On Saturday night, I saw Batman v. Superman.
I went in fully expecting it to be a disaster. The film currently sits at 30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes; the trailers were significantly less than stellar. I thought Man of Steel was mediocre at best. I’m not a fan of Zack Snyder’s. I’m not a fan of Ben Affleck’s. I’m an enormous Superman and Batman fan, a fan of the original Superman and a far bigger fan of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.
Odds were strong I would dislike the film intensely.
I loved it.
This isn’t just because I’m a contrarian. I generally have a Rotten Tomatoes rule: if it’s above 90 percent, there’s at least a 50/50 chance it will suck (because critics will give a back massage to any far-left film universally), but if it’s below 50 percent, there’s an almost zero percent chance it will be good.
This film is an exception.
For those who haven’t seen the film yet, here’s your SPOILER ALERT: this review will include plot points.
First, the visuals: they’re stunning. As a comic book fan, the movie couldn’t have done better service to the art of Superman and Batman. The first hour and a half of the film is platinum quality. The beautiful care surrounding Batman’s origin story – the decision to hint at the story briefly rather than spell it out, since everybody knows it – was wonderful. The opening sequence in which Bruce Wayne speeds through Metropolis, only to watch Wayne Financial collapse before him, is breathtaking. The flash-forwards to both the invasion of Darkseid and the Injustice series are dramatically awe-inspiring. I’m not a fan of monster battles, so when Doomsday shows up, I was underwhelmed – he looks like an enlarged Peter Jackson cave troll. But the intervention of Wonder Woman is grand (although I could have lived without the rock guitar intro) and Superman’s fate is portrayed beautifully.
Is the film dark? You bet. So is Batman. So, in fact, is Superman. Rewatch the first half of Richard Donner’s Superman. It ain’t exactly Singin’ In The Rain. And that’s my favorite part of that film.
Next, the performances: excellent across the board.
Yes, even Ben Affleck.
Actually, particularly Affleck.
To get Affleck’s performance as Batman, you probably have to have read Frank Miller’s Batman comics, especially All Star Batman And Robin. This Batman isn’t fuzzy or gentle or torn by being Batman. He actually loves being Batman. He revels in the pain. He’s a sadist, and he’s an uncompromising badass. He brands people. He breaks people. This isn’t the Batman who moralizes about why it’s bad to kill villains (I’ve written about that idiotic comic book morality before). This is Batman unleashed. And it’s awesome.
Henry Cavill as Superman doesn’t have too much to do, but you definitely feel his pain – and Superman can only be truly broken or threatened spiritually, not physically, as the biggest Superman fan on the planet, managing editor Jeremy Boreing, rightly points out. Amy Adams is just fine as Lois Lane, although she’s a bit too old for Cavill.
Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is actually terrific. For all the criticism of his mannered performance, that’s the idea: he’s a boy genius off his meds, granted the keys to the kingdom. He’s privileged, but he acts like he’s a victim. Playing off his Mark Zuckerberg routine from The Social Network is an inspired bit of casting.
How about the plot? It worked for me. That’s all I’ll say about it, so I don’t totally wreck the film; the best scene, suffice it to say, takes place at the US Capitol.
Finally, the themes. This was the best part of the film. There are enough themes here to keep critics busy for awhile, if they weren’t too busy mewling about how Chris Evans wasn’t there to look wooden. There’s Superman’s theme: can a good man continue to fight for good, knowing that he will occasionally get it wrong and be clobbered for it? There’s Batman’s theme: can we provide a check on power, a separation of powers, or must power be absolutely destroyed? There’s Lex’s theme: can anybody be good, including God, and if not, why not wield power yourself? All of this makes for rich material that will surely be rounded out as the series continues into (hopefully) Injustice territory.
So, why did the critics get it so wrong?
First, the trailers for the film did it a grave disservice. They gave away key plot points, including the presence of Wonder Woman; my wife, who hadn’t seen any of the trailers, thought for the first two thirds of the film that Wonder Woman was actually Catwoman, which was clearly the intent of the screenwriters. Knowing that Doomsday was going to show up also dampened the battle between Superman and Batman, since it was clear that both would survive their encounter in order to go after the greater foe.
Second, the critics seem to have a bizarre and perverse love for the sort of ironic self-referential tone in which Marvel movies specialize. I hate that crap. Yes, I know it’s a comic book movie. Yes, I know that the cowardly artistic move is to laugh about the fact that it’s a comic book movie. Yes, I even enjoy it when you do that sometimes, people who made Ant-Man. But for goodness’ sake, you’re talking about two of the most iconic American characters ever. There’s nothing wrong with taking that seriously. The critics are the people who loved the second half of the original Superman – the part where the film falls apart in order to turn Lex Luthor into a jokey goofball. I like the mythology of the first half.
The words that continually arise in critics’ reviews of Batman v. Superman are “dark” and “bleak.” Yes, idiots. That’s because the comics are dark and bleak. You’re talking about themes of good and evil, power and corruption. That’s the part of the universe that’s so grand. It’s why no matter how hard Marvel tries, nobody will ever take Captain America as seriously as Superman or Iron Man as seriously as Batman.
So, go see the film. It’s too much for young kids, but for teens and above, it’s glorious. I can’t wait for the next installment.
And yes, I’m still serious.