Comics on Film: 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' From a Dark Knight Fan's Perspective

Comics on Film: 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' From a Dark Knight Fan's Perspective

Mar 28, 2016

WARNING: Some Spoilers for Batman v Superman will be found in this article.

Director Zack Snyder’s follow-up to 2013’s Man of Steel has finally hit theaters, and if anything can be said about it with absolute certainty, it's this: it’s extremely polarizing.

For every fan of the characters aligning with the critics’ largely negative view on the film, there seems to be an equally large amount of ardent defenders, taking up arms in the verbal war over how “true” the film is to the characters, and whether or not it succeeds as a launching pad for the new DC Comics Extended Universe that will be expanding in the months and years to come.

Still, considering how much material there is in the film, the one element that had the most eyes on it was the introduction of a new cinematic incarnation of Batman. When Ben Affleck was cast as the heir to Christian Bale back in late 2013, the internet went ablaze with predictions of doom and utter failure for the actor’s portrayal of the iconic character, and in the nearly three years since that casting news came to light, fans the world over started to become more convinced about Affleck’s Bruce Wayne the more they saw of him.

Now that the film is out, we can now fully examine the kind of Batman that Ben Affleck is, and how he will likely make his presence felt in future releases. First, though, let’s explore three perspectives spinning out of the topic of Affleck’s Batman: the film itself, the character as Affleck plays him, and how he compares with the Batman of the DC Comics Universe.

 

The Film: Far From Perfect, But Just as Far From Being “the Worst Thing Ever”

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is an extraordinarily ambitious film. As a superhero sequel, it makes a concerted effort to correct many of the issues that fans and critics expressed about 2013’s Man of Steel, while in other areas it doesn’t really seem to learn any lessons at all from the film that reintroduced us to Superman.

While blatantly – and sometimes, far too obviously – making clear that the heroes sought to minimize the collateral damage that killed thousands of people during the climax of the Superman film, it still decides to play a bit fast and loose with some traditional characterizations of the icons that it’s bringing to the screen. Once again, the word “hope” and the idea of people being good are given a fair amount of lip service by Superman and others, but the matching actions to those words are oftentimes not exemplified to any meaningful degree.

While some critics and fans have mentioned the fact that the overall tone of the film is overly serious, this is a complaint that’s never really struck me as particularly valid. In many, many recent examples of the source material, characters like Batman and Superman are often confronted with difficult moral questions and implications, and shoehorning some external idea or directive of “more humor” would likely seem unnatural and forced.

The same can be said about Batman v Superman: it chooses to explore inherently darker ideas and implications than a film like Ant-Man or The Avengers, which seems like a clear accomplishment of an effort to set it apart from the successful films of Marvel Studios. You also can’t really call this new film “humorless” either, since its present sense of humor is a bit more sardonic and incidental than the majority of instances present in Marvel’s films.

While the story certainly has a rather haphazard setup throughout the film’s second act, the final piece of the puzzle featuring DC’s “Trinity” of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman taking on the Kryptonian behemoth Doomsday was definitely very visually impressive. Henry Cavill’s performance as Superman was similarly stoic when compared with his turn in Man of Steel, while Gal Gadot’s debut as DC Comics’ Amazon Warrior was very impressive, and will likely make the wait for next year’s Wonder Woman film directed by Patty Jenkins a bit harder.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Missteps easily included the film’s complete throwaway use of Jimmy Olsen, relying on yet another tonal misstep with the characterization of Lex Luthor (though Jesse Eisenberg did well with what he had), and the inherent need that the storytellers felt they needed to have in order to make things more “realistic,” or at the very least, more digestible with what they thought some audiences would want. At the same time, though, how can any Superman fan not enjoy seeing the montage of him saving people across the planet? How does it do disservice against the broad ideas of the source material by seeing personalities like Charlie Rose and Neil deGrasse Tyson talk about the implications Superman’s arrival has on the human race?

It’s very easy to acknowledge the faults that Batman v Superman has, but it’s also extraordinarily hyperbolic for fans, critics, and others to call it some kind of cinematic atrocity. The truth of the matter is that the people who actually tell good stories with the characters in the source material are also just as split on their beliefs about the film as the fans seem to be.

Creators like Mark Waid, who wrote the spectacular Superman: Birthright, have expressed utter disappointment over this universe’s characterization of DC Comics icons in the past, while celebrated Superman and Wonder Woman writer Gail Simone has expressed a great amount of enjoyment over the final product of this film. Who is more qualified to share their informed opinions than people like them?

