And so it finally happened — the DC film event we've been waiting for has landed, and it's polarizing for sure. But despite the flaws inherent in Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, there are a lot of bright spots in the movie, from the very well-handled introduction of Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) to seeing the Justice League Trinity standing together on the big screen for the first time ever.
Most, if not all, of the supporting cast are fantastic, but Jeremy Irons' Alfred Pennyworth in particular was a brilliant piece of casting and he did not disappoint (even if there wasn't quite as much of him as we were hoping for).
Because, of course, what is Batman without his trusty butler Alfred Pennyworth? He's been around since very early in the Batman comic books, introduced only a few years after Batman himself, and he's filled both the assistant and surrogate-father spheres for Bruce Wayne over the years.
Even before the film's release, we knew that we'd be seeing a pretty different take on Alfred in Dawn Of Justice, as Irons told The Hollywood Reporter way back in 2014:
"He is quite a different Alfred than we have seen so far. Zack Snyder had very clear views about what he wanted. I would just say [Alfred's] more hands-on perhaps than just a butler."
He's certainly more hands-on than we've seen before, even if Michael Caine's Alfred did have a large part in the construction of the Batcave in Batman Begins and saved Bruce's life when the mansion burned down in the same film.
In Batman v Superman we see him not only designing and constructing Bruce's armor and weaponry (taking the place of Lucius Fox from The Dark Knight Trilogy), but also remotely piloting the Batwing, actively assisting in Batman's late-night outings.
He's also as sassy as anything, constantly ragging on Bruce for his inability to lead a normal life, meet a woman and start a family. In this way he takes on the gently teasing role of the father-figure in a much stronger manner than Caine's Alfred does; if Bruce treated the DCEU Alfred in the same manner he did in The Dark Knight Rises it's easy to imagine Irons just giving him a slap and telling him to pull himself together, rather than bowing to his requests to leave.
(Side note: Not that we're criticising Caine's Alfred at all; both actors are fantastic in the role but they are two very different versions of the same character, and Irons' version feels more like a member of the family than Caine's did.)
Recent comic books, such as The New 52 run, have really pushed the concept of Alfred as a protective figure. This occurs notably in Death Of The Family where he is included as part of the Batfamily and kidnapped by The Joker, and in the non-canon Injustice: Gods Among Us where he gains super strength and beats the living crap out of Superman in an emotionally charged and heart-wrenching panel sequence.
Cinema Blend make an excellent point about the way Alfred has been portrayed so far on screen and their take on the character goes a long way toward explaining why the DCEU Alfred might be the best yet:
"The typical Alfred has been known to mind his space from Batman, offer assistance at the manor, thoughtful advice and patch up Bruce when needed. There’s been somewhat of a disconnect between Bruce when masked as Batman and Alfred, in comparison to the Alfred and Bruce relationship. It makes sense, Alfred is there to support his employer, and much more than that, look after him after the death of his parents. He plays a paternal role in Bruce’s life. So distancing himself from the actual fight has always been a key part of Alfred’s survival to maintain that role. He works more as a support-system at home, then out on the field."
Jeremy Irons' Alfred is not afraid to delve into both sides of his employer and surrogate son's exploits, functioning both as a producer of sage — if sarky — wisdom and as an ally in the field.
Maybe it's got something to do with the fact that he's the youngest on-screen Alfred we've seen in the past decade (not counting Sean Pertwee in Gotham). Caine was in his 70s when filming The Dark Knight Trilogy, but Irons is still in his 60s. Maybe it's because the DCEU is aiming for gritty realism and a sharper take on the DC characters. Maybe it's because Irons has much experience in action roles over the course of his career. Maybe it's the funky glasses. Probably it's all these things at once.
Sadly, we didn't get to see a huge amount of Alfred in Batman v Superman in among all the other things going on, but he's sure to have a larger role in the DCEU solo Batman film when and if that rolls around and his origins are just as intriguing as those of Batman. For example, where did he learn to craft suits and armor? And is he really a long standing bodyguard for the Wayne family rather than a butler, as speculation suggests?
Hopefully these questions will find answers as we move along the road of the DCEU, leading to the two-parter Justice League outing beginning next year and that potential Batman solo flick. Until then, at least we have sassy Alfred.