In recent days, avoiding content around Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice has been nigh on impossible. After a year of progressively bigger and well loved movies, this arguably could have been the first that has genuinely split the world, just like it's premise.
Controversy has reigned with poor critical scores from "the pros" and high fan ratings for Zack Snyder and DC's first proper "universe movie". Avoiding reading about it became an obsession for me, not because of spoilers, but cos I didn't want any undue negativity or nerd rage to ruin the experience for me.
Now, having finally attended a midnight showing - I can wade into the debate.
There are FULL SPOILERS Ahead... Leave now if you've not seen the movie, not warning again!!!
A Brave New World?
While this is clearly the DCU in it's earliest form, it is also very clearly a Zack Snyder film front and centre. All of his classic trademarks are there, from backstory being told in the opening credits, regular actors appearing to tinkering with existing lore.
Thomas Wayne throwing a punch is at odds with every other movie iteration that probably upset purists for example but works in the context of our new Batman and more importantly, the juxtaposition between he and Superman, whose father was a peaceful man who taught his adopted son not to fight.
Controversially killing a potentially major character early on in violent fashion is another Snyder hallmark. This time the honor (via headshot no less) was Jimmy Olsen, which has outraged many fans although who he is will actually be lost on most viewers as there is no mention of him thereafter. The Comedian got fleshed out later, this Jimmy Olsen was basically a plot device and lived up to the Snyder template of betrayal by those closest to you and the cost of that.
Snyder's "bad sex" obsession is also there, with another awkward nude scene. Amy Adams looks embarrassed to have a fully clothed Clark Kent leering over her in a tub and while there is no Hallelujah, spilled water gives the same effect as the cringe Leonard Cohen brought to Watchmen.
Bear in mind ALL these occur in the first 15 minutes.
Snyder does violent action well, he showed this in Watchmen and 300 in particular, whereas Man Of Steel was constrained. This time we see full of violent porn, this is the Batman of Arkham games, who uses every manner of gadgets and will string up his opponents and shatter bones. Some are angry that his "no kill rule" seems to be broken. In truth we never ACTUALLY see him kill someone outside the dream world, everyone in the real world could have survived, but they won't be walking again or pretty in the mirror (my money is on the Russian/Callan Mulvey being this universes version of Firefly) and Snyder also does "cruel and vicious" well.
Even if Bruce DID kill, then it fits with some of Snyder's other work. The cinematic version of Watchmen excised a sub-plot that saw the original Nite-Owl murdered, and Dan Dreiburg cold bloodily kill as a result. Bruce has had several of these deaths to reach the point where killing is now on the table.
So has Snyder created something new or fit his template to the DC world? It's the latter. Which if you're a critic isn't what you want to see. Watchmen was buried by them despite being at the time the most accurate and worthy comic adaptation ever.
Are DC To Blame?
As with Avengers: Age Of Ultron a year ago, the spectre of "director's cut" looms large over this movie. Joss Whedon filmed MUCH more than was released and it has been teased and then revoked that we will get to see it as he intended.
DC and Warners have gone a stage further by telling us there WILL be an R-Rated cut on Blu/DVD, that will feature The Joker, Barbara Gordon and potentially Robin's death. Snyder clearly filmed ALL these extras, intending them to be viewed, much as he did with Watchmen, but studio pressures to deliver a "kid friendly" rating and run-time won out again.
Much criticism has been leveled at the movies editing, which in truth isn't THAT bad. It's just a very conceited cut... we have to accept headshots, images of heroes torturing and killing from the get go, a disabled suicide bomber and some downright creepiness towards women (the pearl necklace scene at the beginning is VERY dark indeed) yet we can't see The Joker killing Robin? or shooting Barbara in the spine?
Deadpool could have done this but held it's own course, however there was no reason for there not to be 2 versions released of this movie - the R and PG13 versions. Those who wanted the full experience could have seen it as intended, while kids could "push their boundaries" with the version we got. It's the biggest own goal Warners/DC have made with this movie, far worse than letting Snyder direct or picking Battfleck. The film jars because you KNOW stuff is missing, and it's a cash grab for a second theatre release or on home formats rather than concern for our youth... too much grubbiness remains for that.
