Where to begin.
As befitting the quasi-religous figure he is and as the film bearing his name often depicts, we have all for months on end now given up our prayers and put our nerd-faith in the comic god that is Superman and longed to see him onscreen alongside his Judas apostle Batman.
We prayed that the virgin Snyder would be true and kind, that by his hand we would be offered up a miracle, a DC comic book movie that might reach and surpass the heady heights of Marvel success and a movie that would be the herald of a new glorious age in the DC cinematic universe.
And it hasn't. Or has it? Maybe? Possibly?
No-one really seems to know.
Ye Oh Ho Ho A Critics Life For Me
The critics, which in these internet days is a vast pool of commentary but for simplicity sake is summed up generally via the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregate system, have not been kind.
This early reaction by them prior to the movie's release has very heavily influenced the narrative of the story of whether the movie has been a sucess and it's interesting to see how the initial negative reaction from a select few can colour the experiences of the entire audience.
For my own personal experience, before having seen it I was open-minded and excited about the film but at hearing the start of the negative buzz I instantly found my own thoughts changing from upbeat to a more reserved "well it will be worth a watch at least" and it's amazing how quickly and easily that happens, objectivity is easily and quickly lost in the thromb of press hysteria.
Snyder isn't someone who is typically loved by mainstream Critics, Mark Kermode being a notable example, and you have to wonder if many weren't simply lying in wait for the chance to be the first to proclaim 'It's no good!' like some witchfinder general at the head of a gabble of fevered critic folk.
But this isn't anything too new and via a quick read of sample reviews you find people have generally come down in two camps, the first and perhaps more sensationalist being of the opinion that it was an abomination, the second and probably more measured putting forth that it was a good outing but with varying flaws.
This isn't the oustanding praise Warner Bros execs were probably hoping for but it's only one factor of several when trying to ascertain the films 'successfulness'.
Success, Expanded Universes And Expanded Profits
What is the aim of the Batman Vs Superman movie? This is the important question in understanding how successfull this movie will be held to have been. The critic savaging is very micro focussed, likely expected, and possibly the mixed fan reaction the same but I'm certain it's the Macro picture that is more important to Warner Brothers studios.
It's little secret that DC must have been kicking itself these past 10 odd years that after doing well with the Nolan Batman series that they were left with their comics in their hands as Marvel essentially invented the super-hero movie industry and dominated it year after year. One of the big contributing factors? The MCU.
Each of the Marvel movies, whilst individually generally very good, helped to build a movie universe, with the films successes re-inforcing the success of those following and with this process building to the glory that was The Avengers, something of an almost watershed moment in comic movie history. A super-hero movie with more than 1 main intelectual property on screen at a time had long been the dream of many a comic fan but the fear of using up multiple characters on one movie likely having prevented it until the ambitious MCU came to fruition and not only did Avengers achieve this but it was also a resounding success, critically, financially, fandomly.
DC was nowhere to be seen. Nolan's Batman had been such a singular vision there was no scope to do anything more with it, Green Lantern died on it's feet, and as Marvel slowly built it's MCU one success at a time DC realised too late in the game exactly what is was that Marvel were even doing. They needed a plan and they needed it fast.
The Many Pressures Of The DCU
Let's look at some dates.
Marvels Avengers Assemble was released in 2012.
DC's Man of Steel was released in 2013.
DC's first canonical entry in it's 'DCU' came out a year after Marvels Avengers event, DC started their expanded universe efforts a year after Marvels entire 1st phase plan came to fruition, that's like starting the race an hour or two after your main competitor has won, that's a difficult position to come back from.
When you look at Man of Steel and B v S in this light certain choices and film-making decisions begin to make greater sense and in this as a fan and, to a degree, a critic you can begin to forgive them. First with Nolan moving on the powers that be at DC/WB had to know that the director for these first few pivotal DCU films was someone they could bank on to make, at the very least, a good superhero movie, if not a great one. Cue Zack Snyder, whose reputation for which whilst criticised often for style over substance is generally accepted as very good.
