I think I've heard more of a collective discussion around a Rotten Tomatoes rating for Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice than any other movie. The critics clearly did not like -- their collective rating of 29% much closer to The Green Lantern (26%) than The Dark Knight (94%).
But let's set aside the critics for a moment. Is it really a bad movie? The fans say no, with a collective rating of 70% (which is lower than Man of Steel at 75%). So, according to the voice of the fans, Zack Snyder and team went backward. It's not terrible, but maybe mediocre.
We'll get to its place in the modern and franchise movie landscape in a bit, but I want to talk about what worked and didn't in this movie.
SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT. YOU'VE BEEN WARNED.
- Batfleck. Ben Affleck's casting got massive negative reaction. (Check out this piece from 2013 to get a feel for it.) But he played him really well, owning both Bruce Wayne and Batman. I'll do this some other time, but I think his portrayal of Batman was more than worthy, possibly better than Christian Bale (don't shoot me).
- Wonder Woman. Gal Gadot's casting as the ultimate female superhero was even more decried than Affleck as the Dark Knight. I was in that camp, but not because of her boob size. I was worried about how small she was and whether she could act. The first one became irrelevant as she handles the action scenes really well. I'm much more excited about her solo film now -- I think it has a chance to be very good.
- The Batman story. When the opening sequence shows the death of the Waynes (the 1,434th time in cinematic/TV history), I was a little annoyed. "We get it, Zack. We've seen this before." But it actually worked and was short enough. Overall, the most interesting thing to me was Batman's journey -- he had the only complete arc in the movie.
- The visuals. Snyder is an incredibly gifted visual artist. He frames his shots beautifully, and everything is layered with symbolism. His action scenes really pop, even the CGI ones. I remember watching Avengers: Age of Ultron last summer and thinking, "Zack Snyder could have done better with some of these action sequences and visuals."
- Setting up the Justice League. I think they did an admirable job of connecting The Man of Steel to what will become a large, cinematic universe. I know some want these films to be self contained, but I don't. In a world of long, cinematic story telling (see Game of Thrones or Daredevil), I think people want long arcs. Yes, many movies will still be 2-hour, self-contained stories. But they don't have to be.
What Didn't Work
- Superman. After almost 5 hours of screen time, I'm still not sure who Clark Kent/Superman is. Henry Cavill looks the part of Superman, and he does a decent job. But who is this Clark? Some say Snyder's messing up the character because he isn't like [fill in the blank with whichever Superman that fan loves]. But I can live with a a new version of the character if they're fully developed. But Snyder didn't do it well enough in MofS and he didn't do it this time either.
- Story pacing and flow. As good as a visual artist as Snyder is, he struggles sometimes with pacing and flow. Like I mentioned above, I think Snyder's gifts could have been useful to some Marvel movies. Similarly, Snyder could have used some help from Joss Whedon on story and character.
- Doomsday. The ending was rushed, as Snyder tried to cram four separate stories into one movie. Suddenly Batman and Superman are friends, and Lex quickly launches Doomsday. It happens so fast that it becomes a little nonsensical. Don't get me wrong -- I actually love the final fight scene, but rushing it made the payoff at the end flat.
Going back to my original premise, this isn't a terrible movie. This isn't a disaster. This is a good movie that could have been a great one.
In some ways it's not fair (but that's life), but I wanted to show the Rotten Tomatoes rankings of rhis film alongside some other superhero movies to put this in a little context.
There's a lot here and it's not a complete list. But BvS isn't Green Lantern and it's certainly not the actual dumpster fire which was the 2015 Fantastic Four. But, according to fans and critics, it falls well short of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy and behind every single film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (not all are included above). I think the only movie it beats, for me, in the MCU is the first Thor. If I were ranking the list above , I'd have BvS a little higher, ahead of Batman Returns and Man of Steel. But these rankings prove my point: BvS is not a crappy movie, it's just not a really good one.
Where do they go from here? Well, I think we'll see some creative changes in the DCU going forward, but in no way, shape or form is it time for the 'r' word (reboot). There's enough in Snyder's world to build on. More humor, more humanity and tighter stories are needed. They don't have to match Marvel's tone or style, but they must match their quality.
But the movie's made more than $700 million in two weeks, so WB and DC are not going to scrap it, but my intuition says Snyder doesn't helm the Justice League movies or the rumored solo Batman film.
But Snyder and his team aren't guilty of making a terrible movie, just a good one. And when you're making the first movie with both Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent on screen, that's not good enough,