So Who Is Happy?
Fans are, in the main lapping up this movie and with good reason. With the exception of Watchmen and Ang Lee's Hulk it is the most beautiful comic adaptation ever made. While Hulk bombed, it was a pure comic movie, with the wipes, use of comic style borders it was a visual joy. Watchmen was a comic book come to life, albiet with the truncated ending as Cloverfield had stolen that.
We finally see a Bruce Wayne/Batman who is complex and "wrong", we see a movie version of Alfred that is not decrepit or weepy, but the man who has influenced Bruce Wayne. We finally see a version of Clark Kent that isn't "mild mannered" for the sake of disguise. This Clark is argumentative, ignores Perry's orders and gets angry rather than than bottles it up like Reeve's.
The true surprise and triumph of the film is the introduction of Wonder Woman/Diana Prince. Snyder gets strong women and it shows here. Gal Gadot was given a lot of nerd rage on casting, yet has turned out to be the perfect choice. We see just enough of her and Diana to want more, a tantalizing photo teasing her solo movie (with Chris Pine/Steve Trevor cameo) and she kicks as much ass as the men, while retaining the sexuality. Many have commented on her smile during the Doomsday battle, is it the thrill of the fight, or is she a little bit Xenia Onnatop and getting turned on by the violence? It could be either and that makes the character very interesting.
Ben Affleck is NOT the best Batman ever, but he's up there. For me Keaton had the edge as The Bat but not as Bruce Wayne. The opposite is true here, there has never been a better Bruce Wayne than Ben Affleck, as Alfred (excellent casting by the way) calls him "cruel", vengeful and scared. For the first time Bruce is genuinely afraid, and angry that these "aliens" are using the world as their battleground. It's hard to judge him completely as he is pretty much in Superman's world here. There is no Jim Gordon, Barbara or Joker to see how he truly handles Batman... it's Batman in a different form here, and people may not be responding to that as intended.
Some would also say Henry Cavill gets the short end of things. Already carrying the "failure" of both Man of Steel and Man From UNCLE, this was for many his last shot at the big time. That would be unfair as both movies are VERY good at what they do, but fans just didn't like them for some reason.
It's hard to like him in this movie as Clark is often sullen and Supes downright portrayed as either a villain or hate figure for much of it. When Reeve did it, you had little Ricky yelling "You're just in a slump", this iteration has pickets hating him.
Snyder actually is the saving grace here and helps Cavill rise above the relatively poor writing. There are stark similarities to Doctor Manhattan, even a few moments where you expect Superman to be pursued as the bomber. Snyder made Manhattan an aloof god figure, where as Superman cares WAY too much. So desperate not to make a mistake that he can't ever win.
The most poignant scene is him dragging a ship across the ice floes with the weight of the world on his shoulders, and even in his final moments if Bats has his way, his first thoughts are to save his Earth mother rather than himself, giving rise to the most clunky scene of the film, surely if both knew who each other were, they'd have researched their mothers had the same name?
The other elephant in the room is how the rest of the Justice League were introduced. On paper, using security footage works well, but it just screams "coming soon if this movie does well" rather than having any faith in them. Could Barry Allen not have saved someone in the Zod battle? or Aquaman appear to get the Kryptonite away from his people? Jason Momoa in particular didn't inspire in that footage, it wasn't helpful to him at all.
So Batman won the epic showdown, as expected and Ben Affleck wins for sure, he'll get his outing against Jared Leto, Will Smith and a few more choice villains (Toby Jones as the Penguin anyone?), Justice League will happen and Wonder Woman is now going to be highly anticipated.
Superman is left in limbo somewhat. Death Of Superman done properly was VERY comic and very cinematic but it almost seems that they weren't sure about bringing him back. Sure there are rumors of Bond for Henry, but even so - I can see Superman not returning until the second JLA movie, which would be a shame, any doubts Man Of Steel cast are now gone, this IS the right guy to play him.
The cast of Suicide Squad definitely win - particularly those linked to the Batman canon. With Ben confirmed to appear in some form, they will get some major rub, especially Deadshot, Joker and Harley and to a lesser extent, Killer Croc. They can all show up in a "prequel" Bat movie or even a sequel. There is a danger however, because this movie didn't quite pull off the world building, it now stands or falls on Suicide Squad. If that movie fails for any reason, then the DC Universe is DOA.
