For what it’s worth: A Batman Vs Superman Review

How’s this for an unpopular statement – I liked Batman vs Superman. Yep, I’m aware of the irony – the feminist with whom watching movies is a pain in the arse actually liked the film everyone is panning.  I am going to attempt to explain myself.

Also, SPOILER WARNING. Don’t read unless you’ve seen it. Anyhoo..here goes…

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I liked Batman vs Superman for a number of reasons. Firstly, for a superhero film it hits remarkably close to home, because it revolves around the notion that people tend to believe the worst of others, especially of “the other”. When Clark Kent learns of the return of the Bat vigilante who attacks crooks and brands the worst of them, unimpeded by the GCPD,  he naturally thinks that Batman is going too far – many would agree with him.

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Bruce Wayne, meanwhile, sees the destruction and havoc wreaked in Superman’s wake and is naturally distrustful of a seemingly all-powerful being.

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This is a story of a clash of ideologies (easily applied as a metaphor for any number of global conflicts and social issues) that ultimately causes more problems than it solves. While the two boys are fighting, Lex Luthor is off creating an even bigger monster to take them both out.

All three men had drastically different childhood experiences which inform their current worldview – Superman was  raised by loving parents to be a boy scout and to always do what is best. Batman saw his parents die “pointlessly in the gutter,” and as such as a nihilistic outlook. Lex Luthor was abused by his father and came to the conclusion that God is either a complete bastard or not as all-powerful as people say. When God comes to earth in the form of Superman, he sees an immediate threat that must be annihilated at all costs.

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While we’re on the topic of Luthor, nobody seems to be sure if he’s meant to be the same Lex Luthor from the DC canon, or if he’s Lex Luthor’s son. Maybe he’s a mix of both? Anyway, pretty much everyone can agree that Jesse Eisenberg may have employed a bit too much of the Joker in his portrayal. There were moments when he excelled (“Don’t let anyone take my seat!”) and others where he absolutely needed to dial it back a few notches. However, we need to remember that a mad and manic Lex Luthor is comic book canon – he was first and foremost a mad scientist, particularly in DC’s silver age comics.

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Up against a stoically god-like Superman and a thoroughly disillusioned and depressed Batman, playing Luthor like the cold industrialist from the 90’s that many of my generation remember just wouldn’t work.

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Someone had to lighten the mood and add some balance. Unfortunately, he went too far in the other direction and was unbelievable as the head of a multinational company; he needed to be less awkward and more charming.

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Another criticism I’ve seen thrown around is that nobody would ever believe that Superman would blow up a building full of people, or shoot a bunch of terrorists, because everyone loves Superman and he doesn’t kill.  My response to that is…are you sure? Because we now live in a world where people think vaccines cause autism, that Obama is a terrorist and that Trump is a viable presidential candidate. Is it really that much of a stretch, in a world when our most base fears are preyed upon, that people would be sceptical that the all-powerful alien only means us well?

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Which brings us to one of the core concepts of the film – consequences. Superman and Batman may have saved us from some of the worst rogues the DC Universe has to offer, but so much destruction is left in their wake that it would be hard to see the greater good of it all  when you’re standing at ground zero. Superheroes, governments and the populace alike need to remember that actions have consequences, and sometimes a real human cost. As much as you want to deny it, Batman has killed people.

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One of the biggest criticisms of BvS is that Batman killed people in a number of scenes. One of these scenes was a premonition of the end of the world (caused by the Flash travelling back in time to give him a warning…it’s confusing but will probably be cleared up in the Justice League Movie). We don’t get any confirmation that the beings he shoots are people – let’s wait for a little context on this one, eh? The point of this premonition is to freak Bruce Wayne the fuck out, and presenting him with a future where he is forced to break his one big rule about killing is a great way to do it.

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The other scenes with a Batman-induced body count include when he’s chasing the truck full of Kryptonite and when he rescues Mrs Kent by setting her captor on fire. I’d like to take this moment to point out that he’s not doing anything that we haven’t already seen in previous Batman films – behold, the Batman Movie Kill Counter! The only difference in those instances is that other directors didn’t linger on the human cost nearly as much as Snyder, which is the whole point. Batman in the comics doesn’t kill on purpose, but do you really think that all of the henchmen he’s punched out or knocked out with a batterang in the comics got up again? Concussions kill, too. As Sterling Archer would say, that’s super bad for you.

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For those watching carefully and with a knowledge of the major Batman comic story events, it’s easy to pinpoint where we are in Batman’s timeline – the bullet-ridden and graffiti-covered Robin suit on display in Bruce’s hallway indicates that these events occur after those of Death in the Family” (1988-1989) when The Joker murders the second Robin, Jason Todd (yes, he was beaten to death with a crowbar, but it’s much more effective to show bullet-holes on screen).

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This event happened at around the same time as The Killing Joke (1988), in which The Joker shoots Batgirl in the spine and she becomes a paraplegic.

