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It’s that time of the year again. After the attempt at rebooting the FANTASTIC FOUR franchise filled that role just perfectly in 2015, Comic book fans and critics alike have once again found a movie they can collectively hate on with the release of Zack Snyder’s BATMAN V SUPERMAN – DAWN OF JUSTICE. At the same time, as we can tell by the decent audience scores on RottenTomatoes, a remarkably big group of viewers starts begging the question: was it really that bad? I, for one, found the film to be, admittedly, not as strong as any of the entries in Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy, but far better than its predecessor, MAN OF STEEL.

CLICK: Check out the ComicsVerse review of BATMAN V SUPERMAN!

First, let me give you a quick impression of where I’m coming from as a fan of superhero films. Being a fan of some of Disney’s Marvel films and Fox’s X-Men films, I was never really fond of Warner’s DC installations, an exception obviously being the Nolan trilogy. For a superhero film to be compelling to me, it doesn’t just have to get me rooting for the characters and understand their motivations, it has to have something special about it that sets it apart and raises memorable philosophical or political questions. Are people pre-determined to be good or bad, or can you change your own fate? To what extent should governments be allowed to limit their citizen’s freedom in order to ensure their safety? Is chance truly the only moral constant? Films like X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER and THE DARK KNIGHT have successfully begged those questions, and they definitely rank among my favorite films within the genre.Mystique

However, I never found either of DC’s two most famous heroes especially appealing. While I always thought of Batman as an overrated, bland, and gimmicky character whose story had long been told, Superman was just too omnipotent, not vulnerable or flawed enough to make him interesting. So how does this movie succeed at making me root for both of the iconic characters?

As the movie kicks off with yet another re-narration of the Batman origin story, fans start rolling their eyes in the cinema. Even though it makes a lot of sense given the movie’s third act, the exaggerated use of slow-motion and all-too obvious Jesus metaphors make this scene less enjoyable, and we see a lot of that during the rest of the movie. It’s something that makes it harder for the film to be taken seriously, and Snyder walks a tightrope between dramatic and cringeworthy.

What follows is one and a half hours of extremely convoluted plot with many things worth pointing out. One of them is undoubtedly the importance of Amy Adam’s Lois Lane for the storyline. As said by one of the characters, she is “the key to everything.” Instead of just being Superman’s “damsel in distress,” she’s presented as a smart and dedicated journalist, eager to uncover the truth. She ends up being the only person who has a clear impression of what is going on. With both her and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman (who essentially becomes sort of an MVP in the final showdown) in this film, DC is actually way beyond Marvel when it comes to female representation.

While spotlighting these important female characters, BATMAN V SUPERMAN predominately has to give us an introduction to both Ben Affleck’s Batman and the film’s antagonist, Jessie Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, serve as a sequel to MAN OF STEEL, and set up the titular conflict. Although for many viewers, the convoluted plot might seem too confusing and many scenes or subplots just straight up unnecessary, all the different storylines of this really complicated piece are interwoven, and, after all, lead up to the enormous showdown in the third act. While it would have been so easy for this film to be horribly bad given all the things it must achieve at the same time, it manages all of that in an extremely elegant way while also working as a self-contained story and hinting at what’s to come in the upcoming JUSTICE LEAGUE. For a 2-and-a-half-hour film, this is an incredible accomplishment.

LISTEN: Our podcast analyzing Scott Snyder’s BATMAN!

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The amount of drama, combined with a very political and complicated, interwoven storyline inevitably reminds me of what was so good about the Nolan trilogy. Along the way, the film brings up questions like “Can a person be purely good for their entire life, or will the world around them corrupt them at some point?” and “Is a powerful being automatically a potential enemy?” Superman, as an almost omnipotent being that finds himself within political conflicts and the collateral damage he himself caused, works perfectly as a metaphor for power in general, and the film reflects on the very nature of the character by asking whether power can ever be innocent. The analogy to the USA’s history of mistrust against strong governments and its desire for independence and freedom from political power is pretty obvious and smart. Meanwhile, Batman reflects on how likely it is that Superman will stay purely good and whether this is a risk worth taking, given what’s at stake. How exactly the movie answers all these questions is, to a certain extent, in the eye of the beholder.

