If you are looking at this piece for purchasing information, I will be blunt. DO NOT BUY A TICKET TO SEE THIS MOVIE. It’s not good on multiple fundamental levels but in order to explain that, I basically have to spoil the darn thing. So read on if you want to know my feelings of why this film is such an utter complete failure of a movie. If not well my caps should make it clear how I feel.
Batman v Superman does not work on a fundamental level of structure, ruining everything else in an endless cascade of suck. A sound structure for a movie so preoccupied with telling the audience (in one scene, literally) about the cost of heroism and cause and effect would’ve made this more watchable. A vast majority of scenes are assembled one after the other without any thematic flow. At one point Perry White wonders if the oft disappearing Clark Kent simply clicks his heels together three times and goes back to Kansas, a beat later we cut to the next scene. Does it involve Clark Kent or Superman? No. It’s Lois Lane investigating a magic bullet, which is followed by scenes involving Batman and Lex Luthor, before finally getting to see Superman. Scenes are assembled in a strict chronological order as to not undo plot continuity, but even that creates a mess. The opening hour follows three threads: Luthor’s plot to ruin Superman, Lois investigating a conspiracy to ruin Superman, and Batman looking into human trafficking. None of these threads cohere or tie together very well and that’s mostly due to their construction overall on macro (overall transitions and structure) and micro (moment to moment) levels. Besides the awkward transitions none of these scenes are given time to breathe and built do something meaningful, they conclude with a thud. This lack of structure and scene vitality, strips everything to a surface plot level. Somehow everyone involved (no single person deserves the blame for this catastrophic failure) managed to complicate what should be an easy plot of manipulation and fear mongering into whatever this movie is. Even with its overwrought nature, if any of these scenes had shown the audience the emotional ‘Why’ of it all this movie wouldn’t be so bad.
If two characters ‘drive the plot’ it would be Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) and Lois Lane (Amy Adams). The latter character is seemingly omniscient in his scheme to discredit Superman…and make Batman fight him? Luthor’s motivations make no sense (besides the extra textual Luthor always hates Superman); first it’s he doesn’t like Superman, but then it’s complicated by his view on God and his abusive Father. If any of that felt like it cohered into something meaningful I wouldn’t mind. All of this is built on a manic, constantly shifting from scene to scene performance by Eisenberg, until the tech giant is babbling on about Darkseid coming (or if you’re my Father, Thanos). The only thing that makes sense is Dessad, or G. Gordon Godfrey, somehow psychically corrupting him over the course of this movie, but there is no room for that.
Lois Lane was my favorite thing in Man of Steel. She was a competent reporter who was often ahead of things. This movie has no idea what to do with her, having her slowly run parallel to Luthor’s broad machinations until she figures it out and is promptly damseled for it because she’s Lois Lane. She exists as nothing more than projection for Superman and plot necessity. At one point she nearly drowns trying to retrieve Batman’s kryptonite spear, sound heroic? Nope. Because she through it in the water five minutes earlier for no apparent reason other than the movies need for her to nearly drown. Amy Adam (and every actor in this movie) deserves better. There is one sweet and tender scene she shares with Cavill that sells their relationship beautifully. This level of care and empathy is otherwise lacking in this juvenile product.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a stupid name but it’s obvious what the film should dramatically be about. In the opening credits and prologue Snyder revistis key sights of trauma in this universe, the murder of Martha and Thomas Wayne and the Battle of Metroplis from Man of Steel. This restaging of 9/11 from Bruce Wayen’s street level view reconfigures the destruction porn of the previous film and finally gives us the missing human element. A Wayne Enterprise building is destroyed in the conflict. You’d think that would be enough to turn a bitter burnt out Batman in the wrathful xenophobe seen in the trailers. Except for the first hour or so where Batman couldn’t really care about Superman and his supposed threat.
Until the Mad Max inspired Knightmare sequence. The film somehow complicates what should be an easy metaphoric trip into Wayne’s tortured psyche (it’s the third dream sequence in this movie). It might not be a dream but really a psychic vision of the future brought on by The Flash, who appears out of a time portal (perhaps a boom tube) warning him through garbled audio that he was right and that Lois is the Key. It’s only then that Batman suddenly become the Dick Cheny 1% doctrine spewing xenophobe of the marketing material, because he has to fight Superman in 30 minutes.
I feel sorry for Ben Affleck; he is a good thing in an otherwise terrible movie. He brings a world weariness and age to Bruce Wayne that we haven’t really seen before. He fights like he’s out of the Arkham games for better and worse. He attacks problems with the ease of the world’s greatest detective, who can’t figure out he’s being conned. With Snyder’s deconstructionist and ‘serious’ sensibilities, you’d think the Dark night would be a character he understood. Until the moment comes when it is evident he understands nothing. Batman kills people, not just in the Knightmare sequence but in reality. Dragging and smashing cars with at least 2-4 people in them, shooting other cars up with his vehicles various machine guns in a truncated chase sequence. There’s that time he straight up stabs a dude in the chest. Oh yeah, he also SHOOTS SOMEONE WITH A GUN IN HIS HAND. But these moments of intentional murder pale in comparison to the ritualistic branding he subjects some of his victims to (often sex traffickers/criminals) so that the people in prison will kill them for him! Starting Batman in a darker place makes a lot of sense, this was inspired by The Dark Knight Returns after all. In having him fall so far, the movie robs his vigilance of any semblance of moral superiority and righteousness in comparison to Superman. Until all the killing the idea of a Ben Affleck directed Batman feature sounded like a no brainer, but now I don’t think I want that. His ending moment of rejuvenation that “Men are still good” falls flat, like everything else in this movie.
