And now, Scary-Crayon defends…
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
by: Wes

The date is April 1, 2016. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hit theaters everywhere on March 25, 2016 — so in the last week (or the interim time since the film was released) you’ve doubtless heard at least a little of the vitriol that professional critic after amateur critic after armchair critic has heaped upon Zack Snyder‘s latest entry into the superhero movie genre. Mocking memes abound; a video clip featuring a notably dejected Ben Affleck has been set to a dozen different songs; dozens of articles have been written about the manifold and multifarious failings of the film. Viewers aren’t unanimous in their disdain for BvS, but disappointment and derision do seem to be the most dominant verdicts.

As with most prevailing viewpoints, however, these filmgoers have got it wrong. Recall that, upon its initial 1925 release, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby — a novel that most of you have read, because its nigh undisputed brilliance has ensured its place in high school English curricula for decades past and, though syllabi are becoming more diverse in terms of assigned reading, probably decades to come — was panned by its fair share of critics. It’s the same with BvS. Although the critics of today are simply too shortsighted and narrow minded to penetrate the true genius of Snyder’s vision, I have no doubt whatsoever that viewers in years to come will universally conclude that BvS not only is undeserving of the scornful assault it presently suffers, but is in fact the best possible superhero movie ever conceived and committed to celluloid. Just scholars continue to analyze the writings of Shakespeare and Plato hundreds and thousands of years after those works’ respective geneses, so too will film students centuries in the future passionately discuss and debate the virtues of the cinematic masterpiece that is BvS.

Given the infinite potential for analysis that BvS possesses, it would be impossible for me to do justice (ha) to each of the movie’s innumerable merits in a humble website review — so, respectfully recognizing my own limitations, I will not even attempt such a sun-saturated Kryptonian feat. Instead, I will address just a few of the most prevalent criticisms of the film and explain precisely why these issues, despite their failings at face value, are actually indicative of the unparalleled directorial and storytelling genius of Snyder and everyone else who had a hand in this veritable motion picture triumph. Also, if you haven’t seen BvS yet — why not? You should see it immediately! — beware: this article will necessarily contain spoilers. (The film is so magnificent, though, that spoilers should hardly hamper your enjoyment.)

Let’s begin. One oft-repeated criticism of BvS is that it shouldn’t have opened with the murders of young Bruce Wayne’s parents. Indeed, it is true that this scene has played out in various media with very little variation: after an evening at the cinema, Bruce and his parents are walking hone when they are unceremoniously gunned down by a mugger. It is, admittedly, a story that everyone — even those who aren’t avid readers of comic books — knows well by this point. Why, say the nay-saying philistines, did viewers need to witness that tragedy yet again? The answer is a painfully obvious one: until now, each of the prior depictions has been lacking. The presentation of the demise of Thomas and Martha Wayne that begins BvS, however, is the definitive cinematic reenactment of the atrocity that spawned the Bat. Why? Among other reasons, including the fantastic portrayal of Martha Wayne by The Walking Dead‘s own Lauren Cohan, here the fateful scene is rendered in spectacular 3D. When a firearm the size of a car protrudes from the silver screen to aim straight at the viewer (well, actually off to the right, but still), that viewer can actually experience the terror that the Waynes must have felt moments before they bled out on the streets of Gotham. When the gun becomes tangled in Martha Wayne’s necklace and then fires into her beautiful face, pearls scatter — and each plummeting pearl, oversized and seemingly just out of reach, clearly represents a happy future event with a loving family that will never materialize for the horrified boy on screen. Intercut with this scene is young Bruce’s initial discovery of the Batcave. Again, the technology serves the scene well; just as we see the pearls fall to rain-slicked concrete, we see our future hero falling toward us, away from the light and into a pit of infernal darkness. Bats swarm, so well rendered that we can almost feel the wind on our faces as they beat their leathery wings and lift Gotham’s savior up from this tragedy. He is fallen; he is risen. Through the magic of 3D film technology, we rise with him. That is why the fate of the Waynes needed to be shown one more time — though, given the surpassing perfection of the BvS depiction, this may well be the last time anyone ever needs to film that pivotal scene that birthed the Batman.

Superman vs Batman (Jim Lee artwork)

Another consistent condemnation of BvS concerns its heroes — that they are somehow unbefitting of the hope and promise that a hero should represent. This charge is specifically leveled at the film’s depiction of Superman — who critics insist should be a sunny, boy-scout sort of guy — but even Batman is not immune to this criticism because Snyder’s version eschews the conventional wisdom that the Dark Knight should never use firearms and should never deliberately kill his foes. These charges are hopelessly misguided for a number of reasons. In the case of Kal-El, Snyder’s angry and emotionally distant Superman is a bold, unconventional interpretation of Superman that is inconsistent from scene to scene precisely because of the the confusion that was the hallmark of his parents’ teachings: recall that Jonathan Kent in Man of Steel spoke of the hope that Clark would bring to the world even as he scolded the boy for not letting a busful of schoolchildren perish; in BvS Martha Kent tells her son, “Be their hero… be anything they need you to be… or be none of it. You don’t owe this world a thing.” Moreover, since few of us can relate to a perpetually peppy super-powered optimist but many of us can relate to receiving screwed up input from our parental units, the Superman seen in BvS is necessarily more accessible and more compelling as a result.

