Few big-budget blockbusters have been as controversial, rightly or wrongly, as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Director Zack Snyder’s follow-up to Man of Steel looks to be one of the most stuffed-to-the-gills superhero releases of all time, but it’s also changing a number of the fundamental elements from the nearly-80-year-old DC Comics Universe, ranging from characterizations to tone.
All of which isn’t to mention the little fact that literally the entirety of the burgeoning DC Extended Universe rides on Batman v Superman’s success; should it fail to live up to Warner Bros’s expectations, it’s very likely that the two-part Justice League may fail to materialize – or, at least, fail to materialize in the exact way and to the exact scope that Snyder wants it to.
This makes the question of whether one should commit to BvS’s two-and-a-half-hour running time more considerable than usual. Should one ignore all the constant online negativity around the film, or are there some valid points generating such fan nagging? Is the prospect of an entire future shared cinematic universe justification enough for a film that may possibly be found lacking?
To help you make your decision, we present Pros vs. Cons: Should You Watch Batman v Superman?
Pro: The first superhero face-off
Yes, it’s true that Captain America: Civil War bows in theaters a little over a month after Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but that doesn’t take away from the latter’s distinction as being the first film to pit a superheroic protagonist against one of his own instead of the typical – and typically cliché – supervillain.
Such a development holds two potential strengths (above and beyond being the first big-screen outing to feature both the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight together): first and foremost, it brings to life a number of classic storylines from the comic books, showing how the two DC icons come to blows, which movie-going audiences have never been exposed to before.
Secondly, such a dynamic pits a number of elements that viewers have, by this point, grown long accustomed to seeing in a new light; the titular conflict can – and most likely will – bring out both the best and the worst of both Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill), and it will also produce a new voice or energy to the overall proceedings that could very well serve to rejuvenate both separate franchises.
Pro: Strengthening “Man of Steel”
2013’s Man of Steel ended with what many have since derisively described as “destruction porn”: the Battle of Metropolis nearly leveled the city, producing untold amounts of damage and innocent deaths. In an extremely interesting – and potentially telling – twist, Zack Snyder and his filmmaking crew have opted to use the real-life controversy over Superman’s role in the devastation as the launching pad for their follow-up; the denizens of both Metropolis and next-door Gotham are just as skeptical over Superman’s inability to stop the alien menace and better protect humanity, with some – most notably Bruce Wayne – joining that suspicion of the would-be savior with outright hostility.
This approach not only promises to have that most fundamental element of storytelling, drama, be front and center for the entire film, it also has the potential to retroactively shore up Man of Steel’s artistic standing and fan reputation both – not a bad three-fer at all.
Pro: Big reveals
Although DC Comics has existed in one iteration or another since 1934, a goodly slice of its many thousands of characters have never appeared in movie theaters before. The spectacle of seeing the likes of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the Flash (Ezra Miller), and Doomsday (Robin Atkin Downes) on the big screen should prove to provide a not-insignificant amount of sizzle to the film, along with adding yet another first to its resume.
But more than bragging rights, Batman v Superman has the opportunity to define these characters in the collective consciousness of popular culture in a way that could dominate their portrayals across all media for decades to come, much like Christopher Reeve did with his Superman series of movies in the ‘70s and ‘80s (that’s actually the perfect example, as the character had existed both on television and film decades before Reeve’s iconic turn).
There’s also, finally, the little fact that nearly the entirety of the DC pantheon, from Batman to Wonder Woman to Cyborg (Ray Fisher), will be together in the same movie (although not necessarily in the same scene together), and this certainly is one of the biggest selling points that Warners and the filmmakers are counting on drawing audience members in.
Pro: A packed story
The various trailers released for the film have revealed a plethora of scenes, moments, and images, ranging from the blatant (Batman taking down an entire squad of well-armed thugs without breaking a sweat) to the subtle (possible romantic chemistry between Diana Prince and Bruce Wayne), which, by and of themselves, already promise a well-packed movie. The cast and crew, however, have been quick to point out – particularly after many fan complaints that the marketing revealed too much – that it only scratches the surface, with, virtually, the entire third act left wide open. (Rumors have pointed to an alien presence of some sort beyond the artificially-created Doomsday, while BvS toys reveal a battle-armor-wearing Lex Luthor [Jesse Eisenberg].)
