Dear Sad Ben Affleck,
Much is being made of your glum response to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’s critical beating at the hands of professional film reviewers. As of this writing, it’s running at 28-percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
I get the impression that you’ve invested a lot in this franchise; you brought your Oscar-winning screenwriter pal Chris Terrio onboard; you’ve signed on to appear as Batman in “multiple” films (some rumours claim that number as high as six). So I get why you’re so bummed by this bad start. You must be surprised how eagerly critics and comic shop philosophers alike are hating on this flick.
But, believe me, you’re nowhere near as surprised as I am that I’m going to be the one to try and cheer you up.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is flawed, for sure. And the flaws are pretty big. But what works well in the film works really well. And most of the stuff that works well is the stuff that you’re involved in. A simpler way to say it might be: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is an atrocious Superman movie, a half-decent (if brief) Wonder Woman movie, and an excellent Batman movie.
I can’t blame audiences for being frustrated by the experience of sitting through this thing; anyone who pays twenty bucks for a 3D ticket shouldn’t be expected to do the work of the editing department and parse through the glut of footage to find something that resembles an intelligible visual narrative. But I can say that I benefited greatly from my lowered expectations; Man of Steel, the predecessor to this film, set the bar so stupendously low that it was difficult to go into this movie believing it wasn’t going to be a mess.
The main plot (for the first 90 minutes, at least) is pretty linear, and drives the two heroes together in a pretty rational, believable way: Superman is offended by Batman’s brutal tactics, Batman is offended by the lack of checks and balances on Superman’s absolute power—and of course, in the end, it turns out that all these offenses are (spoiler alert) being secretly manipulated by the bad guy.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice works best when it indulges in this kind of simplicity. It should be simple. This is a story we teach ourselves when we’re still just children: two good guys meet, misunderstand one another, battle to a draw, then come under threat by some third party, at which point they reconcile their differences and fight together. Evil is thwarted, happy ending. Any kid who grew up playing with action figures knows this narrative structure. It’s how you learn to collaborate with your pals (because no one wants to be the bad guy). In this manner, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is the cinematic equivalent of banging toys together while spitting susurrus sound effects. And there’s something weirdly satisfying about it.
Until, yeah, things fall apart.
It’s all the same third act problems that we’ve come to expect from superhero movies (and modern blockbusters in general), so I won’t get too deep into it, except to say that there should be an injunction on crackling domes of energy and a restriction on how many city blocks can be annihilated for every minute of screen time (the film pays lip service to the wanton destruction that occurred at the end of Man of Steel, then goes and does it all again).
But before all that, we’re treated to some fun stuff. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor gets twitchier and more grating as the film wears on, but in earlier scenes he manages to do something fresh with the character: Mark Zuckerberg as megalomaniacal supervillain. Gal Gadot doesn’t get to do much as Wonder Woman except slink around a cocktail party in a diaphanous dress, but she slinks well, and has a few good lines (all of which are spoiled in the trailer). And your tired, grey-templed Bruce Wayne might actually be truer to the fundaments of the source material than Christian Bale’s sociopathic socialite. (Please note: I am saying all this as an obsessive superfan of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.)
If you need to be further cheered, I’ll go on the record and say this: the best Batman fight scene ever committed to film occurs in the last half hour of this movie. And whether or not that was actually you underneath the cowl (or some burly stunt-double), I believed it was you, and in that moment – if only that moment – was thrilled by what this movie was doing.
Even Zack Snyder seems to have matured. He has built his career on an instinct for creating beautiful images (he just can’t seem to string them together coherently, which, unfortunately for him, is the fundamental difference between visual art and filmmaking), and even though we’ve seen Bruce Wayne’s parents get murdered over and over and over, there are a few images from Snyder’s interpretation of that scene that really stuck with me; specifically, a pearl necklace caught on the barrel of a gun.
All I want to tell you, Ben, is that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is nothing for you to be ashamed of. The opposite, in fact. Of everyone involved in this film, you’re the one (maybe the _only one) who has earned the right to hold your head up high. You’ve made a solid Batman movie. It’s just a shame it was folded up in the middle of this sloppy franchise prologue.