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Batman v Superman: a lesson in tolerance



'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' image from March 2016 issue of Empire Magazine
'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' IMAX poster

‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ IMAX poster

DISCLAIMER: if you are reading this article in the hope of berating somebody trying to tell you why you should like ‘Batman v Superman’ this this is not the article for you. All opinions are welcome here!

‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ was also going to be a divisive film from the outset, taking three characters who have never appeared on the big screen together – one of whom has never appeared on the big screen at all – and trying to present them to a hungry and strongly opinionated audience.

Between them the DC Trinity of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman have over two-hundred years of comic history with Batman and Superman both having celebrated their 75th anniversaries and Wonder Woman set to have hers in 2017 and that’s a lot of history to represent on screen. Arguably too much.

As a DC Comics fan the build-up to films like ‘Avengers Assemble’ (I’m British remember!), ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ and ultimately ‘Captain America: Civil War’ is one of excitement for the spectacle but not one with emotional attachments to the comic book versions of the characters. I don’t know the histories of the characters as well as I do with DC. I don’t know the adapted storylines without some pre-screening googling or reading so there’s little chance for disappointment for me. I know going in that I have little expectations for seeing a comic book defined on screen.

The opposite can be said for films in the newly christened DC Comics Extended Universe (DCEU) and also the DCAU (Animated Universe).

There’s little of the last 20 years of comics for the likes of the characters who make up the Justice League that I have not read so when storylines like ‘The Killing Joke’ and ‘Death of Superman’ are banded around I know in my head what I am expecting to see and what, as a fan, I feel the filmmakers ‘should’ do in order to honour the source material that they are adapting. However I have been able to reach a point in my life where I am able to step back from my preset ideas and enjoy the interpratations that new writers bring to the table.

Contemporary comic fans are seemingly easily divided in to those who are open and accepting of film interpretations and those who struggle with what they see as creative liberties. The same can be said of fans of any adaption, this isn’t specifically a comics fandom issue.

I have no problem in admitting that prior to ‘Man of Steel’ I was not a huge fan of the Superman character. I, obviously, have seen the Christopher Reeve films on multiple occasions and in my younger days was a big fan of ‘The New Adventures of Superman’ (again remember I am British – damn title changes!) but there was no rush for me to see ‘Superman Returns’ and to this day I have not seen all of the ‘Superman The Animated Series’ despite it’s status as a great representation of the character.

My issues with the Man of Steel character came from a place of not wanting heroes to be perfect. Granted Superman is not perfect in his comic book representations and I know that now but the Superman portrayed on film was all too often the golden boy hero and not the flawed role model that I required.

I have always gravitated towards the Batman character as my hero of choice and his characteristics are typical of the heroic characters that I gravitate towards.

With ‘Man of Steel’ director Zack Snyder presented a version of Superman that introduced flaws that perfectly made me buy in to the character. Arguably those flaws are what, for many, has ruined their DCEU experience. The choice on behalf of the filmmakers to have Superman kill Zod in the closing moments of a truly epic battle will perhaps go down in history as one of the most controversial moments even to take place within the DC Comics universe.

Something in that characterisation just clicked with me in a way that the character never has previously and for that I am grateful. It has opened up a new avenue of comics for me and in the years since ‘MoS’ I’ve enjoyed reading stories that previously had no interest to me.

That moment as Kal-El snapped Zod’s neck perhaps sealed the fate of the DCEU for a huge cross section of fans. How could the shining beacon of hope that is Superman be brought down to such levels of grit and grime? The answer again is interpretation.

Something which I struggle with as a reader of popular opinion is the lack of understanding that some fans have for interpretation. Comic books fans should find interpretation second nature given that our favourite characters and look and sound different depending on the artist or the writer who is working on them. If, as comics fans, we are able to accept that pre-New 52 Nightwing wore a black and blue costume and that New 52 Nightwing wore black and red then why can’t we accept that Snyder’s Superman would kill Zod when Richard Lester’s (or Richard Donner’s) would not.

