Dear Mr. Affleck,
In all likelihood you're never going to read this, but as I'm surrounded by the hellish walls of vitriol at every corner, I feel impassioned to write this. I enjoyed your Batman v Superman movie, there are some major flaws, no doubt, but I liked it and am salivating to see the three hour cut. With that said, someone messed up and not in the ways you think you might have if it were up to the insane hatred many critics and some fans have for your film. I have immense respect for your work and you're clearly not new to the seething fires of comic fanboy criticism. I imagine it's embittering seeing what a lot of these kinds of fans have said of the film considering the daunting task you guys undertook of telling a tale as gigantic as BvS. What I'm here to tell you, and ask you, is that you don't forget how awesome and capable you and your team of Terrio, Snyder, and Johns are of making perhaps the best comic book films we're ever likely to see. Batman v Superman was a tease for that. I want you to understand that making a very dark film isn't a bad thing. Making a very serious film isn't a bad thing. You should not be forced into thinking that DC's films need to be Disney certified, family-friendly, live-action cartoons in order to be successful. You just need to tighten a few screws.
Mind you, I'm an owner and lover of nearly all of the Marvel films, and more than a dozen Marvel books, but I don't want you to think there is only one way to make these kinds of films and only one kind of comic book film critics will connect with. I believe there is room for the family-friendly, big boy cartoons like Marvel and the adult-oriented, darker, more fantastic, and strange worlds DC offers. So, don't give up on this idea because of some negative reviews over one movie. DC has an identity all its own that deserves the best attention possible. Don't forget that Marvel wasn't perfect out the gate either and have had a few stinkers throughout their franchise. Some people understand stumbling in the beginning is expected, especially while trying to carry something this big. You guys got this.
But why you? I'm singling you out because I feel you're the most experienced and versatile of your team and with your voice and the character you've been bestowed with are now on a platform to hold the biggest influence. We all know now that you'll be penning some scripts and hopefully directing a few DC films of your own. I watch The Town a few times a year and it should be obvious to anyone that you're a man of huge talent. You're a terrific actor, writer, director, and producer. There's no arguing that. Even some critics who eviscerated Batman v Superman couldn't deny that your Batman and Bruce Wayne is the best we've ever seen and it's nearly impossible to disagree with that. You knocked the role so far out of the park it made jaws drop, including mine. Do not be ashamed of the character you, Snyder, and Terrio created. He makes sense. He makes perfect sense.
Many criticisms say that the ultra serious tone of BvS is unearned. You and I both know that's not exactly the truth. I'm not here to defend Man of Steel which I also liked and watch a few times a year. Again, nowhere near a perfect movie and not even one of my favorite comic book films, but I've defended many of the choices made in it. It happened, though. Man of Steel happened. The destruction happened. As badly as a lot of movie goers and fans want, we can't go back now. Thousands or more killed. Livelihoods lost. Businesses leveled. It's a sad, infuriating event. It's not unlike a certain event that happened right here on American soil several years ago. It's an event we will never forget. What does an event like that do to people immediately afterward? It embitters people as it does Bruce Wayne. It saddens people. It makes people feel vulnerable and weak, but it also makes people seek hope. It inspires some, like Bruce Wayne, to do something about it. It also inspires some, like Lex Luthor, to take advantage of it. Batman v Superman is the aftermath of this and it's precisely why the tone is the way it is and shouldn't be any different.
The super serious tone in Batman v Superman is not unearned. It damn well should be very serious, somber, and dark, but that's not particularly the problem critics and some audience members have with it. It's been a couple of days now and general audiences, it seems, are enjoying it more than critics have which is a great sign. Many I've seen are just as dumbfounded as I am about the enormous hatred slung Batman v Superman's way, wondering why if they enjoyed it, did so many hate it? I don't want you to forget that the serious tone inherently is not the problem. It's that some film making choices made, we might never be sure which, didn't provide a solid enough platform for some viewers to understand that tone. The common person isn't incapable of relating to the feelings imbued in a culture or nation when disaster has struck close to home. The first act of Batman v Superman, I believe, sets an uncomfortable precedent for the remainder of the film. Maybe we didn't get to see enough of how the common person lives and recovers after a catastrophe like the one in Man of Steel. Some viewers felt alienated, I think. Needless to say, because 30 minutes of the film had been saved for the home release, many of those omitted scenes could have provided a comfortable touchstone for those viewers. After all, Avatar, a film that went on to make multiple billions worldwide is a three hour film. Perhaps Warner Bros. forced your team to cut too much of this content, and if it's content that could have helped audiences, I believe it was a mistake. Batman v Superman, by title alone, was going to make a ton of money. Warner and your team might have been too afraid of releasing a three hour film which is understandable. Believe me, though, if it was four hours, fans would have still bought tickets and adored it. Please, don't feel as if you shouldn't make a serious comic book film in the future for fear of taking heat again. This is just a screw that needs to be tightened. People will believe in a serious tone if presented the right way.
Similarly, don't be afraid of going too dark with future DC films, and especially Batman films. Everyone knows Batman is dark. His universe is dark. I'm sure after signing on to be part of one of the biggest franchise in cinema that Geoff Johns probably opened you up to a lot of reading material. Much of that amazing material was written by Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Scott Snyder who are responsible for perhaps the very best Batman books ever written and they're all dark, all deathly serious, and all critically acclaimed works of art. Being too dark isn't the problem. Like the straight-jawed serious tone, having too much of it isn't the problem. Don't stray from it. Embrace it even more. Sell it more. Make it count. Make the darkness cut deeply and give the audience an undeniable reason for it and they will believe in it. It's just another screw.
Maybe you guys needed more room to breathe is all. You needed to permit more time to lay the bricks necessary for the solid footing viewers required to buy the tone, the twists, the motivations, and surprises. If I'm being honest, though, I'm guessing the blame likely lies on Warner for ordering cuts to the film that could have helped give the audience time to let plotlines sink in. There are so many enthralling, gripping, fantastic reasons to love Batman v Superman, your flawless Batman and Bruce Wayne, Gal Gadot's incredible Wonder Woman, Irons' awesome Alfred, Zimmer and Junkie's gorgeous score, the plethora of clever comic book Easter eggs liberally peppered throughout, the killer fight scenes, it's all beautifully well done, but it's lying in the rubble of convoluted structuring.
So long as audiences grasp the basic throughput of the film—so long as they understand what the protagonists want, what the antagonists want, and why they all go smashy smashy by the end of it—you can get away with a lot. You can lay on the esoteric comic Easter eggs, weird parallel universes, time paradoxes, split realities, surrealism, symbolism, dream sequences, or metaphorical story elements as thick as you like, and please continue to do so, but these awesome details will turn into noise if audiences don't have a safety rope to climb out of it with. They're delightful surprises that comic fans like me will chew on for years, so don't hesitate with these elements, but I think keeping that safety rope around for the critics and audiences might be a good idea in the future.
Batman v Superman is an excellent story. The script, in hand, I'm sure is literally terrific on paper, but on screen, how it's edited, how it's structured nullifies and convolutes much of the power I know is there. There is a masterpiece in Batman v Superman somewhere, and even though critics tore it apart, comic fans and even some gen-pop audiences, despite the flaws, are voicing their joys and are trying to help Batman v Superman cross whatever finish line it needs to.
A critic that kinda liked it anyway.
P.S. Superman did the best he knew how against Zod in Man of Steel, but he made some mistakes. I think he knows that now. Can we let him forgive himself, becoming the symbol of hope and truth, and the do-good-at-all-costs Boy Scout we've grown to love? Batman is dark enough for the whole of Justice League anyway.
- written by J.G. Barnes
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