Batman v Superman and the State of the DCEU (Spoiler Free Review)

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Last week saw the release of one of this year’s most anticipated films, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Along with Deadpool, this megafilm has proven that the “summer blockbuster” season now permeates the entire calendar and cements the premiere status of comic book movies in the box office arms race. Neither Deadpool nor BvS hail from the industry’s most successful franchise, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, yet they’ve both set record paces at the box office and sit near the top of the year’s list of highest grossing films (Deadpool sits at #1 with $746.4 million and BvS is currently listed at #4 with $49 million and stands to move up the list quickly) [1, 2].

When talking about Batman v Superman and the larger DC Extended Universe (DCEU), comparisons to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and more specifically the Avengers films feels obvious. While I liked the first Avengers (reviewed HERE by FB/BS writer Lauren and me) I didn’t care much for its sequel (briefly reviewed HERE by me). Somewhere along the way the MCU reached critical mass and the amount of characters and subplots became overwhelming and uninteresting. Unlike many people, I don’t think that problem is inevitable. I’m hopeful that Captain America: Civil War will balance its cast and plot in a more digestible way given that the overarching theme of internal conflict will mold all the character arcs and relationships into a coherent and easier to follow format. Sadly Avengers: Age of Ultron faced the unenviable task of supporting a large number of films within its plot. Just one year later BvS faces that same dilemma with increased stakes.

imageWhile the MCU has built a framework involving individual titles leading up to crossover events (ie Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America and Iron Man 2 all being released over the course of years before the crossover film Avengers), the DCEU flipped that strategy by releasing BvS which features multiple characters yet to be featured in their solo movie (at least in this new DCEU). Affleck’s Batman and Gadot’s Wonder Woman debuted here in meaningful roles while Aquaman and the Flash make appearances before all four go on to star in their own titles [3]. In some ways this strategy seems obvious. Anchoring these solo titles to a major release like BvS boosts the upcoming smaller films. It also allows DC to play catch-up with Marvel and avoids the need to wait several years before a megablockbuster (remember, back when Marvel was rolling out their Phase One with the aforementioned titles, they were playing a new game. Prior to these films there weren’t connected cinematic universes in comic books like we’re seeing today. Yes, there were plenty of franchises but they didn’t crossover and few had more than a trio of films).

On paper this strategy seems like a no-brainer yet the reality shows a much dangerous gamble. Propping the hopes of a half dozen films scheduled over the next several years on the success of just one film is a risky play. That places an overwhelming amount of pressure on BvS to not only succeed but completely blow our minds. I don’t think BvS succeeded to the level that brimstone spewing media forecasters demanded but it does succeed in standing on its own. For the most part.

Save a few moments (mostly towards the end of the runtime), BvS does not feel overly weighed down by its commitments to other films. Such over-commitment was the damning flaw of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Most of the motivations of the characters involved were explored with enough detail to allow their actions to feel genuine. And the cast slides into their roles surprisingly well. Personally I loved Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne. Between Affleck, Jeremy Irons portrayal of Alfred, and the new designs of the Bat Cave and his gadgets, you could readily feel that this is an older Batman grizzled by years of slogging in the Gotham streets. I may have even liked Affleck’s Batman more than Christian Bale’s, though in some ways Affleck gets to play the villain role here while Bale was always supplanted by his villains by his second film.

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Admittedly I’m not nearly as invested in Superman or Wonder Woman but I found Henry Cavill and Gal Gadot’s performances enjoyable as well. More so for Gadot who gives her character a veil of mystery in casual glances meted out by a condensed screen time (plus she steals the show in action scenes). Cavill himself defaults into a similar role as Christian Bale’s Batman. BvS is Cavill’s second film as Superman.

Audiences became familiar with Cavill and Bale in Man of Steel and Batman Begins respectively. In the sequels BvS and The Dark Knight both stars play second fiddle to a more interesting new character. Drawing any real conclusions from that trend may be a bit unfair given that Heath Ledger’s Joker was an all-time great performance and would have stolen the spotlight from any lead character as would the premiere of a big name actor like Ben Affleck starring as one of the most popular characters the world over.

Maybe I’m too invested in comic book films to notice the flaws in BvS and the rest of the genre. Or rather, I’m too invested to dwell on the obvious flaws. Were there insane and questionable moments in BvS? Absolutely. Does it evoke the true nature of the characters it portrays? Not always. Can it be too dark for its own good? Definitely. Yet through all the doom, gloom, and concerning murders, Batman v Superman felt somehow refreshing. It treads between the witty banter of Robert Downey Jr. and the MCU and the insufferable gloominess of Fox’s newest Fantastic Four adaptation (mourned HERE in my review). Director Zack Snyder relishes in dramatic imagery and here that imagery is used in a more mature and subdued fashion than we’ve seen and that perfectly fits the film. Honestly I am far more interested in seeing this film a second time than I am in seeing most MCU films again, certainly more than Avengers: Age of Ultron. Somehow Batman v Superman has restored my wavering faith in the future of the DCEU. So bring on another wave of comic book movies. I won’t tire of them.

Thanks for reading!

Damien from Flashback/Backslide

PS: We’re nearing the end of our DC Comics Movie Tournament. Head HERE to vote in the latest round.

Foot Notes:
[1] And I don’t just mean the most successful comic book movie franchise. I mean the most successful film franchise ever, grossing more than James Bond, Harry Potter, the Tolkien films, etc. They’ve grossed more than the Indiana Jones, Transformers, and Hunger Games films combined.

[2] Box Office stats culled from Box Office Mojo.

[3] I’m not entirely sure if a Batman solo film has been confirmed yet but there are plenty of rumors online about the film.

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4 thoughts on “Batman v Superman and the State of the DCEU (Spoiler Free Review)

  1. I expected to hate this movie a lot. It turns out, I only hated it a little. Is that a victory?

    I was lukewarm on Age of Ultron, but rewatching it after BVS, it felt like a different and much better movie. By comparison, Avengers 2 was tightly scripted and highly entertaining. I started wondering why I didn’t like it more the first time around. Zack Snyder has a way of putting other movies in a better light, I guess.

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    • The two movies definitely aimed for a different feeling. I was very excited for AOU and was disappointed by the results. I expected something terrible from BvS and was pleasantly surprised. Overall I’d say AOU was better but my experience of it was worse. But I’ve (somehow) seen AOU four or five times by now and BvS only once so that factors in as well.

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  2. Pingback: Late to the Party: Deadpool & Zootopia | Flashback/Backslide

  3. Pingback: Captain America: Civil War (Spoiler-Free Review) | Flashback/Backslide

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