Revisiting The DCEU: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

With the release of Justice League this week, we’re taking a look back at all the films of the DCEU.

Today we examine the universe’s most controversial film — Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Why I Love it (Daryn Kirscht):

For being potentially the most controversial and divisive film in the history of cinema, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has received quite a bit of hate – in fact, much more than it deserves. This is a misunderstood film for the ages. Sure, the film has flaws, as every film is bound to have, but there are some incredible aspects that resonate with me and the wonderful fans of this movie. Please note that I will only be discussing the Ultimate Edition of the film, which is the superior and complete version.

Why do I love this movie? Let me rephrase that: how can I possibly enjoy a movie that is so void of fun, color, and jokes? Well, it is simple, actually. BvS is a movie that is so distinct and unique compared to other films in the superhero genre that it provides a fresh entry in the genre that differs from the mainstream superhero movies that audiences have been so accustomed to seeing on a yearly basis since Iron Man in 2008.

Most Marvel films (the majority of superhero movies in the last ten years) are filled with one-liners, bright colors, and an abundance of action sequences to keep audiences, particularly on the younger side, entertained. BvS is the inversion of this idea. It is a movie that embraces the dark, suspenseful tone set before it with Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy and blurs the line of good and evil while exploring themes of finding humanity, fear, paranoia, conspiracy, and the underbelly of corruption. This superhero movie can be almost defined as more of a psychological drama mystery or a superhero noir as opposed to an action/adventure flick, which, contrary to popular opinion, is not a bad thing.

That is the other thing: this is a true Zack Snyder film. His masterfully crafted visual aesthetic and cinematography is phenomenal. What I personally love is that it is made in the style of a Stanley Kubrick film. Every shot he and director of photography, Larry Fong, creates is a beautifully shot picture that embodies and brings out the sweeping, mystical, suspenseful and epic vibe of the film.

The casting of this film, for the most part, is world-class. Having Oscar-level talent like Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, and Laurence Fishburne as well as other talented actors, such as Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, and Diane Lane add so much credibility to the film and all provide interesting, emotional, depth-filled performances, especially Affleck (yes, I said all, so that includes Eisenberg).

The main writer of the film, Chris Terrio, penned a layered, complex, philosophical story about how these characters would exist in the real world that we live in today and how people would react to them – a post-9/11 world, which mirrors Man of Steel itself. Snyder has also been quoted in an interview saying that BvS “challenges the icons themselves.” Even the supporting characters, particularly Lex Luthor, were written in a layered way in which certain scenes and dialogue within them unfold to subtly reveal and mirror their own perspective and predicament, such as the Metropolis Library scene with Luthor.

In terms of memorable scenes, BvS is full of them. The movie opens with an incredible opening sequence with Bruce Wayne that creates sympathy for his character moving forward. Clark Kent and Perry White share a great scene in which they get into an argument (“nobody cares about Clark Kent taking on the Batman”) and Clark Kent meeting Bruce Wayne for the first time is a treat to see.

Watching Batman and Superman finally face-off against one another is worth the price alone – let alone seeing the trinity of heroes joining forces for the first time on the big-screen (Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman). Even Superman and Luthor share a pivotal and shocking rooftop scene together, while Luthor also has a juicy scene near the film’s end with Batman. Plus, come on, even though the “Mad Max Batman Knightmare” scene might have felt out-of-place, it is a bizarre, action-filled thriller with a tease of lasting ramifications.

In addition, sometimes it isn’t just the memorable ones that are great, but also the little moments that carry the film along, such as Perry White’s The Wizard of Oz joke regarding Clark Kent. Those scenes bring out the gravitas in the titular characters of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, which are all well-crafted for the modern day; Batman is the violent brawler that comic-book fans have been dreaming of seeing on the big-screen, Superman is the modern take on an alien bridging the gap between two diverse worlds and not feeling welcomed in either, and Wonder Woman is the amazing Amazon that fights for and brings love and compassion to a world that doesn’t deserve it. They bring something different to the table in terms of abilities and their iconography.

As if having amazing versions of my favorite childhood heroes isn’t enough, the one aspect of this movie that I love most is the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL. My favorite part of Man of Steel is the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and it continues in BvS. The dual composers continue and expand on their heroic and touching themes created in Man of Steel for Superman / Clark Kent, taking on the daunting task of creating a new Batman / Bruce Wayne theme, and, of course, the incredible Wonder Woman theme. While the heroes’ themes are top-echelon, the maniacal theme for Lex Luthor is twisted, mathematical, creepy, and the inversion of Superman’s theme. The themes for each main character are an extension of their character and add another layer to it. Plus, the musical score matches the dark and gritty tone of the film perfectly. The music is what blends everything together into a majestic, finished work of art and fans of DC movies have been so blessed with original, high quality musical scores throughout the years.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice does not fail to deliver. There are so many aspects of this film to love, including an abundance of fun Easter eggs and subtle foreshadowing that also extends back to Man of Steel (for example, the Day of the Dead scene), very well-written dialogue, and violent and visually iconic action scenes. Critics and media might not have been kind to the film, but even as the movie itself suggests, believing in what the media is telling you to believe is not always recommended. It is unique and different from mainstream, flavor of the week superhero movies modern movie-going audiences are now being indoctrinated with and, like how Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was a stark contrast to Marvel’s early MCU movies, creates the same contrast with other modern comic-book movies. It is not that Marvel movies are bad, because I do like a number of them, but it is without variety that superhero movie fatigue sets in.

