[As this is an analysis post, please be aware that this will contain spoilers. If you have not watched the film, and you do not want to know what happens in the story, then please do not continue reading.]
Christopher Nolan spoiled us with his take on Batman. Throughout the Dark Knight trilogy, the public was provided with clear character development, a complex but deep narrative, and a story worth caring about. I think that’s where the problem stems.
As soon as BvS DoJ rolls, you are given a rushed introduction into how Batman came to be. The rest of the film clearly shows an older, bitter and tired Bruce Wayne. Was the start necessary? I felt the young Bruce Wayne was entirely irrelevant to this story. The story is years ahead of that time. Bruce has grown up, took on Gotham, experienced failure and success. Why try merging the two together? Oh yes, I guess his mother’s name does play a part, but I’m highlighting the problem of this film right from the start, and it felt disjointed immediately.
Let’s quickly divert our attention to Captain America: Civil War. Now, before DC fans bash me, I am not trying to provide an example of why Marvel films are currently doing better. I don’t strictly need to, because they are doing better, by any measure. The reason why I want to discuss this movie swiftly is because the element of the storyline is essentially the same; superheroes have saved the world, but at a cost. The pain of saving the world, the suffering, devastation and deaths that have occurred, that have been splashed over the media, have prompted government organisations to question superheroes. Same story, different universes. As an audience of Civil War you have been through a vast journey of character development, exciting plots and solid narrative structure across a variety of different films, and the result is a face-off between Iron Man and Captain America. You go into this movie with preconceived ideas of each character’s motives and what actions they may take. You understand why certain aspects of the plot occur because of previous events. You just understand it.
Back to BvS DoJ. You have some idea of Superman’s motive due to Man of Steel, and you do to a certain extent understand why the world is so annoyed at his actions, given that he did destroy half a city by saving everyone. But everything else to do with the Batman v Superman story just does not appear to add up. I am sure it does make sense, but it is like knowing “1 plus 1 equals 2”, but not knowing what “1 plus 1” is concerning a specific narrative subject. I get this odd feeling that Warner Bros want to catch up quickly, but why? Going from Man of Steel to Dawn of Justice serves no benefit in trying to catch up. If anything it is just slowing them down. At times, when watching BvS DoJ, I genuinely felt like I was watching four different movies. They were trying to develop Batman’s character, which in all fairness to Affleck is a good Batman, but attempting to establish him inside a multi-superhero film gave him no room to put his stamp on the hero. Lex Luther was irritating – are they trying to make him into a new Joker? Wonder Woman was the surprisingly good addition to the film, but they decided to throw her in at odd moments when she should either have a more prominent role or none at all. Her character felt more like a “post-credits” introduction. Superman mostly carries on his story from the previous film, which is probably one of the narrative routes in the movie that worked, because at least it was a continuation. You just do not understand all the elements coming together into one film. You can probably write a list of the various elements and still not find a conclusion to what the film was trying to do.
The main selling point of this story is “Batman v Superman”. There was not much Batman v Superman. The film focused on trying to push all the extra elements onto the audience. It is not until near the end that the rivalry comes into full effect, and even then it becomes short-lived. In fact, despite Wonder Woman barely having any appearances, she had just as much rivalry with Batman due to the data she tried stealing from him. The way they tried structuring the film reminded me a little bit of The Dark Knight, whereby you have many different elements of the storyline progressing in synchronisation all the way to the end of the film. The many different parts grow slowly as the movie moves forward, each one becoming more and more important. Nolan films tend to master this correctly. You get the sense that BvS DoJ is doing the same, but rather than witnessing different elements working side by side, forming a collaborative narrative, you get thousands of jigsaw pieces, and you are not sure which piece fits where. You frustratingly try to piece it all together, but then another element of the story gets thrown in, and you just feel fed up with it. For a two and a half hour film, it seemed like 5 hours by the time I reached the final act. I realised at one point that I had not seen Alfred for at least an hour, and then he turns up, and I nearly applauded. Something needs to change, and it’s not the characters. It’s the people creating the films.
If you have watched Suicide Squad, it has the same problems. You could argue the problems within that movie are worse. There are rumours that J.J Abrams was formally approached for Man of Steel 2 (yes it is evident Superman is not dead) and I think this may be the industry hero that Warner Bros. needs. For the amount spent on these films, we should expect way more. And at this point, they are not even achieving a satisfactory outcome.
What should they do? Well, they should not copy Marvel’s model regarding style, but they should at least focus on developing the characters and the stories independently before making multi-superhero films. It is confusing because that approach was initially taken by doing Man of Steel, but then they threw themselves straight into this, and then Suicide Squad. There is a light at the end of the tunnel to save the series because we will be expecting Man of Steel 2, Wonder Woman and Ben Affleck’s solo Batman film. After all these films (fingers crossed they are successful), we could witness the second Justice League film (estimated to be released in 2019) which hopefully pleases most audiences. We may look back at these days as a moment of madness by Warner Bros. We want a good run of DC films, and the key is optimism, and hope that they get this sorted.
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Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.