s riding off and commenting to himself: “Hell yeah.” I can’t relate to a Superman who movie studios have decided needs to be “dark and gritty” like Batman in order to appeal to modern audiences.

My Superman fandom comes from him being that light and inspiration. He and Batman are two sides of humanity: Superman is what you hope to be and what brings light to a dark world. Batman is what is necessary in the midst of the darkness. There was a great quote in a recent issue of the Superman comics (which I only bought because I found it in a bargain bin). Batman is gone and Alfred is talking to Superman about what the Batman/Superman relationship meant to Bruce Wayne: “His greatest gift to you was to be the shadow that let your light shine. That darkness was for him, not you.”

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I wanted to see this movie explore the themes of necessity versus hope. Take the idea of Harvey Dent being the “white knight” of Gotham from The Dark Knight and explore that to a whole new degree in Batman v Superman. While it was fun to watch Bruce and Clark beat each other down, the true battle between the two heroes is how they view the world and their unique responses to it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough Superman in this film to really explore that as much as they should have… and too convoluted a plot to achieve the ambitious project they created.

Lex Luthor

Again… I don’t like to make statements like “Jesse Eisenberg was not Lex Luthor.” That was certainly Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. Artists have the freedom to reinterpret characters and material as they see fit. However, as I mentioned with regard to Superman, that was not a Lex Luthor I connected with. The ideal Lex Luthor, in my mind, is one that is cold, calculating, and is always five steps ahead of the smartest person in the room (which is usually him anyway). People are resources to be used for the common good (as long as the common good aligns with his benefit as well). This stammering mess of a Lex was totally unbelievable as someone who would outwit and manipulate Batman by stoking the fire of his fury against Superman. This Lex Luthor was more like The Riddler, which is exactly what I felt Eisenberg was playing the whole time. I even read recently that Eisenberg originally auditioned for a cameo role in the movie (likely Joker or Riddler), but when Zack Snyder and producer Charles Roven saw his audition, they wanted him for Lex Luthor, in order to “make him different from the Lexes that we’ve seen in the past.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6bLku-3OIc) And we now know that Jared Leto is the new Joker in the upcoming Suicide Squad movie.

Couldn’t we have just shaved Clancy Brown’s head and cast him? (I’d even take Jon Hamm’s Luthor from the Funny or Die skit.)

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