It was suppose to be DC Comics answer to Marvel’s Avengers. But so far, the reviews of ‘Batman v Superman : Dawn Of Justice’ are more entertaining than the film. And if you have landed up from some other planet, you might have missed this video which is depressing and funny at the same time.
So what really happened? What does it mean for DC Comics’ next? Is there a way out? Have patience and read Anubhav Dasgupta‘s rant.
(SPOILER AHEAD. It’s fucking full of spoiler. Wait. You still haven’t seen it? Lucky you!)
On Thursday night, I sat down in a movie theater and watched Superman reach into Batman’s chest and rip out his heart. A child sitting in my row decided it was finally time to leave. I should have followed her out, but I stay put like the masochist that I am.
Batman v Superman is the nadir of DC comics. Not only is it a badly made film that made me question whether professionals — some of them Oscar winners — were behind it, but it is an utterly reprehensible, indefensible piece of garbage that ruins the two most iconic characters in history to satiate the appetites of immature adults who constantly seek validation for their consumption of stories starring characters that were made for children.
Let’s call these immature adults “Batbros” because there’s only so many times I can type “immature adults” before I’m sick of the term.
Batman Begins was a great film that rejuvenated the Batman franchise, salvaging it from the campy wrecks of Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin. Christopher Nolan infused the character with a sense of pathos that made his trauma palpable every second of the film. He set it in a world very much like ours but also infused it with comic-book elements like fear toxins and a shadow cult of ninjas. Critics loved it, audiences dug it, fans were happy. It made enough money for Warner Bros to green light a sequel. Like Begins, its sequel The Dark Knight was a dance of reality and myth. Ostensibly a reaction to the American war on terror, Joker representing the chaotic boogeyman, something that Batman, standing in for Americans, simply could not understand. It was a massive, massive success and it still remains one of the greatest films ever made. But a collateral damage caused by it was the emergence of the Batbro. They identified with Batman’s seething libertarianism, his fascistic insistence on surveillance as an end to chaos and terror. They identified with an aspect of the character that was very much post-9/11 American White Male. What they thought they fell in love with was the darkness of the plot, considering it novel while being ignorant of the fact that comic books and comic book movies have touched upon dark themes before. I strongly believe that they do not recognise what makes The Dark Knight special and mis-attribute it to the grim mood of the story.
In the same year The Dark Knight came out, rival comic book publisher, Marvel’s movie arm put out Iron Man. Starring Robert Downey Jr as a genius pro-war one-percenter reformed into a superhero, it was talking about some of the same things as TDK but the approach was completely different. While TDK considered the war on terror a grim necessity, Iron Man criticised it while subtly commenting on the military-industrial complex and how corporations and militarism go hand in hand in a capitalist economy. The titular Iron Man, himself, is a much brighter character, who uses his wit and arrogance to mask his despair while Batman channels it into a life-force.
Spurred by the success of Iron Man, Marvel put out movies that existed in the same universe, done in the same style. Their continual successes culminated in Avengers, a movie that united Marvel’s heroes, which made ungodly amounts of money in the box office and millions more in merchandise sales.
DC floundered along, their one shot at a shared universe, Green Lantern, failing miserably. Batbros found solace in the Batman video games produced by Rocksteady, whose atmosphere vindicated their demand for immature darkness. The stages of the game looked grimy, the characters — save for Joker — wore constipated scowls and dressed in greasy coats. There was an unsubtle misogyny about how the game series treated its few women characters, animating their movements to make them look like they were continually cat-walking. What they got perfectly right were the mechanics of the game, the story, penned by DC Animated series alumni Paul Dini, and the voice-acting, which reunited DC Animated series alums Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill and Tara Strong.
DC comics’ only mainstream successes were the Nolan Batman films and the Batman video games so, when it was time to reboot the DC universe and rake in Avengers money, they decided to push the tone of both these sources on to their movie universe.
