First up, here’s what we’re not going to talk about:
Batman and Superman killing people or using guns. This has been covered a bunch and has dominated the conversation for some comics fans. Everyone has their opinions there, so I figure we’ll put that conversation to the side and look at the rest of the movie.
DC vs. Marvel. I’ve seen very little critique of the DC films that doesn’t compare them to Marvel movies. And I get it. Marvel did the shared universe films first, and they did it damn well – of course they’d be compared. That always seems to devolve into Marvel vs. DC tribalism, though, so I’m going to resist the urge to contrast these movies.
I’m only saying this in advance because the way those conversations dominated discussion of the film is what made me uninterested in watching Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice when it came out. I normally thoroughly enjoy the way that fandom discusses film, but the conversation around the DC Universe stuff was just so negative that I wanted to give myself space… and promise that, even if I ended up not liking the movie, I wouldn’t fall back on those arguments that turned me away to begin with. I decided to finally give it a go because a film that I actually am excited about is coming out soon.
And that film is Wonder Woman. Since we got our first look at her in BvS, I figured… why not?
Spoilers follow… but then, I’m the only person in the world who hadn’t already seen the movie before today, so I think we’ll be fine.
This might be tempered by low expectations, but I was surprised that most of the plotting in the movie works very well. While the characters often seem like they’re being taken along for a ride rather than driving the plot the way iconic heroes should in a movie like this, the plotting is more than competent. It’s laid out like a puzzle, and the pieces come together very well by the end. The way Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman came together to finish off Doomsday was set up especially well.
- BEN AFFLECK
As I kind of thought he’d be, Affleck is an awesome Batman. I don’t understand the weird hate people have toward him, but he’s always been a great performer. His career might be peppered with some less-than-stellar role choices, but that’s true of anyone. He stands strong among the other actors who have donned the cowl.
- SAVE MARTHA!
I’ll get to the rest of the action in the next category, but the standout action scene is easily Batman’s quest to rescue Martha. I know moments of this is based off of The Dark Knight Returns, but its simplicity and the way it plays with the set makes this by far the most solid sequence in the movie… up until the literal final seconds, which fizzles out with a weird, hard to follow “Did Batman just murder that guy? Okay, he did” moment followed by a weird joke from Martha Kent. And, like I promised, it’s not the way Batman took out the guy that I’m critiquing. It’s that it happened in split second flashes of bright action, which just doesn’t give the moment time to hit before the narrative moves on.
- THE REST OF THE ACTION
From the computer game graphics, to the boring trading of punches, to the constant shots of flames… it just flat out didn’t work. I’m no Snyder hater, either – I think he’s done amazing work. Watchmen has brilliant action, and he’s previously done a terrific job of making films that ride the line between realistic and stylized. He’s known for creating shots that look like comic-book art, but I think he went way too much in that direction this time around. There are moments that work as visual eye candy, because he’s still got an eye for that kind of stuff, but a lot of it gets lost in the blur of motion. On the other hand, the one fight that could’ve used more energy – the scrap between Batman and Superman that gave the film its name – was lifeless. I have my thoughts on the way it ended (next section for that) but for a film titled Batman V Superman, they couldn’t have V’d with less emotion, fury, or energy. It should’ve been the payoff, but it ended up just being economical for the plot, which is probably my biggest critique of the film.
The plotting works very well, but I feel that a lot could’ve been cut from the movie without hurting the way the story comes together. The first half cuts from super short scene to super short scene, giving us multiple stories building at once without giving us the time necessary to care about any of the characters. In a film with icons like these, the plot shouldn’t be the most impressive thing. I like that it worked, but the way it was paced makes me wonder if the architecture of the story came at the expense of the characters. Cutting some of the excess and focusing more on giving us a reason to care that these heroes are fighting each other would’ve made me more invested, and would’ve certainly set the Batman/Superman fight up to have more pathos.
- WEIRD BATDREAMS
Too long, too much. This time would’ve been better spent setting up Batman’s current mindstate in the waking world. I get that they were trying to create a visual, action-packed depiction of his fears, but this is the one ongoing motif in the film that just doesn’t work at all. We definitely need the scene with Bruce’s dad dying in order to set up the end of the Batman/Superman fight, but I feel like that could’ve been two minutes long rather than sixteen hours.
- AMY ADAMS
To say her performance in this film is standout is ridiculous. She is the emotional backbone of the movie, even though she isn’t exactly given the most powerful character arc in the script. She makes magic with what she is given, turning Lois into the most dynamic, interesting, powerful, and nuanced character in the movie. If all of the performers were bringing it on Amy Adams’ level, this would be incredible even despite the entirely plot-driven narrative.
- MARTHA MOMENT
I went into this thinking that I’d include the “Martha!” controversy as something I wouldn’t talk about. This bit gets made fun of a lot, but it’s the strongest moment of character and plotting in the film. I entirely believe that Clark calling out his mother’s name would make Batman pause before killing him, and that the poetry of her sharing the name “Martha” with Bruce’s deceased mom would give the would-be killer hero a shock to his system. This moment is often critiqued as “Well, our mothers have the same name, so I guess let’s call off this fight to the death,” when really it’s a carefully balanced moment where a vigilante blinded by what he feels is a righteous fury is pulled out of his rampage for a moment, at which point he allows himself to see his foe’s humanity. What can I say? It works.
WAITING FOR WONDER WOMAN
Now, you’ll notice that I watched this movie to get hyped for Wonder Woman, but I didn’t put her anywhere in there. That’s because we honestly got a lot less of her than I expected. She was cool in the final battle with Doomsday – by far the most visually interesting of the DC heroes we’ve seen thus far in terms of powers and costume. She also seems the most noble of them, which I enjoyed. We just don’t see enough of her for to get that hyped for DC’s take. Honestly, the trailers for her own film still have me more excited for Wonder Woman than seeing her in action here.
So there it is – I liked the film well enough. It’s neither the abomination that some say it is, nor is it the misunderstood genius that others claim it to be. It’s just a pretty okay movie. I cautiously hold out hope that I’ll be able to shower Wonder Woman with higher praise than that, because… come on, it’s about damn time we get a film starring this icon. This will be the first DC Universe movie I see in theaters, and all I can say is that I hope they do her justice.