To understand my viewpoint in this review, you must understand that the antagonist in a film does not have to be an actual person. If you watch this movie without that in mind and are not following the film with your feelings, then you will be hopelessly lost. You will walk away confused and empty, thinking that you’ve just witnessed a complete mess.
In my opinion the greatest films feature an antagonist which is something we face but can’t control. Death for example. Richard Donner’s Superman features such an antagonist. From the beginning to the end it is Superman’s struggle. What better enemy for a character that has no equal in life. The first moments of the film foreshadow it when Krypton explodes. The way it is introduced to our hero is an example of film perfection. Clark has just expressed to his father that he needs a purpose and that purpose in his mind would be one that uses all his abilities. A few moments later his father collapses, dead, introducing the villain. At the funeral he expresses his anguish, “All those things I can do, all those powers… and I still couldn’t save him.”
Superman gets his chance in his final fight. Holding Lois’s dead body, then screaming in emotional agony. It would seem that his powers were only limited by rule of law. Which he subsequently breaks, of course to save Lois. This eventually leads to Superman II which Donner did not helm but was to showcase the penalty for our hero, death. Which is why he returns to his destroyed fortress of solitude, to beg forgiveness for his wrong that started when he turned back time. The events in the 2nd movie were only the second half of his folly. Once his powers are restored, the Superman that turned back time is killed and in line with that, also his earthly romantic relationships. In my opinion it was a great loss that Donner did not direct the second film.
Batman VS Superman, Dawn of Justice, is a film of similar structure. I was completely amazed and after seeing the first few scenes, the juices of my mind started to water. When I see a film, I feel it. Quite literally. In a less skillfully crafted film, I might only feel tension, nausea or dread. During some films halfway through I’m shaking, especially if they are violent. With directors that haphazardly place scene after scene into a nonsensical form. Like a color blind painter who just throws colors at the canvas or a mathematician that writes equations that have no bearing in reality. No, this film was something far superior.
At first I felt sadness, then slowly anger was added until a point where it was left to simmer. When Bruce spoke of his dream and the bats had carried him above the cavern floor, I knew instinctively that this was it. The first third of the film continued like a freight train of pure agonistic sorrow. Both heroes in a hopeless battle against their past. In tears they kill and maim, Superman hiding in his power, having created a fortress of solitude in his mind.
An element that was derided by unscrupulous reviewers were the dream sequences. These scenes are uncanny genius in my opinion. Brief oceans of calm where the boil builds beneath the surface, each of the heroes traveling more ground, looking for answers, not finding them, but undaunted.
This is a story about fathers, specifically how each individual copes with their own feelings of inadequacy and helplessness to achieve a dream they will never and could never have known. The attempt to bring meaning to their lives by fulfilling their fathers wishes.
One of my favorite moments is when Luthor shows the pictures of Martha to Superman. I think it may be the most pivitol point in the film. I could feel Superman’s anger followed by the thoughts. The audacity, to tempt me, Superman. I should crush you, rip you apart, throw your blood across the city. You are nothing to me. It is a privilege that I grant you that you may live.
And then, he catches himself. Knowing know what he truly is, what he has become or who has has always been. The heart of a tyrant. The grief now not just for his mother but for himself, who he was supposed to be now clearly betrayed by who he is. The film had characters constantly say, “tyrant”. And this is kept in line when Perry is continually defied by Clark. Clark continues on his own path that he has set, because in his mind it is allowed by his authority.
Bruce under the same veil of sorrow comes to a similar reckoning just after he “brands” Superman. With the spear in his hand, having already decided to end his life. The word “Martha” echoing in his mind, the mental symbol of his anguish now audibly spoken, a more powerful spear, now he had become deadlocked, unable to move forward. A brief moment when his psychosis is exposed.
Brought back into the world by Lois, Batman tosses his weapon to the ground, for him it is a symbol of his failure. Now a dirty and disgraceful thing to him.
In the fight scenes that follow, Batman is no longer in his captivity. We see the hero we know. Broken necks and bullet ridden bodies are nowhere to be found. This follows for Superman as well, now humbled he puts on his new purpose, to fight for their world not his world.
In my opinion the film is a critical masterpiece.
I may revisit this review in the future when it is released on Blu-Ray. I’d like to go over an exposition highlighting the how Lex Luthor also takes a similar journey.