Opinions on Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice have gotten just as contentious and divisive as the 2016 presidential election. Critics are panning the movie like their lives depend on it and fans are having flame wars on any wall or message board that dares to mention it, attacking not just the film, but also each other’s taste, sanity, and intelligence, or lack thereof. It’s gotten far more heated than the typical fanboy Marvel versus DC squabbles over which brand of comics is better.
Was the movie really that bad and why is it igniting such a war of words?
Expectations of Batman versus Superman were high, arguably higher than any movie ever made. Even though Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman date back to the second World War, this is the first time all 3 have appeared in a big budget Hollywood movie together. Unlike other franchises, these three iconic characters didn’t need an introduction to the majority of the audience because they have been a part of American pop culture for generations, each of which has their own expectations of what these characters need to be. Even without a movie, most people know who Wonder Woman is. She’s been selling comics, t-shirts, and lunch boxes since 1941 and was immortalized by Lynda Carter in the late 70’s Wonder Woman television series. That wasn’t the case with characters like the X-Men or Avengers, who may have been popular teams among comic fans since the 60s, but, aside from the Incredible Hulk, they weren’t on the general public’s radar until relatively recently. Captain America also dates back to World War II, but didn’t have a live-action television series or a blockbuster movie to secure his place in the conscious of people who didn’t read comics or follow cartoons until 2011.
From the moment Dawn of Justice was announced by Warner Bros, every aspect of it has been criticized in detail, including the choice of director, the release date, the costumes, and every actor cast in any role. The masses were particularly furious over Ben Affleck being cast as Batman and Gal Gadot winning the role of Wonder Woman. He wasn’t good enough, they said. She was too skinny, they said. Before filming even began, many critics were declaring with absolute certainty that the movie would bomb at the box office, claiming nobody in their right mind would want to see such a “train wreck.”
Now that it’s poised to make over $200 million in its opening weekend, those critics are potentially facing a major ego bruising, if not because their predictions of a massive flop didn’t pan out, then because many people are seeing it and actually liking it, in spite of their almost universal derision. Rather than admit they could have been wrong, they’re digging their heals in the sand and looking for other criteria to measure the movie by that would help them label it a failure. Now they’re saying it’s not the opening weekend box office that will determine its success, but the second week. And if the second week proves to be just as successful, they’ll say you need to consider the third. And if it ranks among the top 10 grossing movies of all time, they will then claim the box office numbers have no bearing on whether it’s good or not … which they don’t.
Avatar sits at the top of the all-time box office list and I found it to be insufferable and derivative. The Avengers: Age of Ultron is currently the 7th box office draw of all time and most fans agree that it wasn’t the strongest of the Marvel movies.
So, if the critics were so totally wrong about the box office potential of Dawn of Justice, then what else are they wrong about?
HOW WERE THE CASTING CHOICES?
As I mentioned earlier, the casting for Dawn of Justice played a big part in people making up their minds about it early on. But the reality is that some people are finding that Ben Affleck was not only a good Batman, but they are ranking him among the best. And while Gal Gadot may not have the physique many people thought was required for an Amazon warrior princess, that complaint is now giving way to people saying she stole the movie.
The audience appears split on Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. His portrayal wasn’t along the same lines as previous incarnations played by Gene Hackman, Kevin Spacey or Michael Rosenbaum. Some people are saying it’s brilliant. Some are saying it’s annoying. I found it mostly annoying, but at times fascinating. Particularly noteworthy was a scene where he’s giving a speech at a party and isn’t quite as eloquent as you would expect.
Another point of contention that divided some fans is the fact that Warner Bros decided to keep their television world separate from their movie world, which means Grant Gustin lost out on the chance to bring his popular version of The Flash to the big screen and it won’t be likely that Stephen Amell will be making an appearance as Arrow in any future films either. The Flash’s popularity on The CW’s Tuesday night lineup recently helped the network score a ratings win over NBC, ABC and Fox with an episode where Barry and friends travelled to a parallel Earth. Even though Green Arrow and The Flash are not key players in Dawn of Justice, some fans may have felt alienated by Warner Bros deciding to leave their television favorites out of future films. It remains to be seen if Ezra Miller can pull off a Barry Allen that is as well received, because that’s not a question Dawn of Justice spends time answering.