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The Killing Joke: Another classic with a whole other set of problems

 

Yes, I got all of that from this one shot –

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So, after all of this we can make the assumption that Bruce hung up the cowl until his first encounter with Superman. He has also abandoned the original Wayne Manor. With all that has happened to him, Bruce is already at the end of his tether. His world has been spinning out of control since his parents died and there is nothing he can do about it. It’s not until he realises that Superman was coming to him for help rescuing Martha Kent that he stops and recognises what he has become. He has become so cynical, frustrated and enraged by the world that he was ready to kill a man who just wanted his help. By the end of the film he starts to pull back from the brink – he doesn’t brand Lex Luthor (it would amount to a death sentence for a prison inmate), he mourns Clark and vows to carry on Superman’s legacy by getting more Supe’s into the fight for justice.

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Another criticism levelled was that a film doesn’t have to be visually darker to be considered a ‘dark’ film, and that the symbolism in this instance was very juvenile. I submit to you that the film wasn’t visually dark because to suit the themes. In fact, most of the Superman-focused scenes were well-lit. The contrasting colour pallets and lighting was to draw a distinction between Batman and Superman, Gotham and Metropolis, optimism and nihilism. If you read a Batman comic alongside a Superman comic you’ll see a vast difference in colour palette, which is what (I think) Snyder was trying to emulate.

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I suspect that a lot of people went into this movie expecting a humorous and formulaic romp, à la the last few Marvel offerings. That’s not what we got, and that’s one of the reasons why I liked it. I’ve never re-watched a Marvel movie and discovered new levels of nuance or symbolism – everything is on the surface and there to see. Hopefully this will change with Civil War, but I’m not holding my breath.

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Okay. With all that out of the way… Batman Vs Superman was less disappointing from a feminist standpoint than most other action movies I have seen. Yes, I am aware that that is a very, VERY low bar, but so many films still manage to whack their shins on it.

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Nobody’s wife or girlfriend got “fridged” (unless you count Martha Wayne, but I don’t because Thomas died at the same time and it’s been established since the 40’s). They avoided the Smurfette principle by including Lois Lane, June Finch and Wonder Woman in key roles (although unless some more women pop up in the Justice League, the next movie is going to fall down in this area), and Wonder Woman was the factor that turned the tide against the final fight with Doomsday.

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I won’t deny that when she appeared, saving Bats from a deadly blast to the face while her bitching guitar riff played, I had a grin from ear to ear. FUCKING YES! And then when they all took down Doomsday together, they did it in ways that were completely consistent with their characters. Wonder Woman never hesitated to go at him with her sword, but when Batman finally had time to regroup and shoot Doomsday with his Kryptonite gas (using brains before brawn, which is absolutely our Bats) she then had her chance to hold monster down with her lasso and let Superman go in for the final blow.

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Some have argued that Wonder Woman was out of character by knowing how to use technology, but I’d like to point out that she’s now been around for over 100 years, and that a Wonder Woman having simple concepts explained to her by Bruce and Clark would have been a VERY BAD MOVE. Do you really want to watch an entire movie of men explaining simple modern concepts to the strongest woman on the screen?

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Speaking of Strong Women™, let’s talk about Lois. People are bitching that she had to be rescued a lot in this film, and normally I’d be right there with them if it weren’t for two very important factors. Firstly, the writers went to pains to point out that Clark constantly going to Lois’ rescue is not always a good thing. Him saving her from the warlord at the start of the film causes a huge international incident that kills several civilians – his actions have consequences. When he saves her from drowning at the end of the film he has to take time out from fighting Doomsday, essentially leaving Batman and Wonder Woman to fend for themselves for a while. He then goes duck diving for the Kryptonite Spear and almost drowns, because Kryptonite. Duh. Lois then has to rescue him because he didn’t think his actions through.

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Secondly, Lois was the only character who figured out that Luthor paid the mercenaries at the start of the film, and the only one who asked the right questions – the boys were too distracted by each other.

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The character of June Finch, who lead the senate committee investigating Superman, was a stand-out for me. Yes, she mostly existed to block Lex Luthor’s plans, but again she was the only person with the balls to try and stop him in the first place. Holly Hunter took a character who had relatively little screen time or development and still delivered a powerhouse performance with more nuance than Henry Cavill has ever managed.

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I am pissed off, however, about Martha Kent. She exists to soothe and console, then to be kidnapped, tied to a chair and rescued. We’re not really given any more about her character – she appeared just to give Superman one final reason to kill Batman. While I loved her dialogue exchange with Batman – “I’m a friend of your son.” “I figured. The cape” – and that once she was rescued she seemed pretty chill about the whole ordeal, they could have dispensed with that scene entirely and the plot still would have made sense. Simply have Superman ask that his mother be looked after while he has the kryptonite spear pointed at his throat, the two dudes bond over being mother’s boys, then they go to investigate the weird shit over at Lex Corp.  

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Also, I felt that Lois finding out Clark had planned on proposing was unnecessary – that’s the dead male equivalent of a fictional husband finding out that his newly-murdered wife had been pregnant.  It’s done to tug the heart-strings, is really lazy and, in this case, wasn’t needed – we already knew how much they loved each other.

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I feel like a lot of the details were lost because they went by so fast – Snyder was trying to fit in too much information. This lead to a movie that felt too long and contained important details that were easily missed.

In conclusion, yes this film has some issues but I don’t think it deserves nearly the level of vitriol it’s been getting.

That said, I’m going to be enraged if the Wonder Woman movie isn’t near-perfect.

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