|2016: The year I spent way too much time thinking about BvS|
Movies play a huge role in my life. I remember being afraid as I watched the first ant scene in Honey, I Shrunk The Kids when I was just four years old, and I remember the excitement of watching the Ninja Turtles take on the Foot Clan when I was six. Whether a film turns out to be a personal favorite or a disappointment, it has the potential to stick with you for the rest of your life. After all, you're dedicating around an hour and a half to two hours or so of your time to focus solely on a single story. It has your complete attention and you're investing time in it - not only the time you spend watching the movie, but often the countless hours you'll spend thinking about it afterwards. One of the worst things a movie can be is forgettable. Love or hate it, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is by no means forgettable. Now that we're in 2017, I want to share just how much my thoughts have evolved on one of 2016's biggest comic book movies.
Just like so many of you, several movies are on my "must-watch" list each and every year. In 2016, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was easily at the top of my list. I loved 2013's Man of Steel (how many people just stopped reading?), so you can imagine how thrilled I was when BvS was announced at 2013's San Diego Comic-Con. That means my interest in Batman v Superman was building for about three years before I saw it. That's a whole lot of time to speculate and generate more and more anticipation. 2014's SDCC brought about the first image of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, as well as a brief teaser of Batman - in his iconic The Dark Knight Returns armor - having a stern staring contest with Superman. There was plenty to love from 2014's SDCC, but that was definitely my highlight, as well the highlight for many others out there.
Let's fast forward to 2015 - a huge year for promoting the second film in the DC Extended Universe. Due to a leak, the trailer was released a little early, and I was lucky enough to see it at the IMAX fan event, which included a few seconds of extra footage, two posters, and a ticket to see the movie for free in IMAX before it opened in theaters! Some time later, there was also another trailer that was full of fan service, like the first footage of Wonder Woman and Batman using his grappling gun - with a blink and you'll miss it nod to TDKR, too! I loved this trailer.
Later that year, Jimmy Kimmel Live debuted a new trailer - a trailer that would receive very mixed reactions, and understandably so. This is the trailer that included the first look at Doomsday (a villain who wasn't quite as fearsome looking as his comic book counter-part) and DC's Trinity (Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman) all standing on the same side, ready to take on the powerful enemy. Some people feel this took away from the weight of the conflict between Batman and Superman and ruined a surprise (Lex Luthor creates Doomsday). Given all of the rumors and amount of time we had to think about the film at that point, it just felt like it was confirming the obvious to me, so this didn't bother me one bit. In fact, it had the opposite effect on me. This trailer brought me so much joy. I couldn't believe I was seeing Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne taking verbal jabs at one another or the Trinity ready to face one of DC's most dangerous fiends. I was so excited that I ran into the bedroom - unaware that my wife was already asleep - and exclaimed something like "that trailer was so good!" It was a total fanboy moment, and I couldn't resist dropping an all caps tweet sharing just how much I loved it.
When 2016 rolled around, my expectations for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were absurdly high. With about three years of speculation, I pretty much had my own version of the movie playing in my head. I thought about how thrilling it would be to see Batman test Superman's limits, and how it would now deliver a more vocal and optimistic version of Superman after the events in Man of Steel. With Aquaman getting his own collectibles (the Funko POP is immediately to the left of my laptop as I write this), I was so certain that he'd make a jaw-dropping debut as the Trinity struggled to defeat Doomsday. I wanted a brutal Batman - one inspired by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, Lynn Varley, and John Costanza's The Dark Knight Returns - but he still wouldn't cross the line. I even remember defending the film before it released - I was so certain that Batman wouldn't do anything that would take a life! When the Batwing gunned down those trucks full of criminals in the trailer, I was confident that Lex Luthor hacked into the Batwing and was using it to fuel Superman's actions against Batman. And with the guns on the front of the Batmobile, I remember reading somewhere that it fired non-lethal rounds. I recall telling people that Batman wouldn't kill, otherwise he'd just be the Punisher cosplaying as the Caped Crusader.
I knew what I wanted from the film, and I brought all of that with me when I finally got to see the movie. My job (Midtown Comics' Marketing & Events Manager) comes with some great perks and I regularly collaborate with movie studios and marketing agencies to give fans in the NYC area some fun opportunities. For Batman v Superman, we gave some lucky fans the chance to attend the U.S. premiere of BvS at Radio City Music Hall, and I was able to attend with a few coworkers as well. This experience made me even more excited about watching the movie - this was my first time at the famous venue! Since you've read about my previous expectations for the movie, you can obviously tell by now that I was feeling pretty disappointed immediately after seeing Batman v Superman for the first time.
