An Oral History of Batman v Superman (as Told By Its Critics)

Hugely anticipated superhero square-off movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has not been well-received by movie reviewers and critics, including outlets that provide in-depth coverage of comics and “geek”-related media; outlets that hire writers who have a substantial background knowledge of the characters, as well as a personal interest in seeing these heroic icons portrayed onscreen.

DC Entertainment’s first attempt at constructing its own cinematic universe has sunk below 50% on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and the critical reaction to the film is so unified that it has become its own narrative, overriding the thrill of seeing Superman and Batman in the same movie for the first time in history, and polarized against the consensus of casual moviegoers, who worldwide spent almost half a billion dollars seeing the movie during its opening weekend.

The tug of war between moviegoers and critics echoes that of the film’s titular characters; two powers that seek the same goal, but utilize different abilities and perspectives. The perspective of the audience is clear, summed up in one tremendous 9-digit opening weekend box office result, but what makes Batman v Superman‘s financial success so fascinating is how united movie critics were in opposing the appeal of the film. When read in conjunction, the various movie reviews communicate easily with each other, forming a sort of oral history of the film; a history defined entirely in hindsight.

Take a look:

(Note: The full reviews from each outlet are available through the links.)

 

 

Entertainment Weekly – Chris Nashawaty

As these things go, it’s hard to imagine a bigger event.

The AV Club – A. A. Dowd

They’re the perfect inverse of each other, a beaming beacon of mankind’s promise going toe-to-toe with the dank underbelly of its fears.

Bleeding Cool – Rich Johnston

[…] you will get a Superman dealing with Man Of Steel. A film criticised, rightly, for Superman’s seeming indifference to millions of casualties and his own role as an executioner. The opinion of the world, the government, the court, of Batman, of Alfred. Everyone has an opinion about what happened and his role in it – and it’s one Superman is struggling with.

The AV Club – A. A. Dowd

And that’s where Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice first runs into trouble. When the Last Son Of Krypton seems every bit as anguished, as edgily dark, as the Dark Knight himself, what’s the point in bashing them together? Their conflict isn’t so much “day versus night,” to quote the bad guy, as “late evening versus slightly later evening.”

Vulture – David Edelstein

Cavill’s Supey is hardly a bright counterpoint, being the guiltiest savior imaginable: Every saintly tableau in which he rescues innocents is offset by a Southern senator (Holly Hunter) calling for hearings to put some checks and balances on the alien’s power. (Most of Metropolis’s sheeple seem to like Superman, though one woman complains that “he answers to no one, not even to God.”)

Comics Alliance – Matt Singer

Senator Finch says at one point that “democracy is a conversation,” and perhaps showing these conflicting views of Superman is [Director Zack] Snyder’s way of arguing the same. But this kind of investigation into the nature of heroism requires shades of gray, while Snyder only traffics in absolutes.

Time – Stephanie Zacharek

Barely a minute goes by when there isn’t a character or real-life talking head (Charlie Rose and Neil deGrasse Tyson both make cameos) showing up with some droning pronouncement about how humans today, savvy and mistrustful as we are, still need to believe in gods and heroes.

The Mary Sue – Lesley Coffin

Oh, and there is one of the most overt, tasteless 9/11 references I’ve ever seen in a blockbuster (which did not seem to play well in a New York theater).

Deadspin/The Concourse – Rob Harvilla

No civilians were harmed in the making of this loud, droning, incoherent, and bonkers deadly serious film, in sharp contrast to 2013’s Man of Steel, wherein Superman spends the last half hour bonking giant buildings full of innocent people together until they explode.

io9 Gizmodo – Charlie Jane Anders

It’s a shitshow, without any redeeming qualities.

Den of Geek – Ryan Lambie

The harsh world Snyder creates may not be to everyone’s taste, but it has weight and a sense of its own reality. Most intriguingly, it makes both heroes seem elemental and borderline frightening; there are moments in Batman V Superman’s first half that wouldn’t look out of place in a horror movie. Here, Batman and Superman aren’t characters to be afraid for, but to be afraid of.