And in the case of the Caped Crusader, Snyder’s Batman is easily the most realistic depiction of a maniac who spends his nights beating the snot out of criminals. Unlike those other Batmen who wouldn’t touch guns — which is both out of step with the character’s original disposition and decidedly un-American — this Batman, like a small number of brave policemen protecting our streets from unarmed black teenagers and those proud white people protecting their families from the swarthy degenerates that would swipe their sneakers, isn’t afraid to soak a few shirts in order to ensure the safety of his fellow Gothamites. I could go on — when he isn’t inclined to murder criminals himself, Batman is also in the habit of physically branding them with a symbol that somehow ensures that they’ll be beaten to death when they get to prison — but suffice it to say that this Batman is dark. When Superman confronts him and insists that the World’s Greatest Detective cease his vigilante shenanigans, the Bat doesn’t protest and point out the hypocrisy of Superman’s demand. Instead, Batman merely asks, “Do you bleed?” When Superman flies off without a word (which is a brilliant rejoinder, because how the hell does one respond to a question like that??), this darkest of Dark Knights darkly intones, “You will.”

In short, the depictions of Superman and Batman in BvS are the most realistic and relatable incarnations of these characters to date, and in this brutal world we need to understand conditions as they are in order to have a reasonable chance of overcoming the formidable obstacles before us. Again, the criticisms of Superman and Batman in this film actually speak to a deeper issue that viewers have with the film — and one that more than a few critics have articulated in their analyses — that Snyder’s versions of these characters fail to convey the optimism that we should feel when we see a hero at work. But while optimism and inspiration are great for toddlers, it’s time for adults and children over the age of five to embrace a more modern and sustainable understanding of what it means to be a hero. In BvS Snyder ably posits the following: a hero is neither overly concerned with morality nor married to such nebulous concepts as “truth” and “justice” (despite the film’s subtitle). A hero who, simply put, gets the job done no matter what. A hero wins — at any cost. For Superman, the cost is the lives of thousands of innocent civilians; for Batman the cost is the lives of dozens of criminal scumbags. Regardless, at the end of the day, these heroes win — and the handful of people they didn’t inadvertently or intentionally murder are the better for these heroes’ single-minded commitment to victory. Also, while some might argue that this conception of heroism is coldly distant and leaves no room whatsoever for emotional attachments (indeed, the tone of our discussion above seems in line with this interpretation), Snyder makes sure to give appropriate — that is, very limited — attention to the worth of human relationships in the characters of Alfred Pennyworth and Lois Lane. Yes, Batman often ignores Alfred’s counsel as he stacks his trophies in the graveyards of Gotham, but Alfred is instrumental in the victory that liberates Martha Wayne. And for Superman, winning means getting the girl. As Jonathan Kent relates in his seemingly inexplicable (we’ll get to that) Arctic appearance, sometimes the cost of hero stuff is a whole bunch of soggy dead horses, and it takes the love of a good woman to drown out their hideous gurgle-neighs as one helps himself to another heaping slice of hero cake. Despite the prominent Chariot Allegory in Plato’s Phaedrus, even that wise old philosopher’s musings pale in comparison to Snyder’s equine treatment of love in BvS.

Finally, and perhaps most perversely, critics across the board have excoriated BvS for the apparent incoherence of its story. This is a movie that jumps from the past to the recent past to the present to the past and in and out of dreams in a decidedly unconventional fashion, prompting many reviewers to conclude that Snyder simply doesn’t know how to tell a coherent yarn. On the contrary, Snyder knows precisely what he is doing: he is offering a visionary illustration of a certain theory of temporal progression that posits that the past and present and possible futures and alternate realities are actually all occurring in the very same instant. Fans of Doctor Who might remember the oft-repeated references to “wibbly wobbly timey-wimey,” a phrase intended to suggest that events do not simply happen one after the other; these occurrences are in fact all wound up and twisted in a fashion that more resembles the fabled Gordian Knot than a straight line. Various religious rituals and belief systems also employ a similar concept of time as nonlinear, with memories and reenactments not representing recollections or tributes — and with hopeful pronouncements and prophecies not representing previews and predictions of events to come — but with those acts representing tangible and literal experiences of those events in the present moment. This is clearly the type of thought-provoking approach that Snyder is employing in his narrative. Characters seem to snap to following flashbacks as if they are experiencing those moments in the present; indistinguishable from one another are dreams and alternate realities and future events and visits to the present by characters from the future; deceased characters materialize in the middle of frozen wastelands to impart new wisdom concerning prior events; even the whispered names of characters dead for over forty years elicit immediate anguish and insanity and exert otherwise inexplicable influence over the action presently unfolding. For years we have been hamstrung by the notion that stories need to proceed in largely linear fashion, but occasionally an ambitious and amazingly insightful director shows us what can be done when a true artist abandons that limited conception of time and embraces an unorthodox yet immensely innovative approach. It’s no surprise that other notable films that eschew the standard storytelling approach are Memento and Inception, both of which were of course directed by that renowned auteur who helmed the most recent Batman trilogy. And considering that BvS surpasses even The Dark Knight in every imaginable way, it is also no surprise that Zack Snyder has produced a more ingenious and compelling exploration of nonlinear temporal progression than Christopher Nolan could have produced in any conceivable past, present, future, dream, or alternate reality.

