3 global pop cultural icons finally meet on the big screen.
They just happen to be superheroes too and the ones that launched the genre that is flying higher than ever in the 21st century.
This is a team-up for Hollywood that has been 75 years in the making.
It is also the movie that accelerates the growth of the emerging DC Cinematic Universe.
Let's begin our combined tour of Gotham City and Metropolis in this spoiler-free review.
Superman single-handedly launched the entire superhero genre when he 1st appeared in Action Comics #1 (June 1938). Emulating his success but without any super powers, Batman made his comic book debut only a year later in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939). In Depression-Era America, these two heroes were created to give hope when the country's darkest days seemingly lay ahead. It was inevitable that their mutual publisher, DC Comics, would pair up its two most popular characters (and Robin). It finally happened in World's Best Comics #1 (May 1941). In many of the subsequent stories, the plot would involve Batman somehow getting powers of his own to level the playing field with his Kryptonian best friend.
Wonder Woman debuted not too long afterwards in All Star Comics #1 (December 1941). The Amazon Princess eventually became the most popular female superhero of all time in addition to a feminist icon. She first teamed up with the Man of Steel and Dark Knight in All-Star Comics #36 (August 1947).
Together, these 3 formed the DC Trinity, a prestigious title that is reserved for the power trio even today. After all, they are the only DC characters that have consistently had titles published since their debuts over 75 years ago. Further enhanced by the push that they've received from the movies, TV shows and animation during this period; they became instantly recognizable global pop cultural icons.
The DC Trinity expanded their social circle when they formed the all-star superhero team known as the Justice League with the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter to protect the Earth from threats that no single hero could handle alone in The Brave and the Bold # 28 (November 1960). What made this a big deal was that each of these 7 heroes was popular enough to carry his/her own title at the time. The comic book industry's flagship superhero team was born (yes, Marvel's Avengers did not appear until 3 years later).
For many of us, our first time seeing the Trinity together was in the Super Friends cartoon that ran for 9 seasons over a period of 13 years (1973 to 1986). Of course, none of us asked for sidekicks Wendy, Marvin, the Wonder Twins and Wonder Dog. Even fewer requested Gleek the Space Monkey.
Just 2 years after that show ended, Superman got his own underrated animated series in time for his 50th Anniversary in 1988 despite lasting only one season. Wonder Woman even guest-starred in one fun action-packed episode. What really raised the bar was when Batman and Superman met during a crossover between both of their critically acclaimed 90's animated series. I was hoping that this clip below would be the template for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (Sadly, it wasn't as my review further below will explain).
In 2001, the Justice League got their own animated show while being in full continuity with the aforementioned Batman and Superman 90's toons. The relationships between all of the members were explored over 5 seasons. In several episodes, the Trinity took the spotlight. The writing was stellar enough to keep up with the current Golden Age of Television and the spectacular animation quality still holds up well. It's on Netflix and I highly recommend it. After all, it is what the DC Cinematic Universe should strive to emulate, in my opinion.
Following the success of the show, DC started a series of direct-to-video animated movies that were targeted at older viewers. Most of these have hit the spot for fans like me. Here is a series of clips from Batman-Superman:Apocalypse; a movie that not only spotlights the Trinity and wonderfully showcases their inner chemistry but also introduces Supergirl in an adaptation of her modern origin story (Pre-52 anyways).
Hollywood had tried teaming up Batman and Superman back in 2001. However, the pitch was too grim for my tastes and deviated far from the comics. First of all, Batman's friends were dead including Alfred, Commissioner Gordon and Dick Grayson (aka Robin/Nightwing). Superman and Lois Lane were divorced. Batman tries to return to a normal life by marrying a down-to-earth girl with Superman as his Best Man. Unfortunately, Joker kills the girl and Batman returns to crimefighting in order to obtain his revenge. Superman tries to make sure that he doesn't go too far while also beginning a new romance with Lana Lang in Smallville. Things obviously get out of hand and the heroes are forced to fight. Little do they know that Lex Luthor had been manipulating them the entire time. Director Wolfgang Peterson (Das Boot, Air Force One, The Perfect Storm) was supposed to be in charge. Christian Bale was even considered for the Batman role (a year before Nolan found him) and Josh Harnett was approached for Superman. Anyhow, Will Smith's dystopian sci-fi flick, I Am Legend (another WB film), featured an easter egg for this abandoned project.
