Opinion

How I Changed My Mind About ‘Batman v Superman’

Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill face off in a scene of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice | Warner Bros.

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.

Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill face off in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice | Warner Bros.

Utter Disappointment

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.

Christian Bale appears as Batman in The Dark Knight (2008) | Warner Bros.

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.

Zack Snyder stands in front of the Batmobile in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice | Warner Bros.

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.

#ReleaseTheSnyderCut

John Wick: A Modern Day Greek Tragedy

Keanu Reeves as John Wick has quickly become one of the most iconic action-movie stars | Summit Entertainment

Last “Black Friday” I decided to rectify a huge error I made as a cinephile and watched the John Wick trilogy. Walmart had a pretty good deal for all three movies on Blu-Ray, so I went ahead and bought them. Flash forward to last month when I wanted a break from the cycle of television binging and decided to finally see what all the fuss was about. Turns out that all the films totally lived up to the hype! All three films were nearly perfect action films that actually had great fight choreography, unlike our modern, almost-epileptic, overly cut and edited fight scenes (looking at you, Black Panther). But even more enjoyable to watch was the way John Wick utilizes different aspects of Greek, Roman, and Christian mythology to tell its story. I originally was going to use this editorial to describe the various myths and the way they were portrayed in the John Wick franchise, but I think Movies With Mikey has me covered. Instead, I decided that I would use this time to explore the ways that John experiences grief and loss, and how the story is more in line with a typical Greek tragedy.

Ancient Greek mythological tale of Orpheus rescuing his wife, Eurydice from Hades.

Orpheus: What if?

The Greek Tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice is a tale about a man (Orpheus) who descends into the Underworld to retrieve his wife (Eurydice) from Hades. He is told that he can take her, but only if he does not look back during the long road up to the surface. At the very end of the journey, Orpheus, unable to resist, looks back and thus loses his wife forever.

In the John Wick universe, The Continental rules the crime world, and can be symbolic of the Greek Underworld. In the first film we learn that John has a chance to leave the Underworld (The Continental) to be with his wife Helen (a reference to Helen of Troy), on the condition that he could not return to the life he had known. Unlike Orpheus, John does not look back. He and Helen stay happily married for (presumably) many years. This retelling of the Greek legend doesn’t end in tragedy—or rather, the same kind of tragedy…

Keanu Reeves in a scene of John Wick (2014) | Summit Entertainment

The Boogeyman

 At the start of the first film, Helen dies from an illness and leaves John with an adorable little beagle in order to make the grieving process a little easier to bear. Unfortunately, Ioseph, the son of a notorious Russian mafia boss, has his eye on John’s car and decides that he wants it for himself. After having John refuse to sell it to him, Ioseph and a couple of his cronies break into John’s house, steal his car, and kill his dog. This act sets in motion a chain of events that leads John to taking on the Russian mafia, The Continental, and the all-powerful High Table. He plows down wave after wave of enemies in order to take vengeance on those that wronged him. But the ripples he makes in the Underworld only cause him to be noticed by prying eyes as more and more people seek an audience with him—for good or ill. The legend of ‘Baba Yaga’ (the Boogeyman) grows from a ghost story of the past into a threat of the present. 

John’s legendary status in the Underworld, and his actions in taking back the mantle of ‘Baba Yaga’, ultimately condemns John: he loses not only his dog and car but also his house, and finally his wedding ring. 

Keanu Reeves in a scene of John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) | Lionsgate

Looking Back

 The reason we love John Wick is that it gives us the ultimate injustice—the loss of the ability to grieve. John has almost everything taken from him, and goes on a rampage to seek catharsis; and we, the audience, need the catharsis too. But that feel of relief comes at much too high of a cost. What starts as a simple revenge spirals into complete chaos until John is forced to take on the entire Underworld. Near the end of the third film, Winston, the owner of the Hotel Continental, tells John, (and I’m paraphrasing here because I can’t find the exact quote) “You have a choice: you can either give up now and honor her, or you can become the monster she’d always feared you were.”

In the ultimate twist of irony, John Wick (the modern Orpheus) turned back after all. In seeking revenge against Ioseph, John returned to what he sacrificed in order to be with Helen; and as consequence, lost all physical reminders of her: his car was stolen and destroyed, his dog was killed, his house was blown apart, and even his wedding ring was taken by the Elder of the High Table. Throughout the course of the trilogy, the man known as John Wick slowly died, taken over by ‘Baba Yaga’.

Keanu Reeves and Anjelica Huston in a scene of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum | Lionsgate

The End?

 Ultimately, I predict that the story of John Wick will not end happily. In my opinion, there are only two ways the story will conclude. The more optimistic way to end will have John finally refusing to kill, and lay down his weapons of war. This act of defiance to the High Table would lead to his death, but he would die as John Wick—the man who loved his wife.

 The more tragic end that could possibly occur is where John Wick fully embraces the mantle of Baba Yaga: the Boogeyman of the High Table—he would live, but now fully trapped, in the Underworld.

 But no matter when and how the series ends, there is one thing for certain: the John Wick franchise will go down in cinema history as one of the greatest action franchises of all time. I am super glad I picked up the series on Black Friday, and I can’t wait to see what the future installments have in store!

Top 7 Most Heart-Wrenching PIXAR Moments

Scenes from PIXAR movies through the years.

With Onward’s upcoming release, and the buzz around it sayingthat it will leave you in tears, I rewatched some of the most heart-wrenching Pixar moments and ranked them. The criteria was: how many tears were shed, how long did I cry for, and the intensity of the tightness in my chest. I also took into account how I felt when I watched each moment for the first time, and the lasting effect each has had (There will be SPOILERS if you haven’t seen these movies yet).

Andy, from Tory Story 3, saying goodbye to his old friend, Woody. | PIXAR

7. Toy Story 3 – “Thanks, guys”

MOMENT: Andy pulls up to Bonnie’s house with his boxes marked “College” in his trunk. He grabs a box marked “Attic” from his car and walks over to give Bonnie the box containing his childhood toys. He goes through introducing Bonnie to each toy—from Jessie to the three aliens. Lastly, he pulls out Buzz Lightyear, pointing out his features. Bonnie looks inside the box and sees Woody and says “My cowboy!” to which Andy asks, “What’s he doing in there?” He is apprehensive before finally giving Woody to Bonnie along with the rest of the toys. Andy then gets into one last play session with Bonnie (the new owner) and all of his old toys. Afterwards, Andy gets back in his car to leave, waves goodbye to Woody and Buzz with a final, “Thanks, guys.”

WHY IT’S SO HEART-WRENCHING: This moment falls on the list mainly for nostalgic reasons. I remember being a senior in high school when Toy Story 3 came out, so when Andy gives away his toys and is heading off to college (the next chapter in his life) I could relate. The moment holds up as a heart-wrenching one because it symbolizes growing up but still not growing old by watching Andy getting in one last playtime with his old gang of toys, whom we all grew up with, too.

Sully (voiced by John Goodman) says goodbye to Boo in Monsters Inc. | PIXAR

6. Monsters Inc. – “Kitty has to go”

MOMENT: Mike says “Go, go grow up now,” as Sully walks with Boo into her room. Boo is so excited, giggling and showing Sully all of her toys in her room. Sully tucks Boo in bed and she puts her tiny little hand on his arm and says “Kitty.” In which he replies, “Kitty has to go.” After hugging goodbye, Sully leaves through her closet door. Boo gets out of bed and excitedly hops over to the closet door. She opens it and says “Boo!” expecting Kitty to be there… Just to see her bedroom closet was back to normal.

WHY IT’S SO HEART-WRENCHING: This moment ranked on my list because Sully is so in love with Boo throughout the film, so when he has to say goodbye to her, it’s just so sad. The second Boo puts her tiny hand on his arm and says “Kitty” in that pitiful little kid voice, I’m done for. Additionally, the endless hope of children is represented when she goes to open the closet door and expects to see Sully there and is faced with disappointment. That moment just breaks my heart.

Marlin discovers one survivor after an attack in Finding Nemo. | PIXAR

5. Finding Nemo – “Daddy’s got you”

MOMENT: Marlin and his wife, Coral, are admiring their new home at the edge of the Drop Off. Marlin is so excited and Coral is doubting their choice because there is so much open space. It is then revealed that they’ve got all of their eggs in a tucked-away space below their anemone. Coral says that she likes the name “Nemo” for one of their 400 eggs. They begin laughing and playing when Coral shoots out of the anemone (with Marlin after her) , to reveal a terrifyingly empty reef. Coral is frozen staring at a barracuda who is looking right at her. She dives down to protect their eggs and Marlin attempts to stop her, getting knocked out in the process. The scene cuts to Marlin finding that Coral is gone, along with what appears to be all of their eggs. Marlin is in despair, when he finds one surviving egg. “Daddy’s got you. I promise I will never let anything happen to you, Nemo,” he says as he cradles the egg in his fins. 

WHY IT’S SO HEART-WRENCHING: This moment is so heart-wrenching because Pixar spent the first three minutes of the film making the viewer invest in this adorable clownfish couple who are so excited to be parents. Then they rip that story out from under you in a crushing reveal of the barracuda on the edge of the reef. When Marlin covers his eyes in despair and denial to then see one lone egg, you’re hit with another swift kick to the gut when he holds the egg and names it Nemo, in honor of Coral. It’s also on this list because of the musical score that comes in right before Marlin discovers Nemo. Every time I hear the first notes of Thomas Newman’s “Nemo Egg,” it puts me on the verge of tears.

Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) sings to Mama Coco in Coco. | PIXAR

4. Coco – “Remember me”

MOMENT: Miguel has just discovered the truth about his family and Mama Coco’s papa. He works so hard to get back to her and reveals that if Coco forgets about her papa, Hector, he’ll be gone forever. Miguel shows her the photograph with desperate tears in his eyes. His parents and grandma bust in the room, scolding Miguel for what they think has distressed Mama Coco. Rather than apologizing, he picks up Hector’s guitar and begins to sing “Remember Me.” Coco begins to liven up and sing the song with Miguel. The rest of the family is awestruck watching the two sing together. Coco smiles and tells her family about how her Papa used to sing her that song. The entire family is left with tears in their eyes.

