Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is my favourite movie, comic book or otherwise. Two years ago, I was sitting in the theatre, unbelievably, ridiculously excited, waiting for it to begin.
The movie opens with Bruce as a child, running away during his parents’ funeral, interspersed with the scene of their murder in a flashback style with no words, just Hans Zimmer’s gorgeous score, the whole thing crafted with an amazing attention to detail – when Martha’s necklace breaks and the pearls scatter, one of them is even specked with her blood. I knew from that moment I was in for something special.
The first ten minutes of this movie were the boldest choice in a superhero movie since X-Men (2000) opened in a concentration camp. Snyder trusted his audience. This wasn’t a Batman origin story, and everyone knows about the murder of the Waynes, so he kept it quick and simple, following it with arguably the most Batman moment ever, and it didn’t even involve a Batsuit: Bruce Wayne flying towards trouble; driving straight into a disaster zone; and running through the chaos to rescue people. That’s just awesome.
In this post, from several months ago, I talked about how both Batman v Superman and Man of Steel deconstructed the superhero genre, and I said something along the lines of “the symbolism has been analysed to death”. I was wrong. I was so wrong.
People are still talking about it. Fans are still finding new things to love about it, bits of symbolism and allusions we hadn’t seen before, Easter eggs that we missed. People that hated it can’t get over it – they have to keep making hyperbolic statements about it being the worst movie they’ve ever seen, and comparing every movie that comes out to it. It made that huge of an impact. That’s not the kind of thing that happens with a regular old bad movie or adaptation. Like it or not, BvS is unforgettable.
Its uniqueness doesn’t come from being the “first” anything. It comes from being a brilliant story, inspired by others, but when taken as a whole, completely unlike anything else. It comes from Zack Snyder taking comic books as literature as serious and worthwhile as Nietzsche’s most pretentious works. (I know I promised I’d stop bringing up Nietzsche. This doesn’t count.) Arthurian legend, philosophy, Greek and Christian mythology, superhero comics – all of those seemingly unrelated things come together in Batman v Superman to create an incredible, thematically rich story.
A straight up adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns wouldn’t have appealed to me, both because I’m not a Frank Miller fan and because I don’t really see the point in frame for frame adaptations that don’t add anything new to the picture. But as much inspiration as Snyder drew from it, he changed just as much and made it his own by blending the source material with allusions to the classics, to philosophy. Watching Batman v Superman is an entirely different experience from reading The Dark Knight Returns.
He changed the heart of the story, because in his version, Superman is right. Superman is the hero. He took the immense cynicism of the comic and turned it beautifully, wonderfully optimistic. As I discussed here, Batman v Superman is a fundamentally optimistic story about the world being kind of a nightmare, but something we can make better. It frequently gets accused of being “grimdark”, but it’s not that at all – it’s not a fun, escapist flick that lets you avoid thinking about consequences and real world implications for a couple hours, but it’s also not a cynical everything is terrible, heroes don’t exist, there’s nothing you can do to improve the world take. It’s a life is hard, but we can do it take.
I read this fantastic article a while back that kind of broke my heart – it was about how the Snyder era of superhero movies is over and we should be sad about it. It’s so painfully true. Snyder set the bar so high, it’s going to be very, very hard for the directors that follow to produce something even close to that quality, much less to surpass it, because it’s the most unique, lovingly crafted comic adaptation I’ve ever seen. After experiencing Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, after seeing how spectacular a comic book adaptation can be, it’s going to be hard for me to ever again be satisfied with an okay popcorn movie that I can forget I saw after I leave.
There’s gorgeous detail in everything. From the specks of blood on the fallen pearls to the texture of the costumes to every bit of dialogue. It’s visually spectacular, with fantastic performances and a stellar score. Even with a half hour of the movie hacked out, the theatrical cut of BvS still managed to be excellent. It’s not something I’d watch again, but that’s not because it wasn’t good – it’s because why bother to watch the incomplete version?
The rewatch value of the BvS ultimate edition is unbelievable, and that’s because Snyder doesn’t play it safe or try to pander to the widest possible base. He knows what he wants to make and does it. And what does that result in? Something polarizing, sure, but also something where each frame has more thought put into it and purpose behind it than most movies have in their entirety. So, happy birthday, BvS. You’re amazing, and as much as I pretend I’m done talking to you, we all know I’m probably not.