Wonder Woman's solo movie had also been in development hell. Joss Whedon even took a stab at the project but nothing happened. She almost got her own NBC show from David E. Kelly (Ally McBeal, The Practice) but the pilot met with extremely negative fan reception. Thankfully, star Adrianne Palicki has moved on to better things as Mockingbird on Marvel's Agents of SHIELD (now she and co-star Nick Blood are getting their own spin-off, Marvel's Most Wanted).
DC found success in Hollywood with Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy. Unfortunately, Nolan was against the concept of a shared universe where Batman could meet up with other members of the Justice League. Therefore, the Justice League:Mortal movie from director George Miller (Mad Max) that was in development had to be a stand-alone project in a self-contained universe. Several controversial casting decisions were made for this team-up flick such as getting DJ Cotrona as Superman and Jay Baruchel as villain Maxwell Lord. However, the removal of a major tax break and the possibility of a Screen Actors Guild strike in 2008 killed the project before filming could begin in Australia.
Superman did not have much luck at the box office with Bryan Singer's Superman Returns. 7 years later when he was coincidentally celebrating his 75th Anniversary, he got another shot with the Man of Steel; which was a modest hit despite critics giving it a hard time for the darker take on the character compared to Christopher Reeve's more earnest portrayal. With the Dark Knight Trilogy concluded, DC decided to set Superman's movie in a shared universe that would slowly pave the way for Justice League. It was first rumored that Superman would get a stand-alone sequel but the 2013 San Diego Comic Con announced that Batman would be joining him. Director Zack Snyder claims it had been the plan to include Batman all along but skeptics believed that this decision was a result of the Man of Steel not meeting WB's performance expectations.
Snyder did not hide from the very start that the movie would take a lot of inspiration from the critically acclaimed 1986 graphic novel, Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. Along with Alan Moore's Watchmen(previously adapted to a movie by Snyder), the book attracted a lot of mainstream attention during the 80's and proved that comics could be for grown-ups. In this story, Batman has long retired while Gotham City has descended into a state of nightmarish anarchy with crime spiraling out of control. Bureaucratic politicians and apathetic media figures are too weak to fight for the innocent and powerless. When the Dark Knights returns to take back his city despite being in his 50's (and thus, way past his prime), he is perceived as an outlaw himself by the authorities. He not only confronts his old enemies but also Superman who is now a pawn of the US government as the Cold War intensifies. Spoiler Alert: Batman does beat the Man of Steel in the last chapter by rigging the battlefield in his favor and also with the help of an old ally, Oliver Queen (aka Green Arrow) who was armed with a uniquely engineered kryptonite arrow. Although many fans have long clamored for an eventual movie adaptation of this story, some were puzzled as to how Snyder would draw from it to show the beginning of Superman and Batman's alliance (as opposed to the end in the original story).
Of course, things got interesting when Ben Affleck was cast as Batman. To say that the internet exploded afterwards would be an understatement. Many questioned the move due to his association with 2003's Daredevil, a widely-panned superhero flick (In my opinion, the direction and the script should take the blame instead of Affleck's performance). He also appeared in a series of duds while dating Jennifer Lopez, most notoriously Gigli. Even though I wasn't exactly enthusiastic initially, I became much more positive after seeing his impressive acting in 2014's Gone Girl.
