When I was first introduced to Zack Snyder’s DC universe, with Man of Steel, I was very hopeful for the project given Snyder’s previous track record with comic book films. I’ve heard from the multitudes that his work on Watchmen was unappreciated, but considering the esoteric subplots and interior narrative on the comic book industry presented by Moore, I doubt that anyone could have successfully rendered the property with the level of visual fidelity that Snyder did. My only gripe was with the ending, but that is another article for another day.
Man of Steel was a monstrous defeat for me. And even though I have seen the film at least five times, I found myself hoping that, this time, Superman wouldn’t break Zod’s neck. Yes, I am aware of the character history for both Batman and Superman, how each character has killed in the past. Maybe I was raised on the DC animated universe too thoroughly? Where scenes are intentionally set up to show enemy combatants surviving encounters with metahumans, to ensure us that no one died. I am aware that that is a farce on its own, but I admit it has colored my expectations of superhero dramatics. I later understood more clearly that the same animations I was watching were readily inspired by Grant Morrison’s run on JLA in the late 90s and early 2000s. Grant’s work has never steered away from violence, but he is also conscious of the spirit of comics, and on a deeper level has explored both feminist and postmodern themes. Man of Steel is more focused on a post September 11th portrayal of superheroes, and when I discovered that the launching point of the Justice League film would be Batman V Superman I wasn’t very convinced of the impending cinematic universe’s vitality. Then again, these films aren’t meant to be uplifting at all, and maybe that is an unfair expectation.
I waited intentionally to write this impromptu review, not wanting my opinions to be needlessly heated. But after watching Batman V Superman I didn’t feel stunned at all at what I saw. Critical reception has tanked the film, and, at this writing, much of the fire of the opening weekend has been stoked. I was very adamant on expressing my anarchistic outlook on the film, documenting the film’s poor reception prior to seeing the film. With little expectations I exited the film unsurprised and underwhelmed by the film’s direction. One viewer clapped at the end of the film. I waited for the Marvel style, end-credits teaser in vain. And so, the viewers departed into the night. It was a Tuesday I should add, when my local theater sells tickets at half price. I still felt like I paid too much.
The biggest impression Batman V Superman left on me was Wonder Woman. This was a common thread in the reviews. She really was the only figure on the screen that embodied the hopeful optimism that I was raised on in the animated universe. Sadly, she wasn’t in the film very long. Her use of a sword and shield reminded me of Kingdom Come when Wonder Woman took up the sword in the cataclysmic finale at the gulag. She kills a metahuman, in Jaw-Dropping comic book ecstasy, and we are all reminded that DC heroes should never kill. Strangely, I was able to catch the animated film Justice League: War set in the New 52 universe, a film where the DC heroes haphazardly conspire to maim Darkseid because his vision, and not his legions of parademons, poses the most immediate threat to the world. Beat for beat, Batman V Superman visually matches this film. Imagining a future live-action film where Darkseid is reduced to a King-Kong archetype with little sophistication, without charisma or motivation, makes me sick to my stomach.
I should add there was a very different animated film, based on the Flashpoint Paradox arch. This particular film features a lost Barry Allen, departing from the DC universe we know and entering into one where Batman kills people with guns, Wonder Woman and Aquaman are fascists, and Superman is an emaciated superhuman without any power or inspiration. Between two years, DC’s direction has shifted, and I am unable to understand how lost a company could be when it comes to their intellectual properties.
That Batman in Snyder’s iteration kills people rather indiscriminately came as no surprise and yet, I’m less and less convicted that DC heroes shouldn’t kill. Maybe that is due to myself being desensitized by Snyder’s cinematic vision? Though I suspect my lowered expectations has to do with the darkened outlook of my favorite comic book company. Obviously Snyder’s Batman is modeled after the Miller iteration from the late 80s but even then Batman was using rubber bullets. In the DC cinicematic universe Robin is dead, and maybe Batman has become disillusioned with his earlier stances on firearms? Synder’s films never arouse clarity, but suspicion, clearly.
While Marvel’s ongoing film franchise is beginning to lose steam, I suspect that they will crash the genre much like Image did to the comic book industry at large in the early 90s, or even the WW2 cinematic genre of the early 2000s. This places DC at the epicenter of their imminent collapse, and once again DC loyalists will never see their Justice League film. I should add that recently David Ayer was recalled back to the studio lot for reshoots, but I doubt that will save Suicide Squad which follows the abysmally black universe crafted by Snyder.
Everyone has read a bad review of Batman V Superman, and I don’t really want to contribute to the ongoing masochism. What I will say is that Synder’s vision is at odds with mine, but the universe in which he’s crafted is entirely cohesive. In a world where the US is crying out for blood against things we don’t understand, electing a fear mongering tyrant into office, and disparaging education and intellectualism, Batman V Superman is a welcoming analogue to our dark and foreboding world, one which, I suspect, will confiscate my copy of Justice League: The Animated Series.