Like most of you who frequent and enjoy this website, I am most interested in BATMAN v SUPERMN in terms of its portrayal of Batman. Because of this fact, I have two wildly differing opinions on just how I feel about the film. While I love Ben Affleck as Batman, I dislike the manner in which the film handles the relationship between its title characters.
Before I get too far into this review, I should point out that I am not particularly thrilled with the idea of Batman sharing the big screen with DC Comics’ sci-fi/fantasy oriented characters in the first place. Batman is first and foremost a character that is much more solidly based in reality than most comic book characters, and I would prefer to see him in his own cinematic universe that stays closely tied to the real world. But my feelings on this subject are not what make me so uncomfortable about the relationship between Batman and Superman in BvS.
In fact, I should point out that even though I prefer to see Batman working in his own self-contained, realistic world, there have been a number of works featuring Batman and Superman that I have very much enjoyed over the years. For example, I thought that the three-issue 1990 miniseries World’s Finest by writer Dave Gibbons and artist Steve Rude, and the 1997 three-episode story arc “World’s Finest” from the television program Superman: The Animated Series both presented entertaining and thoughtful versions of Batman and Superman first making contact with one another. (Of course, both of these works got their titles from the legendary Batman-Superman comic title World’s Finest, which ran all the way from 1941 until 1986.)
And like most every other Batman fan on earth, I loved Frank Miller’s legendary 1986 comic book miniseries The Dark Knight Returns. The miniseries presented a haunting interpretation of how the relationship between Batman and Superman might have ended up – in Miller’s story, their decades-long, troubled history reaches a boiling point, and they engage in an epic battle that seemingly takes Batman’s life.
It goes without saying that BvS is hugely inspired by TDKR – many of the film’s scenes showing the characters in battle are directly pulled from the pages of the miniseries. But while BvS does a wonderful job of capturing the way that Batman and Superman looked in TDKR, the film does a decidedly poor job of capturing the complicated relationship that existed between the heroes in the miniseries.
In fact, it would be fair to say that there is no really relationship AT ALL between Batman and Superman in this movie! In BvS, Batman has been battling criminals in Gotham for two decades, and Superman’s existence has been known to the world for 18 months. Even though the two have been the most renowned disguised crime fighters on the planet for a year and a half, and they are operating in cities that are literally right next to each other, they have had no contact whatsoever with one another.
Simply put, I find this element of BvS to be completely baffling. How can these costumed heroes, the world’s greatest detective and the most powerful being on earth, not come to the conclusion that it might be in their own best interests to know something about one another?
Even worse, the film then goes on to dream up the silliest plot contrivances possible to keep Batman and Superman from establishing contact. For example, Clark Kent/Superman is concerned about Batman’s vigilante tactics, so what does he do? He goes to his Daily Planet editor Perry White and asks if he can write a news story about Batman! And when Perry says no, Clark just drops it! Why in the world hasn’t Clark just changed into his Superman costume, flown to Gotham, and figured out just who Batman is and what he is up to?
And Bruce is so obsessed with the possibility of Superman destroying humankind that he decides he should just try to kill the Kryptonian. While he is making this decision, Bruce even concedes that perhaps there might be only the slightest possibility of Superman being a danger to the human race. Since Bruce is so unsure of just what Superman’s motives might be, why in the world hasn’t he put his amazing detective skills to work and gathered information about the Kryptonian before making such a rash and murderous decision?
So, in BvS, neither Batman nor Superman have even the slightest bit of good sense to try to learn something about each other before trying to kill each other? You’ve got to be kidding me! In essence, the heroes are basically clueless pawns in the film, and Lex Luthor is the master manipulator that tricks them into having a fight to the finish.
In fact, Luthor is INFINITELY smarter than Batman and Superman in the film. He has figured out the identities of both and set up a ridiculously elaborate master plan to push them into battle – and he has done this while Batman and Superman basically stood around and learned nothing at all about one another!
The best works featuring Batman and Superman, such as the ones I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, allowed the characters to KNOW one another, and to then open up a substantive dialogue – that dialogue was often contentious, but it was a dialogue nonetheless. Even in THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS the heroes had a history with one another before they battled. By contrast, BvS, artificially separates the characters from one another completely.
Of course, the reason for this separation is that the film is far more interested in shoehorning Batman and Superman into a death match than it is in exploring their time-honored character traits. And this death match is an idea that is wholly original to the film – even in TDKR, the heroes fought each other, but neither of them went into that battle with the intent to kill their opponent.
