Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ★★★★½

I bet your parents taught you that you mean something, that you're here for a reason. My parents taught me a different lesson, dying in the gutter for no reason at all... They taught me the world only makes sense if you force it to.

Zack Snyder directed the hell out of this. There, I said it. Given the script he was given, I can't help but feel nothing but admiration for his work.

Comics have attained the legacy they have because of their unique, offhanded ability to reflect the times in which they were written, despite the many differences in whatever universe they take place in. World War II, the Vietnam War, the Arms Race, and countless other events in world history, take a look at the comics that came out of those eras and you will find an uncanny representation of the controversies of that time within the stories of these heroes. But every medium/genre has an adolescent phase, and I would confidently assert, that Batman V Superman, being the beautiful mess that it is, represents the cinematic superhero genre's first, bumbling step into maturity.

If you read the earliest comics, they are incredibly basic. Establish the hero, find a conflict and develop a solution to said conflict. That was the formula, and in that phase, comics gained little traction among mainstream audiences. I'd argue, and this is theoretical, as I can't foresee the future, that the past decade of Marvel, DC and third party comic book films represent that simplicity, that formulaic approach. Now it's important to understand that often, I'm a sucker for formula. I love tons of Marvel films, and appreciate the lesser ones solely for their uncanny ability to appeal to my nerdy sensibilities. I think Batman V Superman, in it's utter darkness and constant metaphorical storytelling, may just resemble the moment comic books began to reflect WWII, when they began to tell a story beyond that of their hero. Watchmen, Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, and Mask of the Phantasm, among others, have already achieved a level of true relevance, but the big players in the industry have largely played it safe. I can't anticipate DC's future, maybe their next films will be just terrible. I don't know. But perhaps, and I hope this is the case, Batman v Superman will one day be recognized as a turning point in the genre, a step toward maturation in a genre that dominated the film industry in it's time.

Back to my assertion that Snyder "directed the hell out of this". First of all, the ignorantly ridiculed "Martha" moment is appallingly misunderstood. I'm not sure if this misunderstanding ought to be attributed to a general popularity in hating Snyder, or if people genuinely don't understand. But the "Martha" moment is much more than just a shared maternal name. Prior to the big fight, Batman had only seen Superman as an inhuman threat, a faceless entity that was entirely dangerous. When Batman heard the name Martha, and later found out it was Superman's mother as well, he realized they were both essentially born into a world of choices and sacrifices, and both had someone to care about them. To mourn them. To love them, and to cherish them. It's the moment Batman realized just how similar Superman really is to himself, despite their vastly differing skillset and moral compass. Batman, or actually Bruce Wayne, is defined by his parent's unjust death. All of the darkness in his life, the tortured mentality he developed and distrust of anything good can be traced back to the night they were murdered. In fact, his utter hate for Superman can largely be attributed to this event.

"The world only makes sense if you force it to."

This determination to eliminate Superman is derived from his inability to reconcile the existence of Superman, a resolute rejection of the notion of gods among men. It seems only natural that being forced to consider his deceased parents, and moreover seeing Superman worried about his mother, would inspire a change of heart. He no longer saw Superman as an uncontrollable divine threat, but as a scared boy afraid for his mother. Superman was genuinely concerned about the woman who raised him, essentially one of two tethers he has to any semblance of normality. It makes sense that Batman would suddenly relate to him. It isn't some easy, roundabout way of uniting the eventual core of the Justice League, but rather a beautifully simple script maneuver, something I feel the cinephile community always craves but for some reason rejected.

This small scene is so representative of the film as a whole; misunderstood and underappreciated. Batman v Superman is straight up majestic, beautifully rendered visually and emotionally involving. Again, I have nothing but love for the scores of superhero films that have come before, but out of mostly appreciation for this wonderful film, as well as a strong desire to defend the important work Snyder did here, I encourage people to reconsider their opinions about this one. It's one of the few operatic superhero films out there, as Snyder's grandiose vision makes this film feel wholly unique in a world of artistically similar blockbusters. It's an original, dark look at the existence of heroism in our dark, skeptical world, reflected bluntly in a core conflict between two of history's most famous heroes. It's a film that is skeptical of unchecked power, not necessarily in retaliation of something done, but rather something that may be done. Sound familiar? Perhaps, a bit reflective of our dubious society?

I understand this film isn't for everyone, but I would confidently say much of the criticism directed at this film is inspired by a general band-wagon hate for Zack Snyder. Why is this the guy who we have decided to rip on? A guy who gave us films like Watchmen and Dawn of the Dead, which are generally pretty loved films. Or a personal favorite, the highly stylized, electric 300? Why is this the guy we dismiss as an intellectually empty hack? Love or hate his work so far, I feel only ignorance can ignore the fact that the films he delivers are at least unique, created with a vision entirely apart from standard blockbuster fare. After every watch of this film, I grow more and more impressed. Apart from the sheer power of it's narrative, this films delivers such incredible imagery. Superman shooting beams at Doomsday. "The Trinity" side by side, fighting one of Superman's most formidable enemies, something of a wet dream for a comic book fan like me. Batman looming over Superman, spear in hand. A nation gathered around a monumental grave, united in grief, sharing a communal dream. I could go on, but I think Snyder's ability to inspire emotion is among the best in Hollywood. This film stirs me to my core, both as a comic book fanatic and as a human being. If this film "isn't for you", that doesn't inherently make it a disaster. It marks an unprecedented allocation of major resources to an independent vision, a leap of faith by a desperate studio. It's a massive-budgeted film that takes enormous risks, that alone deserves some credit.

My Original Review

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