The path of the DC cinematic universe has been an interesting one. While Marvel has been going strong since Iron Man debuted in 2008, DC is only now beginning to kick things off in the form of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. You can write a thesis paper on the different strategies both studios have employed, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about right now … at least, not exactly. Batman v Superman releases this week, and with it comes an expected level of excitement.
Two of the most iconic heroes in comic book history are going toe-to-toe on-screen for the first time. Beating Captain America: Civil War to the punch by a month and a half, DC finally has the stage to itself (which incidentally, isn’t easy when the Marvel machine pumps out two new movies every year like clockwork). What’s unfortunate is that even with that stage, it will still end up where it’s been the last decade: just barely missing the mark, and well short of Marvel in terms of overall quality.
Batman v Superman‘s release date is fortunate in that it’s before both Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse. What works against it though is that Deadpool has already had time to sink into the public consciousness. It’s been over a month now since the Ryan Reynolds-led affair completely dismantled the superhero machine, showed us its innards, and lit them aflame to the tune of a $731 million box office take. And if Deadpool is a gleeful deconstruction of the comic book movie genre, Batman v Superman is the prime example of the very movie that Deadpool so expertly parodied.
All Deadpool comparisons aside, Batman v Superman‘s problems aren’t simply rooted in the context of its release. Despite a hefty runtime of over two-and-a-half hours, the movie is surprisingly short on anything in the way of emotional investment. We’re meeting Bruce Wayne well into the latter years of his vigilante career, a Wonder Woman who’s been around since World War I, and a manic, dot-com tech bro iteration of Lex Luthor played by Jesse Eisenberg. With Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent hanging around as the only character we’re familiar with (thanks, Man of Steel), Zack Snyder spends little time trying to make the titular showdown feel like anything more than a forced (and brief) gladiator match.
The Batman we see is one that has as few qualms with straight-up murder as any we’ve ever seen. He’s jaded, angry, already-established in Gotham, and has been doing the “beating up criminals thing” for over two decades by the time we meet him. And while we all know the classic story behind the cowl, it’s difficult to understand why he’d take it upon himself to kill Superman sans provocation. On Superman’s side, his reasoning seems to boil down to “Batman is seriously messed up in the head and I should probably stop him,” despite having far bigger fish to fry every step of the way. The end result is a climactic battle that feels less like a necessary inevitability, and more like something happening because the title of the movie said so.
All told, there were still high points scattered throughout. Zack Snyder is nothing if not skilled when it comes to a stylistic approach, and the IMAX-shot fight fight scene between our two heroes is a straight-up spectacle. Ben Affleck for his part plays off the world-weary Bruce Wayne perfectly, growling his way through a top-tier Batman performance. But the real victory of the movie comes in the introduction of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, whose appearance in the final fight is a hurricane of fresh air in an otherwise grim affair. If Batman v Superman accomplished one thing, it’s that it made us really want that standalone Wonder Woman movie.
That’s also the glaring issue of Dawn of Justice, unfortunately: At over 150 minutes, it still just felt like a long, protracted setup for bigger and better things. Part of what sets the Marvel Cinematic Universe apart is that its marquee films stand up as their own singular properties, while still giving us an emotional investment in each of their heroes. We genuinely care about Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, we feel for both their motivations, and their individual movies can be watched and enjoyed outside the context of the greater MCU. The bottom line is that if you’re going to insist on blowing past the two-and-a-half hour mark, you’d best make sure your movie stands on its own two legs.
Ultimately, Batman v Superman is almost guaranteed to make a whole pile of money. The box office appeal of both heroes runs deep, and as the first real installment in the DC Cinematic Universe, people are at the very least curious about an MCU alternative. Because Marvel has almost a decade’s worth of movies to its name though, DC will inextricably be measured up against it every step of the way. That in turn shines a spotlight on even the smallest of discrepancies, of which there are many. At the end of day, this is the DC movie-verse we’re being given, and now it’s up to DC to build on this initial effort.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice releases nationwide on Friday, March 25.
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