Four years ago came a superhero movie with such a high level of anticipation that it could not live up to the hype. It was the first live-action studio blockbuster that united the two most iconic American superheroes to fight each other. It was directed by someone who has previously translated comic books into high-budgeted moving pictures, not the least, rebooting the Man of Steel for a modern audience. Not only did this inevitable sequel feature Batman alongside Superman, it would jump-start a cinematic universe featuring other DC characters in the hopes of rivaling the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So much was already on its shoulders, and as someone who still reads DC Comics, I found Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to be a major disappointment.
Despite turning a profit, it was deemed a box office disappointment and received generally unfavorable reviews from critics. And yet since its release, the film has a devoted fanbase that has embraced its grim tone and deconstruction towards its godlike heroes. This love for something has ultimately led to trolling on social media with hardcore fans attacking anyone who has anything negative to say about Batman v Superman or the DC Extended Universe in general. Personally, I actually like 2013’s Man of Steel, given its bold and controversial approach towards Superman, but its sequel has many more problems that consume the whole package. Since the film’s theatrical debut and eventual release of the Ultimate Edition on home video, there have been articles written and YouTube videos made by people with varying views and interpretations about what BvS says to them.
Following the even greater box office disappointment of Justice League – a film with its own troubled history that should be explored on another article – Zack Snyder had been posting subtle details about Batman v Superman, his version of Justice League (spawning the fan support of #ReleaseTheSnyderCut) and his own plans for what he had in mind for the DCEU. Although Warner Bros. has no plans to release the Snyder cut, despite the demand from fans and even a number of cast members from that movie, Snyder is still willing to treat the fans. On his Vero account, Snyder did a live-streamed watch party of the Ultimate Edition of BvS, of which I participated in and was curious to see what he had to say about this four-year-old film.
Along with his storyboard books, Snyder gives us a run-down about some of the filmmaking and ideas that he wanted to explore on both a thematic and visual level. For starters, Snyder talks about the reason to bookend the film with a funeral, with the opening sequence about pain and trauma to the ending being about the glimpse of hope rising. As for the death of Waynes – a sequence that we have seen too many times on screen – Snyder stated he just wanted to shoot the sequence and add his own visual flair with the emphasis on Martha Wayne’s pearls splitting part and falling. From the storyboards he shows and his own words, Snyder is a visualist who will take the script and draw it, and as a director, he would insist his crew to look at the storyboards before reading the script.
With his strong attention to visuals, one can argue that his skills as a storyteller are sorely lacking and he is all about crafting moments that are there to wow us, even if it’s not saying anything on a dramatic level. Once we reach Metropolis, where “mankind is introduced to the Superman”, this is when Snyder talks about his main approach to the DC Universe. It isn’t about the simplicity of good versus evil, but the grayish morality that these grand characters confront. In applying real-world implications, such as the deliberate 9/11 imagery during Zod’s invasion at the beginning, the actions of a superhero should lead to consequences as Snyder references the character Ozymandias from Watchmen. Although Watchmen remains as Snyder’s best film, despite not being the ideal adaptations that comic fans envisioned, it is interesting to see Snyder applying similar sensibilities from that story into BvS. The film features a Batman who has lost his moral compass and self-medicates to ease the pain, as well as a Superman whose dilemma is about doing the right thing. This is despite the public seeing him as a godlike figure and carrying that weight on his shoulders. Even during the eponymous fight, the latin translation of “Who Watches the Watchmen?” appears on the wall.
When I first saw Batman v Superman in the theater, I always got the sense that Snyder was more interested in the Bat of Gotham than the Son of Krypton. The becomes more apparent when Snyder talked with such glee in the commentary about how much fun he had shooting the awesome Batman warehouse fight. Snyder has been vocal over his love for Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, leading to evoking imagery from the comic. This despite having a different interpretation towards the source material.
(On a side note, Snyder jokes during the moments of Bat-killing, showing he has a sense of humor and somewhat taking a back seat after his controversial words on Batman’s “no-kill rule” during last year’s SnyderCon.)
As for Superman, Snyder apparently loves the character and you wouldn’t think that considering Henry Cavill does so little with a role that is so static throughout. DC’s superheroes have been re-interpreted so many times in comics and other media since their inception in the 1940s and Snyder delivers his own spin on them in this film. Whether or not you agree with his creative choices, he actually does like these characters.
Going back to Snyder’s storytelling, much of the plot, confusing as it can be, seems to rely on how much of a fan you are, despite the fact that most of the audience have never picked up a comic. Snyder talks about his failed plans of doing a five-movie arc that suggested the continuing dark tone that was established here. (The idea was Superman consumed by Darkseid’s control of the Anti-Life Equation, hence his brief evil presence in the Knightmare sequence. In fact, Snyder doesn’t give a clear explanation about this scene which comes out of nowhere. Although Snyder does suggest the idea of the Flash running on the cosmic treadmill and creating a rift. This leads to his flashy warning to the present Bruce Wayne. This is ultimately part of a storyline that will never happen.)
As for the villainous plot from Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, a radical reinvention of Superman’s arch-nemesis, Snyder always defended the crazy planning that only makes sense to Luthor, even if Snyder doesn’t explain the use of “Granny’s Peach Tea”. Snyder says more about the story than what the actual film does, including how the death of Superman subtly sets up the eventual story of Justice League.
Going off on tangents to the brief silences from watching the film, you can see Zack Snyder feeling proud with the film he’s made as he talks about his many collaborations with the cast and crew, including his producing partner/wife Deborah Snyder who briefly pops in to give some insight about the film. Although watching this live commentary doesn’t change my opinion towards Batman v Superman, it gives great information into what the director set out to make. This includes the various symbolism that provides his own interpretation about what he thinks the film is about. Whatever divisive opinions there are towards it, this unique spin on the DC Universe is like no other superhero movie and serves as an important turning point in the current realm of superhero cinema.
If you can find Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman watch party on YouTube, it’s worth checking out if you’re a fan of the film or a curious observer like myself.