It’s been a fucking disaster.
Man of Steel was positioned to revitalise the Superman franchise for a generation and a fanbase of Batbros that thinks altruism is bullshit. Zack Snyder’s film was a character assassination of the highest order, corrupting the socialist bent of the original Superman to make way for an ill-advised objectivist interpretation. The parallels to the story of Moses (Superman’s creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were Jewish immigrants in ’30s America) were ignored to force Christian symbolism on the character. Snyder misconstrued the power fantasy of Superman to be a physical desire rather than an ideological one. This Superman isn’t great in heart or spirit, but in physical strength. He spends the movie moping around, so crushed by the weight of his responsibility that he does nothing about it. In the third act of Man of Steel, a noisy, grey muddle that makes Michael Bay’s Transformers look coherent, Superman allows wanton destruction as he faces off against a mighty alien being. At the end of it, he manages to catch the alien in a chokehold and snap his neck.
Batbros lapped it up. It was a mainstream vindication of the maturity of a comic book character. Surely, there could be nothing immature about dodging an oil tanker and letting it destroy a building when you have all the power in the world to stop it, or destroying a man’s livelihood because he was mean to you inside a bar.
Strong visuals and a fantastic score by Hans Zimmer elevated it from trashiness into mediocrity and it made some money and sanctimonious too-cool-for-school audiences finally found Superman to be cool after he had snapped some guy’s neck.
Never mind the children as long as the adults are entertained.
The same darkness followed through in the comic books. After the DC line was rebooted, Superman traded in his red trunks, spit curl and charm for armour and an unpleasant scowl. He was, finally, cool.
Batman v Superman doubled down on this interpretation, creating a Superman who possesses all the maturity and angst of a spurned teenager. The movie antagonises him, pities him, hates him and the one time he’s about to explain himself, it blows everything up. Literally. Here’s a Superman who seems like he hesitates to save anyone who isn’t his mother or his girlfriend. Here’s a Superman who forgets all his powers to allow a contrived plot to unfold. Batbros were further vindicated by a Batman who scared the shit out of criminals, who straight-up murdered people with military grade armaments mounted on his vehicles.
Zack Snyder has hid behind the defence that he’s followed the comics to a t. I doubt he’s read a comicbook. I strongly suspect that he flipped through a few pages, looked at the art, skipped dialogue balloons when his ADD took over and thought it was the greatest thing ever. BvS plays like a visual greatest hits of comicbooks. There’s images from The Dark Knight Returns, Crisis on Infinite Earths and The Death and Return of Superman replicated with great accuracy. But here’s the thing. Comic books don’t work solely on imagery alone. The titular fight between Batman and Superman is lifted from The Dark Knight Returns, but it lacks any of the intelligence, any of the motivation behind the fight. The philosophical battle between the ideologies of fascism and libertarianism have been replaced by Bollywood movie-level scheming. But Superman and Batman fight and the screen’s so dark we can barely make out anything so it’s mature, r…right?
Superman dies, just like he did in The Death and Return of Superman, but I felt nothing. The comic book isn’t the best but when Supes bites the bullet, we feel something. His sacrifice in the comic is earned. But in BvS? Fuck no. There’s many ways Superman didn’t have to die, and we’ve spent so much time annoyed by his moping and selfishness that it doesn’t affect us much at all.
But, hey, Superman dies. What a ballsy move, right? Fuck no. Everybody knows he’s going to come back to life. The moment has no point, no impact, no nothing. It’s cheap, superficial imagery and grim to a pornographic level.
But hey, Superman dies so this is suddenly an adult mature film, unlike the Marvel movies where everything’s sunny and you can actually make out what the fuck is happening. Batbros finally had an adult superhero franchise to rally behind. Finally, they felt, we don’t look like kids anymore. Never mind that Batman and Superman stop fighting because their mothers have the same name, killing people is exceptionally mature and adult amirite?
