I bought my first comic book at the age of 12. It was a minor pivot in my life. I left behind my adolescent love for Saturday morning cartoons. He-Man and Transformers were old hat and I was even beginning to tire of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
It’s not that I was maturing. Far from it actually. It’s just that my interests were developing to an advanced form of immaturity. It was then, that I discovered the joys of the WWF and more importantly, comic books. I was completely enveloped into the storytelling aspects of popular and approachable (for kids) entertainment.
My blossoming interest in comic books coincided perfectly with DC Comics’ attempt to revitalize lagging sales by killing Superman. This wasn’t my first impression of Superman of course. I was a red-blooded suburban kid, so I grew up tying towels around my neck and subsequently flying through my backyard with one arm outstretched, all while my little sister ran away, pleading for mom’s help. Yet, I had to know why there was such sudden interest in Superman.
My dad even took me to a local mall to do a meet and greet with the current editor of the then-current Superman series. I hadn’t even read the comics yet. I just wanted to know why in the world anyone would want to kill Superman. He kindly smiled, told me to read it to find out and signed a poster and the Death of Superman graphic novel.
I didn’t even consider the possible worth of the comic. As soon as I got home, I opened the plastic cover and started reading my first comic book. I became obsessed with the art and story. I felt fear as Doomsday littered the battlefield with nearly every DC hero. Not even the boy scout, popularized to me by Christopher Reeve, could handle the destructive path of the villain. This love for the visual book (as I tend to think of it) continues off and on to this day.
Most of my generation learned the dichotomy of good and evil (through media) with Star Wars. I always appreciated Luke’s journey to become a great Jedi, but by that time, I knew about Batman and the Joker. I knew about the moral crisis that conflicted both Professor X and Magneto. This could be a big reason that Star Wars has never been the benchmark to me, that it has been to others.
Since the early ’00s, Comic Book movies have been a regular summer movie experience. I’ve turned from the inked pages of comics and moved onto the explosive cinematic superhero experience, along with everyone else. In 2003, X2: X-Men United made me believe that nothing would ever top it. The following year, Spider-Man 2 took that spot. The trend continued in 2005, as Christopher Nolan took a broken franchise and soiled character and made it the premiere comic franchise and transcended the “great for a comic book movie” mindset.
But what about Superman?
He got a standalone movie that attempted to follow the last serviceable notion of the character in Superman 2. Superman Returns floated into theaters, without ever leaving a mark. Man of Steel was released in 2013 to mixed reviews. For me, it showed what Kal-El would deal with as he learns the truth about where he originated from and had to immediately nurture his newfound abilities. He was an unruly atom bomb with the best intentions. Also, let’s be honest, Superman actually fought someone the way he was meant to.
Which brings us to the movie in question, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Nearly two years have passed since the events of Man of Steel. The majority of the public has embraced Superman, while insightful people won’t forget the tragedy and don’t trust Superman’s seemingly limitless power.
I went into this movie filled with anxiety and a small fraction of hope. As every minute passed, I couldn’t help but feel the discouragement brought on by the negative reviews I read online. I scrutinized every line, every moment and every edit, not allowing myself to see how Zack Snyder had juggled what seemed to be 19 different plots. My fear, of poor quality, became impatience as the plot jumped from Lois Lane to Bruce Wayne to Lex Luthor to Clark Kent and so on. There is so much story here and Snyder seemed to pull a reverse Peter Jackson. Instead of drawing out a story into three movies, he crammed three movies into one.
The first half of the movie takes a risk by showing Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince instead of their costumed alter-egos. The motives for each character are not linked at first, but all brought together by Lex Luthor.
It took me an hour to finally get out of my own head and realize that I liked what I was seeing. The chess pieces took their time to get set up, but once these heroes dawned their capes, cowls and loincloths, their motives were finally put to action. Once I was able to brush my anxiety aside, I realized that I was gradually seeing the cinematic realization of exactly what I wanted to see.
Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne/Batman has the potential to be the greatest iteration of the character. Do I wish that I could just watch a solo Batman and a solo Man of Steel sequel? Yes. However, the dialogue passed between Jeremy Irons’ Alfred and Bruce teased the existing world that Bruce had lived in and involuntarily created. He is a tired character that has been fighting crime for 20 years. This exhaustion is brought up when he states that criminals are like weeds. If you take one out, another grows in its place. He decides to take on Superman because he almost has nothing left to lose. Instead of dealing with low-life scum that seem to multiply, he feels the compulsion to eliminate the potential for a global threat.
This version of Batman is close to Nolan’s. Yet, certain cameos and dreams indicate that this is not the grounded world created in the previous trilogy. This is a world where an intelligent, brutal man that dresses up as a bat, can stand alongside an undersea ruler and an Amazonian warrior. I am so ready for the standalone Batman movie and the Justice League.
Jesse Eisenberg’s new take on Lex Luthor is sure to divide audiences. Personally, I was fascinated by it. His toxic demeanor almost immediately makes you want to get as far from him as possible, while at the same time, you won’t be able to take your eyes away from him. He isn’t the older capitalist with a desire for power and real estate. He’s a full-blown narcissist that can’t handle anyone or anything being greater than he is.
And now for Superman. There is so much happening in this movie that it’s easy to forget that it’s meant to be a follow-up to Man of Steel. If I had my way, Man of Steel 2 would have taken place prior to the inception of the Justice League. Yet, the inner conflict of Superman is the core of the movie. He’s an outsider. This theme is repeated by his detractors, but also the throngs of supporters. Even when he saves the day, the movie goes out of its way to show the awkward inner turmoil that he deals with. By his fans, he is revered as a god that can do no wrong. We get to see Clark in quieter moments as he acknowledges what the public see him as. Even he gets to the point where he realizes, “This is not my world.”
As mentioned, I finally let myself enjoy the events that lead to the conclusion and I believe this is where Snyder found his groove. Every superhero flick ends in a climactic battle that waters down everything that happened before. Dawn of Justice is the rare exception when a comic book climax resonates on an emotional level. Among several pivotal scenes, seeing the Trinity of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman together on the big screen for the first time resuscitated my comatose inner child.
Batman v Superman is surely not without its flaws. It expects a lot from the audience. Fans will immediately understand every Easter Egg and teases for future installments, but general audiences may be left out in the cold. Snyder crammed far too much story into a movie where we only want to see Superman fly (and smile) and Batman figure out how to bring down a god. If I had my way, screenwriter Chris Terrio (Argo) would have been the sole writer and completely replaced DC go-to guy David Goyer. Yet, Dawn of Justice is wish fulfillment. It’s the movie I have wanted to see since the age of 12. This clearly says too much about my maturity level now. A-
P.S. I’ve seen it twice now and had less issues the second time around. Also, Wonder Woman is incredible!