Add to this a number of call-backs to Man of Steel that we already know are there (such as Lois Lane’s [Amy Adams] continued evolution after starting a relationship with Clark Kent or the continued importance of General Zod’s [Michael Shannon] corpse) and the presence of various bits of foreshadowing to future DCEU installments (not the least of which is the cameo appearances of most of the Justice League), and it’s hard to see how this movie could be any more packed.
Pro: It sets up the DC Extended Universe
The inclusion of most, if not all, of the Justice League is more than just for providing another cinematic first: they’re there, of course, for world-building. After her grand introduction here, Wonder Woman will spin off into her own standalone film on June 23 of next year, with the full Justice League finally assembling for their first big outing five months later. And then, of course, there are the other solo adventures, starting with The Flash (March 16, 2018) and ending, at least as of right now, with Green Lantern Corps (June 19, 2020). (Both Man of Steel 2 and the next Batman have both been confirmed but have yet to receive their own official spot on the roster.)
Before all of that, however, there is that little movie known as Suicide Squad, which may not star any of Batman v Superman’s heaping helpings of characters but which is nonetheless connected to it in a number of ways; we already know that Ben Affleck’s Batman is set to make a guest appearance in the film, and rumor has it that more references are being lined up to help shape Suicide Squad into something of a proper follow-up.
Pro: Breaking from the past
Forget all the rest – the single most exciting reason to shell out your hard-earned cash to watch Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has to do with the new interpretations of all these hallowed DC characters.
It’s hard to overstate the importance – and the intrigue – of such a move: after 10 big-screen excursions, for instance, with the Dark Knight already, providing a different take on the character, his backstory, and his supporting cast is a must. While Snyder’s version may prove to be a push too far in one direction or another – Bats has already been wearing the cape and cowl for well over a decade, and Alfred Pennyworth (Jeremy Irons) isn’t the Waynes’ butler but, rather, their bodyguard – it’s still a bold move, and one, furthermore, that extends to a whole litany of other characters: Lex Luthor is a young Steve Jobs wannabe, Aquaman seems to be inspired by the culture of the Pacific Islands, and Doomsday is a man-made “god”-killing machine.
Con: Zack Snyder
Ever since his big debut on the (inter)national stage with 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake, director Zack Snyder has proven to be one of the most divisive filmmakers currently in Hollywood.
His knack for slow-motion-fueled, over-the-top action set-pieces – most notably on display in 2007’s 300, but equally present in his comic book adaptation Watchmen – typically is the first reason given by either side for their strong feelings toward him, but his handling of the Superman character and mythos both in Man of Steel has taken the intensity of emotion swirling about him to a whole new level. Did he destroy the character by making him a murderer and a destruction-porn addict, or did he stay faithful to a wider gamut of comic interpretations than what most movie audiences are accustomed to? The debate, unsurprisingly, rages on to this day, and it looks to only expand into a full-out war with his upcoming depictions of Batman (a sadistic vigilante) and Lex Luthor (Mark Zuckerberg meets Steve Jobs meets all sorts of quirky).
Con: Too much has already been revealed
Oh, controversies – you flock to Batman v Superman like psycho baddies to the Dark Knight.
When the third full trailer debuted last December, it set the online nerd fandoms ablaze – not with expectation but, rather, anger, over revealing too much. After depicting several scenes of Superman and Batman going at each other (nearly) full-throttle, it’s revealed that they must bury the hatchet and work with a newcomer – why, that’s Wonder Woman, of course – to overcome an even bigger threat than each other: Doomsday, who has arrived to apparently finish the job on Metropolis that the Man of Steel started in the previous movie.
Of course, such a narrative outcome can argued to be both predictable and already revealed by the film’s subtitle (Dawn of Justice does kind of imply that the Justice League will be coming together, and the two heavyweights of the team are the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight), but the filmmakers have actually gone one step further and declared that much and more has yet to be even hinted at, let alone “spoiled.” Still, the damage may already be done – the film has definitively tipped its hand regarding its plot, and if it’s a direction that may rub some viewers the wrong way, what’s the point in devoting another 150 minutes to it?
Con: Too much is left out
Even with a two-hour-and-33-minute run time, Zack Snyder has been forced to leave a lot of material on the cutting room floor, including entire (supporting) characters and a bevy of more graphic shots during the film’s various fight sequences. Such a development has led to a new one: the Blu-ray release of the film later this year will not only include an additional half-hour of footage, it’ll also be rated R (which doubles as a play, no doubt, on Deadpool’s surprisingly large R-rated audience).
