Batman V Superman: A True Comic Book Film


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has been released to disparaging reviews. We explore not only what went wrong, but what the film was actually trying to accomplish.

The title of this article should not be taken as either praise or detraction — Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is basically a 153-minute long comic book. To fully understand the mixed reviews, one also has to understand the differences between a “comic book film adaptation” and a “comic book film.” Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the latter — a comic book film.

Is there a difference? Aren’t you just splitting hairs? Yes, there’s a difference. And no, I’m not splitting hairs. If you understand the differences between the two, you’ll know why the film serves one crowd, but not the other. It will also give more insight in regards to the overall narrative — which has been taking a beating by the critics.

Comic Book Film Adaptation v Comic Book Film

One really can’t talk about DC’s entry into the world of shared film universes without mentioning the other company — Marvel. In the last eight years, the Disney-owned studio’s Marvel Cinematic Universe has basically taken the whole film industry by storm. Every film released within that franchise has been gold. What they consider to be their most horribly reviewed films are actually above average fare. That’s what Warner Bros. has to compete with.

Why is it that the venture into films has worked for Marvel, but not for Warner Bros.? It’s because Marvel understands that they’re in the business of making movies that are comic book film adaptations and not comic book films.

A comic book film adaptation is taking source material and tailoring it to the medium of film for a true cinematic experience. That means the stories and narrative all have a three-act structure, a focused goal, and, most importantly, a focused protagonist. A comic book film is the transference of comic book source material onto the medium of film. There is no adherence to film-based narratives or established screenwriting rules.

Still not convinced? The names of the two franchises — the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe — seem to convey their very different missions explicitly. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has the word “cinematic” in it, which means it’s adapting the company’s pantheon of characters and stories to the aforementioned medium. The DC Extended Universe has the word “extended” in it, which means it’s an extension of its characters and stories — from the comics.

Comic book narratives are not known to have any sort of accepted structure. You can say the same thing about film. However, we’re not talking about experimental films or independent art house flicks. We’re talking about Hollywood-style feature-film narratives. The kind of storytelling that brings in the big bucks. Little do most people know, filmmaking is not an art — it’s a craft. There are a set of rules and guidelines you need to follow. Once you understand that, you’re free to let your creative juices flow. Deviate from that structure, and you will lose your audience.

People who read comic books know that there is a long game to be played. What is a tiny subplot in one panel or page, will be something that collides with an event ten issues down the road. These types of subplots and side-stories are the staple of comic books. Non-comic book readers have probably experienced this feeling of being overwhelmed with information when they speak with avid comic book fans. As a medium, comic books are much more involved and the narrative is not always perfectly clear.

Am I saying that filmgoers are intellectually inferior or have a lack of patience? No. In fact, I’m suggesting quite the opposite. For a film like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the audience has to remember names, events, and subplots across 153 minutes. The job of the storyteller — in this case, the director and screenwriter — is to convey a narrative that has a clear goal, and scenes that progress towards that goal. Along the way, characters must change and arc to satisfy thematic elements of the story. In film you don’t have the luxury of ten or even fifty issues to say what needs to be said.

Tell a Story That Fits the Medium (Some Potential Spoilers Ahead)

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a live-action comic book with disparate sub-plots and no strong narrative thread. It’s basically playing a long game and betting that the audience will stay with the overall DC Extended Universe. Zack Snyder, Chris Terrio, and David Goyer took the stories from DC’s massive tome and translated it to the screen. There was no adaptation involved. From the way Bruce Wayne was introduced, to Lex Luthor’s multi-layered scheme, audiences had to wait until the third act (if there ever really was one) to see where the film was heading towards. By then, it was already too late.

There was also no clear protagonist. Was this Batman’s or Superman’s story? Why was Wonder Woman in Metropolis to begin with? What was the purpose of Lex Luthor collecting information on meta-humans? Now me, being a DC fan, knew where they were going. However, the average audience member, who was here to see an epic film, was probably lost beyond words.

There was also the scene involving Bruce’s nightmare about an impending apocalypse, where at the end, he saw a rippling wormhole with someone wearing red armor reaching out to him. There was no explanation or resolution to that subplot … for now. Again, putting on my DC fanboy hat, I knew that the red-armored person was the Flash — from the future — trying to warn Bruce. People who only knew these characters from pop culture were pretty much lost at this point.

There was no need to shoehorn in various characters and stories. This did a complete disservice to the story as a film. Comic book narratives are not meant to be constrained within the timeframe of film narratives. Even at a whopping 153 minutes, it wasn’t enough to wrap everything up and give audiences a satisfying conclusion. Hence, critics ripped it apart in reviews.

It Was Still a Superheroic Effort

Though the narrative structure was completely wrong for the medium, there were still lots of things to love about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Let’s start with the obvious — the visuals. Director Zack Snyder does nothing small in terms of eye-popping effects. All our heroes were realized in their full glory. The fight scenes were superb and very well-choreographed.

Every angle was sumptuously filmed — thanks to Snyder’s go-to director of photography Larry Fong, who was absent when they filmed Man of Steel (2013). Like I said before, this is a living comic book. They could’ve done without the comic book-style storytelling, but the cinematography is welcome to stay. Explosions and sonic booms were beautifully rendered. Who knew tragedy and devastation could be a new style of art? Only Snyder and Fong could bring us this type of visual majesty.

The dialogue was also very well-written — almost “Shakespearian.” It seems that screenwriter Chris Terrio was aiming for the stars in terms of theme and philosophical moments. Had it been supported by a strong story, the overall film would’ve truly been The Dark Knight-esque.

The actors and actresses all had their moments and performed their respective roles perfectly. For the people who thought Ben Affleck could never redeem himself from Daredevil (2003), or Gal Gadot was too skinny, you will see nothing but their characters when you walk into the theater. The DC Trinity was definitely a sight to behold when the heroes joined forces.

Final Thoughts

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice made the wrong move in becoming a “comic book film” versus a “comic book film adaptation,” as comic book narratives do not work when transferred to the film medium. Fanboys, who are well-versed in DC lore, are certainly going to applaud this jumpstart into the DC Extended Universe. However, general audiences will be left in the dust, confused with what they witnessed for 153 minutes.

Small vignettes of dream sequences, philosophical musings, rivalries, and rescues do not equal a cinematic experience. Beautiful amazing visuals coupled with larger-than-life characters will not compensate for a weak narrative. Warner Bros. failed the second they chose not to make a film — but a comic book that uses silver halide crystals as its paper.

Next: 52 Fun Facts About Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Official Synopsis: Fearing the actions of a god-like super hero left unchecked, Gotham City’s own formidable, forceful vigilante takes on Metropolis’s most revered, modern-day savior, while the world wrestles with what sort of hero it really needs. And with Batman and Superman at war with one another, a new threat quickly arises, putting mankind in greater danger than it’s ever known before.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was released on March 25, 2016. It is directed by Zack Snyder, written by Chris Terrio from a story by David Goyer and Zack Snyder, and stars Henry Cavill as Clark Kent / Superman, Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne / Batman, Gal Gadot as Diana Prince / Wonder Woman, Jason Momoa as Aquaman, Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, Diane Lane as Martha Kent, Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth, Tao Okamoto as Mercy Graves, Holly Hunter as Senator Finch, Ray Fisher as Victor Stone / Cyborg, Callan Mulvey as Anatoli Knyazev, Scoot McNairy as Wallace Keefe, and Jena Malone as Barbara Gordon (her role is only seen in the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition).