It has been a long time since we have seen this much scrutiny, this much hate, this much ill will directed at a movie studio and their building of a new and unique brand. The DC Extended Universe, with Zack Snyder at the helm as Kevin Feige is to Marvel's Cinematic Universe, has suffered from extreme backlash since it first launched with 2013's Man of Steel, dividing many on the tone and characterization of popular DC comics characters. Audience members shared many gripes that the 2013 Superman reboot catered to a selfish Superman who didn't care for human life.
There was also a fair amount of disdain for the level of violence and destruction in the film, the final Zod vs. Superman battle lasting a sizable seven minutes and thirty-seven seconds, something many were grateful to see in all it's superhero bash-em-up goodness, others loathing it for it's "video game-esque" "destruction porn". Though what it presented to us was something straight out of the comic books and animated movies.
In the aftermath of the Kryptonian attack on Earth and Metropolis, specifically, we found ourselves, appropriately in a now, ultra cynical world in the DCEU, in which many people feel lost (Wallace Keefe, paraplegic), angry (Bruce Wayne, Batman), or diminished (Lex Luthor, CEO of LexCorp). Couple that with the fact - which everyone should know by now - that DC is defining themselves from Marvel by placing these fantastical characters and events associated with them in a real world, not unlike our own. So an alien being wth the "power to wipe out the entire human race" as Bruce puts it, would indeed cause many on Earth to panic, feel resentment, feel regret, feel anger, etc. They would not view this alien as an outright savior initially as the Donner version of Superman opted for, no matter what he claims his intentions to be.
And Superman, alien or not, having been raised by human parents who only want what is best for their adopted...child, would instill in him the same skepticism and reactionary behavioral tendencies as a human, albeit a human with extraordinary powers who must bare the burden of a world split on his very existence, which would weigh EXTREMELY heavy on ANYONE. Therefore, you get a Superman who is not really sure if he is indeed, doing the right thing, spending much of his time in deep thought and contemplation.
Therefore, while Superman is indeed a Kryptonian, he feels and emotes like an Everyman - like a human being. Many people did not like the movie simply because they did not like Superman. They wanted Superman to be the non-conforming, unflinching beacon of hope, even in the face of worldwide scrutiny and debate on his place on this planet. However, again, given the world WB/DC is building here - fantastical characters, real world - that could not be the case, as it would be totally unfitting to the entire setup of the DCEU to have a very human Superman to show no emotion other than indifference to the other human's thoughts on him. Whereas instead, it would be entirely realistic to see such a Superman feel insecurity, not about himself, but about his place in life. Though what this Superman does show in these movies is one of the most essential qualities to the character: Endurance. So why shouldn't Superman be portrayed in the DCEU as a regular guy with immense power who is learning to go from being 'THE Superman' to simply as the DCEU world will eventually know him as favorably, 'Superman.' Snyder and Co. are obviously playing the Long Game with this character, so would it not be safe to assume that is going to be the treatment with the rest of their Justice League characters?
Take Ben Affleck's Batman for instance. Here is an iteration of Batman which we have never seen before on film. We have never seen a Batman this deep into his career, at the "twilight" of his crimefighting crusade as Snyder puts it. This is a Batman who has lost more than any other Batman in cinema thus far; a dead Robin; a 20 year battle with the Joker; rogues having come and gone; assumable Bat family members joining and leaving; good men in Gotham making promises and then breaking them. This is a Batman who is tired and is done taking bullshit from criminals he now deems as "weeds" in an overgrown Gotham. His sanity all but withered away, his drive kicked into over-gear since the arrival of "The Superman", he has now crossed the one line he vowed never to do. He's a Batman at the end of his rope, who has become what he has for so many years fought against. Not unlike a rogue, feudal Samurai, a Batman without honor, but one hoping to regain that honor.
"You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain." - Harvey Dent, The Dark Knight
This is exactly what has become of this Batman.
