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In defense of ‘Batman vs. Superman,’ a film brave enough to launch a franchise using a college football game

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Loving something broken is no different in film than sports

Justice League Photocall Photo by Ollie Millington/Getty Images

“Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” is a 2017 comic book film known mainly as a whopping failure of a commercial enterprise.

That criticism stems from the fact “BVS” is an emotionally overwrought mess. Along with its precursor, “Man of Steel,” and its Joss-Whedon-mangled dogshit successor “Justice League,” Snyder’s DC movies needle casual viewers with the pace and ennui of something closer to dorm room folk music than the pop melodies of Robert Downey Jr. cracking wise in a rocket suit.

After its theatrical release, director Zack Snyder was painted as the one person responsible for splintering any hope DC Comics and Warner Brothers had of competing with Disney’s commercially successful (and emotionally buoyant) Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I recognize the popular reaction to these films not because I agree, but to acknowledge the fact that you probably haven’t seen “Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice: Ultimate Edition” (yes, it has two colons), the three-hour-plus director’s cut currently available on HBO Max.

If you believe “BVS” lacks any of the carefree charm or aplomb that made Marvel a cinematic force, you’re gonna HATE “Ultimate Edition.” I love “BVS: DOJ: UE” (lol) and the preposterous “Snyderverse” films. So much.

  1. They’re DC’s best — and likely last attempt — at a film version of its marquee characters. These films are water in the cinematic desert for us DC fans. Yes, I am aware the water is gray. And sad. But it is potable.
  2. I love the grave seriousness with which Snyder treats the material. I’m that guy. I love the whimsy of Thor: Ragnorok and Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, but I fucking love how dour these movies get. I love the idea of adding and adding emotional weight to aliens fighting men in tights, and then adding even more to achieve Biblical seriousness. I also choose not to explore what this says about me.

Most of all I love this movie because of all the plot devices one could choose to assemble the gods-among-mortals in the Justice League, Snyder chose bad college football fans. I am totally serious: A college football game activates Superman, as reporter Clark Kent, to visit Gotham City.

I don’t care how overwrought or needlessly moody you think this movie is. Snyder imbued the imaginary gods of my youth with the extant devils of my adult day job. Seriously: Shitty college football fans spark the creation of the Justice League.

This movie speaks to me. Me. Specifically. I believe this to a frightening degree. Maybe not as much as Son of Sam believed in that talking dog, but enough to defend Aquaman with a straight face.

At the 20-minute mark of “BVS: DOJ: UE,” two police officers in Gotham are watching an ESPN broadcast of “Metropolis State” beating “Gotham City” 58-0. And before we go any further — ESPN? HOW DID DISNEY LET THAT HAPPEN?

Anyway: You can hear the voice of ESPN announcer Dave Pasch describing “Metropolis again blowing out Gotham,” alongside analyst Tom Luginbill. When “BVS: DOJ: UE” was released on home video in 2017, I interviewed Pasch about his experience.

Luginbill had a mutual friend with Zack Snyder, and Snyder wanted to create a specific football dynamic to define the differences between Metropolis and Gotham City. Metropolis was supposed to be successful, affluent, and positive, both as an on-field football team and a fan base. Gotham needed to be the opposite (Hogville, basically).

“They flew us into Detroit two summers ago [in 2015]. It was crazy. You’re sworn to secrecy for movies like this. We got picked up and the studio was somewhere in Pontiac, I think. They had an abandoned warehouse where they were doing a lot of the shooting.

The game itself, featuring a black-and-gold Gotham team (one that looks similar to the Gotham pro football team Bane blows up in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises”) and a blue-and-red Metropolis team was organized by a Los Angeles company that specializes in creating football games for TV and film. Pasch and Luginbill shot their commentary in front of a green screen on the main set in Michigan.

“The football game I think was [shot] in L.A., maybe a year or six months prior. We had the clips in front of us and we could write our own script. [Snyder] would review it and tweak it but we had authority over how we could do it. We watched the highlights and practiced so we knew what we wanted to do when we filmed it.”

With Metropolis up 58-0 and holding the ball on a 3rd and 10 with seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Luginbill and Pasch ad lib the conversation that normally comes in the waning moments of a broadcast — thanking their producers and crew for their work in the game.

Suddenly, Metropolis’ quarterback looks to the sideline and calls out a formation change. The offense moves a receiver out wide, and the quarterback, “Clarkson,” steps back into the shotgun. He snaps the ball and throws a touchdown pass to a receiver named “Zeke Baker” as time expires.

“I can’t believe I just watched that,” Luginbill says.

“And now a fight breaks out… Gotham City, you know how they are about their football team. Things could get ugly in the city tonight,” Pasch says.

That’s it. As the fight ends the game, a pair of cops watching the broadcast are called to bust a sex trafficking ring in a decrepit building where Batman has just tortured the gangster in charge, branding him with a piece of bat-shaped metal while frightened women look on. It’s a light-hearted film.

The next day, Daily Planet editor Perry White assigns reporter Clark Kent a story with the headline first: “Underdog Dreams Dashed: Ten Yards Between Gotham and Glory.” But there’s one major storytelling problem in BVS: In the theatrical cut of the film, the previous football scene was cut completely.

“If you watch the extended cut it makes more sense,” Pasch said. “In the theatrical version Perry White keeps asking Clark Kent, ‘You need to cover the football game instead of this bat thing’ and if you’re watching you’re like, ‘What football game?’”

As a Snyder apologist (at least in relation to the DC films), I choose to believe uncaring coastal elites in Hollywood with degrees from schools tackle football just doesn’t mean more made this stupid edit.

Kent wants to investigate the mysterious, above-the-law vigilante Batman, so he takes a ferry to Gotham. Later in “BVS: DOJ: UE” Perry hollers about not having any copy about the football game and the fight.

The abandoned college football storyline is a drop in the ocean of criticism against this film, the amount of which has in recent years brought me some relief: I choose to believe so many people have so many problems with these particular DC films because they, too need to see the celluloid realization of the characters as an assemblage as much as I do.

Otherwise, without that desire, this is just a long, messy film. At its most ambitious, BVS tries to muse upon American violence and religious angst. But it’s also a comic book where the guy who played Mark Zuckerberg does alien genetic engineering in a space hot tub. It’s a movie where a Senate hearing about arms dealers in Africa ends when a mason jar of urine signals a bomb. It’s alternate realities and end of the world prophecies, it’s a heaping ton of Christian imagery and dogma, Wonder Woman shows up, and the third act is built entirely on the conceit of moms named Martha.

Also Batman uses military-grade weapons to murder 40 bad guys. I love this movie.