Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
A review by Mark S. Reinhart
As a lifelong Batman fan, I am most interested in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in terms of its portrayal of Batman. Because of this fact, I have two wildly differing opinions on just how I feel about the film. While I love Ben Affleck as Batman, I hugely dislike the manner in which the film handles the relationship between its title characters.
Before I get too far into this review, I should point out that I am not particularly thrilled with the idea of Batman sharing the big screen with DC Comics’ sci-fi/fantasy oriented characters in the first place. Batman is first and foremost a character that is much more solidly based in reality than most comic book characters, and I would prefer to see him in his own cinematic universe that stays closely tied to the real world. But my feelings on this subject are not what make me so uncomfortable about the relationship between Batman and Superman in Batman v Superman.
In fact, I should point out that even though I prefer to see Batman working in his own self-contained, realistic world, there have been a number of works featuring Batman and Superman that I have very much enjoyed over the years. For example, I thought that the three-issue 1990 miniseries World’s Finest by writer Dave Gibbons and artist Steve Rude, and the 1997 three-episode story arc “World’s Finest” from the television program Superman: The Animated Series both presented entertaining and thoughtful versions of Batman and Superman first making contact with one another. (Of course, both of these works got their titles from the legendary Batman-Superman comic title World’s Finest, which ran all the way from 1941 until 1986.)
And like most every other Batman fan on earth, I loved Frank Miller’s legendary 1986 comic book miniseries Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. The miniseries presented a haunting interpretation of how the relationship between Batman and Superman might have ended up – in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, their decades-long, troubled history reaches a boiling point, and they engage in an epic battle that seemingly takes Batman’s life.
It goes without saying that Batman v Superman is hugely inspired by Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – many of the film’s scenes showing the characters in battle are directly pulled from the pages of the miniseries. But while Batman v Superman does a wonderful job of capturing the way that Batman and Superman looked in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, the film does an abysmal job of capturing the complicated relationship that existed between the heroes in the miniseries.
In fact, it would be fair to say that there is no really relationship AT ALL between Batman and Superman in Batman v Superman! In the film, Batman has been battling criminals in Gotham for two decades, and Superman’s existence has been known to the world for 18 months. Even though the two have been the most renowned disguised crimefighters on the planet for a year and a half, and they are operating in cities that are literally right next to each other, they have had no contact whatsoever with one another.
Simply put, I find this element of Batman v Superman to be completely baffling. How can these costumed heroes, the world’s greatest detective and the most powerful being on earth, not come to the conclusion that it might be in their own best interests to know something about one another?
Even worse, the film then goes on to dream up the silliest plot contrivances possible to keep Batman and Superman from establishing contact. For example, Clark Kent/Superman is concerned about Batman’s vigilante tactics, so what does he do? He goes to his Daily Planet editor Perry White and asks if he can write a news story about Batman! And when Perry says no, Clark just drops it! Why in the world hasn’t Clark just changed into his Superman costume, flown to Gotham, and figured out just who Batman is and what he is up to?
And Bruce is so obsessed with the possibility of Superman destroying humankind that he decides he should just try to kill the Kryptonian. While he is making this decision, Bruce even concedes that perhaps there might be only the slightest possibility of Superman being a danger to the human race. Since Bruce is so unsure of just what Superman’s motives might be, why in the world hasn’t he put his amazing detective skills to work and gathered information about the Kryptonian before making such a rash and murderous decision?
So, in Batman v Superman neither Batman nor Superman have even the slightest bit of good sense to try to learn something about each other before trying to kill each other? You’ve got to be kidding me! In essence, the heroes are basically clueless pawns in the film, and Lex Luthor is the master manipulator that tricks them into having a fight to the finish.
In fact, Luthor is INFINITELY smarter than Batman and Superman in the film. He has figured out the identities of both crimefighters and set up a ridiculously elaborate master plan to push them into battle – and he has done this while Batman and Superman basically stood around and learned nothing at all about one another!
