…despite so many critiques to the contrary.
SPOILERS SPOIILERS SPOILERS.
Why did I feel BVS was phenomenal? This will probably be a long post, so grab some popcorn and be aware of spoilers. BECAUSE I WILL SPOIL IT FOR EVERYONE.
For those of you who don’t care about lengthy one-sided discussion, I’ll lay it out nice and clean, without examples, so you may continue on your way.
Multi-faceted protagonists, including Superman; strong, aware antagonists, including Doomsday (Kidding about Doomsday. Dude was just straight up mad); complex plot that allowed characters to develop, including non-super ones, a world that existed before the movie began; philosophically sound motivations that were succinctly explained and developed; appropriate insights to characters through skilled storytelling; great filming, particularly in the beginning and at the end.
After explaining all this, I’ll try and hunt down why people are so disgusted by the movie.
Superhero comics (and movies) developed from old spaghetti westerns; the good guy is usually an ideologist, perhaps a chivalrous person or one who wishes to right some wrong, usually without self-preservation in mind. The hero rides in on a horse to clean up a town (Against all odds), or delivers a criminal to a train on time (Against all odds), or finds vengeance on the murder of a loved one (Against all odds). Good cowboys are less a man and more an idea. Where the cowboy has become the cape, so too do the romantic, sometimes gothic undertones follow suit.
A well-made superhero requires some kind of ideology. A well-made super villain requires the same. Several superheroes require several ideologies that somehow come together. The more parallelism, the better. The more synchronicity the better. The first Avengers movie was so darn fun because of, partially, how different all the heroes were. While that movie was fun, few of the heroes had an ideology they battled. They worked great as archetypes, worked great filling in roles in a team, but the movie was unable to develop the ideologies. Which was fine. I enjoyed watching. It’s a good fluff movie. I might even watch it again.
Batman Vs Superman was so badass because the protagonists fought internal battles. Internal battles mean they’re more real. Internal battles mean they fought FOR something, and not just (in the Avenger’s case) AGAINST something. Those two perspectives are very different.
So the movie begins with Batman reliving his parents’ burial and their deaths simultaneously. His narration speaks to the death of absolutes, including good and evil, right and wrong, and all the stuff in-between. He is elevated, through the bats, into the air–a religious undertone that I found delicious–before he says it’s a dream “a lie.” He dreams he is elevated through his bat-symbolism and purpose, but feels in his heart he is not. Given the direct comparison of Superman as God throughout the movie (and media), this “lie” he feels is transposed onto Superman, as well. This religious undertone is absolutely beautiful, and is repeated several times through Batman’s dreams. (Hung up in the basement of a bunker, with two men hanging on each side of him. God entering and angrily cutting the men beside him down before two-inch punching a hole in Batman’s stomach: the opposite of another notable crucifixion, if I do recall) Also, this flashback has all the charms of the Flash showing him an alternative reality of totalitarianism under the reign of a vengeful Superman, especially afterward you see a glimpse of Flash as he desperately tries to tell Batman not to let Lois die–it’s Superman’s humanity.
I don’t expect people to piece that together. Hell, I’m not even sure it’s true. But I know enough about comic books to not rule the idea out. Foreshadowing comes heavy in a superhero movie series, and especially from Christopher Nolan and Zach Snyder.
I am a student of the subconscious (if you want to know more, please read previous posts!), and fully understand what happens when a man’s dreaming creates a symbol for another man: it is a form of mitigating fear, of creating control, and understanding your enemy. This description of Batman as somehow insightful through dream-symbolism allows the character to be elevated to a tactician’s role: through symbol-assignment and particularly subconscious symbol assignment, Batman works even when he’s sleeping. He wakes with a deeper understanding–if wrong–of multiple situations, and is much better able to assign his, and others, roles. It also gives him a singular purpose. It also creates in him a zealotry unmatched by anyone else. Powerful. Beautiful. Perfect. Oddly real.
Superman next. A man with no dreams. No full plate of thought like Batman. He perceives a single thing, the right and the wrong, and pursues the right. His purpose in this movie is brilliantly done: do right, and do good. He does right by the people, but is also burdened with a want, a need to be accepted. To be human. Of all the characters in this movie, Superman fights for his humanity most. Yet he has a singular purpose. For example, Luthor gives Superman two options: kill Batman or “kill” his mother. He immediately makes the decision to convince Batman to help. No battling of wills, no weighing possibilities or success rates. The only way he could do right was to convince Batman not to kill him. Blindly.
Powerful. That is the essence of Superman. Yes, he kills people in these movies. Yes, he is emotional and wavers in his understanding of “do right for the greater good or do right by dad?” This is his internal struggle. He needs this struggle to gain Batman’s trust.
Which turns Superman blind to nuances, blind to implanted bombs and nuclear devices. Blind to the idea that humanity might not want to save itself. Blind to the idea that he might need to take care of himself first.
