Note: beware of possible spoilers below…
I love superheroes. I love comic books. I love stories that take my favourite characters in brand new directions. But I really don’t like Dawn of Justice. I just can’t get behind it at all, even though the film is heavily inspired by two of my favourite graphic novels of all time, The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman. The characters, in many cases, are poorly brought into the DC cinematic universe and to put it plainly, are not yet fully rounded individuals. Over the next three weeks I will be discussing adaptations of DC’s heroes, so to get the trash out of the way first, this first article will focus on the failures of Zach Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in establishing the characters of this universe. Next week will focus on what I consider to be the best adaptation of a DC property, the animated, fan-favourite TV series Young Justice and why that was so critically successful. Finally, my third article will focus on the comic book storylines I’d like to see turned into live action films or series, somewhere down the line in DC’s cinematic history.
So it finally seems like the uproar left in the wake of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’s release has finally begun to subside. I’ve no doubt even those living under rocks have heard at least taste of the appalling critical reception it got so let’s jump past that quickly. In my opinion, it’s a great film about Batman’s quest to destroy Superman, trapped inside the suffocated husk of another film designed solely to capitalise on existing IPs and rush DC’s cinematic universe to an inevitably even more incomprehensible Justice League. It’s an unfortunate 4 or 5/10 at most, though at least the soundtrack is beastly.
Anyway, perhaps the film’s greatest failing is its treatment of the DC ‘Trinity’, its three most iconic characters: Superman (Clark Kent), Batman (Bruce Wayne) and Wonder Woman (Diana Prince). It’s admirable that Snyder and the writing team have tried to take these characters in engaging new directions, but they’re attempting to walk in the footsteps of significantly superior writers like Frank Miller and Alan Moore, who have not only created beloved renditions of many comic book characters, but have also been able to subvert existing interpretations in exciting ways (see Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns for a prime example). From everything we’ve seen so far, Snyder and the people at Warner Bros. are simply not up to the task, especially at the accelerated rate they’re introducing new characters. They’ve failed to create a cast of fully rounded characters with believable personalities and motivations, and even have some that have zero purpose whatsoever.
Let’s begin with the big one, the ‘Man of Steel’ himself, Superman. This version of Superman we have, especially in Dawn of Justice has a compelling debate in theory. The world is reeling from Superman’s wrecking of Metropolis in Man of Steel and Superman’s place on the Earth is being debated; is he a saviour or a bringer of doom. The best complements I can give to this idea is that Superman is fundamentally both. He is a being of godlike power, capable of saving it or destroying if he chooses. Humanity both reveres and is terrified by this being because he holds their lives in his hands.
Yet in response to the compelling nature of this debate, this Superman displays very little response, outside of a few key scenes. In many regards this version of Superman is unfit for his position, quick to anger and displaying very little mercy to anyone who crosses him. This Superman is different from his comic and pop culture variants, yet not in the good way. In every manner he deserves his negative reputation, and as pointed out by Bruce Wayne, he is a hypocrite, and an unequivocally dull one at that.
It almost all falls down to poor execution and presentation. A Superman that destroys the drone which is very understandably sent to track him, and that openly threatens to break the limbs of people who harm him is not a protector of the Earth and certainly not the leader of the Justice League, at least not any League that I remember. Even in the comics and other adaptations, though Superman is not always right, that doesn’t mean that without extreme justification he should resort to murder. Snyder’s Superman is not only a Superman that is unlikable, but also a character that doesn’t (yet – I shall hold out hope) deserve the admiration he should based upon his glaring personality flaws. Also, this Superman will never have a tense moment again because some idiot decided to show him essentially resurrecting in the final seconds. Whoever thought that was a good idea wants sacking, right now if they haven’t been already.
I’m interested to see the movie critics who were absolutely loving Wonder Woman were watching, because it certainly was not Dawn of Justice, where the Amazon warrior has about 5 minutes of screen time, if that, zero motivation and no purpose in the movie other than to attract an extra demographic.
I’m not displeased in the little bit of personality we see from her, easily the most uplifting of the three main heroes, yet what we’ve seen barely constitutes a character, especially not one I can get attached to yet. This is Wonder Woman we’ve never seen before, one already fully integrated into modern society, having spent the last hundred years among us and I’m interested in seeing the opinions she voices about normal humans, having lived among them instead of being divided by her heritage. Yet despite the promise her character shows, I simply haven’t seen enough of it to make a decent judgement call, which ultimately, is the fault of Batman v Superman being a franchise movie.
I’ll admit it, Batfleck turned out to be incredible and I couldn’t be more excited by the upcoming solo movie supposedly being written by Affleck and the great Geoff Johns. There are only really two things I will say about Batman that urk me about his presentation in this film, the first being his apparent willingness to not only use firearms but also to kill many of his foes outright without any attempt at a use of nonlethal force, and the second being his sudden change of attitude to Superman when he realises they have mothers with the same name.
The first point is ‘somewhat’ understandably glossed over for the most part, besides a single conversation with Alfred early on in the film. Bruce Wayne is understandably enraged and angry, seemingly frustrated with his inability to contend against Superman, and that for all his efforts to defeat crime in Gotham, not only in 20 years has he not been able to do so (even costing the possible death of Robin) but now he is nearly powerless to contend against threats from the stars. He has turned ‘cold’ as Alfred says in his age. The debate about the morality of Bruce Wayne’s more brutal tactics at this point is a large point of contention in The Dark Knight Returns, and would probably take up a very large amount of screen time in an already crowded and long film. All I can say for now is that it is hopefully covered in a future movie, for it definitely needs to be addressed.
The second point, about Batman’s sudden change of heart, is just sloppy writing and the less said about it, the better. Perhaps if Bruce had looked into Luther more, he might have seen he was being manipulated, but there’s nothing we can do about it now without pulling a Days of Future Past style retcon.
Dawn of Justice has many more issues to do with its writing alone, not to mention some of the other aspects, but there’s been enough negativity in one article by now so I’ll not mention them here. It’s a deeply flawed, yet important film that I urge everyone to go see at least once if they haven’t already. The potential to create an enthralling DC cinematic universe is still alive, at least if the first Justice League film turns out to be better. Adaptation that is both very accessible and yet satisfying for existing fans is extremely difficult, especially with a pantheon of characters like DC has, but next week we’ll look at an adaptation that has managed to pull off this gargantuan task marvellously.
Until then, prepare for Darkseid…