After laying out all of this information, I think that maybe now I can explain what I dislike about BvS in a single sentence: I think that the idea of Batman and Superman engaging in a death match is simply a very bad idea. It is completely foreign to the long and rich history of BOTH characters. I have loved the Batman character for my entire life, and I cannot bear to see my hero with his foot on Superman’s throat, actually preparing to end his life for no justifiable reason. That is simply not the Batman that I have always known and loved.
So I must say to BvS director Zack Snyder and writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer that I reject their vision of the relationship between these iconic characters. You can present that vision in spectacular 3-D Imax where the characters look every bit as stunning as they ever have, but you cannot make me take it to heart.
At the beginning of this review, I wrote that I have two wildly differing opinions on just how I feel about BvS. Obviously, I have just finished laying out my negative opinion, so let me give you my positive one. I love Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne. I love his acting both as Batman and Bruce, and I love his standard Batman costume, which looks more like the Batman costume of the comics than any other Batman live-action film costume ever has. I was amused when fans originally complained about Affleck being cast as Batman/Bruce Wayne in the film – how could these fans have possibly been unhappy with the idea of a handsome, 6’ 4” tall, Oscar-winning dramatic actor playing the role?
Affleck’s stand-alone Batman sequences in the film are spectacular. The character’s introduction sequence when he is apprehending a human trafficker is perhaps the best live-action Batman introduction sequence ever filmed. The film’s Batmobile chase sequence in which Batman is trying to steal a large Kryptonite sample from Lex Luthor is furiously exciting, even though it must be pointed out that the sequence shows the Batmobile in action far more than it shows Affleck!
Far and away BvS best Batman sequence is the one in which he rescues Martha Kent from Luthor’s henchmen. It is every bit as savage as it is thrilling, and it captures Batman in action in a manner that looks just like panels from a comic book. (I should point out that one could be bothered by Batman’s apparent use of deadly force in all of these sequences – but even still, he does not do anything nearly as murderous in them as he does to Superman in their battle!)
So my own personal favorite part of BvS is Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne. I can’t wait to see the actor in the role in future Warner Bros. films. And in the interest of fairness, I should mention that I very much enjoyed Henry Cavill as Superman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman – I loved the sequence in which the three heroes battled against Doomsday, because it felt like a wonderfully done live-action version of the classic animated TV series JUSTICE LEAGUE.
I’m sure I will see BATMAN v SUPERMAN in theaters several more times during its theatrical run, and I will buy it on Blu-ray the second it comes out on home video. Once I own the film on Blu-ray, I will watch its stand-alone Batman sequences over and over. But I will likely never again watch Batman with his foot on Superman’s throat. I am 51 years old, but the 10-year old idealistic Batman fan that I once was is still very much a part of my soul – and he will never accept the idea of his hero being willing to kill Superman for no justifiable reason.
So how do I close out this review? I think I’ll give this film two separate letter grades. For its portrayal of the standard Batman in action, I’ll give it an “A” – well done, Mr. Affleck! For its decision to pit Batman and Superman in a death match, I’ll give it an “Incomplete” – Mr. Snyder, Mr. Terrio, and Mr. Goyer, I hope you’ll do quite a bit more earnest research on your subject material before turning in another DC Comics movie project! - Mark S. Reinhart
Mark S. Reinhart is a lifelong
Batman fan and the author
of THE BATMAN FILMOGRAPHY.
BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE hit theaters on MARCH 25, 2016. CLICK HERE for all of BOF's BvS coverage!
Fearing the actions of a god-like Super Hero left unchecked, Gotham City’s own formidable, forceful vigilante takes on Metropolis’s most revered, modern-day savior, while the world wrestles with what sort of hero it really needs. And with Batman and Superman at war with one another, a new threat quickly arises, putting mankind in greater danger than it’s ever known before. Directed by Zack Snyder, the film stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter and Gal Gadot. Snyder directed from a screenplay written by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, based on characters from DC Comics, including Batman, created by Bob Kane, and Superman, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The film is produced by Charles Roven and Deborah Snyder, with Wesley Coller, Geoff Johns and David S. Goyer serving as executive producers. Warner Bros. Pictures presents, an Atlas Entertainment/Cruel and Unusual production, a Zack Snyder film, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” The film opens nationwide in 3D and 2D and in select IMAX theaters on March 25, 2016, and will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.