WHAT ABOUT THE EDITING?
Critics of Batman versus Superman’s editing do have a point, to a degree. The film uses flashbacks to fill in Batman’s backstory, for those who haven’t already seen it a million times, and dream sequences to hint at future developments in the DC film universe. This isn’t anything new. The CW’s Arrow has been using flashbacks now for 5 years to tell two simultaneous stories each season. However, the dream sequence in Batman versus Superman comes out of nowhere and isn’t explained. Fans who follow DC comics or television shows will probably have a good idea as to what it means, but the general audience was probably left scratching their heads. Although, that one confusing scene isn’t enough to derail the entire movie.
WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER JUSTICE LEAGUE MEMBERS?
It’s no secret that one of the main purposes of this movie is to set the stage for 2017’s Justice League: Part One, which will feature all of DC’s big name characters. Once photos were released of Jason Momoa as Aquaman and concept art for Ezra Miller as the Flash, some people probably expected those characters to play a pivotal role in Dawn of Justice. They don’t and anyone expecting that would likely be disappointed. While the film does set the stage for Wonder Woman’s origin story, she’s the only one of the other Justice League members who impacts Dawn of Justice and even her presence is limited.
WAS IT CONVOLUTED AND INCOMPREHENSIBLE?
Another major complaint critics have with Dawn of Justice is that the story is confusing and hard to follow. Aside from the one dream sequence that goes unexplained, there really is nothing convoluted and incomprehensible about it. The story focuses on the senate holding hearings about Superman and the danger he presents to mankind, which leaves Clark questioning his role in the world. At the same time, Batman’s origin is covered and they lay the groundwork for Bruce and Lex reacting in different ways to the threat they perceive Superman to be, while Lois investigates a possible conspiracy against Superman. All of those parallel stories aren’t frivolous. They each come together for the film’s finale. It makes sense and it’s not hard to follow at all.
WAS IT TOO DARK?
The film is somewhat dark, both visually and thematically. People are used to that treatment for Batman, but they don’t feel it works for Superman. Over the last few decades, following these characters in movies, comics and animation, I’ve seen enough interpretations to allow for variations, particularly through “elseworld” and “what if” stories that completely reinvent the characters for different scenarios. Dawn of Justice does not totally reinvent these characters – certainly not in the way the recent Jem and the Holograms movie did, where you could change the name of the movie and they would become totally unrecognizable. The differences here are in the details.
Batman is angry. Very angry and doesn’t have a problem taking out bad guys, even if he has to use a gun to do it. That’s something many die-hard Batman fans will have a HUGE problem with, since the character traditionally doesn’t use guns because a gun was used to kill his parents. Although that change didn’t bother me, I can see some fans hating it just for that.
Superman is also not the bright blue boy scout he usually is. Some fans want him to be a beacon of hope and light that they can look up to, but in Dawn of Justice, Superman is conflicted and questioning. He’s only been “supermaning” for 18 months and is still unsure of himself and the impact he’s having on the world. I find that makes him far more relatable and am willing to give him time to grow into being a role model, rather than expecting him to be one within 18 months of donning the cape. He’s not in his happy place and it doesn’t make sense for him to be, given the serious and logical questions people are asking about him.
Though the film stays mostly serious and tense, to say that it’s grim and depressing is going overboard. I felt a lot of things when I left the theater, bit grim and depressed would not be included among them. I appreciate that the DC films are not afraid to ask serious questions, challenge morality and devotion, and use religious imagery. Those are serious themes and they fit into a world that feels like it’s becoming more serious by the minute. But serious themes don’t detract from the entertainment value of Dawn of Justice anymore than they did for films like Schindler’s List or The Titanic. I wouldn’t say either of those movies was particularly fun or funny, but that doesn’t mean they were not good films. Obviously, Dawn of Justice is probably not going to win an Oscar for Best Picture, but the point is that it doesn’t suffer from its serious tone anymore than other films.
HOW ABOUT THE COSTUMES?