WHY IT’S SO HEART-WRENCHING: When Miguel plays the first three notes of “Remember Me,” I’m already in a mess of tears and snot. This moment is not only on the list because of the song, but also because of how it represents a family bonding over a lost story of their ancestry. It shows so beautifully how important it is to celebrate families differences and never forget the ones who came before us. As the song that follows this scene states, “Our love for each other will live on forever.” 

Carl reminisces about the past and his Ellie in Up. | PIXAR

3. Up – “Paradise Falls”

MOMENT: The moment really begins for me when Carl and Ellie get married and Carl is carrying Ellie into the old house where they first met. Their love story is told through a series of heartwarming snippets of their life together. The moment takes its first turn when a scene of them decorating a nursery is followed by a scene with them in a fertility office where Ellie is crying, holding her face in her hands. It picks back up as they save money for a trip to Paradise Falls. The montage continues through years of Ellie straightening Carl’s tie, both cleaning the house, and going to work together. Carl buys a ticket to South America, takes Ellie to their spot (where they always watch the sky) to surprise her, but Ellie can’t make it and falls on their walk up… Ellie’s now in the hospital and Carl sends her a blue balloon, just as he did when they were kids. The scene cuts to Carl holding the blue balloon in an empty funeral, then on his porch, and finally walking into their home, alone.

WHY IT’S SO HEART-WRENCHING: I feel like this moment does not need an explanation for why it’s so heart-wrenching, but here I’ll explain why it hits hard for me. I remember vividly watching this movie in theaters with my little brother. I was 16 and he was 10 at the time. I remember being so surprised that we just witnessed an entire epic love story told in the course of 11 minutes. We both were crying at the end of this moment and looked at each other with tear-stained cheeks. Our relationship grew stronger that day, being able to share such a special moment together. I think that I aspired to have what Carl and Ellie had: a love story so simple with traditions, like the blue balloon and Grape Soda pin. I feel lucky now, at 26 to say that I am lucky to have that Carl and Ellie type of love, which is why I now cry throughout the entire first 11 minutes of Up, not just the moment when Ellie passes. 

Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is embraced by her mother in Brave. | PIXAR

2. Brave – “I just want you back”

MOMENT: The time is running out for Merida to figure out how to turn her mother from a bear back into a human. The sun is rising on the second day and she thinks she has it figured out when she repairs the tapestry she damaged. She drapes the tapestry over Eleanor’s back in hopes that will change her into a human once again. As the sun rises, it dawns on her that her mother has changed into “full bear” when the human likeness in her eyes fades to black. She begins to sob and says, “You’ve always been there for me. You’ve never given up on me. I just want you back.” While still crying, and clinging to her mother, the sun continues to rise. The scene pulls back to reveal that Eleanor is, once again, human. Merida is overcome with joy and says, “You changed!” To which Eleanor replies, “Oh, darling, we both have.”

WHY IT’S SO HEART-WRENCHING: This moment makes it on the list because I can relate to Merida and her mother’s relationship—one in which there are clear differences in personalities, aspirations, and beliefs. I think a lot of people can relate to not always seeing eye-to-eye with their parents, so when the two characters change their outlook to one of acceptance rather than trying to change the other, it truly does tug at my heartstrings. In rewatching this scene, tears were most definitely shed.

Bing Bong (voiced by Richard Kind) says goodbye in Inside Out. | PIXAR

1. Inside Out – “Take her to the moon for me”

MOMENT: Joy and Bing Bong are stuck down in the memory dump, when Joy realizes they can try to use Bing Bong’s rocket to launch themselves out of there to get back to their mission of helping Riley. They sing Bing Bong’s song in an attempt to launch themselves out of the pit twice, coming up short each time. Bing Bong convinces Joy to try one more time. Before the rocket launches off the ramp, Bing Bong jumps out and stays in the memory dump. Joy makes it out and looks back down at Bing Bong as he is fading away. His last words are, “Take her to the moon for me, okay?” before he disappears, symbolizing being completely forgotten by Riley.

WHY IT’S SO HEART-WRENCHING: The way this entire movie so wonderfully reflects what it is like to grow out of being a child and into a teen is unbelievably well-done. So when this moment occurs three-quarters of the way through the film, I’m left feeling like a preteen all over again: insecure, a little hopeless, and confused. Bing Bong represented Riley’s childlike imagination and the carefree state of what it’s like to be a kid. Therefore, when Bing Bong disappears and is forgotten by Riley, my heart is literally aching. In addition, Bing Bong sacrifices himself, unbeknownst to Joy, so that she can make it out of the memory dump and continue to bring balance back into Riley’s emotions. It’s such a beautiful and deeply sad moment that will bring me to tears just thinking about it.

It was so hard to narrow down a list like this with so many heart-wrenching moments to choose from in Pixar’s vast lineup. I would love to know what your top heart-wrenching moments are in Pixar! Post them in the comments below.

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