[SPOILERS—If you haven’t seen this movie and are bothered by knowing serious plot points in advance of doing so, then you probably shouldn’t read this.]
Before I get to the movie, I should first give a little background on my history with and love (and then hatred) of DC Comics. I’ve been a fan of Superman since I can remember. I grew up seeing re-runs of the George Reeves television series, and I loved the early movies (though they got progressively worse as time went on). I collected comic books as soon as I was old enough to earn my own disposable income. I’d make trips to the drug store every 2 weeks and buy up all my titles and spend the next few hours reading and re-reading them, falling deeper and deeper in love with all my favorite characters and teams. In no particular order, I remember fondly Batman and the Outsiders, Teen Titans, All-Star Squadron, Justice League of America, The Legion of Super Heroes, Superman, Superboy, DC Comics Presents, World’s Finest Comics, Green Lantern, The Flash, and probably a few others I’m not remembering as I write this. Marvel? Feh. Marvel was OK. I liked Fantastic Four and a couple of other titles. But in general, I was not fond of their wussy teens bitten by all manner of insects; and their whiny, angst-ridden “poor us” mutants. I liked my heroes to be fantastic. I wanted to have to suspend a hell of a lot of disbelief when reading about them. People from other planets with all manner of powers—THAT fires up the imagination! Random gene mutation? BORING. Can you tell that Batman was one of my least-favorite characters?
I read comics until DC’s “Crisis On Infinite Earths” series. I collected the entire series. I collected the “Who’s Who?” companion guide. I bought every crossover title I could find, even if I didn’t collect that series. And then they finished it. The tagline for “Crisis” was, “Worlds will live, worlds will die; and the DC Universe will never be the same!” Well, they were right. As far as I was concerned, they had killed everything I loved about the DC Universe, including Supergirl and the Flash. What they did was stupid and unnecessary, and I decided I was done. I stopped collecting and made room for other things in my life. A few years later while on a family trip I was in a New England drug store with a few minutes to kill, so I found the comic book section of their magazine rack. I grabbed the latest issue of “Superman” and took it out to the car. The art had certainly changed, as had the quality of the paper. I saw these as generally good things. Superman was fighting someone (as usual). The fight ended up in space. Where Superman HAD TO HOLD HIS BREATH. What?!? What the hell was this? I almost cried. I threw the comic on the car’s floor in disgust and have not purchased one since then (about 30 years). I was right—they had ruined everything.
Fast forward to the 21st century. A lot has changed in the media of TV and the movies. Marvel has spent the last decade packaging up their most popular characters (and a few more minor ones) for consumption both on the big screen as well as television, masterfully weaving and presenting the backstories for Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk in the movies; and bringing us ongoing shows like “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, “Agent Carter”, “Jessica Jones”, and “Daredevil”. As I write this, there have been two “Avengers” movies and we are anxiously awaiting a third (“Civil War”). Where has DC been during all of this? Mostly silent. They gave us “Man Of Steel” in 2013, which I rather liked. And someone with a lot of love and a lot of respect for pre-Crisis lore has been pouring their heart into “Arrow,” “The Flash,” and “Supergirl” on television. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, they threw “Batman vs. Superman” our way.
I saw “Batman vs. Superman” last night. I will probably see it again, if for no other reason than I saw it with only one of my two sons, and I’m pretty sure the other one wants to see it too. I’ll start by saying that any movie that has me looking at my watch has not sufficiently grabbed my attention. There were several glances in the first 90 minutes. We apparently are in the universe established by the “Man Of Steel” movie. We have no real background on the Batman of this universe beyond the very basics: His parents were killed when he was a kid, he discovered a cave full of bats and made it his lair, and his family mansion is now a ruin. (I can’t remember if that last detail happened in one of the most recent Batman flicks—I was probably asleep. That franchise has been rebooted/revisited so many times I’ve lost track. (Batman was never my favorite, remember?)) I don’t remember the locations of Gotham City and Metropolis ever being specifically mentioned in the comics. It was always an “understood” elephant in the room that they were both analogs for New York City, which made it only slightly awkward when Batman would visit Superman or vice versa. We didn’t know exactly “where” Gotham and Metropolis were, but we knew they weren’t the same. Well, now we know they are “sister” cities, across the harbor from one another. Sure. Whatever.
