Originally written for scenome.com
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice could’ve been one good Superman movie and one good Batman movie. But together they form a movie that’s an aimless, inconsequential, graceless Frankenstein’s monster made by people who didn’t know which boat to get into so they just tied them all together and said, “look what we just made! Now let’s hop in and see if it floats!”
Like many, I hopped into the boat hoping it would. Let’s see how it holds up.
The movie begins solidly enough. A deceptively beautiful series of shots puts a new image to the death of Bruce Wayne/Batman’s (Ben Affleck) parents. One particular shot of the gun bouncing back as it’s fired, snapping Martha Wayne’s pearls signifies that maybe director Zack Snyder has finally learned the difference between serious and dramatic. The scene is followed up with an adult Wayne barreling through a chaotic Metropolis as the climax of Man of Steel unfolds. Again, it seems Snyder has aged, learning how to use the chaos to establish an emotional foundation that will lead through the movie.
This boat seems like a pretty smart idea at this point.
Then my worst fears came to light. One of the glaring mistakes of Man of Steel rears its ugly head: the movie sinks into a series of “and then, and then, and then” sequences. Wayne does this, and then Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) does this, and then Lois Lane (Amy Adams) does this, and then we meet Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) who does this. And what’s worse is that what’s missing from these scenes is any sense of emotional or logical establishment. We are just plopped down into the middle of a situation, and within less than a minute the situation is remedied and we are onto the next. It’s like Snyder is either bored of his own characters or he is so overwhelmed by all the info he has to cover that he’s just barreling through it, greatest hits style.
Now the boat is starting to feel a bit wobbly.
This series of strung together moments tries to resemble a coherent plot, but unfortunately they all function in their own bubbles, hardly connecting. Wayne spends a lot of time tracking down a gang of thugs, Superman is somberly meditating over his place in the world (again) and in the center is Luthor being very sneaky with a political figure played by Holly Hunter. Everyone seems to be handling their own separate business, which would be okay if any of it, well, mattered. Everything these characters involve themselves in seems to be met with sulking and having very serious conversations that add up to no meaning. The biggest victim is Lane, who does so much with so little purpose, traveling the world on this voyage that results in simply finding out Luthor has goons. Only the deeds of Luthor have any significant results at the end.
But the supposed root of it all—the big picture—is that Wayne hates Superman because he poses a threat, and Superman hates Batman because… he’s a little violent, I guess. That is what we are lead to believe, is what causes the “v” in the title. A battle of morals and ideologies, it seems, which is a pretty fantastic foundation and one befitting a much darker comic book realm. Except, most of the blame on Superman by Wayne and the government trying to control him is unfounded. They say he poses a threat as a “god”, blaming him for the deaths of civilians and the destruction of their towns. But when does this ever happen?
Near the beginning Superman saves Lane from a terrorist after a report goes wrong. He beats the one bad guy and then the scene is over. No other destruction ensues. And yet, he is blamed and interrogated for some supposed crime he has committed. What the government and Bats are forgetting is all the other good Superman does in the midst of this. He saves people from a burning buildings and floods with zero collateral damage. There’s no reason to see this man as a villain, so all this hatred from Wayne and others seems irrational. It’s simply a reflection of a paranoid, Trump-era xenophobia gone rampant where instead of sitting down to discuss things with Superman over tea they immediately cut to burning his effigy. It then makes any hatred of Superman seem moot and irrational, breaking down any “What is good? What is bad?” argument. And then Superman sort of dislikes Batman because… he’s a little violent.
Uh-oh, I think I saw some water sprout.
As for this new Wayne, Affleck plays him with anger and intensity we’ve never seen from the billionaire playboy. He’s haunted and world-weary, but still manages a bit of debonair charm. He’s in the right emotional state to hate Superman, even if his reasons are unexplored and superficial. As for the Dark Knight, I fear this is what will gather the most division. Not to mention his first big unveiling to the audience, which should’ve been grand and dramatic, is more unintentionally hilarious. It involves a cop discovering the Bat’s handiwork on some thugs, and in the edge of the frame we see Bat awkwardly hanging out in the corner, in full light, possibly hoping no one would see him, ultimately skittering away like a frightened cat when the cop, shockingly, sees him. The only thing missing is a hiss and him knocking over a dumpster when he flees. I mean, were they going for master ninja or Life of Brian gag?
