Like Star Wars: Episode VII, this was another review where I had to seriously collect my thoughts before putting words to paper. Initially, BvS was my most anticipated comic book film of 2016. The teaser was tense, dramatic and set the film up perfectly. Then the second trailer came, showing more of Luthor and revealing doomsday. I know many people argue that the doomsday reveal wasn’t a spoiler since we knew there would be another villain in the film, but that is no excuse to give away the villain early. There are some reveals that are best saved for the film itself. The doomsday CGI looked sketchy and had me wondering how good the final fight would be.
Then the third trailer came along, showing more of Batfleck, especially the warehouse fight scene. This film became highly anticipated again, below Suicide Squad but above Captain America: Civil War. I saw it one day after its release and the news of the poor reviews was prevalent by then, but since I liked Man of Steel and knew how poorly reviewed that film was I didn’t let the negative reviews bother me. Even the editor of Rotten Tomatoes, was baffled by the poor reviews Man of Steel received and pleaded that it was a good film.
With all that said, I simply want to say that I did not let negative reviews of this film affect my perception of it: Especially since a lot of criticism revealed around the film being “too dark”. I have explained why this is simply factually incorrect and is a product of people simply being too used to Marvel films.
I explained my argument about darkness in depth in that video but I will go over it again here. 2008 saw The Dark Knight become a critical hit, with its dark and serious tone that contributed to many critics seeing it as the pinnacle of comic book filmmaking. Since then it seems like there has been a huge backlash against darkness in comic book films. With the exception of The Dark Knight Rises, most of the critically revered comic book films that followed were marvel studio properties. Marvel began to establish a dynasty; starting off small with Iron Man and cementing a solid reputation by the time The Avengers (2012) came out. Before I come across as a DC fanboy I want to say that I love both universes and the prospect of a shared universe in the Marvel films made me feel like a kid again.
However, as time has gone on I have also noticed a pervasive similarity among the Marvel films: A light tone, with plenty of humour. There is nothing wrong with a light tone or humour. Some Marvel films handled it well, with the best examples being the Captain America films and Guardians of the Galaxy. However, some handle it poorly, with the Thor films being the best example. Loki brings good humour to the stories but then we also get Kat Dennings’s and Natalie Portman’s contributions.
When a comedy writer was brought in to lighten the tone of Thor 3: Ragnarok, it became obvious that the insistence on humour could be a problem sometimes. Marvel studios president Kevin Fiege argued that they didn’t want the film differing too much in tone from the other marvel properties. Therein lies the problem. Ragnarok is a doomsday story; it should be darker than the other properties. The real reason it needs to stay light is so that it stays appealing to Marvel’s audience of kids and families.
In the comics, some character stories will have lighter issues than others. The same character may even fluctuate between darker and lighter stories. Good writers are able to handle these tonal shifts and make them feel natural. A great example was the Justice League animated series, which balanced different character personalities, villains and storylines in expert fashion. That is what Marvel studios should strive for as well, instead of trying to turn every character into a comedian who spouts one-liners every five minutes. If every Marvel or DC film had the same tone I think the properties would get stale.
Obviously Marvel has darker properties, like Daredevil and Jessica Jones. However, those are Netflix shows, which are cheaper than Hollywood films and target a more mature, niche audience. Marvel can take more risks with the tone since they don’t have to worry as much about scaring away families and kids. If Thor 3 gets rewrites for being too dark, there is no way Marvel would give us the same R-Rated version of The Punisher in a big screen adaptation. The Netflix shows do help to add variety to Marvel’s offerings but I wish we could see a darker property like Blade back on the big screen instead of having to either settle for a Netflix show, or a Disney-fied version of the character on the big screen.
Another example of the disneyfication is the character of Tony Stark in Civil War. At the very end of the trailer he calls Spider-Man “underoos” before Spider-Man swings into the mcu for the first time. I do not mean to nitpick or bash the movie for one line. The line is fine. What I want to say is, that line would seem very out of character for the version of Tony Stark we see in the Civil War comics. The comics version of Tony Stark (in these specific comics) is much more quiet and introspective. He does not spout a single one-liner throughout the story arc and might come across as “too dark” “brooding” etc. for people who get their idea of the character from Marvel’s films. That simply illustrates my point about the “Disneyfication” of characters and how audiences can get too used to seeing these versions of the characters and then compare all other adaptations to the same tone. Hence all the talk of MOS and Bvs being “too dark”. Marvel has had time to stamp itself onto the public consciousness, setting themselves up as the benchmark that all other comic book films will be compared to. Everything is relative, and if people are used to Marvel’s tone then obviously a film like Bvs will come across as too dark. That is why I did not pay attention to criticisms of the film being too dark and that is why I don’t personally agree. As soon as someone criticizes Bvs for its “dark” tone it makes it clear that they have very little knowledge of the characters and are simply brainwashed by Marvel’s films.
