Academics on Batman v. Superman

Released on March 25, 2016, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was a movie decades in the making.  As the first live action film featuring both Batman and Superman it was a movie featuring two of the biggest pop culture icons in history.

Though hotly anticipated, the film has met with questionable responses from critics, audiences, and the box office.  Since these reactions have already been noted, I wanted to take a different approach.  As such, I have reached out to academics who professionally study popular culture and mass entertainment, and asked them to share their thoughts on what type of scholarship Batman v. Superman could inspire.

“The overwhelmingly negative critical reaction to – and relative audience indifference towards – Batman v. Superman speaks to a bigger disconnect of these superheroes from the modern era. The reach of the film and the level of technical acumen necessary to achieve the verisimilitude of two iconic characters fighting and later collaborating was not met with the cultural resonance expected of this long-awaited onscreen meeting. Meanwhile, films featuring less-storied comics characters like Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool make inroads to the popular culture of modern consumerist culture with their more identifiable and human representations of their main characters.

While pundits may point to the impressive box office receipts for the film as evidence of its success, Batman v. Superman illustrates important questions for our modern franchise-based storytelling within the major motion picture. What do we want our heroes to be? How do we want them to act? Who should be protected? What means should they use to protect us? And are they truly gods among us, or flawed men and women that illustrate our true foibles? Batman v. Superman is an interesting work that explores these ideas with varying levels of success. The possibility that humans have no place in this new world of alien invaders and broken heroes makes their arrival all the more fascinating, and the trinity of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are no longer icons. Instead, they are unnatural forces destabilizing an already tumultuous world. If anything, Batman v. Superman makes audiences question the very nature of heroes and their actions.

That it raises so many interesting questions only enhances the frustration of not answering them in a satisfactory manner. Batman v. Superman is a flawed movie that frustrates more than engages, and ultimately its interest in these heroes as individuals is overshadowed by its focus on them as forces of destruction.”

Kyle Moody, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Communications Media

Fitchburg State University

Twitter: @KyleisMoody

“There were tons of things I enjoyed about the movie, but without a doubt my favourite was the subversion of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, the influence of which had caused me to seriously consider not even seeing the movie. Specifically, I would discuss the way in which this Batman was completely wrong about something (Superman) and who admits it and strives to make up for it in a way that doesn’t involve endless brooding in the Batcave. Furthermore, the narrative doesn’t attempt to excuse his error, nor does it punish anyone else for his making it. For an older, ostensibly experienced superhero, this is a moment of growth and realization seldom depicted, least of all with regard to the Caped Crusader.”

Aidan Dubhain Diamond,

Memorial University of Newfoundland, Masters Student

“BvS suggestion of the comprised nature of power is worth considering. Our assumption that comic books and related media represent white, male, heteronormative power are historically grounded. In this framing, DC Comics naturally has a central place having created the superhero genre and having many of its conventions established in its publications. The struggle to adapted these foundational text speaks to the rejections of political, social, and economic assumption linked to 20th century American centrality. In its place is uncertainty, despite all of the country’s power. DC property foundational nature and societal currency make them the vehicle to express the anxiety linked to the deeper challenge of US identity in domestic and global context in the 21st century.”

Julian C. Chambliss, Ph.D.

Rollins College

Twitter: @JulianChambliss

“While it lacks the subtlety and narrative sophistication of The Dark Knight, Batman v. Superman is more thematically compelling than the overstuffed Avengers: Age of Ultron.  While it suffers in obvious moments as a franchise starter and from Zack Snyder’s testosterone-heavy direction, the film makes interesting comments on superpowers in a political arena.  In addition, Batman v. Superman brings to the screen a tension between these heroes that has been a defining characteristic of their relationship since The Dark Knight Returns.

Some of the critical resistance has been to the depiction of Superman as frustrated and uncertain.  However, this seems to reveal the difficulty that the mainstream public has negotiating between Superman as an icon and a character that can live and breathe in the world that is now being crafted for superheroes at the Cineplex.  With this in mind, there are two areas that present themselves to me for further scholarly exploration.

Batman v. Superman is a direct address of the highly criticized and wanton collateral damage caused by Superman in Man of Steel; Superman is unfinished as a character and as yet unfit to be the inspiration that both fans and the general public expect him to be for the Justice League.  In what ways does this suggest the Blockbuster model has adopted the dynamic appropriation of fan reaction and the long-range episodic character evolution long seen with comic books and now television?

And moving more into fan reaction and the critical analysis of the film’s “success,” the wild divergence of reaction is worth a much closer look (at one time with a 29% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 9.5 on IMDB).  As Batman v. Superman nears 900 million at the box office, it’s fascinating to see critics referring to the film as a financial disappointment.  While the Marvel Studios films have propelled superhero films into a new stratosphere of expectations, fans and critics seem to be succumbing to the drama of not just competitive studio hype but also the drama of the typical superhero narrative itself.”

Terrence Wandtke, Ph.D.

Director, Film and Media Program

Judson University

“Batman v. Superman is a fascinating superhero movie; it is an ambitious attempt to establish a coherent, interconnected DC universe on film for the first time, and — following on from Man of Steel — an example of thoughtfully constructed superhero continuity and coherent storytelling that should give even Marvel Studios pause for thought. The film can also be seen as a careful study in perspective and the accountability of power, as well as a reflection on how our perception of threats can be rooted in prejudices that are themselves potentially dangerous. All of these themes are fertile ground for academic analysis and debate.

Just as compelling, though, is the overwhelmingly negative critical reaction. That Batman v. Superman, arguably one of the most thematically rich and intricately plotted superhero films of recent years, has faced such criticism — and even vehement derision — raises interesting questions concerning how popular icons like Batman and Superman are perceived and their meanings policed.”

Phillip Bevin, Ph.D.

Kingston University London

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Nicholas Yanes has a Ph.D. in American Studies, and his dissertation examined the business history of EC Comics and MAD Magazine. In addition to being a professional writer, he frequently consults entertainment companies in regards to video games, films, and comic books.

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