Yes, he is brutal and tactical if not totally as methodical as the Nolan/Bale version. He pounds a room of criminals with ferocity but still gets stabbed and shot to the point where he should be dead. But you gotta give it up for that Kevlar, makes scanning a room much less necessary. Not to mention his utter lack of regard for human life, probably killing more people than any other cinematic versions of the character combined, not even afraid to use a machine gun now and again.
At the end of the day, this is a movie featuring two stories about two men who only meet once to minimal effect. So when they do come around to fighting, not only is it a letdown of emotional stakes, but of to the word “versus” as well. What was built up to be a fight of ideals and clashing personalities is a battle of misunderstandings set in place by the sneaky punk Luthor. The two titans have rarely any screen time together before the showdown, giving it zero emotional resonance or any real reason to occur other than a title to live up to. The battle is over in minutes, as it checks off moments from the trailer, only to be resolved in, “Wait a minute, Luthor is doing this?” “Yes, that’s what I tried to tell you.” “Oh, my bad, dude, I had no idea. Let me help you up. I’m sorry, are you okay?” Now they’re friends, having done nothing to change each other’s minds other than clumsily throw each other around for five minutes and then realize they were tricked into doing it.
The boat is sinking! Save the women and children!
As for this trickster, Eisenberg’s Luthor erases any of the charm or gravitas of Kevin Spacey’s or Gene Hackman’s previous iterations, replacing him with a smarmy little twerp who just hates everything for whatever reason. This is mostly the writing from scribes Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer who try to turn him into a fast-talking, menacing Joker knock-off, but instead he comes off obnoxious and whiney. He’s crazy, but not villainous, as his intentions are so over the place and sneaky. He lacks any passion or greater ambition. It’s such a shame too, that he is able to trick Superman and The World’s Greatest Detective into disliking each other with such amateur little tricks like, “Hey, did you know he said this about your mom?”
The rest of the climax is an assault on the senses with explosions and things crashing into other things as the movie decides it was always meant to be a Justice League precursor and the whole “versus” angle was just a marketing ploy. The finale has nothing to do—structurally or emotionally—with the rest of the movie. This is best represented with the occasional presence of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) who makes momentary appearances with Wayne earlier on, simply to let everyone know she does in fact exist. She has five lines of dialogue all-throughout (only ever with Wayne), and then joins the fight at the end as if it were meant to happen, when really it was just to make nerds happy. Does she have a place in the plot? Not even the slightest. Does she look cool? Indeed. Sadly, her presence in the grand scheme of things is like a size 12 girl squeezing into a size 8 dress. No matter how hard she tries to convince us with her confidence that she belongs in that dress, we all know she doesn’t fit.
Not to mention they all team up against a last-minute, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle monster-of-the-week because of course they have to. Ignore the “Batman v Superman” part of the title. The only thing you are meant to take away is “Dawn of Justice”. This would all be forgivable if it were at least entertaining. But the carnage is so immense it’s almost impossible to tell who is where and what they’re doing. It’s super people swinging at a super monster on a fiery battlefield until, at one point, it just ends. It sounds very grand in scale, and in some way it is, given the mythos of the characters involved, but with little reasons for the battle’s existence, it seems more deliberate than exciting. By the end no natural emotional resolution is met and whatever beef that was supposed to have existed between the two main heroes is squashed under piles of rubble and incoherently structured action scenes with no lasting consequences in place. Hooray for teamwork!
The boat has capsized. I can feel the cold water filling my lungs. Now I know what Dicaprio went through.
This could’ve been a great Superman movie or a great Batman movie, but instead it was a bad mixture of both. Every momentous “oooh” and “ahhh” is met with equal parts “uh, okay?” and “I guess that works”. Anything remotely positive, like the Bat himself, Wonder Woman’s minute presence or even the operatic scale is not without some level of fault. The need to please fans’ unsightly high expectations and to compete with Marvel at their level has created an assault on senses and logic-driven mind that will either please fans with all the “epic” images from comic book lore (not to give anything away) or piss them off for doing this to their favorite heroes. Snyder and team have proven whatever formula they’re working with is not working, but I hope in time they can find the right mixture. I want to love these movies so much, but it’s hard when there is no passion from either the characters in what they’re doing, or the people behind the camera. I saw the movie with a longtime fan of Superman, and when asked what he thought of the ending he said, “It didn’t matter. By the end I felt nothing.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.