Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice purports to follow the greatest slugfest in the history of comic book movies. In actuality, however, it merely ignited slugfests between fans, with a love it or hate it mentality. Possibly the most divisive film of the year, fans and Hollywood spectators continue to debate the film’s merits and failings, not to mention the meaning of the movie’s wild box office variations. Without question, a dark and violent film, supporters claim it offers a fresh and unconventional take on the DC universe, while detractors consider it depressing, hard to follow and too scary for kids (assuming a comic book film should be aimed at children anyway).
The movie does however have some qualities that audiences generally agree on, enough to make it worth seeing at least once.
Metropolis returns to the big screen, this time embodied by Detroit (which also stands in for Gotham…more on that in a moment). It’s a bold choice. Instead of the larger-than-life art deco designs that marked the city in the animated incarnations of Superman, the city looks and feels like a real metropolis…because it is! The wanton destruction of Man of Steel also remains, which provides a jumping off point for the plot, and a subtle reminder of the dangers of super powers, something the movie meditates on throughout.
9. The Speed Force
Ezra Miller has only two brief cameos as The Flash, but they offer two of the movie’s highlights. We see a pre-costumed Flash foiling a convenience store robbery, and we see a future Flash in a bizarre scene with Batman. Both times he’s accompanied by a vortex of lightning and fury, the Speed Force!
Comic fans will note that the Speed Force is the source of The Flash’s powers, a force of nature unto itself that transcends time and space. The film treats the Speed Force as a sort of cataclysm, a true force of nature that sets up The Flash’s character and powers with dramatic gusto.
8. Lois Lane
Critics have charged that Batman v. Superman reduces Lois Lane to little more than a damsel in distress, an object for Superman to rescue amid the chaos of the story. In short, they are totally wrong.
Lois does get herself into trouble, but that comes about from being an ambitious reporter, and from just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In fact, most of the film she’s on the trail of a conspiracy emanating from the US government, which she suspects as being part of a plot to destroy Superman’s public standing. She also plays a vital role in the film’s climax, fighting alongside Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Amy Adams plays the role with intelligence and poise, and shines.
7. Perry White
The curmudgeonly editor of the Daily Planet gets a bit sidelined in Batman v. Superman, but given the movie’s already sprawling plot, that’s ok. Well played by Laurence Fishburne, Perry and Clark spar over his coverage of the reemerged Batman’s brutal tactics. The film almost provides a meta commentary on the criticisms it would face, with Clark arguing that Batman’s violence trespasses on the boundaries of moral fortitude. Critics of the film have made similar allegations, and if Perry White tries to dismiss them, well, so does the film. That’s also the point: White’s preoccupation with violent terrorists also distracts him from the greater ethical questions at hand.
Gotham, home of Batman, finally makes its big screen debut as Metropolis’s twin city, much to delight of DC comics’ die-hard fans. Resembling the nightmare landscape of bankrupt, dilapidated Detroit (for good reason, see above), Gotham’s towering skyscrapers and zig-zagging alleys provide Batman with a credible backdrop. Take Wayne Manor, for example. Instead of the usual stately mansion, Batman v. Superman provides a crumbling relic of a home, indicative of Bruce Wayne’s own crumbling spirit and mental state. The Batman of this universe has seen more than just his parents die, and given the awesome powers of Superman, he has every reason to fear further destruction.
Any film with Batman needs a counterpoint to the obsessive brooding of the Dark Knight, and who better to provide some levity than his lovable butler, Alfred? Played by the great Jeremy Irons, Alfred injects droll wit into the film at some pivotal moments. Unlike other interpretations of the character, however, who play the part of worried parent to Batman, Irons approaches Alfred with a resigned sarcasm. He knows Bruce will continue to don the Batsuit with or without his help, so he might as well try and inject some sense to the man’s crusade when possible.
4. Senator Finch
Holly Hunter delivers one of the best performances in the movie, playing the understated role of Senator Finch, a crooked politician. One of the brilliant accomplishments of the film postulates what a government investigation into the activities of Superman would actually look like. Complete with seedy allegiances with nutbag businessmen, kickbacks, conspiracies and pyrotechnics. The government suspicions, the demagogue politicos and cable news coverage all have a feeling of verisimilitude, a degree of reality that elevates the film from cotton candy entertainment (see also, the Marvel films) to something more thought provoking.
Though he does not make any cameos in the film, the uber-baddie Darkseid makes his presence felt throughout. Bruce Wayne has visions of an apocalyptic earth with a giant omega symbol carved into the soil as strange flying demons swarm overhead. Later, as Diana Prince watches surveillance video from the metahuman project, a pulsating box gives life to the superhero Cyborg. Keen fans will know the strange cube as a MotherBox, the source of technology for Darkseid and his minions. Of course, the most obvious reference comes from Lex Luthor, as he screams like John the Baptist about a dark force from across the universe coming to Earth. Though we don’t see him, the message is clear: Darkseid is coming, so beware!
2. Wonder Woman
By far the breakout character of Dawn is Justice is not one of the titular heroes, but rather the mother of all heroines: Wonder Woman. Making her long-awaited big screen debut, she steals her scenes with a combination of grit, beauty and mystique. Israeli actress Gal Gadot plays the role, and somehow manages to embody the exotic beauty and wary toughness of the Amazon princess. The moment the film reveals Wonder Woman in her iconic costume, blocking a laser blast with her magical bracelets has a kind of gravitas to make even the most cynical viewer smile.
This will, no doubt, be the most controversial inclusion on this list. A very vocal contingent of Superman fans have hated this latest incarnation of the hero, considering it too dark and devoid of all hope. Superman, they claim, should offer optimism and hope.
They could not be more wrong.
When considered in real-life terms, Superman is by far one of the most horrifying, pessimistic characters imaginable. Consider: an alien god comes down out of the sky and vows to show mankind the “right” way, and constantly interferes with human affairs by using his powers. That’s not optimistic, it’s delusional! Furthermore, though often contrasted with a character like Batman, Superman is a far darker character. You see, Batman symbolized human selflessness and altruism, a man who would sacrifice his life and family legacy to provide mankind with a symbol of heroism. Superman is just the opposite: a character no man could ever aspire to be. Furthermore, Batman is the ultimate in mankind saving itself, rather than needing a godlike being to save it for us. The idea of Superman is far outside the realm of possibility or the plausible, whereas Batman, far-fetched though he may be, could potentially happen. The movie knows this philosophical precept, and builds the story around it.
Perhaps it comes as no surprise that the director of the excellent Watchmen adaptation, a story about the dangers of superhumans, should be the only one bold enough to make such a powerful statement. The world doesn’t need a Superman, it needs super men and women who strive to make a better world. Superman v. Batman knows that and posits what a world with a Super-god would look like. If that’s not a pretty picture, maybe that’s the point.