Things further heated up when Gal Gadot was cast as Wonder Woman. Although she did not get as much hate as Affleck did, the online reaction was still relatively mean. She was criticized for being too thin and slender. Worst of all, a vocal minority was taking issue with the size of her breasts (seriously, deplorable actions like this are what give some fanboys bad press). I actually welcomed Gal. Although she wasn't given much to do in the Fast & The Furious movies, she displayed a lot of charisma despite her brief screen time ("Never send a man to do a woman's job"). Even though some artists have depicted Wonder Woman as being muscular, her physical strength derives from magic. Therefore, it's unnecessary for her to resemble a female bodybuilder. Even Lynda Carter who played the character in the 70's on TV was lean. To prove the naysayers wrong, Gadot (not only a former beauty queen and model but also a former physical fitness instructor in the Israeli military) put on an impressive amount of muscle for the role.
It was later announced on the very same day that Jesse Eisenberg would be Lex Luthor and Jeremy Irons, Alfred. The latter news was welcomed but the former casting decision only brought further scrutiny to the movie. Eisenberg did almost win an Oscar for playing Mark Zuckerberg in the Social Network and so, I rationalized that Snyder wanted to pit a Millennial tech billionaire against the Man of Steel in order to make their historical rivalry resonate more with today's generation. I was personally hoping that they would cast Bryan Cranston, Joaquin Phoenix, Jon Hamm or even Tom Hanks (he had recently expressed interest in playing a supervillain role). Any of those choices could play the cold and calculating deep-voiced Luthor in their sleep. However, I tried my best to be open-minded about Snyder's choice. After all, many had doubted Heath Ledger before he won an Oscar for playing the Joker in the Dark Knight.
The announcement of the title, Batman V Superman:Dawn of Justice, confirmed rumors that the movie would be a Justice League prequel. Casting announcements for the Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) further solidified this case. Flash's casting was the most controversial of the three since it happened only a few days after the character's hit TV show debuted. Grant Gustin has won a lot of praise and fan support for his performance as The Fastest Man Alive. Momoa was more easily accepted even though he admits that he looks nothing like the classic blonde version of Atlantis's king. Concerns about the movie being overcrowded persisted until its release. Another issue was the fact that the movie was delayed by 1 year. Originally, it was meant to come out in July 2015 but was eventually pushed to Easter weekend in March 2016. Insiders say it had to do with Oscar-winning screenwriter Argo Chris Terrio being brought in to polish the submitted script of outgoing writer, David Goyer. Even though the movie's first full-length trailer was well-received, the 2nd trailer suffered an online backlash for revealing too much. Luckily, the Batman-focused 3rd trailer re-ignited interest.
Time to get the party started in the DC Universe.
A. Spicy/Medium/Mild/Bland: Medium
B. Good Enough for Repeat Viewing?: Hmmm....Maybe
C. Explain Yourself, Blogger:
I had high hopes for this movie. Despite 2016 being an unprecedented year for superhero movies and potential blockbusters, this is the one that I had been anticipating the most. I wanted to love this and proclaim it as one of the best films of all time. I merely liked it. Does it deserve the vicious beating that it earned on Rotten Tomatoes? No, it clearly does not. Despite enjoying it overall, I was also disappointed more than I wanted to be. I'll start with the bad news first.
Director Zack Snyder deserves most of the blame for what went wrong. The editing is very choppy, especially during the first half of the movie. The scene transitions can be off-putting. Plot-wise, there is way too much going on. Multiple unrelated story arcs from the comics are awkwardly combined. The scenes drawn from Dark Knight Returns lack the power that they did in the original graphic novel. To Snyder's credit, he remains brilliant at bringing to life specific panels from the comics that give fans goosebumps. Unfortunately, those moments don't work as well in context here like they do in the original stories that they are derived from. Despite the plot being dense, it does not work on a fundamental level. Character motivations don't seem justified. Also, Snyder has taken credit after the movie's release for controversial plot-related decisions that affect how future DC movies will play out. As someone who greatly liked Man of Steel, I have defended him in the past. I cannot do so here. Instead of addressing the legitimate criticisms that many had against Man of Steel, he stubbornly stays the course. I hate to say this but he has failed DC fans and needs to go. It is now confirmed that his skills are in visuals, special effects and action. He does not understand the basics of storytelling. How he butchers a movie with great individual performances and dialogue is an ironic achievement. Batman and Superman don't even have that many scenes together and their interactions are supposed to form the premise of the movie. I would've also like to have seen the inter-city rivalry explored between gothic crime-filled Gotham and shiny Metropolis. There is just so much wasted potential. I am fearful that he is going to be directing Justice League, which begins filming in a few weeks. I would be relieved if Affleck gets promoted as the director for that project (or the very least, co-director). If Affleck only wants to act, WB should pay the big bucks to get a more crowd-pleasing director to replace Snyder like JJ Abrams or Brad Bird. For all of his hard work though in setting up the DC Cinematic Universe, I would be ok with Snyder being retained in a more passive role such as one of the producers. My opinion of the movie might change for the better after seeing the 3-hour R-Rated cut of the movie on Blu-ray. That begs another question though: In the first place, should there even be an R-rated cut of Batman and Superman's first team-up on the big screen?! Shouldn't kids get to enjoy such a cinematic milestone for two of the most popular superheroes on the planet?!
