Batman v Superman: When Critics Don’t Like Change

Originally published on 4/9/16.

This past Wednesday I went to see Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice for a second time—despite what the general consensus said, I came out enjoying the movie—and while I watched the slow-mo opening credits of the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne, I found myself crying. Not because of their tragic demise but because I realized at that moment that I truly love this film. Throughout my years in college, I’ve been taught to be hyper-aware and analytical of how a film is made, from the editing to the score to mise-en-scene—things that made me think, “This is going to make me hate watching movies.”

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But when I made the decision to be a film critic, I could never get those technical and story aspects out of my mind. I actively seek them even when I’m half-watching some low budget horror movie. When critics panned Batman v Superman for being poorly edited, poorly paced and a basically a massive failure of a superhero film, I was discouraged, to say the least. While the critics hated it, the fans were divided—some loved it, some felt the same way as the critics. I went into the theater with their criticisms in mind but still open to what I was about to see.

I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew there was something strange about this film. It wasn’t a bad feeling, but I knew that the film didn’t feel like what a superhero film usually feels like. It didn’t look like it either, and that’s when it hit me:  Batman v Superman isn’t following formulaic Hollywood narrative. The film is literally edited to be a comic book. Each scene felt like you were flipping the pages of a graphic novel, every shot felt like a panel from the page. I thought back to the opening scene—the high angle shot of the Wayne family as they left the theater, the extreme close up of the gun pointing at the screen, the shot of the gun against Martha’s pearls, even the text was positioned where you would usually see it in a comic—this movie was breaking the rules and it felt great.

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Critics complained that the film was edited horribly when in reality it was edited like a comic book! The white title screen introducing Metropolis, the dramatic cuts to black, the switch in tone between characters as the story progressed…that isn’t the result of bad editing or pacing, it’s the result of intentionality wanting the film to feel like a comic, thus doing something completely different. It was a radically experimental choice, at first it felt strange but once I realized what the film was doing, I loved it. How can I put a film down for trying something different in the world of Hollywood where everything has to follow the same blueprint?

I’ve read that it felt like the movie had multiple endings, but it was simply wrapping up each character’s story as it would in a comic book. Scenes with Lex stand out to me when I think of this; the tone of the film drastically changes when he’s on the screen. Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL give him a theme that’s dramatic, erratic and unpredictable—just like Lex himself. The sentimental feeling of Clark’s theme wouldn’t match Lex’s character at all, so why try to make them feel the same? Each character is distinct in their personalities and their themes only enhance who they are as individuals.

I’ve seen fans call the movie a love letter to the fans and I couldn’t agree more. As someone who grew up watching and reading everything DC, I loved this movie. This is exactly what I wanted to see—a realistic take on this world and these characters. Not all fans feel the same way, there’s many who feel like Zack Snyder completely destroyed Superman by not making him that idealistic character who we were so used to watching and reading as kids. To that, I say that he’s putting Superman in a world that’s much like ours. This world is cynical just as the people in it—do you really think that we would welcome the alien Superman with open arms when we refuse to accept refugees? Snyder is showing us the results of a fictional character in a non-fictional world.

Even Bruce serves as a “non-fictional” character in this world. He’s skeptical of Superman because of what happened to his parents and because of his experiences as Batman—he’s spent years trying to rid Gotham of crime but things just keep getting worse. These are the realities of the world; sometimes things don’t get better and because of it, Bruce has become just as cynical as those around him. The presence of Superman only amplifies these feelings—where was the Man of Steel when Bruce’s parents were killed? Where was he when Batman fought so tirelessly to save Gotham to no avail? Mark Hughes’ “Zack Snyder Loves Superman, And ‘Batman V Superman’ Proves It” article sums it up perfectly—“He (Bruce) doesn’t believe in absolute good anymore, and so all he can see in Superman is absolute power that cannot be trusted because it exists in a world too cynical and damaged to allow such power to be good.”

Superman is still idealistic, but it’s not as clear-cut as previous versions. He has doubts about his place in this world, he wants to do good but there are masses of people who hate him and his existence. At the same time, there are masses that love him and view him as a god. I don’t know about you, but if I were in his position I would be having the same doubts as him. It’s only natural for him to question his existence, to wonder if this world really needs Superman. He’s showing a range of emotion that’s rarely seen in the character because the world that he’s in has never been presented in this way.

I enjoy superhero films but I’m tired of watching the same bright, carefree portrayals of heroes. These movies aren’t only for kids; it’s okay to make a superhero film that focuses on the consequences of a godlike figure in a skeptical world. Some say the film is taking itself too seriously by doing that, but I say it’s what a lot of us wanted to see all along. It’s completely fine if you don’t like this kind of portrayal, but there are people who’ve been craving to see that on the big screen and now they finally have it. Every superhero film shouldn’t have to follow the same formula and Batman v Superman shows exactly that.

What a shame that even critics can’t see that. They’ve become so accustomed to what they think a superhero movie should be that they fail to see that Batman v Superman offered a different and original take on a genre that’s been run into the ground. In doing something different, the film gets panned. I can only imagine what their reviews will look like for the next superhero film that follows the tired steps of the standard Hollywood film.

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Batman v Superman is unpredictable in many ways, although it is a superhero film it doesn’t want to check off the same marks that are usually seen in the genre. Instead, it made its own checklist, deciding to tell its story in a unique way that would appeal to comic readers. It was a risk to take but despite the negative critic reaction, there are fans that loved this movie. If anything, critics’ reaction only shows that they’ve never picked up a comic book in their life.

No movie is free from criticism, but the overwhelming hatred that this film has gotten is simply untruthful and misleading. It’s upsetting that this negativity will forever follow a movie that is actually very great. Even murmuring that you liked the film makes those around you question your taste—I’ve had to defend myself in multiple classes against numerous fanboys who hated the film. “There are fans who liked the movie,” I say. One of my classmates reply with: “Well, I’m a fan and I didn’t.”

Well, I’m a fan and I did like it. Does that suddenly make my opinion invalid? Am I not a “real” DC fan anymore? I’m glad that I finally got to see this version of Batman and Superman on the screen. I got to see a Batman that’s fed up with the world and doesn’t give a damn about anything anymore to the point where it shows in his actions towards criminals. This isn’t a Batman that’s just starting out with hopes for a changed Gotham; this is an older Batman that’s been around for years, a Batman that’s tried again and again to change things to no avail so now he’s untrustworthy and skeptical and tired of those around him.

I got to see a Superman that’s full of doubt, a Superman who doesn’t know what to do because the world has nothing but extreme opinions on his existence. He’s filled with emotion and love for this world and by sacrificing himself he was able to save the very people who wanted him gone in the first place. As a fan of Superman, I appreciate that I’m able to see that in him. And as a person who wants to spend the rest of their life writing about movies, I admire that a superhero film was able to give this superhuman character human emotions because it made him relatable.

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Who knew that a superhero film would be one of the most misunderstood movies in this recent decade, but when critics and general audiences are so used to the norm of what Hollywood gives them, it really isn’t surprising that they aren’t able to understand what this movie is doing. The backlash against Batman v Superman only shows that people don’t like change, they freak out when things aren’t going how they think it should go. Their preconceived notions of what they think a superhero film should be destroyed any chance of them even remotely enjoying the film. Regardless of whether or not you like Batman v Superman, if you walked in with an open mind you did something the critics clearly failed to do—give the film a chance.

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