Batman v Superman was Actually Really Good
So here’s an unpopular opinion, The new Batman v Superman movie was actually really good. There, I said it.
Let me start with my bias. I grew up in the 1970’s and 1980’s on a steady diet in the classic Batman TV series, and the SuperFriends animated show on Saturday mornings. Even at the age of 10 I knew that what I wanted was to see the DC Comics superheroes (I’ve always been partial to DC) on the big screen, in a connected universe, across multiple films. But most importantly, I wanted movies that took superheroes seriously. I didn’t want a comic book. I wanted reality — just with superheroes. And when I was 10, that’s what I thought was about to happen. The first two Superman films were great for my pre-teen self. I loved them. But even back then I knew the later ones were awful. Veering to the silly.
I’ve had a bad feeling for months. Mostly because Zack Snyder’s movies have always been uneven for me. Man of Steel was probably the best (though I could have done with 65% less punching) with me absolutely loving the scenes between Clark and his parents and Clark growing up. Basically the behind-the-scenes moments of a superhero’s personal life. Love them. I also loved the tone of the film. Nobody can quibble with Zack Snyder’s ability to deliver incredible accomplished visual artistry. Truly, it was a beautiful film to look at. And I loved the seriousness too. There’s a fine line between having some humorous moments to relieve the pressure, and getting all quip crazy (which I think some of the Marvel films have done). When I saw the reviews of the new Batman v Superman movie I was crushed. My bad feeling started with the convoluted title of the film. It was awkward. It sounded like former Microsoft marketing folks had come up with it. And now the critics were confirming that it was a disaster. I secretly hoped that the low expectations might help me actually enjoy the film. But Facebook comments echoed that sentiment and then said, that even that didn’t help and the movie was just putrid. This morning we took our nine-year-old to see it. The twelve-year-old and fourteen-year-old said it looked like a hot mess. (Budding critics I suppose.)
I started watching and waiting. I kept waiting for the awfulness to show up. Like the way Fantastic Four took a left turn into shittiness in the third act. But the longer I waited, the more weird I felt because the moment never came. Now this is not to say that BvS was perfect. It wasn’t. So let’s get the quibbles out of the way first.
- Jesse Eisenberg’s characterization was distracting and loopy. I can almost see the creative team deciding to go full Heath Ledger with Lex’s character. And given that concept I think Eisenberg did a great job at that. But for me, it just didn’t work. I think Jesse is a great actor. I think Eisenberg is an excellent actor. And I would have preferred to see him start out relatively normal, and sympathetic and then slowly get crazy. That evolution would have been interesting. Instead the justification for Lex’s anger just showed up suddenly. It felt unearned. But this is easy for me to say. Writers, directors, and actors can’t often win this battle. If they do too much explaining, they get accused of being unsubtle, but if they don’t explain enough then someone like me says it’s unearned. And even the direction of the writing and performance I’m sure would have sounded like a totally reasonable direction to everyone. Some things are just hard to predict. I’m sure this was one of them.
- Hans Zimmer’s music was great. But there were moments where the movie was just overwrought in terms of the drama of the scene. Huge crushing symphonic bursts. Luthor cackling on screen, or Batman stomping. This really is more of a director problem than a composer problem. Snyder’s scenes demanded the music, and the music was as over the top as the scenes. The challenge is that these crescendos came way too often and way too early in the film. Contrast is essential. You can’t have all cake and cookies for dinner or by the time you get to dessert, you’re not gonna enjoy the sugar.
- And finally, the title. It sucked. I said that already, but it’s so awkward and ham-fisted, I feel like it deserves a second mention.
Now onto the good stuff:
- I read that Lois Lane was failed by the film. But I disagree. She had a big role. And i thought she was key. She didn’t fall victim to some of the standard tropes where the hero saves the princess.
- Lawrence Fishburne was great as Perry White. He had all the gruffness you want, but wasn’t a caricature like that role usually is (in Spiderman too).
- Ben Affleck was great as Batman. Really. And maybe even better as Bruce Wayne. In my opinion, Ben Affleck the director has purchased an infinite amount of storytelling credibility for Ben Affleck the human being (at least in my book). And I can’t wait for more Batfleck with him directing.
- Was the story complicated? Yeah. Of course it was. But I thought it was the appropriate amount of complicated. There were moments when I went to explain what was happening to my nine-year-old who immediately responded with a look that said, “yeah duh, I got it.” so I’m not sure it was really all the hard to understand. Or maybe she’s just super bright. ;) I think that while the movie could have been even tighter (perhaps cut that second dream sequence by a bunch), the film wasn’t indulgent. He actually had a somewhat light touch in terms of storytelling, telling just enough of the plot in the film, and letting the audience connect the dots.
- The setups and the payoffs. I won’t reveal these as I promised no spoilers, but I was actually surprised by a bunch of moments towards the end of the film both in terms of not expecting the outcome, and in terms of being thrilled at how things connected up nicely.
- There were a couple of funny lines in the movie. And while I agree with the critics who said there could be more, the ones that were there were really good. I suppose we could have had a little more of that, and a little earlier. But like I said, this stuff is just hard to judge when you’re so close to a piece of art.
- I mentioned it above, but the movie was gorgeous. And not overly slick or shiny. Just beautiful to watch. It’s hard to make a lot of this stuff feel real, and Snyder’s team nailed it. The Marvel movies sometimes feel a little too polished for me. And the DC superhero tv shows just look cheesy. This looked incredible. I loved just looking at it.
- There was also a light touch when it came to the setups for the next films. Just enough to get you excited, and not a second more. I’m pretty excited to see this bunch of characters come together.
- Wonder Woman. Holy shit. She rocked. The look, the acting, the writing, what she did. Sofa king cool. Why the studios have taken so long to make a movie about a female superhero I don’t know. But I could not be more excited for her solo film. She is just a total badass. LOVE!
I have a confession to make. As I mentioned above, I have always dreamed of an interconnected cinematic universe of superheroes that are taken seriously. Not cartoony. Not campy. Not cheesy. Seriously. I have dreamed of it so much that I have created my own – The Madrona Heroes. Mine starts with a group of kids who get superpowers in a neighborhood of Seattle. I’m about to release the third novel in the series (coming to Amazon in May!). And my focus is on just the things that I love – a world where superpowers and their consequences are considered seriously. I focus mostly on the personal moments in the lives of my superheroes, and try to save the action for small bursts when it really matters. Patience, pacing, contrast, are all key values for me in my books. And let there be no misconceptions, I wrote them with the eventual plan that I will make them into a series of interconnected films. But I walked out of this film thinking, ‘uh-oh’. This film, while not perfect, had a lot of what I value in a superhero film. And yet everyone hates it. Maybe what I want is just not what most people want? Maybe nobody will like my books because my less campy, more serious vision of what a series of stories about superheroes should be is just not what anybody wants?
So, execs at Warner Bros, Zack, Ben, Henry, Gal, Amy, Jesse, everyone (I’m on a first name basis with them)… I’m really really sorry that everyone is bitching about your movie. (Episode 1 of Star Wars has a 56% on Rotten Tomatoes. Need I say more?) Stay strong. Not saying you shouldn’t listen to the public. You should. But don’t do a total 180. DO NOT OVERREACT to the bad reception. You’ve got good DNA here. The beauty of a series of films is that despite being interconnected they can all be different in tone and voice and story. Stay with your overarching vision. Defend your art. This shit is hard, and you made a really good movie. Thank you, and keep going.