First things first; congratulations to Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice for crushing it at the box office worldwide in its first weekend. Over $440 million is awesome. I wish it even more success. However, I must admit I came out of my theater experience of this film frustrated. And I think that what is missing in BvS could have been there. This movie came so close to being an all-time classic, and what is missing could have been so easy, and inexpensive, to include.
We can find what is missing in BvS, spoiler-free, by looking at Daredevil Season 2, or to avoid the DC v Marvel war, the current, ridiculously intense season of The Walking Dead. What both of these series include that BvS does not are scenes of characters talking that allow us inside, allow us to care about what happens to them. This is my biggest complaint about BvS; it is loaded with fun spectacle, but falls short on story with dramatic impact.
It is understandable to suspect that some are thinking, “Yo, $440 mil creates a big who cares?” I’ll acknowledge to some who think in these terms that they have a point, and then respond with a nod to final box office numbers for so many other films that made a big initial splash and then had legs because people connected with the story, kept earning because what happened to the characters mattered greatly to the audience. I am uncertain that the word-of-mouth on BvS is going to help sales in that regard.
And, yes, both of the shows mentioned do have many more hours in which to provide the crucial human scenes I am discussing here, but BvS would have been incredible if it added as few as two such moments of meaningful character exchange (and maybe lost a dream sequence or two). All it needs are the kind of truly emotional beats such as those we have experienced repeatedly in The Walking Dead Season 6. Never have I dreaded a season finale as I do TWD’s next Sunday.
Can such moments be done in big spectacle films? Look at Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Classic storytelling. Why? Because we are provided with scenes that allow us to care. And sure, some will say that people cared going into that film because they have been fans throughout the franchise’s 40 year history. True, but Batman and Superman have been around almost twice that time and yet it is hard to deeply care about them in this particular film.
Additionally, both SW:TFA and BvS have moments of major tragedy in the third act. Which one resonates? Which one still hurts? The answer is intimately connected to which film creates moments that get us to care about its characters.
For example, Batman has a worldview that is clearly different than Superman’s but we do not get that scene of debate, that moment which allows us in (at least not for Superman). Daredevil and Punisher’s discussion on the rooftop has been pointed to as exactly the kind of moment that would have elevated BvS. I agree, and I believe Ben Affleck will have a few such moments in the solo Batman film he is going to do because his other directorial turns have benefitted from them (See? I have hope for DC’s cinematic universe).
Event filmmaking and spectacle entertainment is fine and profitable, but utilizing the golden rule will always create finer, more profitable, and, most importantly, more beloved films. That golden rule is serve the story and make us care.