The Nerdist – Kyle Anderson

I liked quite a lot about it, first and foremost being Ben Affleck as Batman. I completely buy him as the embittered man who’s been fighting against evil little by little for half his life, and who resents a space alien who comes down and picks and chooses who to save.

Entertainment Weekly – Chris Nashawaty

…Ben Affleck is a solid successor to Christian Bale, even if he’s a better Bruce Wayne than Batman. His innate air of cockiness syncs up perfectly with Wayne’s spoiled playboy-scion persona.

Comics Alliance – Matt Singer

Ben Affleck makes a capable Batman, even if his character is rendered a hotheaded dope by David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio’s screenplay. (For the “World’s Greatest Detective,” Affleck’s Dark Knight is very easily manipulated.)

Chicago Tribune – Michael Phillips

Batman is epically miffed.

io9 Gizmodo – Charlie Jane Anders

This doesn’t feel much like Batman—not because he’s so brutal and demented, but because the real Batman is a lot smarter than this.

Comics Alliance – Matt Singer

For all his high-horsing about Superman’s transgressions, Batman mows down loads of people in his Batmobile and Batwing (both equipped with enormous machine guns) and he beats up bad guys with alarming ferocity (he paralyzes at least one guy for life, if the poor dude survives at all).

io9 Gizmodo – Charlie Jane Anders

Simply put, this movie has an idiot plot, and Batman is the idiot.

Comics Alliance – Matt Singer

Ironically, though, the best character is the one who got left off the marquee: Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. It’s never made clear why she’s wandering through Metropolis and Gotham, and she doesn’t have a lot to say, but in a movie where no one else ever shuts up, that’s a refreshing change of pace.

The Mary Sue – Lesley Coffin

…she arrives like a breath of fresh air: charismatic, energetic, and with a physicality her costars lack…before she’s swallowed up by a mess of CGI action. But Wonder Woman is barely in the movie (Gadot is probably only in a fourth, and she doesn’t show up as her alter-ego until the movie’s last fight sequence). By that point, I was so exhausted by these two childish, angry dudes that I was relieved for any new element to be added.

Bleeding Cool – Rich Johnston

…nothing smacked of that more to me than the moment, in mid battle, when the stakes are raised and Batman and Superman are fighting alongside her for the survival of humanity – and she smiles. She enjoys it. She is a warrior, this is her time – and its a very different experience from her teammates. It’s beautiful – and a moment that a lighter film could not have brought out through contrast.

Comics Alliance – Matt Singer

More importantly, she exudes an alluring aura of mystery and power whether she’s flirting with Bruce Wayne or beating the crap out of Doomsday.

The Mary Sue – Lesley Coffin

Doomsday, who looks really stupid jumping around the city like a Ghostbuster dog…

The AV Club – A. A. Dowd

That comes from the film’s cokehead millennial version of Lex Luthor.

Comics Alliance – Matt Singer

Eisenberg’s broad, Schumacheresque performance belongs to an earlier, goofier era of superhero movies.

io9 Gizmodo – Charlie Jane Anders

Someone clearly told Jesse Eisenberg that this movie is the Dark Knight to Man of Steel’s Batman Begins, and he’s doing his damndest to give a Heath Ledger-esque performance. There are a lot of cackling and muttering and gesticulation and squawking.

Den of Geek – Ryan Lambie

Either sociopathic, high on energy drinks or both, this version of the supervillain is undeniably watchable, though his fast-talking, mischievous persona more immediately recalls the Joker or the Riddler than the brawny Lex from the comics.

Vulture – David Edelstein

The most bizarre perspective comes from Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, who waves his arms and — in manic, Aspergian fashion — can’t seem to meet anyone’s eyes. Eisenberg is ham with a side of ham, a blend of the Joker and his Mark Zuckerberg, but I liked his energy. He makes a choice and goes with it, at one point letting loose with a patented supervillain falsetto giggle.

