Andrew Serong

A hobby blog. Expect cats.

Batman v Superman, and why I loved Batfleck (Spoilers)

March 25, 2016

From Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (1986) — recognise the armour?
This is a spoiler-filled snapshot of some thoughts after seeing the new Batman v Superman movie. I actually really loved it, and mostly wanted to jot down some thoughts before going to read and listen to reactions online. This has certainly been a divisive one, with critics apparently hating it, and a whole bunch of fans either loving it or hating it. Consider me in the geeking-out loving the hell out of it category, and excuse me while I continue to pad out this opening paragraph so that spoilers don’t appear in anyone’s facebook preview.

Okay, that’s a long enough first paragraph. Zack Snyder did something really special and kind of unique with Batman v Superman. It’s not structured like a normal movie, it’s structured and told like a graphic novel. A bunch of exposition and character moments are handled in the framing of a scene, and the plot regularly leaps forward like at the break of an issue. While references have been made to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (and Miller is thanked in the credits), the experience of watching the movie reminded me more of Mark Millar’s excellent and unusual Superman: Red Son which imagines what would happen if Kal-El landed in Communist Russia instead of the mid-west US.

Although Batman v Superman opens with the consequences of the closing events of Man of Steel, it’s not a sequel so much as a film that responds to the former and opens up a larger, expanded universe. The title sequence is a mythic depiction of the crime alley scene where Bruce Wayne loses his parents, a scene that we’ve seen on screen now countless times. This scene is referenced again and again throughout the film, rendered in sumptuous detail as the centre-point to Batman’s character. We have a Batman and Bruce Wayne who is a veteran at what he does. He’s tired, cynical, and has no doubt as to his purpose. Snyder enters the scene late with Clark and Lois — they’re in a relationship, sleeping together, and she knows who he is. The film tells us early on — enough running around in origin stories, the DC universe is about to get huge.

BvS is a long movie, but with good reason. As a comic book movie, it’s attempting to do something very different to all the others we’ve seen so far. Snyder weaves a tale that builds a consistent universe where the street-level Batman and gritty Gotham can co-exist with the god-like scale and grandeur of Superman. This needs to be believable and to be taken seriously, especially as they introduce Wonder Woman and uncover a larger mystery that there are more of these superhuman creatures out there who will eventually form the Justice League.

I thought Affleck had a really great take on Bruce Wayne. It’s the first time since Michael Keaton where I’ve felt that Bruce is actually competent at what he does. And here, there’s a level of depth and cynicism to Wayne that felt really refreshing. Superman is the naive alien, trying to do good. But Wayne is the one who has seen the worst of humanity. He is rightly suspicious of Superman, and Batman’s investigation takes up a good portion of the movie. For me, this is where Batman stories are the best — the adventure / detective plot as Wayne uncovers a mystery. The excitement of superhero stories for me is in the singular sense of purpose of the hero. Where the rest of us seek approval in our day to day lives, care about what our friends, colleagues and employers think of what we’re doing, while deep down we don’t have a clue, the superhero is the fantasy that deep down, someone does actually know what they’re doing. For me, where superhero stories fail the most is when they decide to explore the ‘Oh no, I bit off more than I can chew!’ plotlines. A little of this is okay, but I always want them to fast-forward to the bit where they’re back with it again.

And Wonder Woman — I cannot wait to see where a stand-alone movie takes this character. I thought the way Gal Gadot played her subtle disdain for man’s world was really spot on.

I liked that the thing that made Batman finally trust Superman was realising that although Clark is an alien, he too is just a man who was raised by good people, and cares about his family and loved ones just like anyone else. That the fear of a superhuman creature could be overcome by the revelation of his humanity was a familiar and touching point of the DC universe. And although the film likely still failed the Bechdel test, there seemed to be way more good moments with female characters in the movie than most Marvel films to date, even if Lois is continually damselled in this movie.

So, you know, it’s not perfect by any stretch, but as you can tell, I really dug the movie. I love that it’s entering into Batman’s story late in the game, and that Snyder’s insistence on a dark, ultra-serious universe gives us one where the superhero stories can reach for a mythic scale. A world where Batman can co-exist with Superman and Wonder Woman could easily become overly campy. You’ve got an alien, a woman from a parallel universe, and a billionaire who fights street crime. But rather than this all seeming bizarre and over the top, the film is filled with mystery, as parts of these characters’ stories start to be revealed. For me seeing them treat even just a fragment of the Wonder Woman story with such sincerity and mystery via a hundred year old photo of her, made me so happy.

There was still lots not to like. The final monster looked like the cave troll from Lord of the Rings, just like every other monster. A lot of the action sequences dragged, and Lex Luthor’s motivation seemed really all over the place (but at least it wasn’t a story about real estate). And don’t get me started on the UI design of the LexCorp operating system. Okay, I’ve probably lost you there. But as with any version of Batman and Superman, we’re given just one take on these characters… and if this isn’t your Batman or Superman, then I can imagine the film could be hugely disappointing.

But for me, this is the film I’d been looking forward to for years, where Batman joins an expanded universe filled not just with quirky villains, but with mythic storytelling on the scale of a Dark Knight Returns, or Elseworlds storyline. And Affleck’s jaded, older, been around the block a few times, confident and vulnerable Bruce Wayne was the Bruce Wayne I always wanted to see. (And holy crap the dream sequences were amazing — like a dark comic book come to life.)

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