“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” should’ve been good. But, so should’ve “Man of Steel”. I watched the trailers alongside the rest of the world and I saw the Miller take on Batman among other things. It’s not how I would’ve done it, but we’re seeing so much new for the first time onscreen. It was very exciting and I could feel the fanboy swell in my heart. But, age and temperament has taught me to restrain those feelings. This review could’ve went up a few days ago, but I held back because I knew what was coming. The horde of hatred vs. the few apologists trying to make sense of what they saw. Well, kids…here’s your moment of zen.
There’s a thing called tonal authority. When you’re piecing together a larger entertainment masterwork, it takes an insanely strong hand. The Silver Age of Comics had Julius Schwartz at DC and Stan Lee at Marvel doing just that. Cut to 55 years later and we have Warner Brothers seemingly spitting in that concept’s eye. Editorial control whether in film, publishing or points beyond helps a brand to stay consistent and hit the marks needed for audience response. Sometimes, an artist or other partner goes rogue and tries to bring their vision to the world. In a blue moon, you might get Frank Miller defining Daredevil for generations to come. More often than not, you get movies like this.
“Dawn of Justice” improves upon “Man of Steel”, but just barely. “Man of Steel” was a tone deaf approach to revamping Superman by trying to make him seem adult in the way that appeals to a 14 year old kid. There’s a subtle understanding of the political, a need for the physical and unchecked aggression allowed to free form based on slightly Randian philosophies. “Man of Steel” was a Superman taking a toe into the pools that made despots such as Zod, Black Adam and Vandal Savage happen in the DC Universe. All the while, Snyder as action auteur kept using “Man of Steel” as a repeated narrative of Superman can do whatever he wants because the world isn’t entitled to his power. Well, Superman unchecked isn’t entitled to his freedom either.
The influence of Frank Miller on the film is to be expected. This is a slightly older Batman who has gone through the usual Bat mythos touchstones that fans expect. He’s left the Mansion, he’s lost a Robin and no one can help dissuade his vigilante mission. If the film had a stronger Miller tone, we’d have Affleck narrating ever other scene ala Harrison Ford in the original cut of “Blade Runner”. So, what happens when aged vigilante meets Objectivist alien semi-deity? A prolonged slap fight that ends with the most compromised fight outcome since “Freddy vs. Jason”. There is a strong lifting from the Superman vs. Batman fight in The Dark Knight Returns. But, it seems like Warner Brothers was never willing to quite go for straight adaptation. Batman aspects of the story are tied to Superman, while Batman is shown to be practically invulnerable considering the pounding he took.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has shown that forced characters where they don’t belong doesn’t work. The MCU allows for organic growth, rather than 30 seconds of Aquaman in Underwater Rescue Adventure. Cyborg’s dad is putting things together for the future and THERE’S A MOTHER BOX! Holy hell, I hope the Kirby estate at least got a check for that. Fanboy inside me calming down, let’s talk about what worked with the first Justice League setups. Everything about The Flash showing up…I loved. In fact, the entire vision sequence worked as an updated reference to “Crisis on Infinite Earths”. Remember, kids? The Flash showed up to Batman in a moment of crisis to warn him about something bigger coming too!
DC’s Cinematic Universe is still salvageable, but there needs to be a creative change. Going by recent scuttlebutt, George Miller is being courted to offer some sort of creative oversight to these works. However, is that enough? The shared DC Cinematic Universe has existed for about three years now and we’ve got two whiffs at bat. Henry Cavill isn’t recognized on the street, there’s zero solid fan response to this take on the DCU and the few that still care are busy pining over Suicide Squad. Your backs against the wall, DC. I hope that we don’t get a third strike in August.
Comic book adaptations and fan response is always a weird relationship. Some fans can treat these films on a case-by-case basis, while others fans want entertainment or legitimacy. What do I mean by legitimacy? So many fans stake the relevance of their preferred entertainment format on how their long stagnant beloved Intellectual Property is perceived. They will denounce and scream at any outlet that dares say that the things they love could’ve been handled better. They even get a few critics to appeal to them and keep promoting an “Us vs. Them” mentality. All the while, the cycle keeps repeating and spewing forth more garbage.
The amount of potential that still exists in these DC Cinematic endeavors is astonishing. Ben Affleck’s take on Batman/Bruce Wayne is the best portrayal in cinematic history. Forgive me for saying that, Adam West. When Henry Cavill plays Clark Kent, we can see that glimmer in his eyes. But, everything falls apart when it returns to the auteur desperately trying to make grimdark and forced maturity the name of the game. I’ve read comics since I could first read and I’ve grown up alongside them. There are plenty of mature books on shelves and there’s been plenty of mature takes on Batman and Superman. “Dawn of Justice” isn’t mature. “Dawn of Justice” is a frustrated artist playing with his Sideshow Collectibles and screaming at a gathered audience to respect his adult take. I truly believe that Zach Snyder might create the best adaptation of “The Fountainhead” as his next project. But, I don’t want him touching any DC Comics characters ever again. Two times at bat and it’s just not working.