The best works featuring Batman and Superman, such as the ones I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, allowed the characters to KNOW one another, and to then open up a substantive dialogue – that dialogue was often contentious, but it was a dialogue nonetheless. Even in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, the heroes had a history with one another before they battled. By contrast, Batman v Superman artificially separates the characters from one another completely.
Of course, the reason for this separation is that the film is far more interested in shoehorning Batman and Superman into a death match than it is in exploring their time-honored character traits. And this death match is an idea that is wholly original to the film – even in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, the heroes fought each other, but neither of them went into that battle with the intent to kill their opponent.
After laying out all of this information, I think that maybe now I can explain what I dislike about Batman v Superman in a single sentence. I think that the idea of Batman and Superman engaging in a death match is simply a terrible idea. It is completely foreign to the long and rich history of BOTH characters. I have loved the Batman character for my entire life, and I cannot bear to see my hero with his foot on Superman’s throat, actually preparing to end the Kryptonian’s life. That is simply not the Batman that I have always known and loved.
So I must say to Batman v Superman director Zack Snyder and writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer that I reject their vision of these iconic characters. You can present that vision in spectacular 3-D Imax where the characters look every bit as stunning as they ever have, but you cannot make me take it to heart.
At the beginning of this review, I wrote that I have two wildly differing opinions on just how I feel about Batman v Superman. Obviously, I have just finished laying out my negative opinion, so let me give you my positive one. I love Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne. I love his acting both as Batman and Bruce, and I love his standard Batman costume, which looks more like the Batman costume of the comics than any other Batman live-action film costume ever has. I was amused when fans originally complained about Affleck being cast as Batman/Bruce Wayne in the film – how could these fans have possibly been unhappy with the idea of a handsome, 6’ 4” tall, Oscar-winning dramatic actor playing the role?
Affleck’s stand-alone Batman sequences in the film are spectacular. The character’s introduction sequence when he is apprehending a human trafficker is perhaps the best live-action Batman introduction sequence ever filmed. The film’s Batmobile chase sequence in which Batman is trying to steal a large Kryptonite sample from Lex Luthor is furiously exciting, even though it must be pointed out that the sequence shows the Batmobile in action far more than it shows Affleck!
Far and away Batman v Superman’s best Batman sequence is the one in which he rescues Martha Kent from Luthor’s henchmen. It is every bit as savage as it is thrilling, and it captures Batman in action in a manner that looks just like panels from a comic book. (I should point out that one could be bothered by Batman’s apparent use of deadly force in all of these sequences – but even still, he does not do anything nearly as murderous in them as he does to Superman in their battle!) So my own personal takeaway from Batman v Superman is Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne. I can’t wait to see the actor in the role in future Warner Brothers films.
In the interest of fairness, I should mention that I very much enjoyed Henry Cavill as Superman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman. Far and away the best part of the film is when Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman team up to fight the almost indestructible Kryptonian monster genetically engineered by Luthor. Once all of the nonsense of Batman and Superman trying to kill each other is finally out of the way, it is wonderful to watch DC Comics' three most iconic heroes fighting shoulder to shoulder. These scenes play like a live-action, supersized version of the 2001-04 animated TV series Justice League.
I watched Batman v Superman multiple times in theaters when it was first released, and I bought it on Blu-ray the second it was released on home video. Once I owned the film on Blu-ray, I watched my favorite scenes from the film over and over. But I have always avoided watching Batman with his foot on Superman’s throat. I am well into my 50s now, but that 10-year old idealistic Batman fan that I once was is still very much a part of my soul, and he will never accept the idea of his hero being willing to kill Superman.
So how do I close out this review? I think I’ll give Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice two separate letter grades. For its portrayal of the standard Batman in action, I’ll give it an “A” – well done, Mr. Affleck! For its decision to pit Batman and Superman in a death match, I’ll give it an “Incomplete” – Mr. Snyder, Mr. Terrio, and Mr. Goyer, you should do quite a bit more earnest research on your subject material before turning in another DC Comics movie project!