Bleeding Cool – Rich Johnston

The standout for me was Lex Luthor. I’m occasionally eviscerated for my love of the movie Hudson Hawk – but what makes it for me is Richard E Grant, playing a villain who you actually want to fail. Too many of these films have charismatic villains who secretly the audience wish would get away with it for once. This Luthor, you really don’t.

The AV Club – A. A. Dowd

The actor’s having fun. At least someone is.

Chicago Tribune – Michael Phillips

The movie does not kid. It takes the mournful death knells of the Christopher Nolan “Batman” trilogy and cranks up the volume, while ignoring any of the visual strengths and moral provocations found in Nolan’s best work.

io9 Gizmodo – Charlie Jane Anders

Director Zack Snyder is really good at a few things, chief among them splashy imagery. He’s basically perfected the “comic book panel in live action” thing that Robert Rodriguez and a few others have toyed with, using CG effects, greenscreen and a ton of slow-mo to create a splash page on a big screen.

Vulture – David Edelstein

Many scenes in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice work on their own terms, and Snyder has a gift for visual poetry.

Bleeding Cool – Rich Johnston

Snyder’s work is being reinterpreted in Randian terms of late, and that does seem present. Superman’s “do gooder” appeal is questioned, and self examination sees him question his father’s influence. Bruce Wayne is the driven businessman, with the same rive that sees him succeed in business, succeed as Batman. And a Wonder Woman, warrior born, doing her duty.

The Mary Sue – Lesley Coffin

Snyder has taken a headlines-only approach to international tragedies to try to create a Jesus figure (hey, just in time for Easter!) and suggest this movie has more depth than it actually has. He throws in these ideas without any perspective to add, so it feels like a director appropriating real world events as a shortcut to make his work seem culturally relevant and profound.

Entertainment Weekly – Chris Nashawaty

He’s proved to be the kind of filmmaker who cranks every knob as far to the right as it will go. Modulation, economy, and nuance may not be his thing, but at least his movies always look like a billion bucks. And this one does too.

Comics Alliance – Matt Singer

There’s probably a really interesting movie about the ideological divide between Batman and Superman, but on the basis of Dawn of Justice, I’m not sure Zack Snyder was the man to make it. The questions he asks are too straightforward and the resolution he arrives at after all that talk and too few set-pieces is way too simple. Instead of playing up the differences between the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight, Batman v Superman flattens them.

Vulture – David Edelstein

[Snyder] never gets to the heart of that all-important civil liberties question, not because the question is unresolvable but because there can be no true endings in this superhero universe. The problem is that you can’t build a coherent myth out of fragments. You can only hope that the audience will be too jolted — and too turned on by the prospect of more jolts — to care.

Den of Geek – Ryan Lambie

By Batman V Superman’s final hour, the multi-pronged assault of swirling visual effects, relentless action and Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s apocalyptic score begin to drain the senses. Like Man Of Steel, the last act reaches a level of mayhem and fireworks which goes on for so long that it starts to feel not so much like a crescendo but an exhaustingly violent war of attrition.

Zack Snyder, Director Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

I’m a comic book guy and I made the movie based as much as I could on that aesthetic. And so I don’t know how else to do it 100%, so it is what it is.

Ben Affleck (“Batman”)

Henry Cavill (“Superman”)

What is really going to matter, I believe, is what the audience says. Because they’re the ones who are buying tickets, they’re the ones who want to see more of this kind of story or not and so the audience’s voice is loudest and after this weekend the audience, at least partly, will have spoken.

Box Office Mojo – Brad Brevet

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ruled the box office this weekend, both in international and domestic markets, bringing home an estimated $424.1 million worldwide. The record-breaking performance saw the film set a new domestic March opening weekend record and it also serves as the largest domestic opening for Warner Bros. ever.

Chris Lough writes about superheroes and fantasy and stuff on Tor.com.

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