I made an active decision following Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice not to write a review about the whole movie. With the cacophony of negative reviews out there, I didn’t want to contribute anything to the white noise that could be misconstrued and I kind of felt bad about adding to the misery of Ben Affleck.
Overall, I enjoyed Dawn of Justice and was pleasantly surprised. However, I did have issues with the movie that can be whittle down into the following opinions:
- As a comic book fan, I really enjoyed Dawn of Justice
- As a movie fan, I really did not enjoy Dawn of Justice
In my opinion, these issues are most obvious when looking at Ben Affleck’s new iteration of Batman. While it’s pretty easy to dismiss Affleck as the issue within Dawn of Justice, I’d say it’s not an entirely fair comment to make – the issues go beyond that, I think.
Ben Affleck as Batman:
As a comic book fan
I enjoyed Affleck’s portrayal of Batman far more than I expected to, and felt that his representation honoured the Frank Miller graphic novel incredibly well. Following Dawn of Justice, I began to understand why so many comic book fans were celebrating his performance.
Affleck’s new iteration of Batman has never truly been explored on a cinematic platform before; Batman is a somewhat world-weary and jaded hero, who has seen an inordinate amount of his lifetime steeped in misery. At this point, his introduction into Dawn of Justice, sees Batman 20 years into his career and given the exploration into the source material, Batman’s feelings and emotions regarding Superman become clear: they are founded in paranoia and fear – emotions which propel his actions throughout the course of Dawn of Justice.
As a movie fan
I felt that Dawn of Justice ultimately let Ben Affleck down, and that members of the audience without an in depth understanding of Batman’s comic book source material and canon history are excluded from Batman V Superman before it begins, and in my opinion, the overall understanding of Batman’s character and motivation within the plot of the movie because somewhat limited, as a result.
Without any prior knowledge of Frank Miller’s iconic graphic, Affleck’s Batman comes across as petulant and hate filled, rather than world-weary and jaded. In my opinion, this has absolutely nothing to do with Ben Affleck’s abilities as an actor, but more to do with Chris Terrio’s and Zack Snyder’s writing/direction. As I said earlier, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is a movie for comic book fans, not a movie for movie fans.
If I were to attempt to re-watch Dawn of Justice without acknowledging source material or character history – for example, as someone who loves comic book movies/shows, but has never read a comic before – I can begin to understand the reasoning behind negative responses and critique that Batman V Superman has received. Without prior knowledge, Batman appears selfish and childish, with his paranoia and mistrust coming across as obsessive jealous – he seems wildly emotional, overly sensitive and messy, rather than controlled, career-hardened and battle-worn through experience.
What’s the problem with Ben Affleck?
The premise of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is excellent. However, the execution thereof fell short of my expectations. While we all knew the movie was going to be dark and void of light hearted humour seen in rivals Marvel’s movies, I think we had all come to terms with that and expected as much from Zack Snyder. There’s no denying that there was definite enthusiasm behind his direction, which can be clearly seen within the mis-en-scene and overall cinematography present in Dawn of Justice, however, I feel that these touches were slight and too subtle to be acknowledged by normal movie goers, without the in depth knowledge of comic book culture – and as I keep reiterating, here in lies the problem.
In my opinion, there should be no audience exclusions as far as comic book movies and comic book culture goes – after all, in my somewhat linear mission statement, I point this out. The sheer popularity of comic book inspired movies and TV shows within pop culture is indicative that an enormous portion of audiences watch with no real background knowledge of source material – and that’s okay. In my opinion, people shouldn’t have to sit with a comic book on their lap while watching a movie in order to grasp the canon history being depicted on screen – it should already be made abundantly clear throughout the progression… plus, the point in bringing these classic comic book stories to the big screen can’t all be about box office sales, right?
Yet, in my opinion, Zack Snyder’s Dawn of Justice direction has managed to inadvertently alienate and exclude a large portion of audiences with a few simple oversights.
The main issue
For me, the main issue within Dawn of Justice is that it hasn’t been made clear to the audience that this iteration of Batman doesn’t see him fighting crime for the first time. Other than a slight silver fox hairstyle, there isn’t a pointed reference to Batman’s well-established career, which I feel lets both Batman and Ben Affleck down – especially when considering the overall critique received from non-comic book readers.
