Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a graphic novel come to life, ripped right off the page and come to live in vivid imagery that act as pulsing panels, with action sequences that are loud and abrasive and immersive, but there are also characters that feel alive and worldly, with enough Easter eggs to catch you off guard each and every time you watch it. This is not just a love letter to DC fans, this is a love letter to comic book fans, showing us exactly what a comic book movie should look like. What it should feel like. Breathtaking cinematography allowed for sweeping images that allowed emotional resonance with the stories weaved throughout, and character arcs that, while start off muddled, end up being cemented as the story moves forward. The biggest sin the film commits was that it wasn’t longer, because there were sequences in the movie that felt cut short, specifically in the first half where it felt like plot lines were muddled together, where scenes weren’t given time to breathe before moving onto something else. But then we get to the second half and everything set up in the first half pays off, and we’re off to the races in an exhilarating finish.
At its core, Batman v Superman is an abstract exploration of human existence, and the human psyche once it’s revealed that we are not the top dog on planet Earth. In fact, it is about human beings wrestling with the idea of God showing up on their planet, and how that will impact society as a whole. In a lot of ways, BvS draws parallels toward Zack Snyder’s Watchmen in the treatment of the main heroes. Superman as this God like figure whose one connection to humanity is the woman he loves (or two if you count his mother). And through the characterization of Superman we explore these ideological ideas about the nature of God, all powerful vs all good and how God cannot be both. In fact, after viewing the film and meditating on what Snyder and co presented, this felt like a philosophical discourse on the presence of God, and why it might be beneficial to society if we keep him in the abstract, a being who we theorize about yet never fully get confirmation of. Superman is presented as this Christ like figure with imagery to match, yet he’s also presented as God himself, and how that would mess with the universe. Futurama had an episode back in the day where Bender becomes God like being, and learns the lesson that God must only intervene in this world enough to make a difference yet nobody notices him. That’s the central struggle at the core of BvS, where God becomes a tangible thing instead of an abstract idea, and the world wrestles with this knowledge
Batman on the other hand is more of a Rorschach character. A guy who’s been in the game for 20 years, and has seen the worst of people. He’s lost family. He’s lost partners, and now he just wants to get the job done, and in doing so he essentially stops seeing the bad guys as people, and starts looking at them as objectives. Human life holds very little value to him when it comes to the bad guys, at least that’s how his character is set up. And as the credits rolled, I came to the realization that this was more of a redemption story for Batman than anything else. This is a character who has lost his way a bit, who has been through hell and just doesn’t care about his methods anymore. He still cares about the good people, but not much about the bad guys. And then the Superman fight happens, and I realized that the humanity within Superman reminded Batman of why he puts on the cowl. It reminded him why he fights crime, and of the humanity within us all. Batman is brutal within this film. His introduction is like a horror movie. And then there is this specific moment at the conclusion of the Superman battle where we see that ounce of humanity, that recognition in Bruce’s eyes that humanity must exist within us all. It is very beautiful, very eloquent and very subtle. Bruce Wayne’s entire story arc within this film feels like he’s seeking redemption, and there is that glimmer of hope at the end, where we realize that he’s on the right path.
Lex Luthor is an interesting character to dissect in this. This is a man with a God complex, and then God shows up in his backyard. There is no inciting incident that turns him against Superman, rather it is a character flaw. Lex Luthor doesn’t just feel inferior in the presence of God. He feels irrelevant. His presence in the world now hold no weight at all because we live amongst a God, and to act out against this irrelevancy he must make God kneel at his feet. But more than that, Luthor doesn’t just want to test God’s inferiority. He wants revenge on a God that abandoned him. There was no Superman when he was a child, going through abuse and torment. This is about more than just his psychosis. It is about revenge. Luthor’s character arc and character struggle is all internal as he must find out what to do with this God lurking on his planet. So he creates a monster. A literal devil to face off against God. There is a lot of nuance and depth given to Luthor’s character, and Jesse Eisenberg plays it in a very fanciful and manic way, adding energy to the film, but there is always this sinister twinkle behind the mask he puts on for the public, and Eisenberg was the perfect actor to pull this role off.
The plot, admittedly, is all over the place, specifically in the first half of the movie. Scenes lacked cohesion, and the film moved so fast that it didn’t allow certain scenes and character moments to breath. There was so much the film wanted to do, and so much it tried to do, that it simply felt jarring and out of tune with the narrative it was trying to tell, at least in the first half. The film needed to set up this universe’s Batman while also introducing Lex Luthor while giving Lois a side plot and also setting up Clark Kent. There was just a lot the movie had to do, and this lead to a first half that felt out of sync with itself.
But then we hit the halfway mark, and the movie just took off. It felt a lot more fluid as scenes began cohesively existing with one another. There were so many jaw dropping and heart pounding moments. Everything just escalated to the next level, and I appreciate the fact that Zack Snyder and WB weren’t afraid to just throw everything at the screen. We got Easter eggs that will both payoff down the line but will also keep you entertained on multiple viewings because of the sheer amount of them, we got great and varied cameos from other Justice League members, and for the first time in the history of film we got Wonder Woman, and she got her moment to make a lasting impression and make me excited for her solo film next year.
Even though the story itself was flawed in its pacing, the sheer ambition of it made up for that. They took chances with very dark thematic turns in the story, taking us to depths that we haven’t been to since Nolan’s The Dark Knight, with narrative turns that were haunting in their bleakness. Yes, this is a bleak movie, yet it is also inspiring as it comes to a close. It is hopeful for the future as the credits roll. The story might seem unfocused and choppy early on, with multiple narratives being set up, but as it winds down, it is clear that this was always Superman’s movie. This was always his journey, and him discovering who he is and who he wants to be. From Man of Steel and weaved throughout BvS, Superman is given an arc that explores his psyche in complex and interesting ways. No, he is not just a good person all the time just for the sake of it, but instead this is a character who holds doubts. He has fears. He revealed himself to the world, and in essence was rejected. His birth father told him that he will give Earth and ideal to strive toward, while his adoptive father told him that his reveal will change the world. He is the answer to are they alone in the universe. He revealed himself to the world and faces rejection. He faces backlash for his actions, no matter how pure or good intentioned they may be. In Man of Steel he was more of a reluctant hero while here he is more of a rejected hero. The way they handled Superman’s story arc was thought provoking and beautiful.
Batman v Superman, while at times disjointed and jumbled, also acts as an intellectual exploration of philosophical ideals through the context of the DC Comics universe, giving us food for thought while also presenting complex heroes and haunting imagery that when in conjunction with dialogue helps paint a powerful painting regarding the limits of power, and the reaction of a world when God is seemingly confirmed and tangible right before their eyes. In terms of Snyder filmography, BvS is a mix between Watchmen and Sucker Punch, as Snyder takes the superhero landscape and fills it with larger than life thematic ideas and food for thought explored in a very abstract way, with imagery that will stay seared into your brain long after the credits roll.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice merges the real world with the fictional one that exists in DC Comics, and if you think that what you see is too dark and bleak, then take a look around. Instead of acting as a window into another world, BvS acts instead as a mirror; a reflection into our own.
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jeremy Irons, Jesse Eisenberg