Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

This is your mortal enemy among superhero films? This is supposed to be worse than BATMAN & ROBIN or CATWOMAN? This is what causes you to despair for the death of hope in American culture? This inspires you to write listicles of enraged nitpickery? THIS?

It's fine! Good god.

Like, I couldn't give less of a shit about its stupid plot. It's overbusy, burdened beneath obligations to future films in this cinematic universe, and mangled by all the fingers stirring about in the pie, sure. But that's standard -- hell, even a pleasantly familiar reflection of silly-ass comic books. I honestly can't think of a superhero movie that isn't ridiculous at heart. We only "care" about that when we don't like the rest of the movie. Fair enough!

But then there are the actual, non-plot-bullshit reasons people give for not liking this movie. Ugh, I'm getting into awful "responding to responses" critique, but I find the UTTER DISMAY with which this film has been greeted to be baffling, bathetic, or both. (BBBBBBBB) "Not my Superman..." men whisper, heads buried in hands, knees trembling, lips quivering. Well, tough shit, I guess? If you're really gonna run with "superheroes are the new mythology" then one would think you'd be perfectly cool with divergent interpretations of them. This Bad Superman doesn't destroy whatever version you prefer. (I find most of those versions to have the appeal of a D.C. (US capital, not the comic book company) presidential bust carved out of stale bread, but whatever.)

I'm exceptionally weary of hearing about how a movie (or TV show or book or any other work of art) is WRONG. Not how or why it's bad or harmful, mind, but how it's "wrong." I mean, if it deals with history or science or the particulars of a job or the characteristics of a culture, then there's a sorta-utility to it. (But then again, maybe if we stopped treating everyone as if they'll learn everything from the movies, then they'll do it less? Although that might in fact be too much to ask of human beings.) But for the love of Dr. Manhattan, this is superhero stuff. I think it's telling that "canon" is the favored term among fans for the definitive qualities and history of any given character. A sort of consensus of preference among audiences decides what from each iteration of a superhero gets added to "the canon," and it is then treated with religious reverence. Never mind how malleable you can see this is in the long run, or how the "non-canon" aspects of the favored stories/runs fall out of public knowledge. Regardless, this movie isn't merely bad -- it's blasphemous.

But if you want to just see the "right" Superman or Batman on screen, there are plenty of other movies and TV shows and comics and suchandso to pick from (not so much for poor Wonder Woman, because no one wants to adapt her). Personally, I find it kind of delightful to see a giant budget put in the service of a revisionist take on these characters. All the more so because I really can't tell much of it is indeed meant as revisionism and how much of it is simply a "dark" sensibility combined with Snyder and Goyer's admitted lack of interest in Superman. THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS is the primary source here, and it's interesting to see that kind of "beware the Superman" and "rabid Batman" setup placed not as a reaction to a specific cultural milieu and comic book tradition, but as the foundation for a whole new movieverse.

Of course, regardless of behind-the-scenes motivation, Superman/Batman revisionism is what it comes out as, and there's unquestionably real intent here, a continuation of MAN OF STEEL carrying the mass destruction of superhero movies and their 9/11 anxiety to the logical extreme. So too is it the inevitable endpoint of "verisimilitude" -- the mantra at the heart of the original SUPERMAN movie and the credo of most superhero movies (and a good deal of comics, too) today.

Marvel films get a lot of praise for characters with supposedly grounded psychology and for thinking through the "real-world" consequences of superheroics, even though they take half measures with this at best, resulting in supremely muddied politics (haha what the fuck was WINTER SOLDIER actually saying about drone warfare and the surveillance state, anyway). The hard truth is that applying realism to superheroes is a inescapable slide into absolute existential horror. A Superman, no matter how well-intentioned, is actually the last thing we want. Shit, Alan Moore laid that out for us decades ago. But Superman is God to a good deal of fans. You can humanize him just so, but not to the disquieting extent that this film does. A constantly fucking-up Superman is terrifying, yes? That's the point, and if it sticks in your eye, fair enough, but that doesn't make it "wrong."

More to my personal taste is that BvS embodies its conflict with a level of visual grandeur that makes shit like that slow-mo team pose in AGE OF ULTRON look even more embarrassing than it already was. These characters actually appear superhuman. Young Bruce Wayne ascending from the depths of a cavern into a shaft of light on the wings of a million bats with operatic flourish? Sexy bathwater splishing onto Clark Kent's discarded glasses? The headlights of the Batmobile abruptly illuminating the Superman's imposing OH SHIT CRASH? I am utterly here for it. Snyder's dramatics are ripe for mockery, but the ultra-heightened color palette and framing feels more true to comic-bookiness than any cookie-cutter Marvel palette. And Snyder, whatever his faults, has understood this for a long time.

Also, can we talk about how great Ben Affleck is as Batman? Like, do you not understand how perfect that casting is? Of course you want someone who automatically raises douche flags to be Bruce Wayne. And his relentless intensity is, again, straight out of a four-toned panel. Seriously, why do we snicker at broadness like his look of ABSOLUTE FURY when Wayne finds those returned vandalized checks, when BIG EMOTION is the proper cornerstone of pretty much any artistically distinct blockbuster?

Oh, right. He kills, and that's bad.


Okay, let's try a thought experiment: Pretend that it was some other action hero who shot the gas tank on a flamethrower wielded by a sex smuggler about to roast an old women, causing the villain to burst into flame.

...See? Isn't that TERRIFIC? There you go.

Is it good for kids? I dunno, what do kids even like now? Minecraft, I think. What do I care; I don't have kids. Who cares who movies are "for," anyway?

Ultimately, BvS is undermined less by clumsy plotting (again, not going to deny any of that) than it is by the need to tack on a final "hopeful" note. Considering all we've seen of what comes from the presence of the superhuman, shouldn't the prospect that this Superman is in fact apparently unkillable fill us more with dread? Oh well, gotta set up dem sequels.

Also, fuck you, the "Martha" moment is very nice. It ain't the Dardennes but it's the second-best emotional beat of any recent superhero movie.

(The best, of course, is when the two robot arms reach for one another as the mansion collapses in IRON MAN THREE.)