At the end of the day, Batman v Superman is a spectacle that features a certain perspective on certain DC Comics icons. It is not the definitive word on who these characters are, because it doesn’t concern itself with being such a thing. But, it is also shortsighted to take an absolutist approach by calling it the worst comics-based film ever committed to celluloid. Either extreme doesn’t get us any closer to some kind of definitive take on Superman or the Justice League, it only drowns us in our own strong emotions.

Bottom line: go see the film. It’s worth watching, and it will allow you to make up your own mind about it. Try and stay out of the blindly positive and negative echo chambers, because all they’ll do is make your ears ring.

 

The New Batman

Whether you loved or hated the film’s characterization of Bruce Wayne, one thing seems clear: Ben Affleck is definitely the right man to play the Dark Knight for the foreseeable future.

While the film certainly plays a bit fast and loose with the “one rule” that defines the character in both the comics and in The Dark Knight Trilogy, Affleck’s performance is infused with one primary element that anyone who plays Batman needs to have: utter belief. When you look in his cowled eyes as he engages a room full of a dozen hostiles, he’s committed to defeating them. When you see him stare at Lex Luthor intently in a prison cell, you know that he is ready to intimidate his way to dominance.

Affleck’s Batman has strength and formidability at the forefront of virtually every second he’s on-screen. Any shortcoming that fans and critics can attribute to Batman in this film cannot be attributed to Affleck himself. Similarly to Christian Bale and Michael Keaton before him, Affleck wisely lets his own personality help guide the way he moves as Bruce Wayne, but he then easily allows the iconography of the costume define the way that the Batman moves effortlessly across the screen.

Even more than Bale, in combat Affleck’s Batman is blindingly fast, a feat that seems difficult considering how the suit itself overemphasizes his own dimensions. As a massive Batman fan, the moments that disappointed me were almost entirely situated on the way an action scene was presented, or in how the character was written in certain circumstances.

While future films can certainly correct the course of characterization in certain respects, there should be absolutely no question about the man behind the mask: Ben Affleck is Batman, and the character will undoubtedly be in good hands for Suicide SquadJustice League, and beyond.

 

Batman of the comics versus BvS

When the existence of a Batman/Superman crossover film was first announced at Comic-Con International in 2013, Zack Snyder made it clear this would be a version tonally inspired by the way Frank Miller characterized him in 1986’s The Dark Knight Returns, a seminal comic book series that would define the character for decades.

In the end, Snyder chose instead to cherry-pick from DKR to find a version of Batman that worked for the movie he was making. For instance, it shouldn’t be all that surprising that the director of a film that culminated with Superman breaking the neck of an enemy would also choose a much harder-edged Batman to have few problems with killing. While an argument can certainly be made that the Batman of the film doesn’t pick out specific targets to actively neutralize – instead just choosing to have little problem with the deaths of criminals caused by the mayhem that often surrounds his arrival – it’s a loose enough perspective for fans to take notice, and call foul.

Still, though, a double-standard has emerged from some fans in regards to some of the circumstantial occurrences surrounding a death caused by Batman. Speaking for myself, I know that it would be very difficult to reconcile a problem with Batman shooting a tank on a flamethrower to save an innocent woman in BvS with his active tackling Two-Face off a building to save Jim Gordon’s son in The Dark Knight.

Now, is it overboard to call Affleck’s Batman the “worst” version ever brought to screen? Absolutely, just as much as it would be to call him the “best.” Like any cinematic incarnation of the character, there are things that can be improved, especially if we want the Batman of our movies to resemble the version we see in the pages of a book by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, or by Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert.

Fans should have faith, though, that there is a pretty solid start to be found in BvS for the Dark Knight of the DC Extended Universe. As a comic book fan, of course there are things that I’d like to change. Do we need a wholesale restart, though? Absolutely not. Affleck has proven that if nothing else, he has the potential to become the best Batman we’ve ever seen. He may not be there yet, but he certainly could be some day soon.

 


Thanks for reading, and be sure to come back on Friday for a fuller look at the film’s treatment of Superman, particularly as it relates to the way Dawn of Justice ends. Spoilers will abound, so we’d recommend seeing the film before reading this Friday’s piece. And, if you haven't already, be sure to read Jeffrey Taylor's review of the film from the perspective of a Superman fan.


Chris Clow is a geek. He is a gamer, a comic book expert and former retailer, as well as a freelance contributor to The Huffington Post and Batman-On-Film.com, as well as host of the Comics on Consoles podcast. You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

Categories: Features, Geek, Reviews
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