This weekend, the long-awaited Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice premiered, making oodles of money and breaking numerous domestic box office records. It was widely panned by critics as overstuffed, boring, and needlessly melodramatic. At the same time, a number of my friends who are longtime fans of DC Comics enthused about it online, acknowledging some minor issues while overall praising its worthiness.
For once in my life, I understand the core dilemma of casual superhero movie fans: whether or not to see a movie based on the critics’ or the diehard fans’ recommendations. To be fair, not many superhero movies receive such truly terrible reviews as Batman v Superman, but often comic book films are not beloved by professional critics.
I’m not naturally a DC fan, and I was very lukewarm about seeing Batman v Superman because of how much I disliked Man of Steel, the 2013 Superman movie starring an incredibly wooden Henry Cavill. I know that the superhumanly beautiful Cavill can be quite charming—I’ve seen last summer’s spy flick The Man from U.N.C.L.E.—but his performance as Clark Kent was just plain dull. Directed by Zac Snyder, who is famed for his overwrought and effects-laden style, Man of Steel was needlessly complicated and more preoccupied with being dark and gritty than being actually enjoyable. I was also turned off by the casual destruction of Metropolis in that film. The ruination of a fictional city in Man of Steel bothered me far more than the damage caused to my hometown, New York City, in The Avengers. Maybe it’s because The Avengers felt like a comic book, and Man of Steel felt like a lesson that wasn’t quite sure of its own moral.
So I wasn’t exactly enthused to see Batman v Superman, until the first trailer was released. Teasing snappy dialogue and the introduction of Wonder Woman, the trailer made the movie seem like it would be, well, fun. I figured that I wouldn’t buy tickets to see the movie on its opening day, but I’d spend the £7 to see it in theaters sooner or later.
That was before the reviews for Batman v Superman were released. I was expecting a negative review from The New York Times—I’m not certain they like anything that isn’t indie or depressing (or depressingly indie)—but every site I checked had a terrible reaction. Even reviewers I trust to be fair with superhero movies had something bad to say. Of course, I’m sure DC Entertainment cares far less about acclaim than about the money it makes, and Batman v Superman has already made quite a lot. Furthermore, it does have pretty good word of mouth from the diehard fans. So who does the average viewer trust: the people who are paid to be negative, or the people who are blinded to a film’s faults?
I know that DC adaptations can be excellent; The Flash on the CW is probably the best superhero show on television (by “television” I’m discounting Netflix). But The Flash is so fabulous because it’s hopeful, exciting, and just plain fun. I’m not saying that a superhero adaptation needs to be fun to be worthy— I’m just saying that it helps. Underneath the grimness of Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed Batman series, there was a glimmer of humor and comic book extravagance. Captain America: The Winter Soldier and especially Guardians of the Galaxy, which are probably the two best comic book adaptations of the past two years, are augmented by the fact that they’re really enjoyable. Making a film gritty doesn’t automatically make it good, a lesson that I learned from Man of Steel. So is Batman v Superman, which is partially based on the famously dark comic book of the 1980s, The Dark Knight Returns, able to achieve that measure of seriousness? Or is it as overwrought as the reviews suggest?
I obviously don’t know, because I haven’t seen the movie yet. I probably will see the movie, just because I really like movies. But while I don’t necessarily trust critics over fans, I will say this: I’m not going to pay £7 for a movie that no one who is unattached to DC seems to like.