From Skeptic to Believer – Revisiting Batman v Superman

Image retrieved from TMDb

I, like most people, saw Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice when it came out in theaters in 2016. And I, like most people, thought it was bad. Like, really bad. Coming out of the theater, I hadn’t even processed the whole Martha thing and I still thought it was awful. I hated it so much that I really thought I’d never watch it again because I wouldn’t want to sit through it.

But again, like most people, I’ve grown, changed, and matured over the course of the last five years. With the Snyder Cut’s recent release, my interest was piqued. I’ve teetered on really liking and loving Man of Steel ever since it first came out and just wished I could like BvS and Justice League (2017) more than I did. So once I decided to actually check out Zack Snyder’s Justice League, I knew I needed a refresher on BvS first.

One thing I’ve realized over the last five years (to the day, actually) is that I need to remember to check my expectations at the door before watching a movie. I made that mistake with The Last Jedi and eventually came around on it, and had too high of expectations for The Hobbit which I’ve also come to appreciate in its own way. BvS is just another massive IP that I had very specific expectations for and reservations about going in.

For one thing, the trailer gave away the entire plot of this movie, so I knew going in that it would include Wonder Woman and that Batman and Superman would team up. Right off the bat, this took away the tension from roughly three quarters of the movie. On top of that, I saw footage of Batman killing and Jesse Eisenberg being the weirdest Lex Luthor I’d ever seen. This was also just a few years removed from The Dark Knight Rises and I wasn’t completely over the fact that there was already a new Batman with no origin story.

So with my recent rewatch, I threw all that baggage to the side and decided to treat it like I was watching any other movie. And boy, did that do wonders. I still wouldn’t say I love it, but I honestly feel like I could get to that point some day. I appreciate and respect so much of what’s going on here that I can see it growing on me over time. (I also watched the Ultimate Edition because I’ve heard it makes the movie much better.)

First, I have to get out of the way my opinion that source material shouldn’t factor into the quality of an adaptation. It’s a lazy excuse that discourages critical thinking. To use a previous example, The Hobbit trilogy isn’t disappointing because it differs and expands upon the book. Rather, there are lots of filmmaking problems that went into the making of those movies. And I think this argument is even less compelling when it comes to comic book adaptations. I’m not a comics reader, but I know there are many, many different interpretations of Batman, Superman, and Lex Luthor. A movie doesn’t need to appeal to the lowest common denominator because of its mass appeal. So in this context, I don’t care that Superman is supposed to be cheery and hopeful, that Batman isn’t supposed to kill, or that Lex Luthor is supposed to be more traditionally menacing. And because of the movie’s subject matter and dark themes, the dark tone and feel that so many people hated works perfectly in the context of what director Zack Snyder is trying to do.

I’m generally ambivalent on Snyder as a director, but mostly because I’ve only seen his DCEU movies (and as of writing this, I’ve yet to watch ZSJL) and 300, but that was a long time ago. I’d soured on him since 2016 because of how much I disliked BvS, but here upon rewatch, I think Snyder is the best thing BvS has going for it. The movie takes an inherently silly concept and treats it as seriously as possible and it works. Yes, there are some moments that were so cheesy I feel like this iteration of Superman should have been from Wisconsin (the “Martha” scene, Lois throwing the Kryptonite spear into a pool, so much reading and watching the news), but the cheesiness comes from the script rather than Snyder.

Snyder’s biggest detractors have often said that he’d be better as a cinematographer because his style is so reliant on epic visuals, but the epic visuals are what make BvS so good. There is an earnestness and weight to everything that happens onscreen and you believe it because of how seriously the filmmaker is taking it. And there are weighty themes and messages in here. Demonizing the “other” at the expense of yourself (boy, if that isn’t relevant today), fallen people and their subsequent redemption, and mankind’s search for power are all deeply and intricately explored throughout the movie. At some point in the future, I’m sure I’ll dive deeper into this movie’s themes, because they deserve exploration.

I do still wish there was a little bit less Dawn of Justice and that it was more just Batman v Superman. There are too many references to backstory that aren’t explained and things that are obviously meant to set up future movies that don’t completely fit into the story being told here. And like I mentioned, Snyder does a lot of the legwork lifting up a fairly lackluster script. That’s why I come down on the “really liked it” side instead of the “loved it” side.

But in the grand scheme of things, these are small qualms. I never expected to do a complete 180 on this movie the way I have. It’s good. It’s really good. And ike with Star Wars, I know it’s impossible to ask people to give this a fair and objective second look at a Zack Snyder movie, but it’s totally worth it. Its messaging is perhaps more relevant than ever right now. It mixes action and spectacle with real, deep, and grounded human struggles. I honestly can’t believe I’m saying this, but I can’t wait to watch it again with the purpose of dissecting its themes. This last rewatch was all about analyzing it as a movie, but in the future, it’ll be about learning what I can from it. (And you can probably expect more blog posts because of it!)

Rewatching Batman v Superman was a great lesson for me in giving things a second chance. Just because something wasn’t for you at one point in your life doesn’t mean that will always be the case. We’re constantly changing, growing, and evolving as people and our tastes and sensibilities can change without us even realizing it. Don’t discount something just because you hated it at a different time in your life. You might just have an experience you didn’t expect.

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