Batman v. Superman: A Good Film Caught in a Storm of Hate

batmanvsupermanI have been in a state the last few days, a state brought upon by all of the negative press Batman v. Superman has received over the past week. You see, I have a confession to make. I enjoyed Batman v. Superman. In fact, I not only enjoyed it, I think I may have loved it. And yet, the world is telling me that I must be crazy or so completely lacking in taste as it has decreed that Batman v. Superman is one of the worst comic book films of all time. It is a gruelling humourless slog that is borderline fascistic. It is a poorly written mess. Zack Snyder, who has been appointed by Warner Bros. to oversee the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) needs to be removed immediately!

It is a hate campaign so massive that I am left to question my own values. I share little with the sentiment above. Do I think it is a perfect film? By no means. Yet I am so far removed from the critical consensus that I am left to question how I became so out of touch with what “everyone” is saying regarding this film?

BvSRottenTomatoesNow I will admit that I am first and foremost a DC fan when it comes to comic book properties. I gravitated to Batman at an early age via the Tim Burton films and Batman: The Animated Series back in the 1990s. When DC and Bruce Timm opened up the animated universe to include first Superman: The Animated Series and then Justice League (and Justice League Unlimited), I followed all of it passionately. I was not huge in to comics, though I had an uncle who kept me in stock of all of the major moments in DC. I had all of the Death of Superman books including the rather silly follow-up series Reign of the Supermen. As I grew older, I started going back into the catalogue, beefing up on past Batman and DC series like Frank Miller’s Year One and Dark Knight Returns, The Long Halloween, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and more. I started buying current issues and trades during Grant Morrison’s era, including All Star Superman, Batman R.I.P., Final Crisis, and beyond. I followed Batman Inc., Snyder’s brilliant Court of Owls series, and beyond. I guess what I am trying to say is I know my DCU.

What I witnessed in Batman v. Superman in no way felt outside of what I have watched, read, hell worshiped for the last 20 years of my life. They are interpretations, not literal adaptations for sure, but people decrying Snyder’s dark vision for the DCU as in the face of what those comics and heros are supposed to represent seems less than true from my point of view.

Let’s start with Batman’s brutality. This is the closest we have ever had to Frank Miller’s vision of Batman. A man who has been pushed beyond his morality. An aged hero who has felt no satisfaction from his years of work as he watches the influences of evil continuing to wreak havoc despite his bets efforts. And let’s not mince words, Batman outright kills in Dark Knight Returns. The line of dialogue right before Batman shoots the blowtorch of a villain in BvS is lifted directly from that book where Batman unloads a clip from a fully automatic machinegun into a mutant. He is a Batman who has found context to killing. He is nuanced in when he chooses to kill, but he kills. Compare this to either of the two Captain America or Avengers films where Steve Rogers takes a machine gun up against several members of Hydra or any other big bad, and I am left to question why we have taken such great issue with this one particular film? At least Snyder makes you feel the violence. At least he makes it visceral.

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I feel as if much of the anti-killing Batman love is driven by the ethos he carried throughout the Nolan films. Batman carries his stance as a rule. His one rule. As these films are the latest iteration of Batman mainstream film critics are used to, I appreciate how they can feel this is cannon (despite the numerous acts of manslaughter committed by Batman throughout that trilogy – “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you”). I also appreciate how this Batman is far removed from Bale’s past work. Yet in a world where we have had several Spider-man reboots in the stretch of a decade, each feeling a carbon copy of the last, can we not appreciate how fundamentally different Snyder/Affleck’s Batman is from past film versions?

Then there is the hate directed toward Snyder’s interpretation of Superman. Here I have to be a little more nuanced. Yes, Snyder has purposefully distanced himself from the ray of sunshine Superman was in the Donner/Singer versions. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I missed some of that folksy Smallville charm. That said, I feel there is little wrong with Snyder’s interpretation of Superman, an alien on earth with all the imperfections of a person. He is not a messianic personality within this universe. He is selfish. He cares more about the love of his life than others. He is unrestrained in his physicality when he needs to be. Yet I am not left feeling angry over any of this. I love Superman when he shows his flaws. I loved it when he showed his inherent family bias in Superman/Batman: The Supergirl from Krypton when he seemed ready to fight all of Themyscira to protect his cousin. I loved the final confrontation with Darkseid in the finale of Justice League Unlimited when he lets himself go. He slams Darkseid through half of Metropolis. Sure the buildings don’t crumble to the ground as they did in Man of Steel, however in a post-9/11 world, we are all too aware of the fragility of our giant pillars of glass and concrete. Superman is a force, one in which he is constantly having to keep in check.  And when the need calls for it, when he lets himself reach his full strength potential, devastating levels of damage follows in his wake.

There will no doubt be some who feel that I am reaching. Perhaps placating some of Batman v. Superman’s faults out of pure fanboyism. I don’t feel like this is true, but who am I to convince you. I do see faults in this film. I feel there is a lot about Lex Luthor’s ambitions that is missing from this final cut of the film. That said, I am just happy to see fresh cinematic interpretations of characters that I have loved for so long. I haven’t even mentioned how amazing it was to see Wonder Woman finally appear on screen (as a total badass may I add). I keep thinking about the comparisons to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a series of films that I started off loving, yet feel they have grown increasingly stale as the level of risk in the film making takes a back seat to Disney’s need to merchandise the product. But the echo chamber of the internet is loud and forceful. It is a “with us or against us” mentality that leaves little room for contrary opinions. What is sad is how forceful the hatred is with this property. It is the kind of campaign that makes you feel lesser just because you enjoyed the film. I have recently decided to stop feeling this way. I am allowed to enjoy this film no matter what critical “consensus” says. If you give it a chance, you just may enjoy it too.

Follow Tom on Twitter @thomaskagar

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