It’s always a giveaway when lead actors say, “this wasn’t made for the critics,” as Henry Cavill did recently about Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. That’s a dead giveaway that they know they’ve got a mess on their hands. And they do.
At two and a half hours, BvS is way too long, and in trying to accomplish too much, it shows DC’s desperation to have a franchise that rivals the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Was there a need to retell Batman’s origin story? Not sure, although I admit I never made the connection that both his mother and Clark’s are named Martha. Did we need to have all the nightmares and visions of the dystopian future in which Superman is a tyrant? For most people, both the Darkseid reference (parademons, the earth looking like Apokolips) and the nod to the Injustice/Gods Among Us arc was probably lost.
Superman’s not hard to play. You need a buff, dark-haired, square-jawed, Boy Scout-looking white guy and you’ve basically got the part.
And everybody cheered when Wonder Woman showed up and saved Batman. Physically, I would’ve preferred an actress who was a bit more toned. It’s Wonder Woman: she’s supposed to be this badassed Amazon warrior. Gal Gadot is more swimsuit model. Funny how Zack Snyder put Gerard Butler and crew through Navy Seal-level workouts for 300, but didn’t do the same for Gal in this movie, but I digress.
The biggest problem with the movie is Batman, and the total misreading of him. My son and I are big Batman fans, and he was the one who pointed out that the filmmakers got this character completely wrong. First, Batman is the greatest detective ever. He did ZERO in the way of detective work. Who is Superman? Is he really the bad guy everyone thinks he is? This is the first time I’ve seen Batman be a victim of confirmation bias. He just works off a hunch that Superman is dangerous (remember, Zod attacked Earth and Superman fighting to stop him?) and sets off on this vendetta to get him.
More to the point: In the comic book cosmology, both Superman and Batman want justice. It’s just that Superman abides by the rules. It’s the Boy Scout in him. On the other hand, Batman exists in the gray, but Affleck’s portrayal doesn’t. His Batman is only driven only by anger and a desire for vengeance. The Batman most fans know has a code: He’s willing to break bones, he doesn’t go around branding (torturing) bad guys, and he certainly doesn’t kill (something he seemed very willing to do to Superman with the Krytponite spear). This Batman was only a vigilante for whom the ends justified any means. That’s not the Dark Knight that people respect.
But if you’re unsure how to play Batman, there are three (3) Christopher Nolan films to watch, including the superb The Dark Knight, three or four recent video games (depending on whether you count Batman: Arkham Origins), as well as relatively recent comic book offerings (Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s Hush and Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Court of the Owls, Night of the Owls and the Death Of The Family arcs). You just have to care.
In some respects, Affleck’s Batman is the perfect Batman for our times. Rough parallels to Donald Trump supporters abound: his Batman is a white guy angry at how the world has changed around him, i.e., as a human, he’s no longer at the top of the food chain. Convinced that Superman’s a threat, he sets out to take Gotham and Metropolis back. As is the case with many Donald Trump supporters, his anger is born out of a sense of existential dread, which leads to his “We need to take him out if there’s even a 1% chance he’s a threat” attitude. Huh? Then Superman dies, and everyone realizes what they’ve lost. Kinda how many are going to feel once Obama leaves office, but, again, I digress.
Yeah, it was a tough assignment for Zack Snyder & company: Get two iconic heroes together, plant seeds for other films that will expand the DC Cinematic Universe, and give Warner Bros. a viable superhero franchise. But that’s why everyone involved got the big bucks: So they could figure it out. After seeing this movie, you’re left asking, What was all that money for?
I suppose we’ll have to hope that Affleck’s Batman gets more depth over time: He’s set to direct the next solo Batman film, a project he’s writing with DC creative chief Geoff Johns.