Never mind the kid who is bored by the pointless pontification, blinded by the few splotches of colour that emerge from a dark, drab palette, terrified by the characters they were supposed to love. Batbros will hi-five each other all the way to the fucking bank.
Kids, meanwhile, will be reluctant to buy action figures from the DC universe, page through DC comics while Marvel will capture their imagination completely.
Marvel figures are routinely cleaned up at Toy aisles while DC’s figures enter the bargain bin because nobody cares about their characters.
Except for Batman, barely any DC comics sell routinely as much as their Marvel counterparts, despite the quality.
All this thanks to DC bending over to cater to a tiny subset of fans who want to prove that their superheroes are fit for adult consumption.
Alan Moore, the writer of Watchmen, Batman : The Killing Joke, Swamp Thing and other comic book classics, infamously referred to comic book fans as subhuman. He cited the crowds of adults lining up to watch Avengers. He wasn’t wrong in his statement but he was woefully wrong in his observation.
The Marvel films, while routine, are ostensibly for children, but have enough pathos and intelligence to satisfy adult viewers. They’re stories for children that work for adults.
The DC films, however, drip in darkness. They’re for ignorant people who think that anything meant for children demands no seriousness or maturity. There’s no joy in any of their characters or any of their exploits. Their films are grim to the point of hilarity. DC films are a child’s view of what an adult film is, they are the kind of films that Vincent Adultman from Bojack Horseman would insist upon watching. DC film’s are selfish appropriations of children’s characters by childish adults.
When Alan Moore called comic book fans sub-humans, this is what he was going on about. Not adults who dress up as Thor in line to Avengers 2 but adults who celebrate the image of Superman ripping someone’s heart out while the kids cower, confused.
Thing is, Warner Bros seems to hate these characters. There is a marked cynicism behind the DC universe driven by a begrudging need to make money off IPs they disdain. They heap their own ugliness, their cynical hollywood fear and nihilism into characters that were built to give hope. Superman needed to be brought down from his pedestal of ideological superiority to our ugly levels of angst and paranoia. By reducing the symbolism and ripe mythological gravitas to petty wannabe philosophy, they have greatly diluted the power inherent in the characters. A page in Grant Morrison and Frank Quitley’s All-Star Superman has famously saved people from committing suicides. I simply don’t see films from the DC universe coming close to doing that. They’re content with being ugly extensions of an ugly world. They’re not the mirrors to our society as they hope to be, but the cesspools of our collective subconscious. Saving cats is passé, destroying whole cities is in. Fuck the kids, our audience are ugly man-children.
Batbros are celebrating the latest ravaging of the Superman icon but I feel they’ll turn round. The film has been universally panned by critics, its glaring errors in basic filmmaking revealing the true ugliness inherent in the plot. People are catching on to their shit. However, if it makes any money, it’ll be a vindication of the Batbros’ stance. Warner Bros will double down on the darkness, ruining and ravaging every bit of innocence inherent in the characters until there’s nothing.
If you’re a DC fan, and remember the joy the comics or Bruce Timm’s animated series gave you, and you like the current crop of DC films, I strongly urge you to think about it. Our characters are far more important than your selfish enjoyment and loyalism. We’ve got to save them. We’ve got to make sure Warner Bros get rid of their pointless nihilism. Otherwise we’ll be looking at a bunch of movies about joyless freaks that encourage no emotion, no thought, no joy except for infantile vindication.
Batbros are celebrating the latest exercise in cynical destruction, but they’ll be proven wrong, when, years from now, their children will ignore their Superman toys for a miniature Iron Man.
Batman v Superman is Darkseid’s anti-life, pushing us into cynical acceptance of our grim mentality. We have to resist. We have to be better. This is more important than two rival companies. This is a battle for hope and for the future. And fans are their own biggest enemies.
(Anubhav tries to make good stuff. Besides cinema, he also likes comic books and cats)