Lois is tenacious and haggard, less a developed character and more a motivator and plot device. She could have been Donald Trump in this situation for all it mattered… though the Superman makeout scene would be a little gross. She exists for the story, yes, but she exists for Superman’s humanity moreso. She didn’t get in the way via damsel in distress (for the sole purpose of being in distress), but she also didn’t add much to the story. Which is fine.
Alfred brought humorous side-notes, a kind of businessmanlike humor to the human side of Batman. He implored greater strategy and calm, and was ever the father figure Bruce never knew he had.
Wonder Woman doesn’t get much discussion here because she’s pragmatic and had little screen time. She definitely has a presence in the movie, and her interaction with Bruce Wayne was pretty phenomenal. I also enjoyed how much fun she seemed to have fighting Doomsday. Which brings me to…
Alexander Luthor, who apparently lives in the shadow of his father, the creator of LexCorp, has an off-hinged communication style that invokes what I’d only imagine to be psychopathic intelligence. Through his corporation he acquires power and wealth and knowledge of many things. Early in the movie, he asks a Democratic senator “What is America’s biggest lie?” She doesn’t reply in the way he wants, so he doesn’t answer. At his dinner party, when he was invited to speak, he gets nervous and starts rambling, eventually ending the speech with “Thank you for coming. Have fun.”
Lex has an inferiority complex, living in the shadow of his father so much so that he doesn’t even change anything in his “father’s room,” a library of sorts with a roaring fire, old wood charm, and a painting of demons fighting angels. His attitude is a throwback to Joker’s attitude, without the chaos. Lex seems dedicated to collecting wealth and removing competition, and does so very well. But he does so because of his fear of being less successful than his father.
Which is why he created his own son, Dr. Frankenstein style, with all the nuances and complexity that came with Shelley’s novel. (And what was the first thing the monster did? Attack Luthor. Very well done.)
Doomsday is less a character and more a force unleashed in the form of unstoppable chaos via Luthor. The first thing Superman does is the last thing he did in the comics: send Doomsday to space, plan to punch the thing out of orbit. Humanity, of course, nuked them both. Superman always chooses the right thing. He is often unable to complete the right thing due to politics, fear and uncertainty, and the fact he’s an alien.
Doomsday returns, everyone comes together in a superhero wrestling style battle royale that seems all too common in every comic ever, and the three heroes duke it out with an unstoppable killing machine. Superman sacrifices himself fully for the people of earth, says his goodbyes, and kills Doomsday as he is killed. Full circle. Absolute resolution. The only frustration I had with this movie is if you’re going to kill Superman, at least leave him dead for the rest of the movie. Do him a little respect. Give him a little Justice. (See what I did there?)
Turning the picture upside down is Luthor’s way of saying he has finished living in his father’s footsteps. Subtle. Well filmed. Perfect. In fact the whole movie gave characters space to live in their environments. Hey! That’s…
Batman dreams and tinkers and toys. He walks the burned-out wreck of his manor and looks at the defaced suit of his unavailable sidekick (presumably dead).
Superman lives on a farm, in the arctic, in The Daily Planet. He talks to his dad’s memory, loves his mother, loves his girlfriend.
Lex exists in his father’s shadow, buys all sorts of alien technology for political payments, and wants people to respect him the way they respect Batman, or Superman.
This story doesn’t just run a direct route. It gives characters existence from before the movie began, with real-world tragedies and crosses they all carry. Even Lois has to battle with the idea that she’s Superman’s bait–and will continue to be in the future. In fact, she tells him, because he doesn’t have the ability, or capacity, to understand what a weakness she represents.
Those details flesh out a character as much as anything said or done in the movie. It saturates a story with soul, characterization, existence. So often the stage is immutable, with a house someone lives in (or a tower). This characterization of the environment enriches the story. It also gives reasoning behind…
If you make a movie without a strong philosophy behind the characters, you didn’t make a superhero movie. I think I’ve already gone over this once or twice, but I’ll do it a third time for emphasis: Superman believes the good of humanity is above his own personal well-being, Batman believes there is no order except what order you create, and Lex believes that power corrupts absolutely, and that’s A-Okay. They’re all based off human-like reasoning behind the stories: Superman feels a lack of community, which weighs heavily on him, Batman feels a need to control as much of the city’s life as possible, and Lex still deals with his father’s violence and disinterest, even as the man is wholly out of the picture.
Boom. Boom. Boom. Down the line.
Wonder Woman is subtle, slow, stays in the shadow to avoid being noticed. Has nothing to prove. And it shows. In all cases, it shows. America needs to protect its assets, so America bombs both Superman and Doomsday. Lois wants to help in any way she can, so she throws herself into dangerous situations. The process goes on and on. Nobody exists for the characters. They feel full.
Examples of these philosophies in the movie:
Luthor asks the senator again, “What is America’s biggest lie?” When she doesn’t answer, he says, “That power can be innocent.”
Along with, “In that back alley I learned that life doesn’t make sense unless you force it to.” Batman.
“Or do nothing. You don’t owe it a thing.” Superman’s mom. Superman doesn’t reply because he does. In his head, he does.
