We here at Vulture have been a little harsh toward last weekend’s blowout superhero slugfest Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. We’ve called it overstuffed, confusing, and, in some ways, inferior to CBS’s Supergirl. But in the interest of fairness, we’ve decided to dig into things we liked about the movie. We mean all of these sincerely! Spoilers ahead.
Those friendly bats!
In a movie so grimly muted that the colors worn by Superman and Wonder Woman don’t even look like colors, we appreciated the very early flight of fancy in which a swarm of bats lift young Bruce Wayne out of their cave. It’s kind of a silly conceit, but the way Bruce floats up as the bats whirl around him was actually kind of … cute and magical? It got me hyped that the rest of the movie might be lighter than it first appeared. (Spoiler: It was not.)
The ground-level view of comic-book destruction
Consider BvS’s first scene a do-over of the controversial ending of Man of Steel, which saw Superman battle General Zod through downtown Metropolis, giving nary a shit about the thousands of tourists and office workers who likely died as a result. Now, Superman’s indifference toward civilian casualties has become a feature, not a bug: As Bruce Wayne stumbles through the burning streets of Metropolis in a daze, the helplessness of regular people in the face of superhumans has never felt more real. It was the most explicit, raw depiction of that idea that we’ve yet seen in a superhero flick — and naturally that idea was summarily abandoned by the end of the movie, when the battle against Doomsday leveled the city without a single anguished look from Batman (or anyone).
Jeremy Irons as Alfred
I’m not the only viewer to note this, but boy, Jeremy Irons was a total delight as Bruce Wayne’s long-suffering butler. Gone was Michael Caine’s teary-eyed father figure; in his place was an acerbic tech expert and weary co-conspirator. In fact, his and Bruce’s relationship almost felt like that of an old married couple: They had made a very private life together, based on shared secrets and goals, and only they could truly understand each other. And, like any old married couple, they were delightfully snippy with each other, with Alfred using “I slaved for hours over a hot stove” rhetoric to cutely convey his genuine affection for Bruce.
A tired Batman
Zack Snyder has said time and time again that he was influenced by Frank Miller’s 1986 masterwork The Dark Knight Returns, in which an aging Batman comes out of retirement for one last ride. This movie had a cool twist on that notion: What if we show an old Batman, but one who never retired? We learn he’s been in the caped-crusading game for 20 years, and he’s completely exhausted by it. Part of the essence of the Batman archetype is that he never gives up, and rarely have we seen such a potent portrayal of what that would mean for the Dark Knight’s mental stamina. Affleck showed us fatigue tempered by obsession.
Diane Lane as Martha Kent, Superman’s mama
As film critic Bilge Ebiri pointed out, even though Robert Downey, Jr. and Diane Lane are only a few months apart in age, RDJ gets to play a sexy superhero while Lane is stuck playing the dowdy mother of one. That said, she really digs into what little screen time she has. She’s kind, charismatic, and somehow both soothing and sorrowful. Her little scene with Superman during the Man of Steel’s period of doubt about his usefulness to humanity was tender and memorable. Unfortunately, her most memorable moment comes when we see Polaroids of her bound and gagged with WITCH written on her forehead, like the subject of some kind of gonzo porno film. It’s a pretty disgusting choice, though one that echoes a moment from the famous Alan Moore comic-book story Batman: The Killing Joke. Nonetheless, Lane is not to be blamed for her treatment and remains a gift to the world.
Holly Hunter’s silly dialogue
God bless Holly Hunter, who faces down Lex Luthor and tells him to “take a bucket of cat piss and call it Granny’s peach tea.” It’s such a florid, out-of-nowhere line, and in a movie this dour you don’t question little bolts of insanity like that: You’re simply glad they exist.
Vests, vests, vests
Forget wearing a rubber super suit: In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, everyone who was anyone was wearing a vest! Bruce, Lois, Alfred, and Perry all wear so many variations on this profesh-casual look that we started to wonder if the costume designer had raided Matthew Morrison’s old Glee wardrobe.
That time Batman punched Superman a bunch of times and Superman just stood there looking smug
Why were Batman and Superman fighting? It’s hard to say, which is a pretty big problem when that’s ostensibly the movie’s whole reason for existing. But the actual fight itself wasn’t half bad, with Superman struggling to adjust to the fact that he wasn’t always the strongest combatant, and Batman looking so pleased with himself whenever one of his little gadgets worked. And that beat when Superman shook off the kryptonite dust, getting less and less hurt by each of Batman’s punches until he was just staring at him with that stupid smart-ass grin on his face? Delightful. Sometimes, violence can be cartoonish in a good way.
There is not a single facet of human experience that Zack Snyder could not make impossibly somber and ponderous. It stands to reason, then, that the man is really great at shooting funerals, where his knack for loading scenes with weighty iconography actually feels earned. With the help of Simon and Garfunkel (no one’s saying he’s subtle), Snyder gave the right gravity to the comedian’s funeral in Watchmen, and his skillful cross-cutting between the two funerals at the end of Batman v Superman — one for the symbol, one for the man — lent such an air of majesty and loss to the film that it barely mattered we all knew it would be undone a few minutes later. The funeral still could have used exactly one fewer slow-motion shot of shells cascading to the ground, though.
The impending arrival of Darkseid
Critics have been justifiably upset at the ridiculous amount of foreshadowing in Batman v Superman. But if you’re a comics geek, it’s hard not to experience a little frisson of delight over the hints that we’re about to see the first big-screen incarnation of Darkseid. He’s a longtime staple of the DC Comics universe, created in 1970 by one of the medium’s greatest minds, writer-artist Jack Kirby. In his best depictions, he’s operatic, cosmic, and awe-inspiring, so it’s okay to be cautiously (very cautiously) optimistic that we might delight in his eventual appearance in Justice League Part One.
The drums that popped up on the soundtrack whenever Gal Gadot appeared.
Good to see that Arrested Development’s music supervisor is still working.