“Batman vs. Superman” is Criminally Underrated

It’s one of the classic debates in comic book circles: if Batman and Superman got into a fight, who would walk away?

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Copyright belongs to DC Comics and Warner Bros.

A lot is being said about this new movie, and I won’t spoil the outcome, but the critics and “comic book authorities” are certainly losing. That’s because for reasons I cannot understand, they are hating on one of the greatest, most thrilling, best-balanced comic book movies in recent memory.
It’s a long movie, and requires an investment of time and attention. Come to think of it, maybe that’s enough reason for it to not “click” with the Twitter generation. (I doubt even the Lord of the Rings movies would be allowed to run for three hours to tell their own stories, if they were being made today) But the payoff and literally Earth-shattering developments are well worth it. The consequences of the almost-as-underrated Man of Steel are intelligently dealt with, and feed into this one’s storyline naturally. It plays its numerous elements like a rip-roaring symphony, to an effect that reminds us all what the word “epic” actually means.
Both Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill) get the space they need to tell their stories, plus the villains and secondary characters get plenty of time to shine, so I don’t get why people are saying the movie and plot are underdeveloped. Frankly, it’s an absolute miracle this movie gets so much right, considering the fact that it crams in enough plot for three films. In addition to the two title characters, there is Wonder Woman (an undeniably awesome Gal Gadot), Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg, providing the scariest and most deliciously unhinged take on Luthor since Kevin Spacey), Doomsday, and several others beside. If there was anything that didn’t quite work, it was the extra attention given to all the setup for the Justice League to come together. But that setup is still tantalizing and just plain cool, and I say that as someone who’s never read a Justice League comic.
There was always something fishy about the overreaction against Ben Affleck. Sure enough, he makes an entirely believable and human Bruce Wayne, a bitter man with all the trust burned out of him by two decades of fighting “freaks dressed like clowns,” who would be exactly the sort of man to assume the worst in Kal-El/Superman and take a stand against him. He is arguably one of the best incarnations of Batman ever put on screen.
For those who have groused about Superman not being the perfect Boy Scout of the Christopher Reeves movies: remember in Superman II when he gives up his responsibility of saving lives and defending Earth so he can sleep with Lois Lane? Not exactly the spotless paragon everyone talks about. Cavill makes perfect sense as a Superman who struggles with doubt, but is still trying to be an authentic hero in a world that has all but given up on morality, and often looks with suspicion on the exact people who have the courage and conviction to do what we all know to be morally right.
I have been given plenty of reason to distrust the critic community already, but quite honestly, this is also a reason to distrust the comic book crowd as a whole when it comes to appreciating a great story. They’ll love a comic book film just because it’s an exercise in snark and mean-spirited flippancy (exhibit A: Deadpool) and make fun of Ben Affleck for being disappointed at the negative response. It seems nothing else will be good enough for them.
Remember, this is three movies in one. But it works. Do yourself a favor and go see it, and don’t let all the parroted hatred toward this incredible film stand in your way.

A Brief Thought on Superheroes, Justice, and Violence

I’ll just come out and say it: I am irritated. Sorry for the grumpiness; it seems I’m going through a phase right now.

The astounding Avengers movie and the mostly “Amazing” Spider-Man reboot are keeping bright tights and larger-than-life heroics on the silver screen, while Christopher Nolan prepares to unleash the conclusion of his masterful Batman trilogy later this month. So, just about every blogger or critic with an opinion is weighing in on heroes, antiheroes, and supervillains.

The reason for my griping, in a nutshell: There is an increasing trend in commentary on superheroes, the trend of ascribing the laws made by (and for) normal humans, and using them to indict comic book characters.

More and more of this commentary looks at classic heroes, no matter how noble or selfless, with a suspicious and sour eye. It’s starting to sound like the prologue from Pixar’s The Incredibles, where an increasingly litigious society contends that heroes are causing more harm than they prevent. Anthony Lane, from The New Yorker, has weighed in on this fashionable sport of taking potshots at the heroism of fictional characters, in a shoddy Avengers review. (My guess is that the New Yorker crowd is starting to realize they can’t spend all their time staring at abstract art and chuckling dryly over glasses of wine at dinner parties) If you’re not already a diehard fan of the Avengers and therefore biased in their favor, Lane waves off the film as an experience where the audience gets “mugged by a gang of rowdy sociopaths with high muscle tone.”

No, sure, let’s just let the UN get into a bureaucratic nightmare debating how to deal with an alien invasion. After all, heroes who save the world are no better than the villains threatening it! (See above — he actually implies that) Or let the NYPD deal with the Lizard (despite their repeated failures to do so) as he’s killing people. Peter Parker can’t just swing around a few skyscrapers and subdue him, because that would be recklessly disregarding the law.

In one especially insane online discussion, a certain…gentleman asserted to me that there is no real difference between Captain America and the Punisher, and that their actions and motives don’t look all that different.

What? All right, let’s do a little comparison. If you have read tons of comics and you can note moments where Punisher or Cap acted differently, let me know — I’m generalizing here.

Captain America, doing double-duty as a soldier and a patriotic symbol. Kills enemy combatants while defending others from unprovoked harm.

Versus…

The Punisher, antihero and vigilante who fights urban crime through many unsavory practices, including torture, murder, and extortion. Vents his anger on criminals by maiming and killing them.

I will go out on a limb here — I’m not quite seeing double.

And going back to The Avengers…what was the UN going to tell the Avengers? “Sorry, but this isn’t authorized under the Geneva Convention. You can’t just go firing weapons at assailants and throw the city into chaos.”

Yes, they can. The aliens were trying to kill innocents. When you just found out there is an alien invasion about to arrive in New York City, and you have at your disposal some assassins, a technological genius, a giant green rage monster, a Norse god, and a supersoldier, all of whom are willing to help, you get them between the incoming enemy and the civilian population. Forget about the question of whether the statutes of conventional warfare would, theoretically, apply to an alien race. When civilians are being targeted, you get in the way and throw the biggest hammer you’ve got.

This hammer, to be exact.

There are these little things in life called “emergencies,” when certain legal issues need to be put aside for the moment. Even though most comic books are fantastical, larger-than-life, and just plain wacky, they depict events that I would think qualify as “emergencies.” Regular cops and soldiers can be trusted to deal with the more familiar forms of crime and evil. Generally, superheroes are for super-threats.

When it comes to Batman…ah, now that might be a different matter. Certainly in the Nolan trilogy there are legal consequences to Bruce Wayne becoming the Caped Crusader, even though everyone with half a brain stem was glad Batman was there when Ra’s al Ghul or the Joker set their sights on Gotham. But that is probably best left for another rant, another time. This particular rant is, I think, finished.

Have your own thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Want to yell at me that I’m full of it? There’s the comment window. Use it as you please.