So we have a Superman who is disillusioned by his Ideal of Hope, unable to be sure if he can trust in his cause to help humanity "accomplish wonders" as his father Jor-El put it in Man of Steel, as this Superman doesn't believe the humans deserve his help, he's just not sure if they actually want it, and that's understandably very troubling for an good-willed alien with nowhere else to go.
We also have a Batman who has stepped over the edge and plunged into the deep end of the madness he fought so hard to overcome in Gotham City over his long-winded vigilante career.
We find these two iconic heroes, one at the outset of his mission to protect and care for the Earth, one towards the end of his all but failed crusade to protect his city. We meet these two versions of the DC characters at their lowest points. Yet what we get in BvS are life-changing (and ending) turning points for the World's Finest. Learning of Superman's ability for pure, grounded humanity, rather than just seeing him as a destructive alien - "You're not a god. You're not even a man." - Bruce Wayne realizes that, as Alfred had tried to convince him beforehand, that Superman is not his enemy. He has a human mother whom he loves, a human woman who is willing to risk her own life to protect him in his weakest moment, and he has the strength to beg for a human's life when it is his life which is most prominently on the line. Batman finally sees the compassion which Superman holds for human life. Batman realizes that he himself, is actually the antagonist to all which Superman is trying to accomplish.
Superman on the other hand, initially sees Batman - who is depicted in BvS as the character representing all the cynicism the world holds towards Superman's existence - as a man so broken by his own crusade to stop injustice, that he's too blinded by rage and traumatic scarring to even listen to a potential adversary who tries to reason with the man who wants him dead instead of defending himself. At the end of their fight, Superman finds himself through Batman - as Batman found himself through Superman - in the sense that he sees what he is fighting for, the very real prospect that humans can change, that they can recognize what is right and what the real dangers are, Superman with his Ideal of Hope, not being one of them.
In the end of BvS we see Batman and Superman learn life-changing lessons from one another, which is the spark that leads them to the only direction there is in ultimately becoming who they are destined to be - which is the rise that makes them legends, not a scrutinized alien of destruction or an unseen and mythical, broken Bat.
We also can't forget that in numbers, comes strength.
At this point, this is pure analytical speculation given that the rest of the DCEU is yet to come. However, in the old adage "In numbers comes strength" we can assume that the more super-powered shoulders Batman, Superman, and of course, Wonder Woman have to lean on when they're wounded or conflicted, the more support they will have from beings who are as powerful, and therefore, as possibly conflicted as they may or may not become or have been in the past. It gives a bonding glue of shared experiences of sorts to their overall well-being to have the kind of immense support godlike beings of good intent can offer. So with that support, naturally comes the sense of comfort and peace to counteract such weights Batman and Superman have bared in the two previous DCEU films. The only conflict left for them can then no longer be internal to an extent, but rather external in whatever Lex Luthor, Darkseid or any other DCEU supervillain can throw at them.
In regards to the overall aesthetic and tonal treatment of these characters, it is being explored in similar fashion to some of the most iconic DC stories to date.
Batman v Superman
"The Dark Knight Returns"
Batman v Superman
The two main sources easily identifiable up to the sophomore installment of the DCEU presents us with the same atmosphere of larger than life gods (collectively called "superheroes" or "heroes") in a politically and socially cynical world, the "Kingdom Come" and "The Dark Knight Returns" flavors respectively blended together.
In conclusion, when critics and skeptics refer to the DCEU's real-world portrayal of these comic book characters being marred by a "boring, dour, bleak, grim-dark, superhero slog through heavy-handed storytelling" may want to, as much as they hate hearing it, look back to the comic books and source materials, where many of these noticeable homages and borrowings of atmosphere came from and then come back and say that the DCEU isn't a respectfully accurate interpretation of these iconic heroes set in a unique and defining relatable world where DC fans can thrive and others can get onboard.
- Josh Price