Staying Neutral in a World of Hate: Analyzing Media Sans Bias – Part 1: Batman vs. Superman
Academic titles aren’t exactly barrels of fun, but succinctly stating theses in a single sentence is hardly a walk in the park. Basically, below you’re gonna find part 1 of an article about attempting to be positive about movies or media that have received negative reception. Namely I’ll be discussing the DC universe films, Batman vs Superman, and Suicide Squad. Try as I might I couldn’t find much joy in BvS, while Suicide Squad brought me several grins and it had several worthwhile moments.
**Hype, the Internet Buzzer Bees, and Negative Reception**
What a time to be alive. For real. If you dig on media and crafted works, you best feel blessed to have sprung up in this day and age. We have so much excellent media cropping up, and so many diverse tools to allow us to research if that title or experience might appeal to any of our proclivities.
You can peep a Netflix show, but see if it’s got a decent Metacritic first. Purchase a movie on Amazon Prime, but scope out its Rottentomato score first. Notice that one of your favorite indie games just surprise-dropped a sequel on Steam? Well, feel free to ponder user reviews or more in-depth analysis in forums; bypass new players’ less relatable views and instead read opinions of fans of the original to weigh how gripes and praise might resemble your own experience. We got options, and with these options comes a sort of conundrum.
Do we commit our due diligence and choose to go into an experience knowing what to expect, allowing us to be influenced by consumers or those that “professionally” critique art? Or instead, do we watch minimalistic trailers, place faith into the artists/designers, and try and cultivate a view based solely on the material? With more knowledge comes less surprise, with more hype comes higher expectations, and with more perceived negativity comes a bias that’s often all too hard to shake. A true double-edged sword for anyone with any stock in the ever-changing multimedia landscape.
Truly, the discussion around how hearing another’s opinions will either consciously or subconsciously influence you is a challenging psychological phenomenon. It’s likely supported by our innate need to connect to others, find common ground amongst views to our perceived in-group, but it is ultimately a much larger discussion than I’ll be dedicating here.
Instead however, I will discuss two examples of media that received seemingly negative reception across the board, and evaluate my feelings on them. Interestingly, they’re both flicks set in the DC universe…
**e-vaughn Prepares to Watch Batman vs. Superman**
When it comes to Batman &. Superman, let’s start by saying that I never had much stock in either hero, and actually found joy in my youth playfully making fun of Batman as the egotistically rich, all-too-human, no-powers having fool that he is. I mean it’s very convenient that Bats is totally loaded, lest he might have gone the way of the Punisher, or some other all-too-human character.
I thoroughly enjoyed several Batman movies, with Nolan’s first two being incredibly consistent and strong entries (3 struck me as immediately problematic as I watched it in theaters), and I even loved Batman Beyond. It wasn’t until I actually played Batman: Arkham City that I became a fan of the Bats. That game captured a feeling of being the Bats that no other media had successfully cultivated, and for once I became mesmerized by his gadgetry, prowess, agility, flight, and his canonical code of ethics.
Now, I also had plenty of experience with Superman, but there was no debate about his powers. No sir, Supes’ weightiness came down to his moral code, his actions, and how he framed his human contemporaries. I enjoyed several Superman movies, but that ranked lower than the Nolanverse flicks, and Smallville was pretty fun for a couple seasons, but I burned out before really seeing Clark blossom.
However, the Man of Steel is what really kicked off the whole DC-verse. Marvel had already put out what feels like fifteen movies, whilst DC had isolated films without connection. The Man of Steel releases, directed by Zack Snyder, and it gets a tepid reception at best. While it’s been several years so my opinion may have lost its edge, I thought it was a pretty powerful entry into the Superman cinematic lineage.
In this version, I loved seeing Supes’ family on Krypton, their poise, behaviors, and an alien world that gave birth to the God-like Kal-el. I especially liked the action. Supes never has much fluctuation in his personality, and mostly remains stoic in his affect. His expressions feel almost intentionally contained, as if mostly to appear super. But it works. I don’t recall many moments during Man of Steel where Supes acted against his nature, in an illogical, or nonsensical way, but I do recall heavily the amazing, extraordinary action sequences.
