Growing up, DC’s accessibility when it came to toys and merchandise in India was limited. It was difficult to find a Superman or Batman toy; unless you had a “vilayati” relative and parents in a great mood. Which is why Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS), was meant to be a manifestation of the collective childhood dream, of the innate urge to joyously smash those two toys together and argue with a friend, as to who won.
In many ways, BvS is both a seminal and an epic movie. For me, it is “seminal” because of the promise it brought (and the promise it gives for the future with its nod to JLA) and “epic” because of the epic manner in which it fails to deliver that promise.
BvS was always going to be divisive, given the expectations it carried. Thus, it is hard to be objective in any analysis or viewpoint on this. But, as I explained to a friend recently – I felt like a parent for the first time in my life – I wasn’t sad, or angry; just disappointed.
The problem with BvS is neither its scale, neither its action, nor its actors. One look at the movie and it is apparent that this is an earnestly attempted labour of love – on everyone’s behalf, even Zack Snyder. However, to quote a line from a parallel comic book universe, “with great power, comes great responsibility”.
Let’s start with the good first – Zack Snyder has been faithful (sometimes to a fault) when he is taking on a single comic book (300, Watchmen). In that sense, the homages to some of the fan favourite comics in this movie, be it Kingdom Come or Dark Knight Returns, are pitch perfect. This quality of Snyder’s was evident in Man of Steel, but in that movie, more often than not, the scenes referenced were poignant, meant something and moved the narrative along beautifully.
The fatal flaw of BvS is this habit of Snyder’s. Since he isn’t ripping off from one single comic book, BvS becomes a collage of homages and throwbacks. None of these eventually provide a cohesive emotional or plot payoff. The plot meanders and jerks like a Tata Nano on a Haryana highway, until it reaches the payoff in the third act.
By then it is too little, too late.
Which brings me to the movies main highlight. The Batman vs Superman showdown is perfectly shot and pretty much how you would imagine it (if you hadn’t seen all of it in the trailers already). The final showdown of the DC Trinity alone is worth the price of admission. Wonder Woman, in her short duration, lights up the screen, literally and figuratively.
However, and I keep coming back to the ‘howevers’, the Batman vs Superman fight is in the end unjustified, Batman’s motivations flimsy and Superman comes across as a guy trying to do the right thing – while Batman/Bruce Wayne, the sadistic, millionaire playboy with a fancy armour – is just an egotistic brute unwilling to pause and listen.
If that was meant to be a symbolic indictment of the nature of rich in today’s society, I apologise, I missed it.
Affleck is a fantastic Batman, with a terrible script given to him, to carry his turn as The Bat. The only time you root for him is in the first five minutes, when he is running headlong into a falling building to save a friend – that’s the hero we know, the one we love. When the whole world is running away Bruce/Bat runs in headlong, to take that one chance.
Batffleck’s dream sequences are useless, the fight choreography in them, terrible. They do nothing, but vaguely set up Darkseid to a mostly unaware audience. At least Marvel had the decency to introduce Thanos in the post-credit scene, as an afterthought.
One of my main problems with the movie and the point where my joy turned to disappointment was the Batmobile chase scene (referenced somewhat from the Arkham games). Batman possibly murders four people in a car and then uses that car full of dead people to murder four more.
You see, it’s OK to justify that Batman will kill in a cruel world, to say that this is the Frank Miller version and so on. But, if I wanted to watch The Punisher, I would go to Netflix. I came here for the Batman. Sure, it’s not like the Batman doesn’t kill, or use guns in one of the many multiverses, but at least he makes the effort, or puts some thought, to differentiate himself from the villains he prosecutes.
I’d like to believe, as a life long fan, that he knows, the primal difference between a vigilante, a well armoured gang-banger and The Caped Crusader. Sadly, in the BvS universe, they all seem to mean the same thing.
So, objectively speaking, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is certainly a glorious one-time watch. But one that leaves you with a sense of emptiness and disappointment at the end. Like a beautifully bottled Scotch which does nothing but leave you with a terrible hangover.
In the end, the fight scenes are great (mostly), you get the showdown you have been waiting for (without the justification you wanted) and you get a fan favourite villain with an ultimate sacrifice play (which doesn’t emotionally affect you).
Batman v Superman could have something beautiful, something that set a new benchmark for comic book movies here on out. The movie’s failings prove that it, much like its first-billed character – is mostly human.
Will I watch it again in the cinema hall? Perhaps not. Will it be better on a second watch? Certainly. Will I be clapping when Gal Gadot, Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill reunite on the silver screen again? Probably yes, but without the childhood glee I would have loved to have – replaced by adult trepidation.
Batman v Superman has taken an admirable and ambitious shot at greatness. It tries to be the movie I wanted since I was a kid. In its finest moments, it almost achieves that greatness. But in the end, to me as a whole, it was found wanting.
Aniruddho Chakraborty is the founder of Chariot Comics, an advertising person in the daytime and an occasional columnist.