The other major weakness in the movie is Jesse Eisenberg. He plays the part that he is given well. The issue is that he does not resemble Lex Luthor in any shape or form. Instead of being a cold and calculating scientific genius who is also a corporate mastermind, he is a bizarre fusion of the Joker and Riddler with a touch of Max Landis. Lex is supposed to be Superman's traditional arch-nemesis. His reason for wanting to kill Superman is not fleshed out. The two only have scenes together towards the end. His plan does not make any sense whatsoever. That all being said, Eisenberg is blameless since he gives a good performance with the material that he is given. After all, Snyder recently revealed that Eisenberg was originally approached to play Jimmy Olsen, which would've been a good match. The director then thought that he would be a better fit for Lex than someone like Bryan Cranston, which is mind-boggling. It was a risk that did NOT pay off.
Henry Cavill as Superman was solid. He sincerely gives it his best shot in every way possible. Unfortunately, Snyder does not give him much to work with even though the plot revolves around the character's presence and is supposed to explore how the world views him. There is a key scene where he should have been given a lot of dialogue but was not. There were so many missed opportunities like this that could have given the audience a window into his psyche and his two-way relationship with the human race. Critics were tough on Man of Steel for the movie's edgier take on Superman compared to Christopher Reeve's more sunny portrayal. I did not mind as much since we only got to see him during the 1st day of his job. I thought that he would evolve into the Superman that we know in the future. As Batman V Superman proves, that is a futile belief as long as Zack Snyder is in control. He does not understand the character. Superman is a boy-scout type of character. He is not meant to be relatable as much as be an ideal for humanity to strive toward. He is proof that absolute power does NOT have to corrupt absolutely; a concept that is a sharp retort against cynicism in any era (especially during the 21st century). Even Reeve's take came out during the aftermath of Vietnam and Watergate. There was also the Energy Crisis, America arguably being on the losing side of the Cold War at the time and the Iran Hostage Crisis waiting to happen. Such a far from idyllic period embraced Superman's cheerful optimism. There is no reason as to why something similar cannot happen during the post-9/11 era. Zach Snyder disagrees and that is unfortunate. Cavill is a very charming and charismatic actor (just watch last year's Man from UNCLE) with a real-life likable personality (just watch any interview with him). He has the ability to pull off a more traditional take on the character for a modern audience but Snyder has been restraining him so far. I hate to compare but Marvel has done a much better job with Chris Evans's Captain America. Cap in the recent movies still retains his straightforward optimistic persona. It is how he deals with the harsh outside world that makes him compelling to watch. I would also add Melissa Benoist's Supergirl (despite the inconsistent writing on her show) and Grant Gustin's Flash as other examples that currently get it right. Out of all of the characters, the plot hurts Superman the most, even more than Lex. I'm hoping that another director gives Cavill the Superman movie that he deserves.