The only verbalised reference in Dawn of Justice that suggests Batman has been there and done that is the rather fleeting reference to his arch-nemesis, the Joker. Bruce Wayne’s comment, ‘freaks dressed like clowns, creates a subtext that overwhelmingly suggests that Batman has had more than his fair share of encounters with Gotham’s clown prince, but it’s so subtle that some could potentially miss that this comment infers that Batman’s overt paranoia and mistrust of Superman, is as a result of his extensive experience in dealing with someone he doesn’t understand and has proven uncontrollable, undefeatable and dangerous – I felt like the comment was supposed to highlight Batman’s 20 years of industry experience, giving him the ability to understand a threat to humanity when he sees one.
It’s hard to believe that people wouldn’t get the reference to the Joker, but would they get the subtext, is what I’m attempting to channel. It could have been executed more tangibly, with perhaps something more gripping than a passing comment.
The only other blatant reference to Batman’s extensive career may have been missed by a large portion of the audience. For example, my boyfriend missed this, even with comic book knowledge. For the eagle-eyed and all-knowing among us, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice included a snippet vital to Batman’s history: a suit with yellow graffiti on it.
The comic book geeks in the audience immediately acknowledged it as Jason Todd’s Robin suit that had been written on by the Joker.
For comic book veterans, it’s easy to extrapolate that the suit is vitally important and that it belongs to someone other than Batman. However, for those unfamiliar with comic book history, it isn’t easily identifiable as a reference to Death in the Family, nor is it glaringly obvious that it belonged to Jason Todd. Further, without background knowledge, there’s no blatant understanding that this tiny snippet was imperative and significant to Batman’s Dawn of Justice plot and narrative. The presence of the suit is hugely important, as it serves as a perpetual reminder to Batman that he has lost an ally and friend to his nemesis, further exemplifying and fuelling his weariness and mistrust – it’s safer now to assume that the unknown is dangerous.
With the appropriate background knowledge, the audience, thus, begins to understand Batman’s motives more appropriately – including the reasons behind his paranoia. Understanding Batman’s experience in the past, allows the audience to start to make sense of the fact that in Dawn of Justice he needs to possess a weapon strong enough to stop Superman from becoming a threat, if need be. However, this is only acknowledable through extensive explanation; in the movie, without this knowledge, the entire plot shifts and Batman comes across more negatively.
What could have been bettered?
I think that Batman’s role in Dawn of Justice would have been better received if the concept of inclusivity had been considered. Establishing Batman’s role in the movie with more significant details explaining his state of mind and expansive career history would have undoubtedly changed people’s minds on both the movie and Affleck as Batman.
I also feel that regurgitating the somewhat repetitive and tiresome burglar/shooter/pearl scene was a wrong move. At this point, even people who haven’t read Batman’s origin story understand how Bruce Wayne became Batman. Having been featured in every Batman movie/TV show/cartoon ever, I don’t think it was needed in Dawn of Justice, nor do I think it served any real purpose in the movie, other than to establish that Batman is, in fact, Batman – which, as we realise during the movie, isn’t necessarily true: this iteration of Batman is entirely new.
Instead of allowing Batman’s character to come across as petulantly jealous of Superman, I feel that Snyder and Terrio could have offered a more inclusive backstory for non-comicbook readers, and how Bruce Wayne became to be this iteration of Batman that Affleck has attempted to portray.
Allowing a closer look at Jason Todd’s suit, a more in depth soliloquy highlighting how Batman has watched Gotham descend into madness/crime for 20 years would have been favourable, and would have allowed all types of movie viewers an inclusive/similar experience to comic book geeks. I also feel that doing so, would have set the future of Batman’s standalone movie career up greatly – especially if rumours regarding Death in the Family are correct.
Batman will be back on our screens in his Suicide Squad cameo in August. I’d guessed that his role in Suicide Squad would focus on the Joker, however, according to recent reports – Batman doesn’t interact with the whole cast, dealing mostly with Deadshot and Harley Quinn.
Affleck’s Batman is set to appear in two scenes with Deadshot – one as a flashback and another which has been described as ‘emotional’ by Batman News. His interaction with Harley Quinn has been hinted at in the trailers; the chase scene which sees Batman scooping Harley Quinn out of a car after it crashes into a river.
I would hope that this cameo allows audiences to understand Batman a little bit more, and that it will further set him up for both Justice League Part One and his own solo ventures.
Speaking of – it has been definitively confirmed that Geoff Johns has already started working with Affleck on the upcoming standalone Batman movie, which can out the rumours to be once and for all, with only the alleged source material still in the rumour mill. I can’t say I’d be disappointed seeing a cinematic version of both Death in the Family and Under the Hood… might help explain Batman’s role in Dawn of Justice a bit more too.