Because the movie takes so much time to establish the character’s viewpoints and inner conflict during the first two acts of the film (almost unconventional for an action movie, and definitely one of the reasons why this movie demands to be taken more seriously than many of the very foolish and generic Marvel flicks), the fight between the two titular heroes comes off more believable and less forced than what I would have expected given the trailers. Essentially, the first hour and a half hour feels like a Nolan film with more hectic cuts, silly slow-motion and religious metaphors. Fortunately, Snyder got rid of the goofy shaky-cams and zooms from the previous installment.

OUR REVIEW of SUPERMAN #50!

Except for maybe Lex Luthor, who, instead of being the visionary, restrained genius we know from the comics, is an overacting, spoiled lunatic in his mid-twenties, all the characters are portrayed in a very appropriate, believable, but also fresh way. Ironically, Ben Affleck’s Batman is a true highlight of the film, and is probably the best portrayal of the Dark Knight on the big screen to date. His version of the Bat vigilante is a lot older, darker, and more violent, and the actor nails both the physical and the psychological aspects necessary for a “The Dark Knight Returns” version of the character. When it comes to the character of Superman, there are a few colorful, typical Superman moments within the film that I missed in MAN OF STEEL, and I just wished there would have been more of them, but unfortunately, this movie, as well, is too busy upstanding its unnecessarily dark and gritty atmosphere. Just because the themes are heavy and there’s a lot of existential questions and character drama, it doesn’t mean you can’t allow colors in your film.

Overall, BATMAN V SUPERMAN draws a lot from different comics throughout the DC Comics history, the most noteworthy examples being THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN, and Geoff John’s JUSTICE LEAGUE. It becomes pretty obvious that the screenwriters and Snyder were really eager to translate single panels directly into the movie, while also carrying over the feel and experience of reading a comic book directly on the big screen. This is one of the few film projects that pander extremely towards the audience of the comic book source material (especially with hints at an alternate universe/time-travel subplot).

READ: Why THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS is a classic Batman tale!

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Then, finally, after one and a half hours of setup, when the clash of the titans we’ve all been waiting for took place, it came across just as breathtaking and intense as it had to. I, even as a person who has never been really interested in any of the two, found myself incredibly invested and rooting for both heroes, and the emotional intensity is definitely there. While Batman is made interesting through the portrayal of his twisted psychology, his desperation, and what he is willing to do, what he thinks is necessary to do, Superman becomes really vulnerable, not just physically, but emotionally. In BATMAN V SUPERMAN, everything is at stake for the Man of Steel: not only the people who are closest to him, but also his reputation as a superhero. It does not, at any point, feel like the conflict is forced or incomprehensible. It’s resolved in a very smart and, again, highly emotional way that sheds a new light on the movie’s first few minutes.

FIND OUT more about the history of Batman vs. Superman fights in the comics!

While the titular fight is extremely good-looking, really down to earth and intense, the following action sequences, unfortunately, at times look like a cutscene from a 2010 X-Box videogame: way too artificial. However, the first on-screen assembly of the DC trinity and the last few minutes that lead into the upcoming JUSTICE LEAGUE installments should be more than satisfying for fans, and are no less iconic than Marvel’s AVENGERS assembly.

In conclusion, it can be said that Zack Snyder’s BATMAN V SUPERMAN didn’t only succeed at thrilling me as a Marvel fan for both the characters and the DC Cinematic Universe, but also at being an appropriate sequel to MAN OF STEEL, representing female heroes in an empowering manner, giving us the best cinematic Batman to date, setting up a believable conflict between the two titular heroes, leading into the upcoming JUSTICE LEAGUE films, and raising existential questions about power, morality, and politics. It’s not a perfect film. There’s bad, artificial CGI, exaggerated religious metaphors and imagery, in some cases straight-up cringeworthy production and score, with rushed cuts that sometimes make it hard to take seriously. Still, there are just loads of details to love about this gigantic project. BATMAN V SUPERMAN manages to be so many things at once while still being one of the few superhero movies that actually has something to say.

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