Now we can focus on the good news. Really, really good news. Ben Affleck nails his role as Batman and elevates the movie! He owns the character of paranoid Bruce Wayne right from the very start and is awesome to watch. This is the most comic book accurate Batman that we've seen on film yet. He is the Batman that I hoped Christian Bale's version of the character would eventually become but wasn't allowed to because of director Christopher Nolan's insistence on hyper-realism. The fight scenes are unreal. It is a real joy to watch Affleck clear a room full of thugs while the camera captures all of the action. It really does feel like the critically-acclaimed Arkham video games brought to life. There are a few questionable actions taken that seem very out of character for Batman but I blame Snyder for that since he owned up to it. Worse actions were taken by Michael Keaton's version and even Christian Bale's portrayal was not exactly an innocent in this department either (it's just that Nolan didn't have the camera focus on these actions when they might have occurred). Anyhow, this Batman is clearly broken and angry after fighting crime in Gotham City for over a decade with debatable results. He has lost one Robin (whether it's Dick Grayson or Jason Todd is not specified). Thankfully, he still has Jeremy Irons's Alfred in his corner to give him some sanity. Irons should also be praised for his performance as a more active version of the character. Even though his screentime is limited, his dry humor is a frequent scene stealer. It is also a joy to finally see Batman and Alfred assemble gadgets and vehicles in the Bat Cave without being dependent on Lucius Fox. Bruce Wayne is supposed to be one of the most intelligent people in the world. On that note, it is somewhat surprising how easily he is manipulated by Lex but that is a fault of the plot (another count against Snyder). I really want to see more of Affleck's Batman. It was recently revealed that he submitted an outline for a solo Bat-flick. Hopefully, WB will greenlight that project after the dismal response this movie has received from critics.
The other highlight of the movie is Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman. Her solo movie next year cannot arrive soon enough after seeing this! She pulls off the grace and sass of a visiting exotic socialite with ease. She is outwardly regal (as she should be as an Amazon princess) but there is always a hint of an alluring mystery underneath. In costume as Wonder Woman, she is something else. She is a warrior who loves the adrenaline rush and doesn't hold back while dishing it out. The audience cheered when she made her grand entrance. Her chemistry with Affleck is also off the charts in the scenes that they share. I'm just hoping that her positive reception from this movie alone will guarantee that her solo flick will be a hit. A female superhero movie franchise is long overdue and there is no better way to start than with the most famous one of all!
Amy Adams does a nice job as Lois Lane. There is one part towards the end where her actions make no sense but I'll count that as another Snyder-ism. She has more to do as a reporter in this movie than in Man of Steel and her chemistry with Cavill feels right. Other notable mentions include Diane Lane as Martha Kent, Laurence Fishburne as Perry White and Holly Hunter as Senator Finch. All three stand out in a good way in their individual scenes. Tao Okamoto as Lex's assistant, Mercy Graves, doesn't have much to do compared to the comics and 90's Superman animated series. Callan Mulvey (as mercenary Anatoli Knyazev), Scoot McNairy (as disabled former Wayne Enterprises employee, Wallace Keefe) and Rebecca Buller (reprising her role as Daily Planet intern, Jenny Jurwich) are adequate in their tiny parts. Again, the disjointed plot sadly lets the entire talented cast down.
A major highlight is the rousing score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL. It gives the movie the epic feel that it deserves, especially during the well-choreographed action scenes that build up to the intense final battle that brings all of the heroes together. My favorite track is Wonder Woman's blood-pumping theme, "Is She With You?" As in any Snyder movie, the visuals are a feast for the eyes. The mythic iconography of the DC Trinity is done justice by cinematographer Larry Fong. This film deserves to be watched in IMAX and that is no exagerration. The 2nd half of the movie is full of spectacular action and is what ultimately made me enjoy the movie (again, in no small part due to the contributions of both Affleck and Gadot!). I am still excited for the DC Cinematic Universe since both Suicide Squad(Affleck's Batman will cameo) and Wonder Woman have talented directors in David Ayers and Patty Jenkins respectively.
D. Curry Rating : 3.5 out of 5 Chili Peppers
Feel free to share any comments or thoughts below.
Also, these entertaining clips might hit the spot even if the movie did not.
SPOILER ALERT: Watch the winning clip below after you have seen the movie. You're welcome.