While a definite boon for home video sales, this could very well prove to undermine the film to a goodly portion of the movie-theater-going audience. Why invest so much time and money to a product that could be construed as being inferior to the definitive director’s cut? This will prove to be an especially true concern if some of the cut characters – such as Jena Malone’s – move on to future DC Extended Universe installments.
There’s also a corollary to consider here: some viewers may object not to the watering down of the material, but in the mentality behind its creation, of transforming the classic DC pantheon into the most extreme and darkened versions imaginable.
Con: Too much is left in
Forget about what’s been taken out of the film – look at what’s still in it! The catching up of Superman, Lois Lane, and the Daily Planet staff; the introduction of Batman, Alfred Pennyworth, Lex Luthor, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg, and the Flash; and, finally, the introduction of new storylines, such as the arrival of Doomsday and whoever (or whatever) the real antagonist is in the movie’s climax. Oh, yeah – and let’s not forget all the obligatory foreshadowing to Suicide Squad, Justice League, and beyond.
That’s a lot to fit into one film – very possibly too much, which would certainly work to Batman v Superman’s detriment. Iron Man 2, after all, was largely lambasted for its forced inclusion of too many plot strands or world-building, ranging from Black Widow’s (Scarlett Johansson) introduction to Captain America’s shield and Thor’s hammer; how much stronger, then, will the fan outcry be over something so exponentially larger? Add to this the fact that the last Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, was already a convoluted narrative mess, stuffed to the gills with so many characters, plot twists, and thematic motifs that it would have worked better as a television miniseries than as a movie.
Con: Breaking from the past
Yes, seeing brand-new (well, at least, on the big screen) renditions of the likes of Batman, Lex Luthor, and Aquaman is enough to be exciting, but given just how profound some of these characters’ reimaginings are, it can set the stage for a very isolating experience for vast swaths of the audience.
And it certainly doesn’t help that most of the changes have been to the militarized extreme; Batman wears battle armor to (try and) knock Superman senseless, while Aquaman can look closer to something out of Braveheart than to a current issue of the comics. Even Alfred has lost his butlerly ways and been rendered a complete man of action, working for Bruce’s parents as their head of security and now helping Batman deploy on the battlefield that is the streets of Gotham.
Lex Luthor, meanwhile, looks to also be taken to an extreme, just one that isn’t martial in nature (or, at least, not completely so; he still has some sort of Kryptonian-esque battle armor that he apparently dons at some point in the film, if the tie-in merchandise is anything to go by): he is now a tech geek instead of a real-estate baron, a behavioral-tic-ridden eccentric instead of a Gene Hackman-esque egomaniac. While it could very well prove to be every bit as revolutionary a take as was Heath Ledger’s Joker, it could just as easily blow up in the movie’s face – and in viewers’, too.
Con: More bleakness
The Dark Knight trilogy had a rather bleak, self-serious tone, one that mostly worked but would also spectacularly backfire at certain key moments (such as Dark Knight Rises’s climax). Man of Steel took this tonal ball and ran with it, rendering the Man of Tomorrow into a hidden, fearful man that is always on the run – and Batman v Superman looks set to pick up exactly where that film left off, extending the darkness to various members of the Justice League.
The prospect of seeing yet more greyed-out material, both literally and figuratively, can be enough to stop a viewer in his tracks. Does every single character need to be a dark, brooding, tragic figure in the vein of Batman? Does every film need to have a somber, ambivalent ending? (Judging by the looks of Suicide Squad, the answer thus far is most resoundingly yes.)
This is more than just a single potential complaint for a solitary film – since Batman v Superman is the birth of the DC Extended Universe, the creative momentum it strums up here will carry forward in all subsequent installments. Does this mean that Justice League, Part I, which Snyder is also helming, will be just as consistent in tenor as Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice?
If so, that’ll severely constrain the shared universe’s voice and appeal.
Have another pro you’d like to add to the list? Disagree with one of our cons? Let the whole world know in the comments.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice opens on March 25th, 2016, followed by Suicide Squad on August 5th, 2016;Wonder Woman on June 23rd, 2017; Justice League Part One on November 17th, 2017; The Flash on March 16th, 2018; Aquaman on July 27th, 2018; Shazam on April 5th, 2019; Justice League Part Two on June 14th, 2019; Cyborgon April 3rd, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps. on June 19th, 2020.