After three years of rampant negativity, and potshots on both sides of the Marvel and DC fan spectrum—Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has finally been released. Early word from critics has been downright vicious, even harsher than it was for Man of Steel, which may be dethroned as the most divisive movie of all time after the dust settles this weekend. It’s a startling response to a film that seemed to be getting its footing back within the last few weeks. As someone who followed the movie closely since its announcement at Comic Con in 2013, the reception is a little surprising, but it’s not completely unwarranted. BvS is flawed, yet ultimately entertaining and enjoyable in much the same way Man of Steel or any of the recent MCU movies have been. So, in the spirit of fairness, let's cut through the complaints in the list below and figure out where BvS really stands.
Warning: Minor Spoilers ahead.
What It Got Right
Built The DCU In an Interesting Way: One of the chief concerns from many fans and detractors was how Batman v Superman would build the DC Cinematic Universe without having a standalone film for every character. The movie does have a number of winks toward what we’ll be seeing in the next two years, and attempts to show off the Justice League in its infancy by not shying away from the fact that “meta-humans” exist and have been around in secret for years. One of the bigger crowd-pleasing moments in the movie are the small reveals of the Flash (two times!), Aquaman, and Cyborg. Some may be upset that those characters won’t get a standalone until later, or that they didn’t have to wait for the credits to roll to see them, but those concerns aside, BvS introduced these beloved characters in a strong and ballsy way.
Introduced a brutal, unforgiving Batman: It’s not an exaggeration to say that the casting of a new Batman gets more scrutiny than any other decision in movies, so when Ben Affleck was revealed to be the new Caped Crusader, it didn’t go well. I’m happy to say though that Affleck is one of the strongest pieces of BvS, introducing the world to a grizzled, angry Batman that drinks heavily and is haunted by nightmares of a world that will be destroyed by Superman. Whereas Christian Bale’s lauded performance in the Nolan trilogy was always hampered a little by his insistence to end the war on crime and quit, Affleck is smart enough to know that the war will never end.
Strengthened the myth of Superman: Batman v Superman is still a Superman movie at its core, regardless of the little bits of Batman sprinkled in, and I felt it attempted to build the myth of the Man of Steel through the eyes of the people who hate and love him. Whereas MoS was his literal first day on the job, BvS strikes a balance of displaying the fear of what his presence brings, and the hope that his father figures (Pa Kent and Jor-El) wanted him to instill in the world. Superman’s story is largely built on him reacting to the vacuum of escalation that his mere existence brings, and his struggle of being a god who has to hide from people who will never understand the decisions he has to make takes his character through emotional beats that he’s never dealt with in a movie before. Even though the message gets muddled within the film, his decision at the end of the movie brings his arc to a harrowing left turn that had me asking big questions about the DCU. It also made me wildly excited for the future.
Addressed MoS in a grounded, realistic way: Man of Steel has been a divisive movie for over three years because of its destructive third act. The criticisms didn’t fall on deaf ears, as the events from the first movie are a major catalyst to the story for BvS—at least for Batman. Just as it displays a Superman who is still learning and understanding his place, the movie is also about the reaction to a man who could destroy us all. Superman answers to no one, and that decision not only rubs antagonists (Lex Luthor) and protagonists (Batman) the wrong way, but it puts the main conflict of the movie into motion by asking us: how could we control someone so powerful?
Wonder Woman: Gal Gadot’s casting as Wonder Woman was also met with a ton of doubt from fans, but she totally sold it. There is a certain mystique about the character that hasn’t been done before, and Gadot is both beautiful and fierce in Wonder Woman’s big screen debut. After years of being relegated to background fodder, damsels in distress, or one dimensional side plots, it’s a breath of fresh air to see a woman take center stage in the generally male-centric superhero movie genre. And even though she has a short amount of screen time, it becomes very clear that Wonder Woman is a going to be a big deal in this universe. Bring on the solo movie!
What It Got Wrong
It Was Too Crammed: Even though it is consistently entertaining throughout, Batman v Superman is attempting to do a whole lot within its two and a half hour runtime. We get an origin story, world building, universe building, and at least two subplots that really sag the movie in the second act. Couple that with a completely unrelenting third act that sees not only the titular fight between Batman and Superman, but then the fight with Doomsday, and it’s not hard to see why a lot of critics are slamming it. In true Zack Snyder style, he doesn’t let up once his foot is on the gas, and the lack of subtlety hurts the movie.
Ugh, Doomsday: Okay, I understand that Doomsday is probably the safest C-level villain that doesn’t require an origin story to explain, but the monster’s appearance in the final act just compounds the pacing problems mentioned earlier. It’s a shame too, because the actual fight itself is great showcase for the individual strengths of the trinity of Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman. But it left so much to be desired—because how much can you really care about the trio fighting a CGI jobber?
Wonder Woman (Or, How She Was Used): For as awesome as she looks, Wonder Woman just isn’t given much to do in Batman v Superman. I understand that her standalone movie is coming, and her cameo here is to whet our appetite for that—but why have her be a focal point of the final battle? She’s given next to no lines, and while she has some chemistry with Ben Affleck, her addition is a tease of a wider universe that we have to wait and see—a narrative move that pissed me off when Marvel did it in Iron Man 2 at the detriment of the story.
Lex Luthor Is Going To Turn A Lot of People Off: Full disclosure—I really enjoyed Jesse Eisenberg’s unhinged and neurotic version of Lex Luthor, but I suspect that a lot of people will not. My major issue is that his motivation is half baked. Save for a delightfully evil and dark plot to pit Batman and Superman against each other, we aren’t given a very deep explanation for why Lex hates the two heroes. He creates Doomsday, but we don’t really know why he’d even go to that length (especially since he can’t control the beast). If anyone needed a deeper origin story, it's this character, as the small anecdotes about his father delve into a troubled and tragic person that we unfortunately never truly meet.
Might Be Too Much for Kids: Fans have known for a while that the cinematic DC Universe would be similar to its comic counterpart, and Batman v Superman does not shy away from pushing the PG-13 rating to its absolute limit. People die gruesome deaths, bones are broken, and there is a general dour mood to the whole film. Most of the menace and terror comes from the new version of Batman, who is completely down to torture and maim his prey. Yes, there is a precedent for different interpretations of these characters, but if you are a parent looking to take your young child to see a DC movie in the future—BvS is setting all the wrong examples of the type of violence that will be in store for them.
Even with its flaws, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice still manages to be a more ambitious film than Man of Steel, a tonally different and brave direction from superhero movies in general, and an ultimately enjoyable experience that brings together all of the characters you’ve been waiting to see on screen for years. It just needed a few small additions to bring the package together in a less bloated fashion.