There were several things I really enjoyed - like the beautiful cinematography, witnessing Parademons on the big screen, Wonder Woman's cinematic debut, the costume designs, the warehouse fight, and Ben Affleck's performance - but that didn't matter to me right when I walked out of Radio City Music Hall. All I could think about was Batman taking lives whenever he was in one of his vehicles, and Superman's noticeable lack of dialogue. Both things were very disappointing to me and I couldn't get them off my mind. "Why'd they make Batman act like that whenever he's in a vehicle? He was really going to kill Superman by stabbing him in the chest?! And why didn't Superman talk more?! He barely tried to talk to Batman during their fight!" I was okay with the unexpected ending in Man of Steel, but now that the cinematic universe is a bigger place and has more surreal elements, I found myself thinking about how things should have been handled - or at least how I think they should have played out. I know live-action versions of Batman have killed before - especially Michael Keaton, which is the version I loved as a child and still do love - but why couldn't they show a darker, more violent Batman who still holds on to his code? Why couldn't Superman's actions in their fight prove to Batman that they should become allies?
I saw the movie a second time shortly afterwards (an IMAX screening). I went with a good friend (he liked it) and, before going in, I told myself that I'd watch with an open mind, unlike my first viewing. My first viewing was loaded with preconceived notions - no matter how scary he may be, Batman doesn't kill, and Superman is a friendly face who always inspires us. So, during my second viewing I did my best to let go of these thoughts and judge the film based on what it's trying to tell me instead of what I wanted from it. Obviously, I enjoyed it a lot more this time around. It didn't completely shake my disappointment over Batman taking lives and Superman's limited dialogue, but they bothered me less because with the initial shock cast aside, I better understood why things went that way.
With the initial disappointment out of the way, I could finally watch the movie with a clear mind. I better understood that Batman's pain and anger transformed him into the very thing he spent decades fighting against. It wasn't what I wanted, but it made sense and will likely solidify Batman's moral code as we move forward. He was so blinded by his hate that it took a reminder about the tragic loss of his parents to finally snap him out of it. The "Martha" scene isn't as simple as their moms having the same name - it's about taking him back to the very last thing his father said and how that drastically changed his life and set him on a path that was so very clear to him; however, he was no longer the Batman that he should be, which is likely how many fans - including myself - felt while watching the movie. Superman's sacrifice in the end (by the way, he can't give Diana the spear because she's holding Doomsday with the lasso, and wouldn't it be out of character from him to want someone else to risk their life?) blatantly makes Batman realize that he needs to change his ways.
I better understood that Superman wanted to help but faced a stunning amount of conflict as his mere existence led to the suffering of others - you can tell he wants to help as he smiles while saving a child from a fire. Can you really blame him for experiencing doubt, though? He tried to the do the right thing by meeting politicians, and in doing so, many lives were lost - this came after the world questioned whether he helps or hurts. However, his sacrifice reminded much of the world that he is on their side and a symbol of hope. This will likely give him more confidence as he returns in Justice League, which hopefully means he'll have more dialogue as he interacts with his fellow heroes. I also realized that Superman tried to talk it out with Batman but quickly realized there was no reasoning with the vigilante, so he tried to end the fight swiftly and then talk some sense into him - but, as you know, it quickly became a fight for survival once he inhaled some kryptonite.
The more and more I think about it, the more I believe that what I wanted would have been a very safe approach and not nearly as interesting. Entertaining? Absolutely, but I can't help but feel like it wouldn't have stuck with me nearly as much as Batman v Superman has. The comic book counter-parts of these iconic heroes have decades and decades of history, so I don't mind these brand new live-action incarnations being developed differently as long as they organically end up becoming more like the characters we expect them to, and I do believe that Batman v Superman's story accomplished that. In my opinion, I think Batman going after Superman - especially after the loss of a Robin - with so much hate in his heart is an organic conflict given the devastating event in Metropolis; it makes sense that someone like Superman would be so polarizing in the modern era, and that would absolutely make him wonder if he's making things better or worse.