I’m celebrating the three year anniversary of the comic book movie masterpiece that is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice with a love letter.
I say love letter, but really this is just an impassioned article about how much I love Batman v Superman.
Before I go into it though, I do wanna say that if you hated Batman v Superman when it first came out, then this article isn’t the one for you. I assume that the last three years have done nothing to change that resolve, and if your feelings of hate are as strong as mine of love, then the last three years have only strengthened that resolve and deepened your feelings about this movie.
And after three years, I’m not interested in having to defend why I love this movie. I spent whole years online and in-person doing that, arguing against all the hottest takes, all the worst Martha jokes, all the ad-hominem attacks against Zack Snyder.
So on this three year anniversary of my all-time favorite comic book movie, I want to do something different.
I want to celebrate what it is I love so much about it.
In fact, even after all the great comic book movies which have came out since Batman v Superman premiered three years ago — some of which I know are, objectively, better in terms of plotting or cohesion or comic book-y goodness — Batman v Superman remains my all time favorite comic book movie.
And it’s not just because Batman is one of my favorite comic book characters, or because I love the DCEU a whole lot, or because I enjoy Zack Snyder’s work.
That’s all part of it, of course. I think that Batman v Superman has the best version of Batman we’ve ever seen onscreen, that the movie is the best example of what the DCEU can do, that Zack Snyder is a talented director and even nicer human being.
But it’s more than that, too.
It’s because for years I felt like people thought of superhero movies and comic book stories as being solely silly and childish, as being only a venue for vapid wish fulfillment, as being just about fun.
Superhero movies can be all those things, and some of them should be. I have no mandate against fun, no personal preference against wish fulfillment, no grudge against the big, dumb action movie.
But comic book movies can be more than that.
And Batman v Superman is more than that.
Batman v Superman is a movie that looks at superheroes and requires more out of them, and, in doing so, asks more out of us as audience members. As a movie, it is just as much about its questions and ideas as it is its characters and plot. More so, even, because it uses those characters and plotlines as a way to further its discussion of these big questions and even bigger ideas.
It’s easy to get caught up in the first part of the title — Batman v Superman — and think that this movie solely functions as a superpowered grudge match between two heroes. If you maybe took a second more to think about it, you might come up with that perhaps it pits Batman’s brains and grit against Superman’s strength and speed, a classic question of — is it better to be smart or strong?
But Batman v Superman isn’t interested in such a shallow question. Instead, it’s interested in questions of justice, in ideas of goodness, in the intersection between power and responsibility.
And it can only do this because it — unlike so many superhero movies and TV shows — is a superhero movie that doesn’t take its heroes goodness for granted.
I’ve often been frustrated — and continue to be frustrated — by superhero stories in which the goodness of its heroes are implicit, undeniable and unquestioned. The reasoning so often goes that people are heroes because they do good and they do good because they’re heroes. Heroism — as it’s often presented — is some innate trait, some ability attached to someone’s soul.
But goodness — in real life and in the best superhero stories — is a choice. And because of it is a choice, that means that being a good person isn’t enough. Wanting to do good isn’t enough. Even thinking you’re doing good isn’t enough.
We have to question the intentions by which we do good. We have to look at the consequences of our actions, regardless of whether the intent is good. We have to live with and take responsibility for those consequences and work to do better the next time.
And that’s just us — everyday people making ordinary choices about how to treat a co-worker or our kid, how to help a friend in need or a stranger struggling in our neighborhood.
All those factors are magnified for superheroes, whose power, influence and impact are that much greater.
As the best Marvel superhero understands — with great power comes great responsibility. Not just the responsibility to save others because of what you can do, but a responsibility to yourself because of who you are — a responsibility to interrogate your goodness, to understand the meaning and impact of actions, to recognize your own human frailties and decide how to work on them.
It’s that responsibility which Batman v Superman tackles head-on, so that rather than asking whether Batman or Superman is stronger, it has us look at power which Superman wields and ask — who decides what is good? Has us study the brutality of Batman and ask — what do we mean by justice? It has us listen to Lex Luthor’s monologues about might, then wonder — can power ever be innocent?
The answers to these questions are complicated and dark, just as Batman v Superman is sometimes complicated and often dark.
There’s been a lot of talk about grimness and darkness in our modern day storytelling, with the word ‘grimdark’ thrown around quite freely and — in my opinion — rather cavalierly. It seems to have become a catch-all word for ‘seriousness which I didn’t want in this movie.’
To be clear — I’m not a fan of grimness as a storytelling rule. I’m not a proponent of misery for its own sake, or of darkness and meanness in storytelling under the guise of realism.
But neither am I fan of ignoring the darker parts of ourselves or our world. I’m not a fan of leaving motivations, ethics and actions unexamined for the sake of forced levity, and I think sacrificing all seriousness and potential for darkness on the altar of fun diminishes both the power and meaning of storytelling.
Which is why I’m glad that despite the complexity of questions it asks and the darkness of their answers, Batman v Superman itself never devolves into a relentless slog into misery and hopelessness, nor is it dark for its own sake.
Yes, the version of Batman whom we see in the movie is undoubtedly the darkest, most violent iteration of a character which is known for both his darkness and his violence. Yes, this version of Superman is weighed down by the burden of his power and responsibility, is unsure of his place in our world more than we’ve ever seen onscreen.
But — and this is the most important thing — neither of those characters stay there. The darkness is not the point at all — it is the coming out of it on the other side.
The Superman who has been debated, who has been protested against, who has been cast out and decried by humanity — this is the Superman who takes up the banner for the human race, who firmly says this is my world, then sacrifices himself to save that world.
And the Batman who is twisted by rage and darkness, who spent nearly the entire movie plotting to murder Superman, who cynically asks, after 20 years in Gotham, “How many good guys are left? How many stayed that way?” — this is the Batman who takes up Superman’s banner to protect humanity, who ends the movie with, “Men are still good. We fight, we kill, we betray one another. But we can rebuild. We can do better. We will.”
Batman v Superman takes us down into the depths of darkness and grimness, but it also makes sure to take us out of it. It shows us that there is a love so great that it would sacrifice itself for others, and that a sacrifice like that can save a man from even the darkest depths of his own soul.
And I love that about it.
That and, like I said earlier, a lot of other things about this movie.
I love that Batman v Superman could’ve just been about two superheroes who fight over superficial reasons, but instead is a meditation on accountability, responsibility and privilege.
I love that it’s a movie which uses two of the most revered American icons of all time to question America’s role in the world, to wonder what is right, what is good and who gets to decide? The conversation about Superman’s unilateral decision-making and its unintended consequences are the same questions asked (or ought to be asked) about our government, our military, our politicians.
I love that it’s a movie which understands what we mean by a more grounded superhero story — not grounded in the laws of physics or the natural world, but a story grounded in the world in which we live. It’s a movie in which the 24 hour news cycle debates the role and responsibility of superheroes, in which an angry population protests a powerful immigrant, where an arrogant, wealthy, white businessman is the true villain.
And it does all this while also giving us a beautifully shot film where nearly every scene looks like it should be a poster, iconic lines that I still quote every other week, the best damn Batman fight scene that we’ve ever seen on screen, and the entrance of Wonder Woman.
I’m so grateful to this movie for its ambition and its scope, both in storytelling and its visuals. I’m glad that I got to see Ben Affleck as the best on-screen Batman in his best movie. And I love that I love this movie even more now than I did when it first came out three years ago.