Editor’s Note: Batman v Superman is currently playing in wide theatrical release.
Zack Snyder is an interesting director, for sure. He brings so much passion and effort to whatever he does, and it generally seems to work out for him. If he’s adapting a comic book, he’ll make it his duty to visually pay homage by bringing forth his bombastic style, while doing something unique of his own creation, whether or not it’s contrary to the source material’s ideas. His adaptations of Watchmen and 300 are living proof of this, respectively pieces about the consequences of violence and the dour, inevitable tragedy of it. They’re both great, as is Dawn of the Dead. Yet, take one look at Sucker Punch or Man of Steel and you wouldn’t know that. The former might not be an adaptation, but both pursue their own unclear, misguided themes, Sucker Punch‘s being the necessity of self-sufficiency toward objectification (drawn as overt sexuality), and Man of Steel‘s being… the necessity of a “kinda hot” God character’s unnecessarily destructive intervention, featuring obtuse 9/11 metaphors.
Now we have Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a follow-up to Man of Steel, a prequel to DC’s upcoming Justice League films, and an insane, fascinating marriage of Zack Snyder’s best and worst work. To watch Batman v Superman is to watch superheroes caught in the middle of a cyclical, endless onslaught of post-9/11 grime, politics, and fear. This time around those metaphors are acute rather than obtuse, and somehow come out the other side relatively fitting, serving their neighboring, overblown narrative like a milkshake with a steak dinner. But if you sit down for that dinner, your confusion at how overcooked the steak is will send you to look for answers from the chef. Not long after leaving your table, you’ll find yourself inside of his kitchen. There he’ll grab you, force you into a bowl, and leave you marinating in everything on the damn shelves. There’s a lot Zack Snyder’s saying here in his own lovingly bloated way that accesses oppositely mature ideas. It’s not just a story of Batman and Superman’s clashing ideologies, it’s a story of two vigilantes with different perceptions of the world facing that world and hoping it accepts them in some way. But, as is standard for the world, it doesn’t do that, it contests them.
It’s not just a story of Batman and Superman’s clashing ideologies, it’s a story of two vigilantes with different perceptions of the world facing that world and hoping it accepts them in some way.
A very Bush-era, paranoid, and bitter Batman is ready to push back, no matter what the press says, but a good-hearted Superman accepts the world’s contention, hoping to nobly resolve any disputes had with him. He doesn’t realize that he’s a billboard, just waiting to be vandalized. He doesn’t see the grime in the world, waiting to do that vandalizing. Batman sees beyond this naïveté, into a fiction, a promise of power corrupted. But, the only way he sees to put a stop to that lies directly in the very grime Superman overlooks day after day. Suddenly, each of their paths have aimed themselves toward one another. It’s a series of inevitabilities that bring the two against each other, to an endgame in which Batman’s cynicism is challenged by his departure from good, and Superman’s goodness is challenged by inescapable tragedy. Both of them squirm under this pressure, and to watch them do so is honestly heartbreaking. We observe the notion that controversy and disagreement will always, inevitably, bring about a fight. It’s a bit of a cynical statement, but it’s an admittedly truthful, deeply revealing one, and thus sticks with you long after the credits roll. The story that brings this to fruition may be a scattershot, uneven, convoluted one, and Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as Lex Luthor may be flamboyantly schizophrenic, but they’re both about as chaotic as our modern world is. So, they’re both fascinating in and of themselves.
That’s not to say Batman v Superman is hopeless, however. There is a light sense of optimism running throughout, and it stems from Batman’s pursuit of the Justice League. It speaks to the idea both Batman and Superman share by the end, that if the world is indeed a dark, hopeless place, the only way to combat that darkness is with others like them, others who seem to understand the truth of the place they live in. That’s why Doomsday, a CGI supervillain who shows up in the final 30 minutes (gleefully spoiled by marketing), works, at least for me. He’s created by Lex Luthor (who is a personification of the world’s insanity), and we’re told many times he’s “unstoppable.” So if he’s the child of the world’s insanity, then he represents what the world throws at those it challenges; the unstoppable pushback of society. And, in that, watching our heroes try to overcome such a force together is both entertaining, emotionally heavy, and fun because it’s so out of left field, lending to the fascinating nature of this film’s crazy demeanor. Yet, the Justice League stuff is also the root of what can be irritating about Batman v Superman. There are scattered scenes that set up future Justice League movies not with subtle nudges, but with apparent, close-up winks that almost play out like teaser trailers the film pauses itself to show us. It feels entirely artificial, contrary to Zack Snyder’s unbridled passion behind-camera, and too similar to the standard superhero formula this anomaly of an experience is so distant from.
What hit theaters this weekend wasn’t a superhero film, it was the deeply personal fantasy of a man with all of Hollywood’s tools at his disposal, and one that was smarter than it should have been.
It’s also worth noting that the characters onscreen don’t line up with their comic counterparts much at all, with Batman being a jaded murderer and Superman moping at his losses like a teenager. But that’s what makes Batman v Superman such a crazy, memorable spectacle. It’s not the product of a fan adapting source material, it’s the product of a man throwing onscreen his favorite, personal versions of characters that fascinate him. Just as those interpretations fascinate him, they fascinate us. Really, what hit theaters this weekend wasn’t a superhero film, it was the deeply personal fantasy of a man with all of Hollywood’s tools at his disposal, and one that was smarter than it should have been. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice may not be perfect in the slightest, but there isn’t much else like it, and there likely won’t be for a long time.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice isn't a superhero film, but the deeply personal fantasy of a man with all of Hollywood's tools at his disposal. It's not a perfect movie, but there isn't much else like it, and there likely won't be for a long time.