As someone who grew up on Dragonball Z physics and action, I always needed a live action version of that combat style. For once, Man of Steel delivered. And it delivered hard. The direct combat versus other Kryptonians was stellar; each punch packing megatons of power as bodies devastated nearby cityscape. My God, the action. All in all, the first entry into the DC-verse gave me some solid hope for the franchise.
… then Batman vs. Superman started throwing out trailers. I was titillated by the marketing as it promised a discussion around Supes’ PR and his fall from grace in the public eye. It had decent one-liners and a beautiful aesthetic (it’s hard to argue Snyder isn’t a solid visual director). I, along with the Internet en masse, were kinda hyped. Sometimes, ya gotta let the hype flow through you, ya know?
Interestingly, I think that there are certain mediums that generate hype more than other mediums. Perhaps gamers have recently become more skeptical of trailers and gameplay, and learned to temper their hype a bit? The relatively reserved anticipation of No Man’s Sky despite many vocal hypers seems to suggest that hype limiting is in play.
But hype changes among different mediums. For instance, music lovers and hiphopheads in my circles have unabashedly embraced the hype and praised many upcoming albums as the next great coming (Kanye’s & Frank Ocean’s new album), and hype in hiphopcircles often flows freely and without constraint. Maybe it’s easier to support non-narratives or to support singular artists more? Cinephiles however, are a mixed bag that often minimize their hype since trailers are purposefully crafted for hype.
Alternatively, almost any adapted media or fan favorites like comic films receive borderline asinine levels of hype and also judgement. Adaptations of a character that’s been portrayed in many different lights tends to give fans a notion of how he/she should be portrayed. This often leads to a critique based on expectations and what *should have been*, rather than what was. I call these types of criticisms as “whimsical criticisms”.
So when actual reviews for BvS started pouring out, I was somewhat unaffected by them. Or rather, I read them all with a heaping of salt. Echoes of “the story sucks, batman’s the only good thing about the movie, the heroes act out of character, etc etc” were taken in, and I knew better than to take any of them to heart. Well, I peeped the movie just last week…. and I must admit that BvS was considerably weaker than I expected.
**e-vaughn Watches Batman vs. Superman… and in Turn Experiences Unabashed Negativity**
So the flick begins, and in the first five minutes I’m digging it. Quick quick quick Batman origin story with really stylistic visuals (damn it, I’m already being positive again!), and a pretty sleek little Supes intro in some Mediterranean outpost. Not bad… but it quickly goes downhill.
Next we see Batman in Bruce-face watching Supes battle fucking aliens, from the ground. He carelessly runs towards a tumbling building with no gear, and basically no hope of doing anything at all. Like, Bruce… dude, get your suit and shit together. It’s also absurdly difficult not to see Affleck, and not Bruce (an issue Bale didn’t present, for me).
Contrary to many of folks’ opinions I read online, I thought Affleck was a pretty weak Bruce, and alright as Bats. His irrational actions throughout makes for some serious head-scratchery. Batfleck’s contempt for Supes comes from emotion, rather than reason, and worse, without much empirical evidence. During this Supes vs. Aliens fight, Brucey glares angrily at the sky as if completely unable to contemplate who the bad guy in the sky is. World’s greatest detective, you say?
This is where, IMO, the entire crux if the film feels flimsy and feeble as fuck. Batman picks a fight for basically no reason. At one point he describes to Alfred that we gotta stop Supes cuz he might turn evil at some point. The irrationality just flows through him.
I only somewhat care about the Bat, and it wasn’t his somewhat unnecessary taking of lives, his branding of vigilantes, or his lack of charisma as a billionaire playboy (that Bale happened to nail), but rather his willful stupidity in order to create a floppy problem.
Meanwhile, Supes is working on his PR in what’s basically the only fascinating theme in the film. “Can there be a Superman?” they inquire, and answer that it matters, not — “Superman is.” Humans politicize about whether Supes can align to the US government’s infallible morality (for real though? Supes is Super in speed and analytical reasoning you ungrateful oafy suits).
[Spoilers below, homie]
Ok, so Supes’ image falters because they thought he killed a bunch of military personnel and intervened for personal reasons? Didn’t they perform a crime scene investigation and wonder “huh, why’d Supes use a gun this time??”