BvS is nowhere close to being a perfect movie (it isn’t even the best movie in the DCEU), but it doesn’t have to be. It will probably endure the same way that Watchmen did for Zack Snyder: mixed reception at first, but then becomes a cult-classic over time with an established fan-base. I will forever be grateful that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice exists and if you don’t feel the same way, that is completely okay.

Why I’m in the Middle of the Road On It (Angelo Gingerelli):

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is not a bad movie. It’s also not a great movie.  It’s somewhere in the middle, and if a few key issues were addressed it could have very well ended up in the category of comic book movies that transcend the genre.

Released in early 2016, the film was immediately lambasted by critics and fans as too long, too serious, too dark, too joyless and not loyal enough to the source material.  While some of these criticisms are deserved (the runtime is obnoxious, and the extended cut is even worse), some of the criticisms the movie received upon release was more a product of the larger world than the film itself.

Check out Dan Cohen’s original review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

The very idea of “Batman v. Superman” is almost too much hype for any movie.  The concept of the oldest and best known superheroes duking it out is such a tantalizing proposition that the movie just couldn’t deliver.  It’s like when Jay-Z and Nas squashed their beef and collaborated on songs, Rachael Ray and Giada DeLaurentis faced off on Iron Chef, or when Mayweather fought McGregor. The end product was solid, but there was no way it could live up to fan expectations.

BvS was released in the absolute renaissance of comic book movies. If it was released in the 90’s it would have been much better received, but coming out right after the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, in the middle of Marvel’s run of blockbuster movies and when there are multiple quality comic book inspired television shows on the air, it just couldn’t compete.

Finally, the movie has highlights.  The opening sequence of Bruce Wayne in Metropolis, Batman’s desert nightmare and the actual fight between Batman and Superman are all awesome. The issue is the insufferable amount of time between these highlights.  The movie is like a baseball game with a few great plays and lots of downtime between them, or an album with a couple great singles and a lot of filler songs.  This wouldn’t have been an issue in previous decades, but for a general public accustomed to the nonstop action sequences, jokes, universe building and snappy dialogue in the MCU movies, the plodding pace of BvS was not welcome.

Overall, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is better than most people remember. It’s by no means a classic comic book movie, but it’s also not the abject disaster many claim it is.

Why I Hate It (Chris Diggins):

I’ll admit, I walked into Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice expecting it to be bad. But that’s just the thing. I imagined I would be seeing a movie that is merely bad, in much the same way that I thought, say, Ant-Man was bad: competently made but lacking in cohesive storytelling and valuing moment-to-moment beats over actual function. Instead, I got one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. Incoherent, overstuffed, and deeply ugly, there is hardly anything worth recommending in this garbage pile masquerading as a film.

Even the things that were generally regarded as the few highlights, like Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, seemed only better by comparison to the horror around them than actually containing much quality in their own right. I do my best to be even-handed and understanding when it comes to other people’s opinions on movies, but it genuinely baffles me that anyone could enjoy this mess.

“I doubt Zack Snyder intended to tell a story of unquestioning authoritarian fascism, but in not being careful and thoughtful about his message, that’s exactly what he did.” –Chris Diggins

It is an under-discussed fact that Batman v Superman showcases a level of professional incompetence that is very rarely seen in big budget movies. The editing is a disaster, rocketing from scene to scene without ever clearly establishing what is happening and where we are, making it nearly impossible to ever feel like you have a good grasp on events. The dialogue is baffling when it isn’t laughable, veering wildly between cryptic nonsense, tough guy posturing, and declarative statements that are far too on-the-nose.

The actors, at least, are actually quite good at performing what they’re meant to, but what they’re meant to convey is terrible. An utterly charmless Superman, a pointlessly driven Batman, and a Luthor so deranged and chaotic he would work far better as the Joker (as long as it was in a different, less awful movie) are just a few examples.

And few movies have suffered as badly from forced universe-building as this one. Multiple scenes, precious minutes of screen time in a movie that’s already far too long, are devoted to events that have absolutely nothing to do with anything besides teasing future movies you will have no desire to see after suffering through this.

But even worse than the incompetence is the essential ugliness at the heart of this movie. It is often said that the problem with Batman v Superman is that it is a dark take on superheroes that people don’t want to see. The problem, however, is not the darkness. Grittier, more mature superhero stories absolutely have value, and plenty of great ones exist. The problem is that the movie aspires to a maturity it does not achieve, and is instead just immaturity and incoherence cloaking itself in a grim, dark aesthetic to disguise this fact. Some of this is awful, but harmless, like Snyder’s insistence on grandiose religious imagery that does not simply border on comedy but flies past it into the realm of pure absurdity. But much of it is not harmless.

This is a movie that punishes anyone who dares to question its heroes with violence and death. It’s funny to point out Batman’s kill count or Pa Kent’s terrible advice, but this really is a movie that has Batman branding criminals for execution and Pa Kent advising Superman that saving people is pointless, so just do whatever you want without ever taking a critical eye to these ideas. I doubt Zack Snyder intended to tell a story of unquestioning authoritarian fascism, but in not being careful and thoughtful about his message, that’s exactly what he did. It’s this perfect storm of incompetence and irresponsibility that helps make Batman v Superman one of the most truly execrable movies in recent times, if not ever.

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