Firstly, Batfleck was awesome. I was on the fence about his casting, but he killed the role as Bruce Wayne and Batman. The suit was the best we’ve seen on the big screen so far in terms of its aesthetics and functionality. The batman voice is created by a microphone in the cowl and is the best one we’ve heard yet.
This version of Bruce Wayne is an older Batman who routinely suffers from nightmares and is pessimistic about human nature and his significance in the fight against crime, which factors heavily into his conflict with Superman. The nightmare scene in the film may cause confusion for viewers who are not familiar with the character of Darkseid and the injustice comics. Although the references to these characters and storylines were a treat for me, I can see why they would be confusing for other viewers.
Jeremy Irons was great as Alfred, which was expected since he was the only casting decision I had no reservations about. I wish we could have seen more of his Alfred, but that is probably an indicator of his success with the role. This version of Alfred has a more hands-on role in Batman’s crusade but is also a figure that makes it clear he would rather see Wayne hang up the suit permanently.
Henry Cavill exceeds his performance in the first film (which was decent) with his portrayal of a Superman who is now the center of controversy and criticism from the public, the media and the government. More than ever, he questions his role in the world and his doubts have led some viewers to consider him “too moody” “too dark” etc. However, I think the character’s outlook fits the story and the events he goes through. However, I do hope that in the next installments, we start to see more of the optimism people typically associate with the character. Superman is not a lighter character than Batman because bad things never happen to him, he is lighter because of his attitude about human nature and the future.
Gal Gadot was a pleasant surprise as Wonder Woman and leaves me more excited for the solo film, although carrying a solo film is obviously a much bigger task. Aside from a line or two that seemed wooden, I thought Gadot had great screen presence and brought amazing strength and appeal to the character.
I have heard some people say that the set up for the Justice League could have used more than one film, and I can agree with that. All the news of cameos had me worried the film would be far too packed. Ultimately, the cameos were worked in well.
The cameos are archived footage that Luthor has been collecting on metahumans. In total, the clips are less than five minutes but give us our first glimpse of some of the Justice League. I thought this was a great way to introduce the characters that took little screen time and also did not come across as too tacked on. There is some criticism that the cameos were too short, or seemed like the type of footage you would get on a dvd extra. Yet some of these same people also complain that the film tried to do too much. BvS simply can’t win sometimes.
When Jesse Eisenberg was cast as Luthor, many hopeful fans said that he would surprise us with a great performance, just like Heath Ledger did as the joker. People forgot tat Ledger was an exception to the rule. Eisenberg proves that a questionable casting decision does not work out well. Batfleck impressed but it seems like we asked for too much with Eisenberg.
The version of Luthor we see here is Lex Luthor’s son, which just begs the question of why we don’t get Lex instead. The character could have been interesting. The writing implied that he did not have a good relationship with his father but is still trying to fill his father’s shoes. The writing itself was actually pretty good, in terms of dialogue at least. The issue is Eisenberg’s acting. In terms of Luthor’s behaviour and mannerisms it seems like Snyder was aiming for a character like Jake Gyllenhaal’s in Nightcrawler.
Instead we get a hyperactive spaz who brings a level of campiness to the movie whenever he is on screen. Since Luthor has a decent chunk of screen time and sets up the third act conflict his presence greatly contributed to the 6.5/10.
Speaking of the third act, the trailers showed that Doomsday would be the villain for a final fight with The Trinity (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman). This fight was also one of the weaker parts of the film for me. It had great elements, such as Wonder Woman and her contribution. However, it also had spotty CGI. Doomsday does not look any better than the footage we saw from the trailer and the CGI detracts from the tension and enjoyment of the fight. The Batman warehouse fight (partly shown in the third trailer) was far more enjoyable and memorable in my opinion.
Overall, the film sets up the Justice League pretty well but I do not want to give it extra points just for that. A movie ultimately needs to stand on its own. Of course, a film can hint at events to come but there also needs to be a solid foundation that makes the film enjoyable as a solo piece. BvS is not amazing, but it is also not the cinematic abomination that many people label it as.
The Martha Scene
This scene has already spawned heated criticism and memes. I just want to add a quick note on why I actually liked it and that all the criticism seems to miss the point of the scene. Batman does not spare Superman’s life because “Your mom has the same name! Besties!” Although people like to rant about how movies spoon-feed them too much, this seems like a case where people need to be spoon-fed. The scene isn’t about Superman’s mom having the same name. It is about a terrifying god-like figure (in Batman’s eyes) being reduced to a man that wants to save his mom. The common desire to protect their families is what makes Batman spare Superman’s life. If you can’t understand that scene, then I think that is your problem and not the film’s.