Today marks the four-year anniversary of one of the most debated and controversial comic book films ever made—Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS). Even four years later you needn’t go further than the screen of your phone to see how widely discussed this movie is among fans and detractors alike. And “discuss” might be an inaccurate description of the types of conversations happening on social media platforms and other chat forums alike. Fans of Batman v Superman show a passion and loyalty to the film and its director, Zack Snyder, that is only matched by the fervor of Star Wars fans. Detractors and critics of Batman v Superman find it difficult to understand the logic of this fandom, and pick out easy targets to demoralize those that enjoy it. Reminiscent of party politics that dominate our county, chances of having a respectful, non-combative discussion of BvS continue to prove to be slim. I’d like to change that narrative. If this article is able to do anything at all, I hope it fosters people’s willingness to listen and have their minds changed. Two people on opposite sides of an argument cannot both be right, and neither rarely are. Truth is often found in the middle—in the divide. You must be willing to meet in the middle in order to discover that truth.
I walked out of the packed theater and into the lobby of the Century 16 theater in Salt Lake City just having seen the newly released Batman v Superman on March 25, 2016. I waited for my brother and some other friends as we all congregated outside to recap our experience of seeing this monumental movie for the very first time. Much like today, it was a rainy evening, and the smell of wet roads permeated the inside of the theater. It’s as if the rain from Gotham City carried over into the real-world, and kept that somber mood lasting even when the movie had already ended. It’s hard to remember the exact words shared among our group regarding our initial experience of seeing BvS, but the overwhelming feeling I had was total and utter disappointment. Almost a sickening feeling—a feeling of disbelief or denial that what you saw was actually real. I’ve only ever experienced that feeling one other time after seeing a movie for the first time (The Last Jedi left me in despair, but that’s another conversation for another day). As I walked out of the theater with my brother, we looked at each other and knew with a certainty that our feelings about the movie were mutual. Most of the car ride home was spent trying to make sense of what we just had seen. How could the same studio that produced The Dark Knight (TDK) trilogy be the same studio that produced Batman v Superman? My mind was spinning.
To add some context, let’s back it up a couple of decades. Like many children of the 80s, I grew up a passionate fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, NES (Nintendo), Back to the Future, Superman, and Batman. Some of my earliest memories of Halloween featured me, dressed up in my Superman costume: velcro red cape, and cotton-stuffed sleeves to improve the muscular tone of my four-year-old arms (I still need cotton stuffed shirts to enhance my muscular physique). Christopher Reeve was my Superman. John Williams’ theme was THE one and only Superman theme. I watched those VHS tapes regularly, and made sure that my mom gave me the definitive Superman styled hair with the curl. My dad took me to see Tim Burton’s Batman (1989)—the first movie I actually remember seeing in theaters. I wasn’t just a Superman fan anymore: Michael Keaton’s Batman was now my Batman. I had made a place in my heart for these two Superheroes. These were my superheroes. But perhaps unlike many closet nerds of the 80s and 90s, I never got into comic books. Even though I was fanatically obsessed with the Last Son of Krypton and the Dark Knight of Gotham, my exposure to these iconic characters was based primarily on the movies, and both DC animated series. My nerdiness and love for these characters waned somewhat through me teenage years, as the rise of the nerds and nerd culture had not yet swept through our society— that is, until June of 2005.
Christopher Nolan Changed the Game
Arguably the greatest comic book movies (CBM) ever made, the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy is well-regarded and esteemed by fans and critics alike. Nolan gave audiences everywhere a reason to believe that comic book movies aren’t as far-fetched or unrealistic as we had all been made to believe—a precedence set by every other comic book film ever made before. Nolan’s Batman was grounded, dark, authentic, and just felt REAL. Christian Bale as Batman introduced a more nuanced portrayal of the Caped-Crusader. You identified with Bruce Wayne, and almost sympathized with his character in that you didn’t envy him for being Batman. There was a real toll and cost to donning the cowl, and these movies showed audiences everywhere that being a superhero comes at a price: it’s not all sunshine and roses, as many comic book movies before had led us to believe. The Dark Knight trilogy was not the first CBM, but Nolan’s trilogy changed the game forever. The comic book movie genre was to be taken seriously now. Dark and gritty was now very much in fashion. Campy was out. Realism is what moved this genre forward.
