‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ is a bafflingly divisive movie. Its critics have used language that exceeds the vitriol pointed toward classically awful superheroes movies, yet it paradoxically has a minority fanbase just as passionate. It’s time we consider that, in this case, the criticism says more about the critic than the art. Which begs the question, what makes a ‘Batman v. Superman’ fan?
‘Batman v Superman’ fans are comfortable with change.
The way DC is creating their unified film universe is a clear departure from their past. The primary issue the nerdier critics had with ‘Man of Steel’ was that this Kal-El was not the moral ideal seen through Christopher Reeve. He is portrayed as just a guy who happens to be an alien with superpowers. His parents were like most people’s parents; some good advice, some bad. Superman took it all to heart. Unlike Reeve’s adaptation, this Superman has a lot to learn which allows for growth of the character, but growth takes time. By ‘Justice League 3,’ the Superman portrayed by Henry Cavill may resemble the hero long-time comic book fans can identify…or he may not. If not, then those viewers uncomfortable with change will remain unsatisfied with modern Clark Kent.
‘Dawn of Justice’ compounds this conservative desire for a recognizable Superman with a very different supporting cast, most notably Lex Luthor who has as much in common with Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg as he does with the traditional villain. The reception of Batman seems mixed even within the subset of those who dislike the film. Those who are familiar with Frank Miller’s take on an older disillusioned Dark Knight have something nostalgic to latch onto. For them, Bruce gets a pass. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, is widely seen favorably. Why? Perhaps because we didn’t see enough of her. Diana’s standalone film could reveal something different about her to warrant hate. She is just a beautiful woman in some compelling action sequences. I like her too, what’s not to like?
‘Batman v Superman’ fans value realism.
Superman’s powers are unrealistic. There is no known mechanism to biologically defy gravity without wings or propulsion. Realism, in this context, means characters acting realistically given the world in which they inhabit, no matter how much suspension of disbelief said world requires. ‘Batman v Superman’ fans believe that DC’s film universe is shaping up as more realistic than the critically-loved Marvel Cinematic Universe. A byproduct of this is that ‘Batman v Superman’ is humorless. Characters dealing with the stakes of the superhero genre should not have time to quip. Superman faces steadily mounting threats. He doesn’t have time to think about how to minimize casualties much less reflect on the irony of the situation. Marvel fans rightly cite their films as entertainment and opt for light moments interspersed with otherwise unprecedented drama. It’s a better viewing experience for them, but ultimately a preference. No different from the readers of days past being split between DC’s idealized comics and Marvel’s more gritty books. The roles have simply reversed.
‘Batman v Superman’ fans are into the hard superhero genre.
There are more than enough superhero movies to justify a sub-genre. DC is positioning their films as a kind of hard sci-fi compared to Marvel’s pop sci-fi. “Hard superhero” is perhaps the best way to put it. Whereas Marvel holds the audience’s collective hand, walking them into the world of Iron Man or Doctor Strange, DC is pushing us into the deep end. Technically speaking, of course, the hand holding is better storytelling. DC is relying on both Marvel’s success in conditioning viewers to watch moving comic books and their own property’s position in pop culture. No need to explain how Superman heals in the sun. You already know, and, if you don’t, the guy in the theater seat next to you can explain it.
‘Batman v Superman’ requires more than foreknowledge of the title characters. It demands patience. There are multiple set-ups in ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ that are not paid off. People have argued that they are plot holes, but some, at the least, are really lessons in delayed gratification. The most obvious and ambitious is a character from the future giving Batman and us a message. I suspect that this won’t be paid off for years, which is both infuriating and a really superhero thing to do. Nested timelines, multiverses, alternate realities–this is the stuff of the hard superhero genre.
The things that people loved and hated about ‘Man of Steel’ only escalated in ‘Dawn of Justice’ and Zack Snyder is showing no signs to letting up. Are you a ‘Batman v Superman’ fan? If so, it should be a heck of a ride.
Steven is a relativistically-locked time-traveler and part-time ‘Man of Steel’ apologist. Follow him on Twitter for insights from the present.