It was the last midnight screening I’d ever attend. When Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice landed in March 2016, I disregarded the negative reviews and went to my local theater to watch it, finishing the film at around 3am and destroying my sleep patterns for the week as a result.
I remember being annoyed by Batman Vs Superman. I walked home thinking I’d wasted my time, and that it was an unsatisfying and overly long DC Comics movie that didn’t pay off the big fight promised by its title.
It’s also a movie made irretrievably bad by that one end-of-the-second-act twist – that Bruce Wayne finds common ground with Superman, who he thought was his enemy, by realizing they both have a mother called ‘Martha’. It’s been widely mocked, but even now, it’s surely a moment most people agree did not land.
Five years later, though, I don’t entirely disregard the film. In fact, I rewatch it every year or so, extracting the visuals or ideas I like from Snyder’s film and genuinely enjoying them, while still shaking my head at the parts that don’t work. Whether it’s the nonsensical use of dream sequences, Lex Luthor pissing in a jar or how it becomes a film about superhero pals fighting a big monster in the last act out of nowhere, there’s a lot to find fault with in Dawn of Justice. But to me it has slightly more merit than it tends to get credit for.
Next month’s Zack Snyder’s Justice League sounds like it’s going to be true sequel to the film. This week, Snyder showed off Jared Leto’s Joker as he appears in the picture, and explained how this newly-filmed sequence fits into the four-hour movie – Joker meets Bruce Wayne as part of an alternate future timeline, where Ben Affleck’s Batman roams the remains of an Earth conquered by DC villain Darkseid.
This connects back to a memorable, confusing scene in Batman Vs Superman known as the ‘Knightmare’, where Bruce sees a world decimated by alien invaders, and a vengeful Superman who wants the Dark Knight dead. This is that scene, if you need a refresher:
I hated this scene in 2016: Batman in a coat with a gun seemed quite daft. But I sort of like it in 2021. What happened to me? Declining standards in the wake of spending an entire year indoors? It’s possible. I think I’m also less subscribed to the idea that Batman should be depicted in one way these days, and the strength of the interpretation is what ultimately matters. And Snyder definitely gave the world a memorable version of Batman.
I think what I like about Snyder’s films is that they always feel like his work, for better or worse. There’s a distinctive tone and a point of view – even if I don’t always agree with the perspective in question. And I think I prefer superhero films that have a real creator’s angle to them, rather than those that feel like they’re designed to tick as many boxes as possible to please an invisible crowd.
This is why I prefer Batman Vs Superman to ‘fun’ DC movies like Shazam! and Wonder Woman 1984, neither of which did anything for me. At least Snyder’s film sticks in the memory. At least he has a stylistic and thematic take on these superheroes, even if it’s vague and muddled when it comes to how themes are presented in his films.
The Knightmare sequence in this film is silly, but entertaining and ambitious. It’s Batman roaming Earth in the post-apocalypse! I’d probably watch a whole film of that if it existed, and I’m quite keen to see how much of what we see in this timeframe makes up the Snyder cut’s running time. Not much, is my guess.
Light vs dark
I feel like peoples’ appetite for darker superhero stories changes depending on the times. When Batman Vs Superman came out, I felt like critics and the audience at large were very done with dreary, downbeat superhero tales – or, at least, they wanted a few jokes to go alongside the misery, which is why Avengers: Infinity War got away with killing off many of its characters.
Batman Vs Superman is unrelentingly dour and angry, for the most part. People get blown up in the Capitol Building by Lex Luthor. In the film’s intro, we see the tragedies that happened from the ground level when Superman fought Zod in Man of Steel. Bruce Wayne’s Robin was already killed off-screen by the Joker, and now he’s somehow an alcoholic, while also being incredibly ripped.
Pretty much everyone is sad in this film, and the occasional wry remark from a very well-cast Jeremy Irons as Alfred doesn’t do anything to take the miserable sting out of the film.
But…again…I quite like that. Wonder Woman 1984 ends with a pretty patronising message that everyone has good in their hearts, a gesture I found a bit out-of-sync with the cultural climate of the past year or so. In Batman Vs Superman, Bruce Wayne feels like he has to essentially kill god for his entire life of crime-fighting to actually matter. In this case, the more dour take emerged triumphant for me.
Watching these films in 2021, I feel like Snyder’s movie is at least trying to say hint at something interesting. It just doesn’t stick the landing. Again, any time I get close to considering the idea that Batman Vs Superman is not a bad film, I remember “Martha”. And then I remember the Doomsday fight, and the melodramatic death of Superman at the end of his second movie. The bizarre choices are all over the place.
It’s a mess. But there’s something there.
A dead end
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a dead end – there won’t be a sequel, and I expect this to feel like a proper trilogy capper to Man of Steel and Batman Vs Superman. A NY Times piece says studios executives at Warner Bros refer to the Snyder cut as a “storytelling cul-de-sac”, which is pretty harsh for a project they presumably want to promote.
Still, I actually can’t wait. I’m excited about hearing the film podcasts I listen to dunk on the film for being bloated and self-indulgent. I’m excited to see the comparison articles between Snyder’s version of the movie and the already-terrible 2017 theatrical release. And quietly, I’m excited to watch all four hours in one sitting and probably enjoy large parts of whatever Snyder’s come up with – glaring flaws and all – then complain about the bits I didn’t like. This is just the reaction I’ve come to expect from Snyder’s films, including those I genuinely enjoy.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League releases on HBO Max in the US on March 18, 2021.