As I wrote earlier — or whenever (?) — it would be impossible for me to offer a comprehensive discussion of this film’s considerable virtues in the limited time and space afforded to me. While I am proud of the brief defense I have offered in praise of this virtual cinematic deity today, I leave it to much more knowledgeable critics and future generations to more ably and thoroughly plumb the depths of the brilliance of BvS and will reluctantly end this article shortly. Before I submit my writing for your approval, however, I wish to offer my regret for the incompleteness of this piece. I apologize to those readers who had hoped to read praises for the performances of the actors in the film — but critics have been more inclined to celebrate than malign Gal Gadot‘s Wonder Woman, Laurence Fishburne‘s Perry White, and even Ben Affleck’s Batman. I apologize to those readers who had hoped to read a gleeful blow-by-blow retelling of the spectacular action sequences that are surprisingly few but exceedingly satisfying when they appear — but though critics criticized the comparative absence and length of these sequences (as if making the battles shorter and more prevalent would have had any effect on the overall quantity of action, and as if Snyder didn’t wisely distance these battles out of concern for the health of his audience and a desire to focus on the deeper elements of the film I have so insufficiently touched on in the preceding paragraphs), there has at least been a begrudging consensus among critics that these scenes are not wholly devoid of thrilling qualities. My purpose in writing this article was not to parrot praises but to address injustices of interpretation as best I could. To the extent that I have failed in my effort to defend what I sincerely believe is the greatest possible superhero film of all time — indeed, I am convinced that this is one of the best movies ever produced and will someday be regarded as such by film scholars and casual viewers alike — I deferentially entreat my readers to forgive my inadequacy.

Even if it kills me... I will not pee!

Yet just as BvS — despite Snyder’s more realistic, applicable, and undeniably correct view of what constitutes a hero — nevertheless ended on an uplifting note, I too will conclude this piece with a final argument in praise of the film (though one that pales in comparison to the heart-swelling visual that was a scant few milliseconds of levitating dirt). Among their blasphemous attacks on the movie, even the least sophisticated among critics have been quick to mention the film’s lengthy 151-minute runtime. But even though I acknowledge that Snyder might have cut a very, very few scenes from BvS and retained the overall excellence of the product he ultimately released to theaters, this criticism is the easiest of all to refute. A movie of such epic greatness obviously requires a comparably epic runtime. But Snyder was attempting an even greater feat in crafting a film that tops out at just over two-and-a-half hours. In the latter portion of the film, Batman and Superman finally met in the titular clash; at the conclusion of that battle the heroes united to duke it out with an even greater threat: Doomsday. Some might argue that the deafening sounds of combat and carnage, the expertly rendered 3D effects, and the thrill of seeing our heroes contend against overwhelming odds would have been sufficient to pull the viewers into and make them feel a part of the action.

In keeping with his visionary approach, however, Snyder went a step further in padding the length of his movie: he gave us our own adversaries with which to contend. You see, as the newly formed alliance of heroes waged war on the bestial Doomsday, I was striving nobly against the diabolical foe that was my overfull bladder. With each landed blow onscreen, I winced and crossed my legs; with each explosion that made me leap in my seat, I prayed to Zod that no embarrassing wetness would be visible once the lights came on. BvS not only showed me what it means to be a hero — winning — it forced me to fight adamantly for a victory (not pissing on myself in public) that I take for granted on a daily basis. Of course, a reader might argue that, unlike the objective interpretations that form the bulk of this article, this observation was just my experience: that there were probably plenty of people who did not spend the final forty minutes of the film squirming and gritting their teeth and giving their pubococcygeus muscle one hell of a workout. And to those dismissive readers, I humbly submit that the lengthy line that I afterward encountered in the men’s restroom — and the groaned admissions and sheepish glances with which I was met after I exclaimed, “So, I take it we were all watching Batman V Superman?” — is inarguable evidence of a shared conflict against a formidable enemy. But we won that battle, friends — just as BvS will inevitably win the battle against simple-minded critics and someday be cited in the same breaths as Citizen Kane and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Note: the images that accompany the text of this article were taken from the web; I do not own them and take no credit for them. At some point I’ll probably return and replace them with pictures of toys, ’cause that’s what I do. Please don’t sue me in the interim.

— Wes —
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