Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has not even been in cinemas for a week, yet it has already been enshrouded in controversy. Despite being one of the most hotly anticipated films of recent times it appears to have polarised audiences all over the globe. Currently with a rating of 7.5 on IMDb yet only 29% on Rotten Tomatoes, it appears that not only has the film pitted The Dark Knight against The Man of Steel, but also pitted film critics against audiences. But what is it about the film that is causing such a fuss?
It appears that many film critics have challenged the plot for being somewhat over-complicated, disorganised and dark and it is here where the bulk of the criticism lies. Rotten Tomatoes describes the film as “a grim whirlwind of effects driven action”, while Stephen Silver of Splice Today writes that the worst thing about the film is that there is “not an ounce of fun in the film’s entire two and a half hours” and it seems that most of the other critics on Rotten Tomatoes agree with him. So why is it that comic book fans have venerated Zack Snyder‘s latest chapter in the DC Extended Universe if the plot is so drearily melancholic and ambiguous?
For me the answer is simple. This is not a film for critics. This is, at its core, a cinematic adaption of the characters that DC fans have come to know and love over the years. Dawn of Justice follows on from where we left off with 2013’s Man of Steel – the film sets out to examine the consequences of absolute power and question if it is possible for good to exist without evil. We find ourselves hearing the arguments for and against trusting an all-powerful guardian who we do not fully understand and who has the ability to eradicate life of earth should he wish. Clearly, this is not a topic to be taken lightly.
However in the process, little is done to contextualise the psychological standpoint of the characters as it is assumed that those familiar with DC story arcs will recognise parallels with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and realise that we are dealing with a Batman who is largely damaged and world-weary. This is not a Batman who is looking for ‘fun’, this is a Batman who has spent years dealing with the psychopaths of Gotham and simply will not allow himself to feel responsible for the death of any more innocent lives. This guilt is alluded to during a brief shot of Robin’s armour spray painted with the words “HAHAH JOKES ON YOU BATMAN” instantly bringing flashbacks of Jim Starlin‘s Batman: A Death in the Family story arc. A fleeting yet emotionally impact-filled moment that is likely to be missed by those who are unaware of perhaps one of the most psychologically damaging events in Batman’s history, the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd at the hands of The Joker. Without knowledge of the nuances of these story-lines and the deep implications that these events had on shaping the character one could easily find themselves comparing this incarnation of Batman to that of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, a completely different take on one of DC’s most complex characters and therefore missing the unique introspective adaption that Ben Affleck achieves so brilliantly.
The critique that the film’s story is disjointed is also, for me, unfounded. Rather than looking at this film as another on a list of films that have to be reviewed in 2016, fans will recognise that this film is merely a piece in the larger puzzle that is the DC Extended Universe. The narrative often jumps between reality and dream-like visions and for those concerned with the film as a stand-alone work, it may seem to needlessly distract from the developing plot. However, for the eagle-eyed fans who pick up on the hints and Easter Eggs that these dream sequences are riddled with, these sequences offer us opportunities to play with the pieces of the puzzle and guess where the future films are going to take us – something unique that appeals exclusively to fans knowledgeable of the DC Universe.
Fans are also treated to brief glimpses of The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg and despite these glimpses lasting only seconds, for a comic fan who has spent their childhood dreaming of seeing The Justice League in a major live action motion picture these moments are huge steps in the right direction and some of the best scenes in the film. But perhaps the greatest moment was the climactic reveal of Wonder Woman, coupled with the perfectly orchestrated score of Hans Zimmer. We get to finally see Princess Diana of Themyscira in all her armoured glory. This moment also provides a spotlight on a female hero in a genre that seems to be dominated by males in a way that has not yet been done quite as effectively. Gal Gadot‘s portrayal of the Amazonian does little to objectify the hero and attention is instead drawn to the capacities of her power. Diana Prince is even shown to save the titular heroes in a welcome spin on the generic convention. This realisation of childhood fantasy and innovation of the genre to include one of the biggest heroes in the DC comic book universe truly gives us as audience of fans feelings of awe and amazement that’s efficacy is sure to be missed by the neutral movie critic.
It seems that the superhero genre is expanding in ways we fans could only dream of. Films are being made for us as audiences and not for the critics or academies and this can only be a good thing. The critiques of the film being ‘too dark’ and ‘not fun’ simply do not make sense of a film that is not trying to be light-hearted or fun and to criticise it in this way would be to impose your own presuppositions and then negatively react when these pre-requisites aren’t met. It also seems nonsensical to critique the singularity of this plot when it is in fact part of a much larger collective. While much of what appeals to the audience is surely being missed by those writing negative reviews, the fact remains that even still, seeing Batman fight Superman on the big screen is always going to be a spectacle to behold.
So if you are a fan of comics; or if you are merely willing to go and see the film with an open-mindedness that doesn’t pre-suppose and actively seek to compare the film with your own idea of how the film should look, then I defy you to tell me that you were not entertained from start to finish.
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