Another criticism is that Batman’s costume is too bulky. However, he’s preparing for a fight with Superman. It would have been highly unrealistic for him to do it in spandex. When’s he’s not in his armor, the costume doesn’t appear any bulkier than it did in any of the previous Batman films.
WAS IT SLOW AND BORING?
The unfortunate title of the film helps reinforce the notion that Dawn of Justice is a two and a half hour slugfest between Batman and Superman. It isn’t. That battle obviously does take place, but the majority of the film focuses on the reasons that led up to it. If the film had been called Batman/Superman: Dawn of Justice, it may have helped people set more realistic expectations of the content. However, I enjoyed the build up to the fight, didn’t feel it was over too quickly, and felt the reason it ended was appropriate. If you want a non-stop fight, you’ll find it slow, but it’s anything but boring. The last 30 minutes alone were worth the price of admission.
DOES THE CONCEPT EVEN MAKE SENSE?
One of the most surprising criticisms of the film is that people don’t get why Batman and Superman are fighting. They don’t think it makes sense because they’re supposed to “be friends” and they assume Batman wouldn’t be able to stand a chance against Superman anyway. This not only defies the history of these characters, but it also shows a lack of understanding when it comes to a very popular plot device used in superhero storytelling. This isn’t the first time Superman and Batman have gone at it. They’ve fought many times in comics and animation. It’s a staple of comic books that when two or more title characters come together, the first thing they usually do is fight, regardless of whether or not they’re all on the side of good. Competitions between these characters have been the focus of some of the most popular and memorable comic stories. In fact, the races between Superman and The Flash have traditionally been so popular that CBS is using that same device to try and breathe ratings life into their Supergirl by having a crossover with the CW’s Flash. Why? Because fans eat it up. It’s almost a right of passage as a comic fan to have the inevitable “who would win in a fight between…” debate with another fan.
The nature of Batman’s character is that he knows what he’s getting into and he prepares for it. He does that in this film, too. The film very thoroughly explains what leads them to fight and the steps Batman takes to avoid being beaten in the first 5 seconds. It works just as well here as it has the many times they’ve fought in the past.
DID THEY SHOW THE ENTIRE MOVIE IN THE TRAILER?
The second trailer for Dawn of Justice did give away a lot. Because of the massive amount of complaining and negative speculation, it seemed like Warner Bros wanted to throw as much as they could into the second trailer to squelch some of the naysaying. Not only did we get to see Batman and Superman side by side, but they also revealed Wonder Woman in costume and the “Doomsday” monster, a character made famous by a major DC Comics crossover event in 1992-1993. Ever since his debut, the character has been associated with massive destruction and carnage. Those reveals would have been so much more fun if they came to the audience as surprises. However, the trailers by no means gave away the entire movie. In two and a half hours, there’s plenty of content left to reveal and lots of fun and surprises, the most colossal of which I can’t get into without spoilers.
BUT IT ONLY HAS A 29% ON ROTTEN TOMATOES?
Yes, it does. But let’s put that into perspective. Green Lantern, which most people would agree was a pretty awful movie, has a 26% on Rotten Tomatoes. But it also has a 45% audience score, which means a good portion of the audience agreed with the critics. That would suggest the critics got it right. Dawn of Justice, however, currently has a 73% audience score, meaning there is a huge disconnect between how the critics felt and how the general audience felt. If that score is worth anything, then that means most people watching it are liking it. And if that score isn’t worth anything, then why use it as an excuse to skip a movie?
Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s nowhere near as bad as some critics want everyone to believe. The negatives aren’t enough to outweigh the positives and justify the beating the movie is taking by critics. Their passion in bashing the movie feels like it’s about them not wanting to admit they were wrong for prejudging it so harshly. In fact, some of the harshest online critics seem to be people who haven’t even seen it. While some of their complaints are valid, they don’t impact the movie as much as many of the critics claim. The story makes sense, the acting is solid, and it hits the right emotional notes for characters in this kind of situation. Nobody is making goofy puns and it would be out of place if they did. They feel and they cry and they fight because what they are going through warrants it. It’s actually a very entertaining movie and a good way to bring these iconic characters together for future films. It doesn’t look or feel like a Marvel movie and that’s because it’s not.
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