So, as is probably obvious, I’m kind of a comic book nerd. I’ve been reading comics, off and on, for over 20 years, and been a pretty heavy reader for about the last decade. Early on in the last decade, I read almost anything I could find – Marvel, DC, Image, Wildstorm, Dark Horse, Vertigo, I read quite a lot. While Captain America has been my favorite character for a long time, I also used to be really fond of Justice League and Justice Society, as well as Outsiders, Superman, and Green Lantern among the DC titles. I was really happy when they rebooted the Batman movies with Batman Begins in 2005, and then Marvel got into the game (for themselves; there were other Marvel-property movies, like the X-Men, before that) with Iron Man in 2008. I’ve read the comics, seen the cartoons, watched the movies.
For the most part, I was really happy with the way the Marvel Cinematic Universe began to take shape, and I liked the Nolan Batman trilogy, too – sure, it was dark and gritty, but Batman is a dark and gritty kind of character. Marvel went in a different direction – Iron Man is loud and flashy, in some ways a polar opposite to Batman; they’re both rich genius-types, but Tony Stark really is a playboy billionaire, while Batman just pretends to be one. Then Marvel moved on to the Hulk, then Thor, then Captain America, before finally bringing them all together in The Avengers. Marvel built their universe with a variety of colorful characters, and went through 5 movies, all connected and within the same cinematic world, before bringing the team together, and that work is what made the Avengers a success – they did the work.
With DC, though, it feels like they’ve just been playing catch-up, and not very well. The Nolan Batman movies were pretty awesome, especially Dark Knight. But I don’t think they were ever conceived of as the beginning of a similar cinematic universe, and it shows. Where Marvel used several different directors and styles in their movies – the action-realism of Iron Man, contrasted against the, let’s say high-tech Shakespearian of Thor – DC moved from dark and gritty Batman to… similarly dark and gritty Superman in Man of Steel. I was disappointed with this, because Superman has never been a dark character – he wears blue and red tights, he flies and shoots lasers from his eyes, and is often called the Big Blue Boy Scout. Using the same style of movie for Superman as for Batman was a choice I thought missed a crucial part of the Superman character.
Now, with Batman vs. Superman, I think DC missed the mark again, and this time it’s worse. There will be spoilers for the movie, so if you haven’t seen it, stop here.
Still reading? Well, this movie (I’ll use BvS as shorthand) seems to have completely missed the point of both Batman and Superman, at least in my opinion. Batman, as a character, is not mentally healthy – I mean, his parents getting killed in front of him has driven him to train harder than anyone to be the best detective, fighter, and gadgeteer he can be, then dress up like a bat and beat criminals up. That’s not something your average, mentally healthy person is going to do. But non-BvS Batman is generally aware of his shortcomings and his personality issues, and he has a code – the most important part of which is, NO KILLING. Batman doesn’t kill people. But in BvS, he’s rage-filled, terrifying – even to those he saves – and entirely willing to kill. In fact, he does so a number of times. His plan for dealing with Superman involves killing him. While Ben Affleck does well with what he’s given, the Batman of this movie seems like a Batman who has been pushed almost as far as Harvey Dent in Dark Knight, and is almost to the point where I wouldn’t consider him a good guy anymore.
Superman is probably even worse, in my estimation. The dark, dreary presentation of him in Man of Steel continues, but this time, he’s not just learning to be Superman; he’s been Superman for almost two years. And virtually every shot of him as Superman is of a man who just looks exhausted, pained, and nearly hopeless. For a man with virtually limitless power, hope seems to be one of the few powers he doesn’t have, and considering one of my favorite Superman scenes is portrayed in this link, that’s practically criminal. And while one of the many criticisms of Man of Steel was that Superman made no effort to save innocent people in the final battle in Metropolis, we see little of that here – a 30-second montage of Superman saving a girl from a burning building, dragging a ship to safety, rescuing a crew module from an exploding space launch. Otherwise, the only person we see Superman make an effort to save is Lois Lane. When the congressional hearing he is called to explodes, leaving him standing alone in burning wreckage, he just looks defeated, but never made any effort to help. This Superman is portrayed as a distant god, with near-limitless power, but virtually no connection to humanity, rather than the Kansas farmboy -with corresponding moral fortitude and a certain degree of naivete – who just happens to be a superpowered alien. He even says, talking to Lois, that he is Superman not because he believes in it, but because it’s something he thinks his father would have wanted. While it is certainly some vision of Superman, it is not one that I enjoy, or that I think is anything like his typical portrayal.
Even the Lex Luthor in this movie is a pale shadow of the character from the comics and cartoons – and even previous movies. This Lex is young, and arrogant, and seems intelligent, but has several moments where he can’t seem to put words together coherently. And his plan in the movie is nonsensical, and only seems to work because somehow he has managed to out-think the world’s greatest detective AND figure out the secret identities of both titular heroes. Instead of seeming smooth and self-assured like most portrayals of Lex, this one is frenetic, almost manic; personally, I think they would have been better off casting Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor from the Smallville TV series) than Jesse Eisenberg – this Lex seems to have more in common with Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg from The Social Network than any Superman villain.
The fight between Batman and Superman, while impressive, is built up for far too long, and has poor foundation – if Batman wanted to confront Superman, he could easily have done the same thing Lex Luthor did and find out that his secret identity is Clark Kent, rather than building a mechanized Bat-suit and hijacking a shipment of kryptonite. The reason for it ending without the death of Superman is equally poor – they essentially stop fighting because Superman, about to be stabbed by a kryptonite spear, tells Batman that he needs to save his mother, Martha – and Batman, upon hearing that Clark’s mother has the same name as his own, suddenly not only stops fighting Superman, but volunteers to go save his mother. This poorly-contrived fight is in contrast to the conflict that has been building between Captain America and Iron Man since The Avengers, which is built on in Age of Ultron and will come to a head in next month’s Captain America: Civil War – a conflict that is given solid foundations and which seems to follow the way the characters are portrayed. The whole movie makes it seem like DC is rushing to try to make their own big team movie, Justice League, even having teasers for The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman in BvS.
The best part of the movie was the inclusion of Wonder Woman, who shows up first as a mysterious woman at a party, and reveals her heroic self in the final battle. She looks the part, and acts the part, and makes me hopeful for next year’s Wonder Woman movie.
While I haven’t been a fan of every Marvel movie – I think Thor 2 was probably the weakest movie in the MCU, and didn’t have many great moments – I’m far more concerned with the direction DC is taking. I don’t think Zack Snyder is a good choice for their flagship movies, and I don’t think he gets superhero movies at all – I mean, he has this to say about the inclusion of Jimmy Olden in BvS:
“We just did it as this little aside because we had been tracking where we thought the movies were gonna go, and we don’t have room for Jimmy Olsen in our big pantheon of characters, but we can have fun with him, right?”
Oh, I should note that this little aside he’s talking about? It is a LexCorp mercenary shooting Jimmy Olsen in the face. Yeah, Snyder kills a classic Superman support character in one of the first scenes of the movie. So I’m not interested in anything else Snyder has to do in the DC universe. I’ll stick to their TV offerings – shows like Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl – all of which seem to be more true to their characters, and seem to have more fun as part of a comic-based universe.