Movie Review: Batman Versus Superman

Maybe it’s because I heard almost nothing except how bad the movie was, so my expectations were quite low. Maybe it’s because we paid matinee prices and didn’t buy snacks or drinks. Maybe it’s because I watched with a Batman superfan and had read one tentatively positive review from another superfan whose views I generally trust.

Whatever the reason, I saw Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice this weekend, and was pleasantly surprised. It was far better than I expected.
Perhaps I should also say that I did not grow up on comic books, so I don’t have deep knowledge of the various iterations of these heroes, or a purist streak. I like what I like — and generally, I like my heroes to be heroic, to have virtues we can emulate, and to make those around them better people. That’s why I like the recent movie version of Captain America best of all the current superheroes on the silver screen: he makes the people around him better people.
And in my current job, I find myself watching a fair amount of Father Mike Schmitz and agreeing with him on many things. So I was excited to see his take on the movie.
  • From the outset, Batman is a bully, and Superman is slacker — I like that analysis.
  • Parts of the movie (dream sequences; climactic shift in perspective of the two (anti)heroes, etc.) are incoherent and unnecessary.
  • Lex Luthor is also incoherent. He’s like a brainy, less intimidating Joker — only menacing briefly in the final prison scene and from a distance involving a jar labeled “Grannie’s Peach Tea.” (One of my favorite scenes, but very Joker-y to me.)
  • The movie is dark, angry, tortured, and violent: not a good introduction to heroism for children.
…and yet, it felt almost as though Fr. Mike didn’t watch the end of the movie.
POTENTIAL SPOILERS!
At the end of the movie, after a brutal combat scene between our two heroes, they find some coincidental (and ham-fistedly foreshadowed) common ground. Once they start working together and trusting each other, the characters evolve (albeit very abruptly, leaving me wondering how they went from mortal enemies to self-proclaimed buddies in a matter of minutes).
Here’s the big picture I saw: a middle-aged, bitter Batman whose been fighting criminals and weirdos a long time with very little to show for it. He is jaded to the point that he doesn’t trust anyone except Alfred, and he’s operated outside the law long enough that he regards himself, in his own words, as a criminal. I also saw a young Superman who is still just coming to terms with what he is. His parents didn’t know how to raise an alien, and it shows: he has no idea what to do with himself.

Bully Bats; Slacker Sup.

Toward the end of the movie, however, that changes. When Batman sees the humanity in his alien adversary (and the parallels between them), he begins to mend his ways, to protect and to serve, again. The final Batman scene in the prison drives home that change in attitude. 
Meanwhile, Superman begins to reconnect with his heroic side (albeit still focused on Lois and his mother, more than humanity writ large) and realizes he is ready to die to protect those he loves. Also heroic and virtuous.
These two super men actually have a model of heroism to follow in the final battle, though not a masculine one: Wonder Woman, who has no proverbial dog in this fight and is simply trying to preserve her secret identity. She’s on a plane out of town when she sees the dire straits our two embattled title heroes are in, and rushes to help. She helps because she is needed, willing, and able — and her gameness further sparks the men to change.
So they aren’t ideal models for masculine heroism for most of the movie, but they do change — for the better — and become merciful and self-sacrificial protectors.

It’s not a great movie, but I’ve seen and even enjoyed worse. It’s not a great superhero movie in my book, but I didn’t find it to be any more ridiculous than any of the other superhero blockbusters of recent years. And like my batty second son, I think this laid the foundation for a potentially good Justice League franchise, with a world-weary but wiser Batman and several younger supers coming into their own.

A final note: If you want to hear some top-notch Fr. Mike analysis of superheroes, check out this video on superheroes, Captain America, and the nature of grace. It’s a great 10 minutes of pop culture and Catholicism!

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