In the last two months, I've never defended a movie as much as I have Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Seriously, the critical mass against it is like nothing I have ever seen before for a big budget movie. Not even Michael Bay's poorly received billion-dollar Transformers franchise has gotten this much heat, enough from the critics and public alone that it caused Warner Bros. to shakeup the structure of their DC Films division just a week ago.
I've seen the movie several times now, and I have a difficult time believing that it deserves even half of the total scorn it has gotten since even before it was released. The movie was dead on arrival with critics at 37% rotten on Rotten Tomatoes two days prior to its advance U.S. release on March 24th when I first saw it. I read about 30 of those bad reviews and went into the movie looking for the problems that they all highlighted.
After the sold out IMAX theater applauded joyously for the movie during the end credits, my friends and I left that theater baffled at what the critics were complaining about, and to be honest I'm still baffled. Well, I'm partially baffled because I have a good idea of what the real problem is, but it has nothing to do with Batman v Superman directly.
It does have everything to do with Marvel Studios, though.
Because I still believe in SPOILER WARNINGS unlike the rest of humanity anymore, I'll let you know that from this point on there will be MASSIVE SPOILERS from both Batman v Superman and Captain America: Civil War, so if for whatever reason you haven't seen either of these movies, still intend to see them and have somehow kept yourself in the dark, then you deserve a damn gold medal and you should stop reading at this point. Come back later after you've seen them, please.
Alright, now on to what's going with Batman v Superman's critical thrashing. The simple answer to it is this: It wasn't a Marvel movie and that's why people hate it.
That might seem like sour grapes coming from a DC Comics fan that considers Batman his favorite superhero ever, and I'm sure it sounds like I'm being an apologist for a bad movie just because it features my favorite hero and I'll ignore whatever crap is on screen just to say it's a good movie, but if that were really the case, I wouldn't hate Batman Forever or Batman and Robin, and I absolutely do. Those movies are true abominations to Batman in my opinion.
I also wouldn't call the third act of The Dark Knight a complete mess and consider Batman Begins the best of the Nolan Bat-Trilogy if I was just being a DC apologist either. I might also have excuses for why Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace weren't nearly as bad as people think, but I don't because I hate both of those movies worse than I do the Schumacher Batman movies.
That's really a big part of my point here with Batman v Superman. People calling it the worst superhero movie they have ever seen have clearly not watched a lot of superhero movies in their life, because I have seen bad. Really, really bad. Howard the Duck bad. The Phantom bad. Elektra bad.
I digress. After several viewings of Batman v Superman, it's clear to me that it's almost an anti-Marvel movie. In fact, that is where the biggest complaints against it come from:
241 rotten reviews and $870 million worldwide later, the bad press continued after Captain America: Civil War was released:
So apparently, we've reached a point where every good superhero movie MUST be slathered with joy and humor at every turn, filled with one-liners and comedic spectacles to keep everyone happy. I guess that means we've graduated from the lower level that The Dark Knight and Christopher Nolan's Bat-Trilogy was clearly on, since all of those movies scored no less than 85% fresh on RT with not even remotely the amount of humor in them that a Marvel film has in just 30 minutes. Good to know.
This gets even more infuriating when you watch Civil War and realize that it does the EXACT SAME THINGS that Batman v Superman does with the plot, characters and editing, but whereas the DC movie gets skewered for introducing too many new characters, juggling too many subplots and going too heavy with the VFX action, the Marvel movie is praised for it's ability to balance so many new characters, properly equate multiple subplots and make it fun with incredible VFX set pieces. Seriously.
In the first act of Batman v Superman, you find out how the Battle of Metropolis in Man of Steel directly impacted Bruce Wayne, how Superman is adjusting to half the world considering him Jesus while the other half thinks him the Devil, Lex Luthor is attempting to acquire Kryptonite to kill him, Batman is hunting a criminal called the White Portuguese, who Lois Lane is also tracking down, and Diana Prince is hunting for an item that Luthor stole from her. All of these plot lines converge in the second act.
In the first act of Captain America: Civil War, you see Bucky activated with code words from a book to go crash a car and steal something from the trunk, The Avengers take down Crossbones and accidentally kill a group of Wakandans in the process, Tony Stark being confronted about the Sokovia incident in Age of Ultron, General Ross all the way back from The Incredible Hulk threatening to regulate the Avengers, a random interrogation using waterboard techniques from a man named Zemo, the death and funeral of Peggy Carter, an attack on the United Nations that kills the king of Wakanda, and a hunt for Bucky that spills into the streets because he has been framed for the attack. All of these plot lines converge in the rest of the movie at separate points.
Please tell me how one is seemingly less cluttered than the other, or rather tell me that neither one of them are cluttered and there's just a lot going on in the first act of both movies. I'd accept that, but not that one is cluttered as hell and the other is completely well ordered.
As for the too many new characters introduced, Batman v Superman really only introduces two: Batman and Wonder Woman. The videos of The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg tie-in to a first act scene where Lex Luthor and Holly Hunter's Senator Finch discuss "The Meta-Human Thesis," which comes up during a conversation about Superman and his quest to obtain Kryptonite. Clearly that's too much for the audience to process. They really need 12 prior movies of setup before anyone should be talking about meta-humans or even showing their existence briefly, right?