Aight, so the initial motivations for our protagonists are weak as fuck, in my eyes. We have one side-character who’s entire on-screen presence is that he hates Supes cuz a building fell and destroyed his legs, making him “half a man!” He yells this phrase numerous times and basically bursts at the seams in full on rage bashing Supes publicly for this disability (which is kinda fucked to cinematically represent someone missing their legs as some life destroying impasse).
Then, seemingly due to plot necessity… an out-of-character Batman steals from Lex and confronts Supes, which subsequently demonstrates Superman’s lackluster desire to finish anything definitively when he straight up lets Lex escape…
Skip ahead to the actual fight. Bats is understandably struggling trying to out-perform Supers. Then, with perhaps the silliest of written climaxes I’ve witnessed, Batman lectures Supes: “You’re not brave. Men are brave.” We witness Supes’ fear at losing his Ma, and Bat realizes that not only do their mothers share the name Martha, but Supes is more human than he thought because he got played by Lex. Batman sees that Supes is afraid just like a man might be, he’s not all powerful, and he’s just like lil baby Bats was on that fateful night his parents adios’d their way off Earth.
Within several seconds of screen time, Bats changes his mind, feels comfortable workin’ with Supes, and even wants to play hero and save his mom (and even says “I’m a friend of your son”). Eehhhh, ok. So now we’re presented with a version of Bats that not only does fuckall research, but also is the very embodiment of fear he placed in Superman –namely that he’s able and willing to change sides at a whim. How can Batman even trust himself? As someone who barely has any stock in the Bat, I, myself, was offended.
Weak motivations and out-of-character behaviors aside, at least the subsequent action isn’t awful. Hell, it’s downright fantastic.
**e-vaughn finds value despite the frustration**
Well, even though the plot lumbers along and we are punched in the face with sloppy writing and puzzling dialogue, there are a great many visual moments in the film that uplifted it. This is, of course, to be expected from Snyder. Here’s a list of moments that really stuck out visually after just one viewing.
- Early on, I was visually struck by Martha’s death. The scattering pearls and extreme close-ups in motion were impressively framed.
- The courthouse explosion was probably the best scene in the whole film. Political influence, sorrow, and realization on Supes’ face.
- Supes saving the stuck family from the flood presented him as a messiah was beautifully shot. Being backlit by the bright sky and slowly drifting into focus must have felt like pure salvation from the heavens for that poor family.
- Supes being held by a web of arms after saving the girl from the fire was awesome.
- Final battle action scene had excellent DBZ-esque action, fairly reminiscent of Man of Steel.
- Wonder Woman outfit and fighting was on point. Her sword, shield, and power was displayed in a fascinating way, despite my lack of knowledge on her at all.
- Clark getting into the bath with Lois was pretty damned cute, even if a little sugary sweet. 🙂
Additionally, the political considerations to Superman and his abilities was really fascinating, and even though I’m applying some whimsical criticisms a bit here, more focus on that element would have been on point. Maybe the extended directors’ cut brings that home further?
**e-vaughn does conclusions too**
All in all, I’m surprised that I felt personally upset about this film. I knew it wasn’t going to blow me away like Deadpool did, or have the grit and style of my favorite Marvel films in Blade 1 & 2, but I was somewhat shocked at how silly and nonsensical some of the plot, de-characterization, and acting turned out to be. Nonetheless, my desire to read reviews and user feedback prior and still form my own opinion came through in the end. Occasionally it’s hard as hell not to be swayed by loud voices, but I went into this with a level of mindfulness that may have influenced me to analyze it as best I could from my own perspective.
I’m definitely of the opinion that most media are best interpreted through a critical lens. That it’s important to engage with the content one consumes should shine through in almost all of my articles and analyses. Sometimes it’s perfectly ok to embody an air of casualness to the activities we choose to do… but more often than not there are lessons to be learned when you choose to engage your attention fully.
When you give it your all to form your own opinions — whilst either ignoring the flowing current of influencing voices, or openly accounting for those opinions yet still analyzing the content from the perspective of your own experiences — it’s then that you get a chance to recognize how you might truly feel.
Stay tuned for PART 2 of this analysis where I’ll tackle Suicide Squad and discuss factors that made it a more enjoyable-than-expected viewing compared to the vitriol of the internet.
All non-BvS photos taken from free-license sources.
All BvS photos sourced directly from WarnerBros & DCcomics websites.