Next we need to look both at Man of Steel and B v S and the stories they have chosen to employ. Given the importance of success in jump-starting the DCU with these intial movies DC/WB have clearly gone for a safe route in looking to the history of both franchises for inspiration in the most popular stories that been used to date. The Superman 2 Movie featuring Zod and Army is often touted as the best Superman movie and was the basis for Man of Steel, Batman Vs Superman (spoilers) has drawn upon a big story line from each continuity and merged them together, (seriously spoilers) The Death of Superman and The Dark Knight Returns. These are two of the heaviest hitting story lines from the rich history of both properties and have been bastardised together in the name of maximum impact and hopeful ensured success.
A Recipe For a Universe
Finally we need look at the world building of the DCU. DC/WB are out of time. They don't have the luxury of getting to tease their grand plans at the end of their many phase 1 projects, they have to hit the ground running and resort to mildly hamfisted attempts such as (more spoilers) a nice tidy little dossier on a mad mans computer introducing their upcoming characters. A part of this, Wonder Woman feels strangely tagged on to the B v S movie and you get the impression she was just in it to pave the way for her solo movie, with hers being the next big outing next year, although given the power of Doomsday as a villain it did feel right to have another super indiivdual on hand to take him down.
All of these factors lead to the melting pot that is the Batman Vs Superman movie and to what gives it not suprisingly a feeling that it is a movie trying to balance many requirements. It's these internal pressures in the name of universe building that lead to some of the movies biggest failings and a few confusing moments but in the eyes of DC/WB they are likely not failings, they are acceptable losses.
DC is at war with Marvel and in War their are casualties. You can't make an ommelete without breaking a few eggs and this is, in part, something that needs to be kept in mind when viewing the movie. Batman Vs Superman is a movie that could not have been made any other way and the same can be said of Man of Steel. We are being lassooed and pulled into the DCU, not gently buttered up and led in, DC needs bums on seats and movies in the theatre as fast as possible whilst trying not to sacrifice on quality as much as they can.
The Question Of Success?
Batman Vs Superman is a good movie, bordering on a really good one, it's just not a great one and not an oustanding one. When you watch it there's parts where you feel like you've seen it all before, Batmans angsty past for one, but it's not dwelled on for the sake of screen time and moving forward, it's a movie that would love to have the time to build greater character depth but it also knows that it's got a lot to achieve. Like the warm up bands at your favourite artists gig, once Batman and Superman start fighting most of the movie feels like it was just filler to the main event anyway and it really get's you fist pumping by the time Doomsday is loose and Wonder Woman has shown up to help out.
As a fan, I found this to be it's success. It's beginning to feel like Marvel overload at the moment and the slightly grimier DC universe, especially this Milleresque version of it, feels like a nice change of style and pace. The final battle with Doomsday had me thinking, I actually think they may have achieved something Marvel haven't quite fully to date and that's a really good superhero scrap that felt it was right out of the comics. The Marvel action scenes are amazing but many of the villains feel a little flat, watching Wonder Woman and Superman shoot eye beams and bracelet waves whilst Batman distracts and grapple hooks building to building 100% comics and I loved it.
Down To Brass Taxes
On the final note of success we have to talk about something I've avoided so far and that's the money. I've avoided it not because it's not important but because understanding the criticism levied against the film in regards to it's internal pressures is necessary for better defining it's level of success once the final takings have been counted.
Following it's first week in the box office it has now made $500 Million Dollars, roughly half of it's estimated WB target of $1 Billion and $100 million more than what it cost to make. In financial terms, regardless of the critics, it will surely be seen as having proved itself financially.
So we finish with a really good DC movie that has laid a foundation for the DCU that is proving to be a financial success if not a critical one but overall is seemingly being enjoyed by the fans. There's sure to be some champagne popping at DC/WB and some brief levity before they return to attempting to achieve the impossible and continuing to take on Marvel and drive back their advance.
Let's just hope that the Super-Hero movie bubble doesn't pop in the meantime ;)