Yesterday’s post was hard. Part of me thinks I still haven’t got it right, but I’ve been piddling with it ever since the original essay was published, so the version you can now read is about the best I can do. The main difficulty is that I didn’t know I was going to write it–it just sort of happened. Which is my way of saying that I was never in full control of my material.
There’s something else that every reviewer–amateur like me or professional–has to deal with, and that is we’re reviewing works in progress. Batman vs. Superman is just the beginning of a series of movies, the same way that the Marvel Comics movies have been part of a connected series leading to Captain America: Civil War in a few weeks. Final judgment should be withheld until we see where either series is going.
The earliest reviews of Batman vs. Superman were all amateur, and they were all gushing. The later reviews were done by professionals and they are more critical. The usually-reliable staff of Wired is profoundly split on the movie: some think it a good show; others a joyless mess. I believe their considered opinion leans to the “joyless” side, which is disappointing. They hyped the various trailers for the show for months, but didn’t even bother to post a front-page review: one has to hunt for it under the “Culture” link.
Respectfully, I think the Wired staff expected too much out of it, and I think they wrongly judge what they did see. It’s true that Wonder Woman is a bright spot in the film, as Angela Watercutter observes, but I stand by my own comment that Diana Prince and Wonder Woman do not even need to be there. She is there to set up the Justice League movies to come.
As for the film being “joyless,” I would answer that it is not supposed to be joyful. This is the deepest hue of the world of the Dark Knight that we’ve ever seen, a world that has been in existence since the 1980s when the DC comic books, through Frank Miller, turned completely away from the much lighter tone of the comics of the 1960s and the 1970s. The “joy” in reading such comics, or in watching such movies, is in contemplating just how dark the artists in both media are willing to go. Can you make a Batman who is just as vicious as the criminals he’s trying to catch? My former co-worker, Brooke, would argue that you can, and you must, if you are to remain true to the reimagined and reinvigorated comic books. Any mystery fan will tell you that the contemplation of evil is fun, as is the contemplation of good being forced to walk that very fine line between righteousness and rebellion. I think Brooke would be pleased with Batman vs. Superman in ways that the Christopher Nolan movies did not please her.
The comics changed because the world changed. We have to remember that, in a lot of places, life isn’t joyful. Even those tasked with keeping the civil order are strained to the uttermost in doing so. Police routinely wonder if it’s worth it to deal with the threats they do; they routinely pay with their lives for the risks they take. Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is a mere movie, but it reflects a bit of that darker world from which we avert our eyes. In that movie, we find depictions of the cynicism of the law-abiding, the self-righteousness of those with more power than the common people, the inexplicable evil of those who just want to watch the world burn, and even the calm confidence of those who know that the fight against evil is just something we have to do. Is it “fun” to watch all these people live out their lives on the screen? Yes, it is. It’s fun in the same way that reading The Big Sleep is fun, or The Dark Knight Returns. It’s fun in the same way that watching Breaking Bad was fun, or The Wire was fun, or The Walking Dead is fun now. The fun is in discovering the level of truth or honesty that the artists can attain in depicting their worlds–the extent to which they can make us say, as we watch, “Yes, that’s the way these people should behave.” Gotham and Metropolis are grim places, but they are now meant to be that way, and the film got it right. I take pleasure in that, even if darkness is not the natural metaphor by which I describe the world I live in.