I’ll start with Superman. I generally enjoy Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman. I think he has “the look,” and while I wish the colors were a tad brighter, I like what they have chosen to do with his costume. He spends the movie struggling with the age-old question: “Can I ever get close to anyone?”, realizing, apparently for the first time, that if you care about someone (or some thing), then people who don’t like you can use that person (or thing) as leverage against you. I was somewhat relieved when it was revealed that it was this moth-eaten plot device that was going to be the real reason for a fight between our two heroes. They spent a solid hour attempting—poorly— to provide adequate background and character development, leading us to believe that they were going to come to blows simply over philosophical differences (a la the aforementioned “Civil War”). But when it came down to it, Superman simply had no choice. I think he did a piss-poor job of trying to explain that to Batman, but if he hadn’t, there wouldn’t have been much of a fight, and that’s why we all bought our tickets, right?
Batman. I said earlier I’ve never been a big fan of Batman. This movie didn’t make me any more of one. First of all, he kills. And shoots guns. When did that start? Is that a thing now? (Remember; I haven’t bought a comic in 30 years!) One of the things to LIKE about Batman, even if you didn’t like much else, was that he chose not to kill. He was all about justice. Catch the bad guys and deliver them to law enforcement and let the system do its job. No guns, unless they shot cables or mist or something else non-lethal. But in this movie there are several scenes in which he indiscriminately mows down bad guy after bad guy with spray from fully-automatic weapons, and when he’s out of bullets or there’s no gun handy, he doesn’t seem to pull any punches. Several others are quite obviously dead in the aftermath of the sheer brutality of his physical attacks. This is not the Batman I used to know. I will, however, give serious props to Ben Affleck as both Batman and Bruce Wayne. Affleck’s one of those actors who for me is only as good as the material he’s performing. I’ve loved him in roles. I’ve hated him in roles. I loved him in this role! He was suave and handsome enough to be believable as the “billionaire playboy” Brice Wayne (though that aspect of the character is not at all played up in this flick) and brooding and angsty enough to pull off the “Dark Knight” shtick that has become popular with the character over the last 40 years.
Wonder Woman? *blink* What? Who invited her? Indeed, the movie asks this very question as the three heroes are set to face Doomsday (Its name is “Doomsday, right? It’s a post-Crisis character, so I’ve never seen it before, but I’ve gathered that’s its name.): Superman: “Is she with you?” Batman: “No, I thought she was with you!” Her presence is obviously a prelude to a sequel which will expand upon her backstory and her last hundred years, explaining what her contributions to World War I were and where she’s been since then. And we see evidence that The Flash, Aquaman (ugh) and Cyborg will be seen in some future movie(s). But she came out of nowhere and just decided to show up for the big fight at the end.
Superman’s (apparent) death. At the end of the film we are led to believe that Superman (and, ipso facto, Clark Kent) is dead. They handled this all wrong. Superman’s wake was closed (and empty) casket, while Clark’s was open-casket; and Smallville is where the body was buried. That makes it very hard to explain his eventual resurrection. Had they done it the other way around, with Superman’s body on display and Clark’s apparently “missing,” it would have been easy. Superman simply bursts forth, apparently finally healed from his wound; and Clark emerges from some as-yet-uncleared rubble that resulted from the big fight with Doomsday, barely alive, but able to come through his ordeal. I have no idea how they’re going to explain Clark coming back they way they’ve done things.
Broadly, I don’t know what Warner Brothers has been thinking for the past 10 years. Marvel has been trouncing them and it’s like they’ve been sitting around a board room table with blindfolds on and fingers in their ears. Now they’re “awake” and playing catch-up and doing so very poorly. Box office receipts notwithstanding, this new Universe could have been…and still could be…so much better! They need to slow down and take their time and explain exactly WHO all these “new” characters are and where they came from and why we should love them. Superman and Batman are easy. Unless you’ve lived in a cave all your life, you at least know who they are. You know Superman can fly and has heat vision and is invulnerable. You know Batman has a cave and a Batmobile and a utility belt. You almost can’t not know these things! Wonder Woman is on the fringe of this level of popularity. Amazon, bracelets, lariat…check. But Cyborg? Flash? Aquaman? Who?? DC has a LOT of work ahead of itself. In many ways, this film is a knock-off of Marvel’s recent work. Superman = Captain America. Batman = Iron Man. Wonder Woman = Thor. Doomsday = Hulk. *yawn* I’ve seen all of this already!
Give me something NEW and reasons to once again love the characters that consumed my imagination for most of my teen years. Please?