This was the real big battle - could DC do what Marvel do and do it better. In short? No they can't and it's looking unlikely they will. It's interesting that Daredevil released the same day and had similar issues, many loved it but a vocal minority didn't. The quality was undeniable but something didn't sit right with the critics and this was Marvel themselves, not Marvel Studios. With Civil War just a month or so away, Marvel Studios know that it will do better than Dawn Of Justice at the box office because of the Spiderman factor and because the word of mouth on this just isn't going to be good enough to make it threaten their position.
While Marvel are internally having issues, there is also potential to surprise the audience. A death in Civil War that isn't Cap for example or the rumored Captain Britain show can excite fans and energise for the next phase. This flexibility will help them avoid the pitfalls DC seem intend on walking into by planning to far ahead.
Zack Snyder! It doesn't matter that he has made the fanboys happy, the mixed reactions will do for him, just as they did for Joss Whedon after Ultron. Even if it's not his fault and down to studio interference, he'll carry the can for the controversy, just as Henry will for the flawed idea that Supes just can't carry a movie is now ingrained.
Their grand plan is NOT in tatters, but it's taken a beating worthy of the brawl between titans this film delivers. The last year has proven that spectacle alone won't cut it any more. Movies like Jurassic World, Fast 7, Ant-Man and Star Wars all had heart and were fun. Dark movies like Spectre and Ultron didn't do as well and Deadpool has finally broken the mold.
Suicide Squad is anticipated because it looks FUN, there was very little fun to be had in Dawn Of Justice and with all the casting now done and onscreen there is no chance to retool Flash to be more fun or to go a more comedy route with Aquaman. It may be that DC/Warners caught the ride just too late, and tastes have changed. Marvel have always been very "light on their feet" in adapting, Ant-Man and Guardians being shock hits meant they could adapt to give more. DC don't have that right now, they have their plan... and they're sticking to it.
It's been a long time coming, but the "professional critic" is likely to become as dead as Krypton before too long after the backlash against them. In today's social media based world, ANYONE can do what they do. TV Shows and Wrestling for example, have had this for years, where the fans are the driving force rather than the Siskel and Ebert of the day dictating taste.
Many critics have come across po-faced and that they "are not with the times" in their criticism of the film or focused too much on directing flaws, that are clearly caused by excised material rather than lack of vision on Snyder's part.
Sites like Moviepilot could flourish from this while the traditional critics could soon find their voices reduced to the cries of Lex Luthor in his cell.
Ah yes, Lex Luthor...you thought I forgot didn't you?
I thought he was an interesting character, but not the Lex Luthor we know - I am guessing that was his daddy, who if they are smart will "reappear" in the form of Bryan Cranston even in flashback to "mold Lex", hey if Jonathan can talk to his son, so can Lex. I loved the "genius on the edge of insanity" and the cruelness of the "Peach Tea" in particular, that "Junebug's" last thoughts were of revulsion at Lex was a great touch worthy of Hackman but he's not the finished article yet. I'd give him another chance, but I can't help thinking Jesse Eisenberg would have been a better Riddler.
Dawn Of Justice is a VERY good comic book film, but flawed in the same way Watchmen was. As a fan I am happy it has been made, that it was enjoyable and it adds to what is available. But I am not going to say it "rocked my world" (apart from Tao Okamoto) or that it deserves the critics ire.
Is it better than a Marvel film? No, is it the end for DC? No, but it has shown in a bright light what is wrong with DC in general (the hate capes are coming, the hate capes are coming) in that while they have great characters, they are not as easy to put on the screen as those Marvel have. Supes and Wonder Woman are basically gods, overpowered and thus it's difficult to keep them interesting past the "they love humans" side. It's not unfair to say that Marvel has more variety in what they can put out there. That being said, DC have a fair shot... Suicide Squad still looks like it could complete this universe in such a way that the villains are the stars, something Marvel has failed to do so far.
There is room for both, but people need to let DC grow a little bit, after all it is 10 years since Iron Man was greenlit, it's a lot of catchup to make with limited characters.