This week sees the release of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and chances are you’re either really, really excited or just rolled your eyes at the very mention of the movie. No comic book movie in recent memory has been as divisive as Batman V Superman – at least not since 2013’s Man of Steel. But in the case of that film, fans waited until they had actually seen it before vigorously debating its merits. The same cannot be said about Batman V Superman, seeing as since its announcement comic book fans have been tearing each other apart over whether they’re looking forward to the movie or not.
For many, Man of Steel is to blame for the antagonism surrounding Batman V Superman, which only makes sense given that the film laid the foundation for Warner Bros.’ shared universe of DC Comics films – the DC Extended Universe, or DCEU, if you will. Directed by Zack Snyder from a script by David S. Goyer and starring Henry Cavill, Man of Steel combined several elements of the Superman mythos (Krypton, the Kents, The Daily Planet, Lois Lane, Zod, etc.) and formed a new origin for the character. Yet, what was new wasn’t necessarily better and those who felt this version of Superman betrayed the very essence of the character were left heart-broken (to paraphrase author Mark Waid’s opinion).
I didn’t love Man of Steel, though I’ll admit when I first walked out of the theatre it felt as if I enjoyed it. The spectacle of Man of Steel was certainly impressive, even the onslaught of destruction at the end. This film brought to life the physical mechanics of Superman and his incredible powers in a way no film has ever achieved. But Superman is so much more than just the most powerful being on Earth. It’s his compassion that sets Superman so high above other superheroes. His willingness to do everything in his mighty power to preserve life.
I’m by no means a huge Superman fan, but even I understand that. Man of Steel did not and because of this its Superman felt hollow and incomplete. Not to mention its odd pacing and plotting, cobbling Superman’s origin together through a weird string of flashbacks and scenes of Clark Kent aimless wandering.
Still, I don’t believe this necessarily means Batman V Superman will be bad. In fact, though I didn’t really love Man of Steel, I truly want Batman V Superman to blow me away. First of all, I’m a much bigger Batman fan than I am of Superman, so already this second installment in the DCEU has my attention. Second, as the trailers have made a point of showing, Wonder Woman makes her cinematic debut and for that alone I’d buy a ticket. And thirdly, were Batman V Superman to begin from a point that recognizes the problems with Man of Steel and build from there, then the DCEU might actually have a shot.
Let’s imagine the filmmakers looked at the outcry over Man of Steel and thought, “Maybe we can work this to our advantage?” (I’m not saying they did, but let’s pretend.) We already know Batman has been included as a reaction to Superman’s leveling of Metropolis, to all that senseless loss of life. This nicely aligns with what so many didn’t like about Man of Steel – the wanton destruction and seemingly little concern Superman displayed while causing it. So if in Batman V Superman, Batman has internationalized our own complaints about Superman’s actions – and Man of Steel in general – then I’m all for seeing him give the Son of Krypton a good walloping.
The Dawn of Justice subtitle feels tacked on, because it is. Wonder Woman is surely little more than a glorified cameo, but her inclusion makes me believe that Batman V Superman could be serious about bringing Superman – and therefor Man of Steel – to justice. Superman’s penance will come at the hands of Batman (looking as if he stepped right out of The Dark Knight Returns, which admittedly had me fangirling like mad), while Superman’s redemption will come from Wonder Woman. In my mind, it’s she who stops Batman and Superman from fighting, scolding them like the children they are and opening their eyes to the bigger picture. This is how the Trinity comes to be, in my mind, and from them the Justice League. If that’s how it all goes down in Batman V Superman, then that Dawn of Justice subheading will have been entirely earned.
As for Ben Affleck’s portrayal and the characterization of Batman by screenwriters Goyer and Chris Terrio, I’m less sure, but unless it’s utterly off the mark, I don’t believe Batfleck alone will wreck the entire movie. After all, Christian Bale’s Batman wasn’t flawless or even the best part of the The Dark Knight trilogy, but as a whole those films are still a worthwhile version of the Batman mythos. I’m even more nervous for Wonder Woman seeing as its her big screen debut, but supposedly her role is small yet crucial (plus her feature film is already in the works), so let’s cross our fingers and hope that even Snyder and Goyer can’t screw her up. Lastly, I need to point out that Terrio (Oscar-winning screenwriter of Argo) was brought on board to revise Goyer’s original script for Batman V Superman, which hopefully implies that many of Man of Steel‘s issues with plotting won’t be a factor. *fingers crossed*
Here’s the bottom line: I have been unable to muster up any excitement for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice but that doesn’t mean I don’t want the movie to be good. I want it to be great. I want it to obliterate my memories of Man of Steel, but seeing as that’s a pretty tall order, then at least find a way to make sense of where that film went so wrong – particularly with Superman’s characterization. I said early that Cavill’s Superman seemed to me incomplete – let Batman V Superman make him whole. Have Batman and Wonder Woman and Lex Luthor (and Aquaman, The Flash, and anyone other character rumored to appear) all come together and take this movie beyond Man of Steel‘s failings. Because if not, the DCEU is doomed and I’m afraid even Suicide Squad won’t be able to save it.
(P.S. I’m going to be really upset if a movie that secures JEREMY IRONS to play Alfred ends up being total garbage. SO. UPSET.)