Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a movie which doesn’t deserve its derided reputation. Yes, it’s hugely flawed but there’s much to enjoy in Zack Snyder’s 2016 superhero smash-up. One of the film’s highlights is Ben Affleck‘s turn as Batman/Bruce Wayne. It’s probably the best screen version of The Dark Knight that we’ve seen and it’s a shame Affleck never got to shine in a solo Batman film. He would have been great.
Ben Affleck’s ageing Batman/Bruce Wayne is the true star of the show – and Affleck finally gives us the character that has graced the pages of comic books since 1939. Michael Keaton may have been able to deliver the twisted psyche in the Tim Burton movies and both Val Kilmer and George Clooney brought a handsome playboy swagger to the Joel Schumacher years, while Christian Bale gave a brutal physicality to the role. However, none of them managed to fully deliver on the fact that Bruce Wayne (and Batman) has a psychotic streak which runs through his core and that he uses this for good rather than evil, though his sense of right and wrong is morally blurred. He might be fighting for good, but his outlook methods are as dark as the world he inhabits. Snyder and Affleck finally present this to audiences and anyone expecting an Adam West-style version of the character had better look elsewhere.
It might seem repetitive for Zack Snyder’s Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice to once again show the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents (the fifth time since 1989) but it factors into the plot in more ways than just showing what drives Bruce Wayne to do what he does. This time the oft-told tale depicts the Wayne family at a cinema showing The Mark of Zorro and John Boorman’s 1981 fantasy Excalibur – two things that offer an important insight into Snyder’s Batman. The Zorro comparisons are (and always have been obvious) – a rich playboy with a cavernous lair, who fights for justice by using a black mask and cape to hide his identity.
The Excalibur motif is new to the world of the Dark Knight but significant in the construction of this version of the character. The thrust of Boorman’s Arthurian tale was a search for a Holy Grail and it saw Nigel Terry’s King Arthur lose his sense of purpose on his long quest. The use of the emerald green green and the heavy duty medieval armour were a large part of that film’s epic and dreamlike narrative. Green too infuses Batman V Superman through the use of Kryptonite which Batmanweaponises to defeat Superman – and when Ben Affleck’s finally confronts Henry Cavill’s Man Of Steel he’s wearing armour that literally makes him a ‘dark knight’. Both movies also see a pivotal weapon impaled into rock and tossed into a body of water, before returning to the surface in climatic moments. Snyder’s film is also stacked with many dream sequences, which again like Boorman’s movie, plays with the connection of dream vs reality.
It’s as if Snyder is implying that Batman’s Holy Grail is his never ending search of justice (like Arthur he lost sight of his true purpose) though it takes the coming together of The Justice League (his Knights of the Roundtable) to finally get him back on track.