At church someone asked, “What are examples of catastrophes in your life?” and I blurted out the joke, “The Batman Vs. Superman movie.” However, I’m in the group of people that think it’s actually not bad. To me a lot of the criticism comes from inflated expectations – not just because of the characters but also because of the high talent of the filmmakers and writers. Like Hockey Hall of Famer Gordie Howe’s son: the talent of its kin overshadows it.
Reviews I have heard criticized the writing, but I disagree with that. It felt like two movies were being crammed into one movie that was a little too long. A decision to do that more likely came from the business side of filmmaking rather than the creative side. The writers and editors had to compress each scene a lot. An overwhelming number of the scenes are short, punchy, and straight to the point. Or more accurately they have only the point. There are stretches where it is almost like watching montages for thirty minute blocks of time. While it has an adverse effect on the final product I am impressed that the writers were able to put it together without it being incoherent.
Compressing two movies into one also forced them to break with the traditional three-act structure and climax build up. The movie starts with the first act of story A, which is the conflict between Batman and Superman. Starting in act two of story A the secondary story starts its first act. Then it continues like a musical round where the two stories are out of sync, but following the same path. When the third act of story A ends, the final act for story B begins.
All of the plot juggling and compression squeezes out space for character development. To me it is a sign that DC Comics’ creative leads are getting more say in the filmmaking process. One way that the comic book company differs from Marvel is that their stories are plot driven more than anything else. Batman Vs. Superman is also clearly part of a larger storyline, which is a sign that Geoff Johns’ storytelling with giant arcs is coming through in the movie.
With Batman Vs. Superman the characters take a backseat to the plot. The only development of Lex Luthor is that he gets a haircut. For Batman the change is weird, sudden, and forced. Superman doesn’t really change. Wonder Woman is mostly tacked on at the end with some cameos before that point. Other than characters that die or get incarcerated there aren’t significant changes to themselves.
I get the impression a lot of the motivation of making the film was to set up for other films instead of making one good movie. In addition to Wonder Woman it also jams in Cyborg, Flash, and Aquaman. During a dream sequence I’m fairly certain they also made a nod to Man-bat. Dawn of Justice is probably the more fitting title for this movie.
This wouldn’t be a complete review without comparing it to the other Superman and Batman movies. A lot of people are saying this is one of the worst among them. The question to ask those people is, “When was the last time you watched the others?” If I were to average them out this would be slightly above average.
As far as Superman goes, I would say this is only behind Man of Steel. If I feared backlash from friends I would put the first two Christopher Reaves movies ahead of it. Take that with a grain of salt, because if I wrote Batman versus Superman I would have used Frank Miller’s motivation for their fighting which can be paraphrased as Superman is a lame fascist and Batman is a bad ass. Regardless of bias this holds up better than Superman III and IV and it’s neck-in-neck with Superman Returns. So for modern Superman movies it’s better than three or four out of seven – right around the middle.
Obviously Batman Vs. Superman isn’t as good as the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy. It’s not as good as the first Tim Burton Batman movie. Nostalgia clouds judgment of Batman Returns, but that’s got more style than the newest installment. I don’t know how anyone can objectively say that Batman Forever was better than this, other than to say that Val Kilmer was better than Ben Affleck. I try to forget Batman and Robin. That puts this at better than two or three of the eight modern Batman movies.
To prove my point let’s factor in the old movies before 1970. I count three for Batman and two for Superman in that period, depending on what is considered a movie. Other than the Adam West movie, I doubt anyone reading this has seen them, so let’s just assume they all rank lower than Batman Vs. Superman.
That’s twenty movies total. It’s better than at least ten of them and arguably better than a few more. So it’s in the middle. If people weren’t content with entertainment that falls somewhere in the middle, then blogs, YouTube, and mobile phone games wouldn’t be popular.
Part of the reason for the criticism seems to be that it’s hard to pick out specific scenes. When the scenes get too short and punchy like they did it doesn’t sink in and form something memorable. At the end of the day I can think of specific criticisms, but I cannot say specifically why I thought it was good and, other than the fights, there are not many moments that stay with me.
In other words, like psychotropic drugs you can’t put your finger on why exactly you feel better, but you do feel good.