There’s little difference in effect, it is only the circumstance and the medium in which the story is released to consumers that differs.

Is it a matter of cost? £3 for a comic against £10 for a cinema ticket. Maybe. The cost of the time to make a comic against the $250M budget of a film like ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’. It’s unlikely many weigh up the cost of a film as part of their enjoyment.

More likely is that it’s a matter of that history I was referring to. If I were to ask you to list your favourite comics storylines and then talk to you about adapting them in to a film you would have very strong opinions, as I do, about how we want them to be represented on film.

Each one of us has our favourite period in comics history, our favourite artists, our favourite writers all based on our own years of experience. A film is like taking a chance on one artist or writer to execute the biggest, most elaborate comic book of its time and everybody has their own wish list for what they want to see. Even the most irrational human being will tell you that you can’t please everybody all of the time.

‘Batman v Superman’ really only suffers from being the interpretation of one specific group of people with their own motivations, their own tastes and their own personalities. Technically the film making is flawless. It is, after all, a fully functioning film. It plays from start to finish; it has actors who read dialogue, it has music.

The rest is your interpretation and that may not mesh with Snyder’s.

We are all only human so when we are disappointed in something that we are so heavily invested in naturally we want to express that disappointment. In this age of the Internet there are so many outlets for our feelings that it’s much easier to be exposed to the negative and positive sides of our reactions.

If Rotten Tomatoes had existed in 1989 how would Tim Burton’s own ‘Batman’ film have fared? Would critics disappointment at his reduced screen time in ‘Batman Returns’ have outraged the Internet sending the box office returns in to a spiral? We’ll never know. What we do know is that now everybody with the ability to spell can tweet, or blog. That is after all why I am here.

You remember how I said that between them the DC Trinity had over 220 years of comic book history? Well bare that in mind and tell me how you would satisfy all of those fans in one film.

Arguably somebody out there in the landscape of the Internet will tell me that you can’t please them all but you can certainly please more than Synder has with ‘Batman v Superman’ and that would be one of the least offensive comments thrown my way.

I’m always up for a debate and I’m more than happy to hear the reasons why you maybe didn’t like the film as much as I did but in the past month I’ve had comments lobbied at me such as: ‘You clearly don’t read comics’ ‘Do you even know who these characters are?’ and my particular favourite ‘How can you like a film that allows The Flash to have a ponytail?’.

So why is it that if your opinion of this film is negative that you are applauded by your peers but if you dare to speak positively of the film you are derided? Simply put it’s a symptom of modern consumerism, as I said before if we’re disappointed in something with which we feel highly connected then we feel obliged to tell the world about our dissatisfaction and as it gets easier to do that our voices get louder and more easily heard.

Friends of my mine have spat equal amounts of love and vitriol towards this film, some before even having been to the cinema to see it. I’ve seen opinions change and many a friend has said to me that that whilst ‘Batman v Superman’ is by no means a perfect film (‘What is?’ I often reply to be told ‘The Dark Knight’) it doesn’t deserve the reception that it has been given.

Sadly nobody is innocent in this story as just last week an article made the news (here) around fans sending death threats to critics who have written less than positive reviews of their favourite films. It seems that regardless of your opinion fans are willing to shoot down those with opposing views in ways which are more and more socially unacceptable.

If being a fan of ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ has taught me anything then it’s a lesson in tolerance and standing for your own beliefs. Do not bend to popular opinion for the sake of fitting in and not standing out in a crowd. Art is subjective. Enjoy discussing your differences.

I do think that many out there need to learn to relax a little, at the end of the day we are only talking about a film, and learn to enjoy art for what it is but I appreciate that sadly there are some who just can’t do that.

I’d love to hear some of your constructive criticism about the film so please do leave comments, send us messages on Twitter (@getyourcomicon) just make sure to play nice!

You can read my review of the film here!

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