I went to see Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice with my family, and I loved it. Yes, you read that right. Despite all the horrible reviews rolling in from all the critics who matter,* I thought this movie was enjoyable and quite well done. Is it a Marvel knockoff? No. Is it filled with witty one-liners and not-so-on-the-slick winks at the audience? Nope. But you know what? I didn't want it to be. And despite what all those movie experts, most of whom I'd wager wouldn't deign to pick up an actual comic, would have you believe, it doesn't have to be.
Unlike Marvel's cinematic universe, the DC world we are introduced to in Dawn of Justice is dark, both visually and thematically. Instead of painting a world with easy delineations between GOOD vs EVIL, DoJ asks some of the harder questions, about power and its ability to corrupt, about the nature and wisdom of vigilante justice, about collateral damage. People, ordinary people, are fickle, messy amalgamations of good and evil in DoJ, and so are the heroes. Metropolis and Gotham are not the cities you remember from Richard Donner and Tim Burton; they are Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy wedded to Zack Snyder's Watchmen: a world that doesn't follow the traditional "rules" of super hero fare. They are not light hearted romps. You are not here to feel good about Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Dawn of Justice asks its audience to think about power and all the ways in which it can corrupt, from the completely batshit crazy Lex Luthor to the damage done by Superman in his effort to do good, to the twisted crusades of an aging, damaged Batman.
Critics seem unable to come to a consensus about just what makes Dawn of Justice so horrible. Some say Affleck is a terrible actor and Cavill is great. Others say Cavill is wooden and unconvincing while Affleck carries the movie. Some insist that Jessie Eisenberg steals the show, while still others claim he ruined it. Here's the truth, though: Ben Affleck does an admirable job of portraying a messy, probably certifiably insane, morally questionable Batman. Henry Cavill has the nerve to not be Christopher Reeve. Jessie Eisenberg chose to interpret the unquestionably "mad" scientist Luthor as...surprise! a complete lunatic with far more money and power than sense.
And then, of course, there's Wonder Woman. As evidenced by the above photograph, to say that I've been a fan for a long time would be something of an understatement. Some of my earliest memories are of being glued to our family's gigantic wooden cabinet color television in the late 1970's, hanging on Lynda Carter's every word. I practiced all her moves in my back yard, lassoing the family cat with an old piece of string and forcing it to tell me the truth about any crimes against rodents it may have committed. As I write this, I'm sitting under a gigantic Wonder Woman poster. I had a lot at stake, emotionally, in seeing Gal Gadot on screen in this role, particularly since I saw the film with my two daughters, and I was not disappointed. This new version of Wonder Woman is more than just the introduction of another member of the Justice League. Diana Prince is not Natasha Romanov, giving the boy Avengers martial arts backup and boosting their morale with emotional pep talks. Wonder Woman is finally OUR superhero. She saves Batman. She holds Doomsday with her lasso. She is a full and integral part of the club, and Gadot pulls her off beautifully, down to her knowing, confident smile in the film's final battle.
Do I have criticisms? Sure. Dawn of Justice, like pretty much everything else in Hollywood, was whitewashed to the point of ridiculousness. Some of the writing was clunky. Sometimes it felt like pieces of the internal logic had been left on the cutting room floor, a move which, if I had to guess, had to do more with runtime than with bad writing, and which hopefully will be restored on the film's Blu-ray release. Otherwise, I think a good number of the critical reviews have more to do with jumping on the high-brow bandwagon than they do with a fair critique of the film.
I think it's quite telling that Dawn of Justice has a 73% score from audiences and a 30% score from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite the New York Times assertion that "the corporations that produce movies like this one, and the ambitious hacks who sign up to make them, have no evident motive beyond their own aggrandizement," movie audiences seem to actually like the film. To the critics who watched it with only the cinematic history of these characters as reference points I'd say, sorry if Dawn of Justice disappointed you. I apologize if you feel like you wasted your time watching this film full of arcane references you didn't get and super heroes who didn't ham it up for the camera. I'm sorry, but really, I'm not.
The truth is, maybe Dawn of Justice wasn't really meant for you.