By Rahul Seneviratne (Colombo, Sri Lanka)
When the film Batman v Superman was first announced, we all rejoiced. It had been the dream of many a comic book fan to see DC’s most iconic superheroes have it out on the big screen. The closest we had come to it before this movie was the animated film based on the Frank Millar Dark Knight Returns books. The movie has clearly taken several cues from the source material – including the suit that Bruce Wayne dons to fight the Kryptonian, and the iconic moment when a projectile is caught mid-flight by Superman, only to detonate and force him to inhale deadly vaporised Kryptonite. The film also borrows from another book – The Death of Superman series – in a slightly different way than you’d expect.
The film stays true to the comics as much as it can, but there are very obvious changes made to the lore, which is something that I welcome. The New 52 comic series’ story arcs are far more grounded and mature than the previous lore – and the film tries to follow that path as well. The entire movie is, in essence, an exploration of power and how it corrupts, and poses the question of whether it is possible to be all-powerful and completely good at the same time. The all-powerful godlike figure is portrayed by Superman, while the mortal vigilante figure is embodied by Batman. The final confrontation is essentially a battle between these two forces – ending with Batman triumphing over the god, and both realising that they have become complete opposites of what they stood for before the altercation. The god has lost all power, and is beaten by a mere man. The man embodying the mortality has become everything he wanted to see die with Superman.
The action truly stands out; even better than Man of Steel if that’s possible. The sounds and the sight of the twelve-foot tall grey abomination that is Doomsday is truly chilling, and there seems to be no limit to the carnage.
Ben Affleck’s performance was stunning; he delivered a grizzled, more mature Bruce Wayne and a matching take-no-crap Batman in spades. In fact, when the new Batman was introduced, the audience in the theatre was hushed, and expectant. The intensity and suspense was built up so perfectly in that scene, and when Batman is finally glimpsed – looking just like a frame out of a comic book – the reaction was insane. The suit is brilliant; the god-awful croaky growls of Bale were replaced by a smooth, deep, chilling voice-changer. There was considerable backlash from fans about the fact that Batman is very, very different to the comic book version – part of the thrill of Batman was his conflicted past and his issues with violence. In the Millar comic books, he still uses rubber bullets, even in his weird bat-tank, but here, Batman is shooting people left, right and centre, not to mention stabbing, blowing up and running over them too.
The fact that he sears his logo into the necks of criminals was not too much of a stretch though; we all know that Batman uses pain to get what he wants from criminals. The whole thing is explained away well enough by Jeremy Irons’ spot-on Alfred Pennyworth: “…it is that feeling of powerlessness (stemming from the existence of a Superman) that turns good men cruel.” The level of attention to detail was a breath of fresh air. For example, the suit that Jason Todd died in is shown, adding a layer of reality to an already violent and dark Batman. Superman is portrayed as a man struggling to do the right thing amidst all the pressure that is placed on him, reaching a breaking point when Luthor uses his mother as a catalyst for the fight.
That said, Sad Affleck would not exist without reason, and the main one would have to be all the weird dream sequences that Bruce Wayne has. As a matter of fact the entire movie sort of opens with one just like it, and they feature techno-demons, his heart being ripped out, and a prophetic, armoured, time-travelling, foreshadowing Flash, who provides absolutely no insight into what is happening whatsoever. Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as Lex Luthor was disappointing; it almost seemed as though he forgot which villain he was playing and started channeling the Joker. Wonder Woman’s character could have been developed a bit more. There are also several glaring plot holes. The first half of the movie was intriguing, with Bruce and Clarke each harbouring suspicions about who the other is, but never addressing them. By the second half, everyone suddenly knows who the other is.
There is also that tiny sticking point in the fight between Batman and Superman. Batman hates Superman passionately – that is clear from the outset, and when he has finally brought the god to its knees, the little coincidence that their mothers share the same name saves the day. I thought that was beautiful. The reason it left such an impression on the Bat was that it showed him Superman in a new light – a boy, just like him, with a mother like his, whom he was about to lose at the hands of a madman. Bruce’s parents’ deaths left a deep wound in his psyche, and the same thing was about to happen to Superman. People argue that Martha Kent should not have been enough to wash away all the bitter angst that has been building up, and they’re right. It wasn’t. The angst wasn’t washed away at all; as a matter of fact, just then, a common threat was introduced in the form of Doomsday, forcing the two heroes together and laying the foundation of the Justice League.
In conclusion: the movie was thoroughly enjoyable. Batman was abso-ffleck-ing perfect and Superman was more human than he’d ever been before. What started out as a dark, gritty political expression eventually gave way to mindless superhero mayhem, and we are all the better for it.