Man of Steel debuted in 2013, and under the supervising eye of Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder took the wheel and launched both DC and Warner Bros. (WB) on a new course. Man of Steel continues to age well, and every time I go back and revisit that movie, there are new things I learn and appreciate more and more. Man of Steel gave me confidence heading into the sequel. It gave me confidence in Zack Snyder and his vision for more DC movies to come. However, I felt some apprehension with WB introducing a new Batman in the middle of Superman’s own story. When Batman v Superman was announced, my initial reaction was surprise; it felt as though we had skipped a movie in between Man of Steel and BvS. Even though Batman had already graced the silver screen in eight solo films, this was a new DC universe with new stories and a new vision. Batman and other characters needed time to be reintroduced to the world. Come to find out, Snyder had made the case to introduce more characters in solo movies before BvS, only for his ideas to be shut down by execs at Warner Bros. In a quote from Heroic Hollywood, industry insider, Neil Daly confirmed these conversations:
Daly claims that Snyder hadn’t wanted to rush straight into Justice League after Man of Steel. He thought there should have been solo films for each of the heroes that were introduced in Batman v Superman, but Warner Bros. spurred on by the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, wanted to accelerate things. Snyder, according to Daly had a six-film plan, and wouldn’t have directed all of these solo films. Rather he would have let other directors flesh out the characters in sync with his vision, while he worked on finishing the main arc of the DCEU, which would have consisted of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Justice League, Man of Steel 2, Justice League 2, and Justice League 3.DC Insider Reveals Zack Snyder Wanted Solo Movies Before ‘Justice League’. By Cole Albinder, Jan. 19, 2019
Without the context of a new Batman movie, the audience was jumping into a story that felt like we opened a book and started reading from page 100. What ensued after the release of Batman v Superman was only an inevitability. We looked for context in the most recent parts of our memory, and all we found there was Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan.
Open to Being Wrong
So here I am, driving home with my brother just having seen Batman v Superman, and the dominant part of our conversation was how different this movie was from Christopher Nolan’s iconic trilogy. We discussed how different Ben Affleck’s Batman was to Christian Bale’s. We ended up talking more about Nolan’s Batman movies and how much we wished this new one was more in line with Nolan’s. And for the better part of a year, this was my stance: Zack Snyder’s Batman is not as good as Christopher Nolan’s.
This was my impression of a film that I saw once in theaters and didn’t revist for almost an entire year. That is, until I met some friends who challenged my opinion on BvS (here’s looking at you, Ry, Formal and Mikey). Friends who hold the Nolan trilogy in such high regard, and yet were able to distinguish between that trilogy and this new iteration of Batman, and still enjoy it. It was confusing to me how these new friends could see and experience the same quality of TDK Trilogy and still find value in Zack Snyder’s new movie. It honestly did not make sense to me. Some number of conversations later I was determined to give Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice another try. But not the theatrical cut. Not the cut that WB interfered with, but the cut that Zack Snyder had intended the world to see. An additional 31 minutes of footage not shown in theaters, known as the “Ultimate Edition.” I bought my Blu-ray and popped in the disc, and began to experience a movie I had written off completely in a whole new light. Going into the “Ultimate Edition” with an open mind, I began to notice things I never did in theaters: the powerful, haunting score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, the emotional and poetic opening scene of the Wayne’s tragic murder, how far Bruce Wayne had fallen, and how true Alfred’s words rung. But more than anything, I discovered my new-found appreciation for Batman v Superman. More so, my new appreciation for Zack Snyder and his vision was found in the bonus features of the Blu-ray. Within these bonus features I discovered how much Zack Snyder genuinely loves DC Comics and these iconic characters, and how much he cherished this opportunity to bring them to life on the big screen. Anyone who thinks that Zack doesn’t understand the true nature of Superman and Batman, go watch the special features of Man of Steel and BvS and then tell me you haven’t changed your mind. And if that’s not enough for you, take some time and read the incredible work put together by this Twitter user in comparing Zack Snyder’s DC movies to the actual DC comics.
Over these last few years as more behind-the-scenes information spills out regarding the tumultuous relationship between Zack Snyder and Warner Bros., and Snyder’s unceremonious departure from the DCEU, the more appreciation I have for Snyder’s vision and the story he was trying to tell. Like a table with only three legs, Snyder was trying to create something wholly unique and distinct from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but without the real support and backing from the studio that seemed to have never been fully behind him in the first place. Snyder is often criticized for his storytelling ability (or lack thereof), or for his use of violence and mayhem, but one thing about Snyder that is undeniable is his keen eye for aesthetic and cinematography. Snyder is one of the most gifted visual artists in the business and his movies speak for themselves. Warner Bros. incessant meddling in Snyder’s DCEU, and their fears of falling behind Marvel Studios in the race for Superhero movie supremacy, cost us fans what could have been some of the most epic Batman and Superman stories ever told. I am grateful though, that we did get the highly ambitious and controversial, Batman v Superman, a movie that has challenged the comic book movie industry, and continues to spark debate even four years later. And I will forever be grateful for friends who were good enough to challenge my opinion, which opened the way for me to change my mind.