Storytelling. Storytelling. Storytelling. Storytelling. I think the previous points of this post delves into what makes this whole thing so enjoyable for me, the viewer. The story has a strong pace, beginning slow and working up momentum. It shows an evolution of thought, of power gained, and of perspective, allowing characters to galvanize their hypotheses or change them. You learn about characters’ pasts where relevant, surprises appear when needed and most surprising, and if done right, you find an emotional pull.
I cried three times in this movie. One when Lois says, “Martha’s his mother’s name,” and Batman promises she won’t die. One when the ring fell out of the bag. One when Doomsday died.
Kidding. I guess I only cried twice. Even though I knew Superman would probably die. Even though I understood he wouldn’t stay dead, I teared up. I laughed out loud several times, but mostly because of the quotable quotes and the scenery. I even clapped once.
I don’t do that with movies often. Rarely, even. No crying while watching Titanic. No tears at the end of Ol’ Yeller. I certainly haven’t cried during other superhero movies.
Strong storytelling is like writing a good song. Is like painting a good painting. It elicits emotional responses. This movie did that for me in spades.
And to continue with the book/movie comparison:
Strong filming. When I saw we were going to watch yet another walk-through of Batman’s death, I nearly groaned. Five minutes into the movie and I get to see “Dance with the devil in the pale moonlight” re-enactment. But it wasn’t.
Young Bruce fell into the cave, during the burial, with a pearl from his mother’s necklace. The image of pearls holding the gun to his mother’s chest is powerfully symbolic, reinforcing the tie Bruce holds between his mother’s death and crime. He runs past a grave that says Solomon, which further reinforces the religious undertones through the bible passage.
Bruce equates his parents’ death to a removal from humanity. I dare anyone to write a better scene than that.
Symbolism throughout the story brings about so much strength. It speaks with such a vibration.
In short, I’m in love with the Batman character. Affleck acted it perfectly. Snyder filmed a perspective so unique and unexpected I feel connected to that character in ways I will never be able to fully explain. I am in love with the Superman character. He is presented in such a manner that creates humanity and vulnerability I didn’t expect. I am in love with the Luthor character in the same way I’m in love with Nolan’s Joker character: they have an awareness of the world that goes very deep.
Now. On with the negatives. A few to list:
Snyder sucks, so this movie sucks. Eh. I didn’t see it.
The inclusion of the rest of the Justice League makes no sense. Why include them in this movie if you don’t use them? I want more Wonder Woman screen time*! I understand some people want such a distilled storyline that it’s scalpel-like in its simplicity. I appreciate that. The way they are introduced is so very tactile, I can’t consider this a flaw. I mean, reading over files from Luthor’s office? Perfect. I understand to some it might slap of rushing introductions due to Marvel ramping up its Civil War and Avengers stuff, but even if it is, it was done in such a subtle way that didn’t distract from the rest of the story, I’m fine with it. In fact, until this was pointed out, I didn’t even notice. Yep. They exist outside the movie. Why not say hi?
*Stand alone Wonder Woman movie Coming Soon.
Furthermore, if I’m reading a trilogy, and I’m introduced to characters that don’t become important until the second book, I’m not going to cry foul. That’s called Good Foreshadowing. (Although Martin’s Game of Thrones novels seriously botch this up)
Batman uses guns. Superman cooks people alive. These aren’t the superheroes I know! Bring back my childhood! While I attended college, I had the good fortune of reading Kingdom Come, a graphic novel that attended to the notion that these superheroes should be more human-like. The Justice League actually had to deal with real world problems while the psychoses of Metahumans played political havoc to America’s landscape. Shazaam was dissociative as he finally grew up to be an adult and couldn’t figure out how to combine the magic with the man, Batman had a broken back, Atom blew up half of Kansas… This ain’t yo mama’s superhero movie.
What’s with the weird flashbacks and dreams? Explained earlier in the post.
That isn’t the Lex Luthor I remember (and hate). What gives? I believe this is an early version of the man, and given the way the movie ends, he’s folding into himself as he realizes he must be a little more pragmatic to succeed in what he needs. He wasn’t my first choice, but removing the idea that “Lex should be like every other Lex before him,” and seeing the movie as it is, he did a good job at it.
The plot is rushed, pivotal moments seem shallow or weak, and there wasn’t enough of a battle between Superman and Batman. I can’t fight an opinion, of course, but my personal belief is the plot runs perfect. The pace is perfect. It is a story that is told at its speed and not some pre-ordained “Superhero movies should have 75% action, 25% talking/development” number. Yes, I am non-conventional. Take my opinion with that in mind.
When Batman nearly kills Superman and Superman says something like “Must Save Martha!” I have no doubt it would give Batman pause. Why? Because the movie tells us why, through great uses of flashback and dream symbolism. Batman cracks his mask (No pun intended) of control in his surprise that Superman would know such an intimate thing. Batman’s flaw saved Superman, created a bond, and brought the viewer (hopefully) closer to their imperfections! Perfect! In my opinion.
Do you have more critiques than the ones I mentioned? I’d love to hear about them/discuss them. I will definitely be buying this movie when it comes out.