Was Batman v Superman Really That Bad? [Opinion]

It’s been nearly a week since the worldwide theatrical release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and if you’ve been following the developments leading up to and following said release, you’re likely to be aware of the mixed reception of the Zack Snyder film.

The followup to the Man of Steel and prequel to the first live-action Justice League movie, which sees both halves of DC’s most iconic superhero duo log their first side-by-side appearance in a live-action film, was pelted by poor critic reviews and embarrassingly low ratings after early-screenings and the final release. At the same time, the movie has been able to garner quite the fan-base, which can be seen fervently defending it in forums around the web, with some even going on to peg it as one of the best comic book movies of all time, touting its record-breaking earnings as proof of its quality.

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An analysis of its poor reception & wildly fluctuating yet impressive box office earnings cannot involve absolutes

The movie earned $420 million over its opening weekend, setting a new record in the superhero genre, and yesterday, it crossed the $500 million mark, breaking a couple more records along the way. Those records, however, also include the highest ever Friday-Sunday earnings drop for a superhero movie. It is clear that an analysis of its poor reception and wildly fluctuating yet impressive box office earnings cannot involve absolutes – the kind employed in most online arguments between disappointed viewers and contended fans. When filmmaker and DC Comics fan Kevin Smith criticises the movie for its poor portrayal of the Dark Knight and his Kryptonian rival, one is forced to consider the possibility that there may be some weight to the many negative reviews the movie has been receiving, if their sheer number itself wasn’t a clear sign. However, in the opinion of this humble writer, it still certainly doesn’t justify an average rating that is barely higher than 2009’s Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

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Barring the origin story, the Doomsday in BvS ended up being quite faithful to the comics.

That said, the weight of the counter argument is less still. The notion that the movie’s earnings serve as a testament to its quality, to me, is somewhat ludicrous. One doesn’t have to be a die-hard comic book lover to be excited for a Batman or Superman title, much less one that features both heroes, with a Wonder Woman and Doomsday tie-in to boot. I, for one, had made a mental purchase of my ticket way before the film’s second trailer, as had, most likely, many other moviegoers. In this particular case, no amount of negative reviews were going to stop viewers from throwing their money at the movie and forming their own opinions. The “money talks” argument can’t be used to relay the success of a film that, with its name alone, can generate such hype. Then again, the same hype as well as the value of the name that birthed it was what seems to have caused the movie to wade into hot waters with the critics. The greater the stakes, the greater the nitpicking. Much of the concerns seemed to have been based off CGI-riddled action sequences and comparisons with other recent successes in the genre, such as Marvel’s The Avengers, which had its premise set up and characters built across a host of movies. Set those aside, however, and you find yourself with a collection of genuine shortcomings.

The storytelling simply failed to impress

The CGI didn’t bother me. In fact, it felt essential, as it should when you’re showing a battle between beings that can break the sound barrier or level buildings with a punch. The action, for me, was spot on. Even though the second half of the movie was essentially one long action sequence, it felt coherent, and surprisingly well-paced, with refreshing little references to popular story arcs and graphic novels the likes of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns adding icing to the cake. In comparison, a little more than the first hour of the movie felt like a disjointed montage of one-shots that were a chore to watch, despite having understood all references of note (which I won’t be naming here to avoid major spoilers) as well as the implications they might have on future movies. This is an area where Marvel’s recent movies one-up the competition. The storytelling simply failed to impress, and it felt like film’s greatest flaw. The action sequences in Dawn of Justice were, in my opinion, at par with what the Marvel Cinematic Universe has offered as yet, and they almost compensated the foul taste left by the sub-par lead-up.

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The action sequences were sublime

The cast, in large part, did a great job as well, fitting right into the movie’s setting, with Ben Affleck’s portrayal of Gotham’s fearless hero only outshone by his take on the vigilante’s alter-ego. Jessie Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor was many a viewer’s favorite choice of performance, though I didn’t find his eccentric, high-pitched version of the iconic villain to my taste. It seemed Eisenberg was trying to take a leaf out of Heath Ledger’s book, but his attempt at innovation seemed to have overshot the bounds within which it would have felt convincing and into an area that made it feel forced.

Another common qualm the critics have with the movie was its dark tone and lack of humor. I personally don’t believe that to be the root-cause of its lackluster storytelling. In fact, the dark tone seemed quite apt considering the movie’s premise and the characters involved.

The Batman in this film is more brutal & emotional than cold & calculating

However, the film’s portrayal of its titular characters played a large part in riling up critics and long-time DC fans alike. The Batman in this film is very different from his comic book counterpart. He’s more brutal and emotional than cold and calculating, more of a vengeful, rich vigilante than the World’s Greatest Detective. The same was known of Cavill’s Superman going into the movie, but with Affleck’s Dark Knight, they virtually took away the two things that define the character – his intellect and his values. Now, the storyline does try to justify why the Bat is where he is emotionally ala The Dark Knight Returns, but falls short of the classic in that the Caped Crusader’s new modus operandi and subsequent spat with Kal El seems to stem from raw emotion and not an ideology altered to match changing times. The character does, however, seem to evolve into the Batman we know and love towards the later stages of the movie, so the intent here seems to have been to make the titular duel a little more believable.

So, was the movie really that bad?

So, was the movie really that bad? I don’t believe it was. It isn’t as bad as half the reviews on the web would have you believe, but it isn’t anywhere near the best title in its genre.

Preference is always a factor, of course. If you have an eye for the art of storytelling and appreciate the value it adds, even in movies that find their essence in a climactic, over-the-top brawl, then you’ll have to push through the first half with some resilience and clear your mind for the second. If you believe that it is pointless to expect a movie about a fist fight to have any substance beyond the fight itself, you might be hard-pressed to find anything wrong with the movie. That isn’t to say that it is impossible for a viewer to enjoy the first half. People heavily invested in the DC Universe will enjoy the bevy of references throughout the beginning and through to the very end of the movie.

One thing is for certain: the film’s earnings, or the fact that it puts Batman and Superman in the same frame, isn’t a measure of its quality, and it shouldn’t be perceived as such. Comic book movies may be the industry’s new cash cow, but if mere names bring in a major chunk of a title’s profits, filmmakers may stop going the extra mile to improve what the genre has to offer.

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