Civil War introduces Black Panther and Spider-Man. Everyone else with the exception of Zemo was already introduced in a previous Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, which is why it didn't feel cluttered when the critics watched it. They already knew who everyone was in great detail before the movie even started. Oh, that's fair. Right.
The critics response to this is that DC is not being patient with the development of its cinematic universe as Marvel made five solo films of setup before the first Avengers film came out, while Justice League is due out next year.
To begin with, Justice League will be the fifth DC Extended Universe movie, not the next one. The third movie, Suicide Squad is due out August 5th, while the fourth one, Wonder Woman, is due out June of next year. On top of that, why does DC have to build their cinematic universe exactly as Marvel has? Because one of their most popular characters is also the most powerful alien in their collection of stories, they didn't have the advantage of starting the DCEU off with a lesser human hero like Iron Man to kick things off, because then everyone would have been asking "Where the hell is Superman?" So they started with Superman and that enabled them to get to a place where the otherworldly threats can come sooner because you need someone strong enough to fight him, hence Zod and his minions in Man of Steel and Doomsday in Batman v Superman. Does that really mean they aren't being patient? Especially since Justice League is two movies away and as of now, Superman is dead and will clearly have to be brought back to life first?
The one thing that I completely agree with the critics on is that unlike most MCU movies, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is not full of humor and fun. It is darker, brooding and more adult than that. The difference is that where they see a giant flaw, I see a refreshing change. I thoroughly enjoy the Marvel movies and have seen all 13 of them at theater, usually in IMAX at $12.50 a pop, and I will continue to see them. In my opinion, they haven't made a bad one yet, not even Iron Man 2 or the Thor movies. Remember, I've seen bad before and none of those movies are even close.
That being said, I know what the Marvel movies are: Assembly line filmmaking. They have a family-friendly formula that works well and they have maintained it throughout the entire series, despite having different directors on each movie. No matter what, you're always going to get the same thing with a Marvel movie: bright and boisterous action sequences mixed with lighthearted fun and one-liners on top of a decently constructed plot that loosely draws roots from its comic book predecessors. Even the most adult MCU movie to date, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, follows this formula. There's nothing wrong with that either because it works well for what they have done.
DC is clearly going in a different direction and so far has given us two movies that are almost the polar opposite of the Marvel formula that we have enjoyed for eight years straight and as a result, the critics and the public are resisting it because it's different. It's not the same family-friendly fun that they are used to now with Marvel and they don't like that one bit. Now, because of that staunch resistance to something fresh and new, we may see a DCEU that is far more assembly-line and closer to Marvel, which is really disappointing. The franchises are not the same, nor should they be. Variety is what we should be embracing, not sameness because that gets stale after awhile.
Finally, there is one more major issue that critics and mostly the public have with Batman v Superman that must be addressed: The idea that Superman and Batman's characters were completely defiled and not even close to respecting their comic counterparts in terms of behavior, presentation and execution. In short, they say that Zack Snyder bastardized the heroes and ruined them by not making "true" versions of them.
This issue is a lot like the Marvel one with the critics, but it's the DC purists taking the shots now. Decades of the classic Max Fleischer version of Superman in some form from George Reeves to Christopher Reeve has built an indelible image of Superman in the minds of fans and detractors. I've heard multiple times from different people before and after Man of Steel about how they didn't really like Superman anymore because he was too perfect, too powerful and not relatable. God forbid anyone use the comics as a basis to deconstruct his character just a bit and actually make him more human and relatable for the general public and all the people that complain about his all-powerful nature. What a travesty that would be.
The same is true for Batman, who actually did use a gun in the early comics and has used weapons against criminals many times before. You're okay with it as long as he is just "wounding" people and you'll play the Arkham Asylum games to your heart's content so long as the game tells you that his death blows and kill shots to the thugs he's fighting are just rendering them unconscious. Ok.
For me, Batman v Superman gave us the most comic book accurate portrayal of Batman we have ever seen on the big screen, and the movie itself engages a pure comic book aesthetic. The plot, the characters, the dialogue, the VFX, the pacing and the editing all feel like a moving comic book to me instead of a movie adapted from the comic, and yes liberties were taken with elements of The Dark Knight Returns and Death of Superman. That's what you have to do with an adapted work. It can't be exactly as it was in the comics, ever. Not even Sin City or Watchmen were exactly as the comic books. If you did Death of Superman as a completely accurate adaptation it would be a nine-hour long movie that no one but you who wanted it would watch. The Dark Knight Returns would be 13 hours.
People fear change, and ultimately the change to comic book franchises that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice brought to life is what doomed it in the minds of critics and fans that didn't want anything different than what Marvel has given us since 2008. The reviews and the millions of comments on message boards all over the Internet are proof of that. So now, with an $870 million worldwide haul astonishingly considered a failure by many, with 67% of more than 210,000 users on RT giving it positive reviews and a 7.1 out of 10 score from over 4,000 users on Metacritic, we wait to see how the fate of the DCEU pans out from here.
You can bet that whatever the end result is, it won't end the injustice of bad reviews for Batman v Superman. Not by a long shot. Now, that IS depressing.