With Man of Steel (a film that looks amazing in comparison) you could argue that director Zack Snyder and writer David Goyer misunderstood the essence of Superman. The character is an aspirational boy scout, which can work on film just look at Captain America. Batman v Superman was a chance to right that wrong and let Superman be Superman. Instead, it is clear that Zack Snyder very likely hates Superman. For as much as this film is a supposed response to Man of Steel’s critics Snyder misses the point of the criticism with his treatment of the titular character. At one point, Superman agrees to appear before Senator Finch’s (Holly Hunter) committee on Superman. A chance to literally talk out the ending of Man of Steel and Superman’s actions in the world of the past 18 months. Superman doesn’t even get to utter a word before Luthor’s bomb goes off, the film is more interested in setting up a joke involving Lex Luthor’s urine. Superman is profoundly robbed of agency and voice, reduced to a moping put upon hero who is never certain of his actions. He is disconnected from humanity, only afforded meaningful interaction with Lois, Ma Kent, and Ghost Dad. This isn’t a Superman of the people; this isn’t even Superman when the world mourns his sacrifice. No one involved understands the character and this film is ruined because of it. It’s a shame how poorly utilized Henry Cavill is, he is a charming presence and clearly understands the character going off his press interactions.
And then there is the fight, a conflict with no dramatic setup beyond Luthor telling us that it’s time for “fight night”. As a sequence, it’s actually quite good with Snyder’s staging of a duel between two masculinities (though much of that must be brought to the film extra textually). Every move is with purpose and it quickly reveals the juvenile root of wondering if Batman and Superman ever fought, who would win. Even the ludacris revelation that both “heroes” share mothers named Martha kind of works, just for the sheer amount of Freud I can bring to that moment, and some slick editing. However, like everything in this movie it feels like an attempt to be clever by restaging a bit of comics ephemera and it fails. When it is inevitably posted to YouTube, check it out.
Do not watch the fight with Doomsday. It is a weightless series of CGI tracking shots of the CGI trinity battling a CGI monster that looks like a Lord of the Rings reject. If the titular fight had purposeful movement this has no purpose and feels quickly cobbled together in order to show us the Trinity (because Dawn of Justice). This series of shots is meant to evoke the bombastic double page spreads in comic books and fails. For better examples see the opening of Age of Ultron or the second episode of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.
Amazingly Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman may come out of this the best. There was an audible cheer when she burst on to screen in full hero gear. It’s not that the movie does anything of interest with the character, she just has nice chemistry with Affleck and people remember her from the Fast and Furious franchise.
Zack Snyder’s view of heroism is antithetical to their nature as mass media objects. He views heroism as an absolute burden with nothing good ever coming from it, only pain and destruction for everyone involved. Batman and Superman are bother murders! I have no doubt in my mind that the members of the Suicide Squad will be more heroic this August than these two.
When Marvel/Disney created their superhero-industrial-complex with their connected series of films, the idea that they are too big to fail has come up time and again. To their credit, none of their movies, besides the inconsequential The Incredible Hulk have really failed financially or critically. Other studios have tried to build their own infrastructure most have failed, FOX and the X-Men have lasted the longest. Now in an act of retroactive continuity, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice acts as Warner Bros. first foray into their own complex announcing 5 years’ worth of films and already producing two of them (Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman). That 5-year plan is going to be put to the test with Dawn of Justice,a confusingly structured, dramatically weightless, verging on incompetent, film.
In an interview with the LA Times, star Ben Affleck laid a preemptive defense with the promise that the infrastructure is too big to fail “They're going to make all these movies regardless. Will every DC movie be great and be successful? No. Would it be good if "BvS" works for them? Yes, obviously. But if any one of the movies doesn't work, it doesn't mean it all goes away.” Coming out of Dawn of Justice that doesn’t seem like a capitalist promise of scale, so much as a threat of more Zack Snyder’s bastardized visions of these great characters.
In the lead up to Batman v Superman the worst people would say is that it’d be Iron Man 2-esque, a movie commonly derided for being saddled with “set-up” duties. Only Iron Man 2 shortcomings was not its setup, which was minor at best, it failed because it could not decide which conflicting bit of Tony Stark related drama to go with. No a more apt comparison to make with this movie is The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a film the collective conscious has rightly forgotten. In both cases each, film shoehorned in world building on top of an already incomprehensible plot with no dramatic stakes despite solid turns from its lead actors. Amazing Spider-Man 2 killed the universe it was supposed to create. With two films finishing production, whatever meager box office returns Dawn of Justice gets hopefully won’t affect those movies too much. But it’s clear that major changes are in order for Justice League and the films spinning out of it.