Disclaimer: While there aren’t any real spoilers in here, some of the talk about the themes of the movie could be considered spoiler-y by the most sensitive.
So, Batman vs Superman reaction has been all over the place since review embargo lifted. Initial fan screenings have been pretty positive, while critics have given the film somewhat of a mauling. I myself was not overly excited about the movie, only categorising Man of Steel as ‘fine’, though I wanted to give it a fairer shake than the loud naysayers who have dogged the movie in the run up to the film. I wouldn’t say that I had any major expectations of the movie, but I often find that I get a little more than most do out of Zack Snyder‘s back catalogue, so I was hopeful.
Now that I have seen it, I’m happy to report back that seems to be the case here. I personally found it to be one of the most fascinating Superhero movies I’ve ever seen, and also, really quite good to boot. Let’s hop to why. What I think makes the film so fascinating is in the creative, and hell, I’ll say it, artistic choices Snyder makes with the material. There isn’t a Superhero movie that feels like this. It’s certainly extremely self-serious and poe-faced, but these things are not flaws, like I have seen posted in a plethora of reviews. This is just the brush that Snyder is using to paint his picture. Some might see this as joyless, especially in the face of Marvel’s colourful own Superhero outfit, or even Star War‘s rejuvinated, adventurous palette. Batman V Superman is another beast though. It’s pure opera.
In the early 2000s, in the wake of 9/11 and increasing terror concerns, there was a real fascination with making things “dark” and “realistic” in Hollywood. Both of these things we’re kicked into overdrive with Christopher Nolan‘s own Batman movies, and was cheaply imitated in various franchises for years after. Again, this absolutely is not that.
There has been much talk in thesis papers, the blogosphere and even reference in films themselves of superheroes as modern mythology. During the credits of Avengers: Age of Ultron, there were marble recreations of the heroes trying to invoke the link, but in honesty, I now find the Marvelverse much more ‘realistic’ (Colorful, but real. after seeing where DC is headed with the tone in their first big cross over movie.
Batman v Superman really is the strongest I’ve ever seen this link between mythology and the Classics made in a superhero film. Everything about the film is, again, operatic. Nothing here feels real, but it isn’t supposed to. This is all pure mythology unfolding before our eyes. The film is not shy about this link either. It leaks from every pore. There is literal talk of mythology, such as the tale of Prometheus (poorly) told by Lex Luthor at one point in the movie. There is also consideration of Superman as a god throughout the film, less so in the nature of a benevolent Christian creator, but the physical, flawed and dangerous deities of Norse, Greek and Roman religions. Even in the soundtrack, (which you can listen to on Spotify right here), there isn’t a lot of subtlety here. It’s melodramatic, it’s overbearing and rhapsodic. Just listen to Lex Luthor’s theme in The Red Capes Are Coming, It’s pure theatrics. Batman v Superman isn’t a jaunty blockbuster. It’s a thesis on the nature of mythology, and the nature of mythology of these characters specifically.
It asks us questions about the very nature of these characters. We’ve seen all of them a million times, interpreted differently each time. In film alone, we’ve seen the the Nolan Batman, the Joel Schumacher Batman(s) and the Tim Burton Batman. Add on top of that the popular animated series Batman, and by extension, the Arkham games Batman. We’ve also seen Bruce as a child in Gotham, and this is all before we even begin contemplating what we know of Batman from the comics. You could say the exact same thing for Superman, as well as Lex Luthor or Wonder Woman. Batman v Superman knows this. It knows we know this ‘mythology’, and subverts into a mixed cocktail of our modern pop culture and legend.
While I could apply this all over the movie, I’ll bring my focus to Batman, because there are a lot of things going on with the character that will definitely prove to be controversial. Namely, Batman kind of betrays the two things that make him Batman. He uses guns, and it’s pretty strongly inferred he kills people. These are two things that go against the tenets that make up this character’s fiber, at least in most iterations. Not so here. While I’m sure many will pass this off as Snyder and the scriptwriters just thinking, for asinine reasons, that it is ‘cool’ and makes it misguidedly ‘adult’, but I think there is more going on here. This is a very conscious decision by the creative team on the film. It’s not like they never read the source material. They know Batman doesn’t use guns and doesn’t kill people. It’s a creative choice, and again, is one I think is tied to the myth of this character. It’s subversion. The kind that comes when a character is so well established, such as we have seen countless times in comics. From your Earth 1 Batmans, to your The Dark Knight Returns, and perhaps most notably for this iteration, Flashpoint, it feels like it’s exploring a well versed legend, and presenting it to us in a new form.
I have heard a lot of criticism say that they think Zack Snyder hates Batman due to his portrayal. I don’t believe that to be true at all, but it’s not hard to see why it’s being read that way. For me, here is crux of it: I don’t think we are supposed to like Batman all that much here. He is a terror of the night. He’s fearsome in the way criminals find him fearsome, but perhaps for the first time in film history, he also is to us. When the light comes on and he is Bruce Wayne, we aren’t supposed to understand him as a good guy just out for justice. He is a veteran version of Batman consumed in the life he has lived, with many, many losses to his name. He is a man lost in his identity, apparently too eager to jump into the role of Batman, rather than that of being Bruce Wayne. I personally don’t think we’re meant to cheer this character. We’re meant to be worried about him, like a mad dog who is a little too consumed in his instincts, much in the way it was easy to feel off put by Frank Miller‘s The Dark Knight Returns Batman. There is even a fair amount of Alan Moore‘s Watchmen in here, with a distinct mistrust of Heroism in most forms. It makes for an utterly fascinating thesis, and one that I think is well worth mining as you watch.
Now, I hear you. It’s very strange for a movie to present a contradiction of its own existence, especially one that is meant to set up a multi-title franchise set around a superteam. To which I say, it totally is, and there is something artistically and intelligently daring about that. It’s the absolute anti-thesis of everything any superhero movies have ever taught us, and that is a bold move. And yes, I do believe all of this was conscious. I actually feel like Zack Snyder understands these characters much in the same way Moore and Miller did back in the 80s, when they turned these comic book archetypes on their head in the mainstream. This would be impossible if, again, the mythology of what superheroes and their values are wasn’t already well established in film zeitgeist. Some might argue that Batman v Superman is more akin to the 90s, when things were just dark for the want to appear artificially adult, but I think that is selling the work done in this film by the entire creative team extremely short. There is a very thoughtful core to this movie, and one that has given us what we supposedly ask for all the time of Hollywood, a creative and daring take. It may not be as morally appealing as most superhero movies, but I’m sure glad it exists.
Just to throw it out there: I certainly have grievances with the film. I’ll try and go into them at a later date!