jpark’s review published on Letterboxd:
And now, you will fly to him, and you will battle him to the death. Black and blue. Fight night. The greatest gladiator match in the history of the world. God versus man. Day versus night! Son of Krypton versus Bat of Gotham!
Perhaps more than any other film in recent memory, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS) falls victim to comparison. Superhero films have been around for decades, slowly developing a tried and true formula for a crowd-pleasing, accessible film for all to enjoy. Now this formula, which ultimately culminates into most of the MCU canon, has produced several gems, it's important to remember that. But it also feels so familiar, so routine that anything that deviates from this formula is inherently jarring. Some of the best superhero films have come from this deviation (Watchmen, Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy), but inarguably more duds have been produced (Man of Steel, Green Lantern, Daredevil, Hulk). Superhero films have taken an identity that consists of levity, charisma and stoicism, a fundamental uncertainty of purpose but underlying desire to do good in light of this confusion. I've often heard the idea that the Marvel Universe paints their heroes as adolescents, feeling out their place in the world along with the readers. Alternatively, DC is built on the back of adults, characters grounded in their own morality with an overwhelming desire to justify said morality to the society around them. This feels representative of the general contrast between the two cinematic universes. Man of Steel is remarkably flawed not because of the massive destruction enabled by Superman, nor by the confidence with which it is delivered, but because they did not even hint at Superman's own justification for his actions. It comes down to the script.
People say Batman doesn't kill, and Superman is absolutely moral despite any circumstances. They obviously have not read the comics, as in multiple circumstances both heroes buckle under the weight of either absolute evil or less of two evils circumstances. I think the beauty of superhero films is that they really reflect the heroes within a certain context, often established within the political or societal controversies of the day. Let's take a snapshot of modern society for a moment. In an era of government paranoia, post-9/11 hysteria, threats of terrorism, insurgent fears and government-licensed murder, BvS feels shockingly in tune with the darkness of modern society. I have no problem with Batman branding his victims, or Superman being seen as a god, because those things provoke real thought on things like notions of the greater good, divine deities and gods among men. When superhero films go dark, dwelling on the existential dilemmas that plague a heroes role in society, typically they lend themselves to a more provocative and frankly rewarding experience as a whole. BvS is truly a blockbuster that is reflective of the less flattering societal elements of our time.
It's worth noting as well that amid all the tension centered on the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East, BvS feels incredibly, and somewhat disturbingly timely. The notion of Superman being an alien is carried throughout the entire film, a focal point for the eventual clash of heroes. I have seen critiques of this films inability to establish why these heroes are fighting one another, and frankly I'm clueless as to why. As I previously stated, these are characters that already have a seasoned sense of morality. Superman's willful optimism instilled in him after decades of forced humility, and Batman's chaotic lawfulness, a result of seeing his parents gunned down at such a young age. Seeing as we know where these characters stand, why should Snyder spend more time establishing their motivations? An ingenious ( Man of Steel needs to be reconsidered) scene at the beginning of the film illustrates Batman's mistrust of Superman, and Superman's dialogues with Lois convey his subsequent resistance to the bat. If these clear hints are not enough for you, the atmosphere of the film paints just as good a picture, punctuated by Eisenberg's fascinating take on Lex Luther. I think a fundamental piece of this is just how much Snyder says through visual cues, really acting out the idea of showing and not telling. I think his direction here is almost fantastic.
As I try to read into what Snyder was doing here, it's fundamental to note just how freaking awesome the fight scenes in this movie are. I won't spoil the players or the victors, the setting or the circumstances. What I will say is that when I was a young kid reading comic after comic about these heroes' adventures, this is how these fights played out in my imagination. Snyder is such a presence behind the camera, so inventive and innovative with his action choreography that it feels separate from anything I had seen before. His visual style is fucking majestic, so ham-fisted but simultaneously so provocative and artistic. It feels straight out of a Frank Miller comic book, the visual love-child of Sin City and 300, a feast for the eyes and a beautiful assault on the senses. Hans Zimmer and Junkie's collaboration here is brilliant, bringing the good out of Zimmer's Man of Steel with Junkie creatively sidestepping score convention along the way. Wonder Woman's theme is the shit.
I think BvS deserves to be approached as a singular event. Don't go in expecting the whimsy of a Marvel movie, the intellectualism of Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy or really anything else. Don't read critic's reviews of this film, as I really feel they don't get at what Snyder has truly accomplished here. This is a film reflecting the darkness of our society, allowing it to inhabit our heroes and play with our entire conceptual understanding of what it means to be a hero. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman; they all are casted wonderfully and fully capable of pursuing their own, quality franchises. For all the crap DC gets for emulating the Marvel formula, BvS deserves a closer look. This is so different than anything we have seen before. Dour, dark, and overtly philosophical, BvS is concerned with so many ideas most within the genre wouldn't touch. It's a think-tank powerhouse, musing on ideas like gods and demons, paranoia and politics in the best way. Snyder's vision is indeed chaotic, a bit scattered and a tad over ambitious. But he has enough directorial prowess to mold this conglomeration of ideas and effects into a beautiful mess, appealing to the nerd within me, but also to the filmgoer seeking the biggest, boldest and most beautiful experience around. Go into BvS with an open mind, and allow Snyder to cast a spell on you.
Part of 2016 Films Ranked