Anghus Houvouras on why Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is worth defending…
Superhero movies have become so stale. They’re still very much a staple of the pop culture landscape and as popular as ever, but the plots are lukewarm rehashes that all feel frighteningly similar. As a lifelong reader of comics, I’m painfully familiar with the stories being cribbed from decades of stories and adapted into a two-hour blockbuster that for the most part are about as deep as a poem written by a lovestruck 12-year-old who listens to too much Fall Out Boy. Much to my surprise, Batman v Superman is a completely different kind of superhero movie. It is an epic, challenging, baffling, occasionally brilliant grotesque monstrosity that might be the most interesting superhero movie ever made.
And in spite of the film’s flaws, I think it’s worth speaking up for.
Batman v Superman is a movie that transcends words like ‘good’ or ‘bad’, although both could fairly apply. This is a movie that is so off the wall, so baffling, so unconventional that we should happy it even exists.
I think I understand why people are so upset about the film. It’s because fans consider the movies to be the definitive version of these characters. Comic book movies have become the products of boiling down and reducing decades of stories to an easy to digest, palatable two-hour representation of the characters. When filmmakers ignore certain elements from the source material or take it another direction the fans become restless.
Why isn’t Superman like he is in the comics or previous films? Why is Batman using a gun? Why doesn’t this feel familiar to me?
Batman v Superman is being punished by many fans for straying too far from the core character concepts, but that was one of the main reasons I enjoyed it. The choices Snyder made were unexpected and deviated wildly, and the ardent fans shake their fists in the air and cry ‘foul’.
From the film’s opening moments, when we see the re-telling of Batman’s origin story, and Bruce ascends into the air surrounded by a flurry of bats, I was hooked. Snyder is immediately letting everyone know that he’s taking something familiar and putting his own particular twist on the very well established sequence. We get the murder, we get the string of pearls, we get Bruce falling down the well into the bat cave, but then we get something unexpected… and a little crazy.
I’m not going to try to defend all of Snyder’s choices. Some of them are inspired while others are baffling. Batman’s dream sequences are wildly over the top and disconnected from the narrative, but I found myself wanting to fill in the blanks. The film engaged me in a way most superhero movies have not. People talk about the films coherence, but I liked the fact that so many questions remain unresolved. I left the theater trying to piece together certain aspects and anticipating the longer three-hour cut on Blu-ray.
I appreciated Batman v Superman like I appreciated movies like Flash Gordon, Tron, or David Lynch’s Dune. These are movies that make strong choices that don’t always work but feel inspired. Even if the final product ends up being a strange anomaly, we can at least appreciate the attempt at doing something far different from other similarly themed blockbusters.
I kept thinking how much Batman v Superman feels like the realization of one of those superhero films that was never made. Like Tim Burton’s Superman Lives or J.J. Abrams Superman: Flyby. When we dig through the wreckage of those unproduced features we marvel at what could have been. Films that the studios dubbed too odd or too left of center to be produced. Batman v Superman is exactly that kind of movie, but instead of doing a documentary about the failed attempt to produce the film, we’re watching the actual film. And I for one sat in the theater slack-jawed at where this story went and how it was assembled.
Even though it ends up like every other superhero movie with a third act of relentless action, I respect Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice for having lofty goals. Sure, there are things in this movie that don’t work. Some of the dialogue is so wooden that it could be used to frame a house. Zack Snyder, like Michael Bay, seems better suited for textured visuals and textured performances. There are so many iconic moments in the film but very few human ones. At some points it feels like the film has twelve editors and three composers and all of them freebasing on an Everest sized mountain of cocaine while fighting for control of the final cut. This is an extremely odd movie, but that’s the very reason I ended up liking it. It’s a movie that is so removed from the source material and so completely gonzo in terms of staging that I just couldn’t help but marvel at the finished product.
Does every comic book movie have to be a panel for panel recreation of the comic? That’s the exact reason I panned Snyder’s Watchmen. I don’t need comic book movies that simply copy/paste the source material. I prefer a comic book movie that gives me something unexpected, and frankly I got two and a half hours of unexpected with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
To me, that’s worth defending.
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker and the co-host of Across the Pondcast. Follow him on Twitter.