Going in, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had a lot to prove. It’s the sequel to what was a joyless disappointment of a movie in Man of Steel; it’s the first time Batman has appeared onscreen since Christopher Nolan’s mostly excellent Dark Knight trilogy; and it sets up a cinematic universe that Warner Brothers hopes will challenge Disney’s Marvel franchise, at least at the box office. The odds were definitely stacked against director Zack Snyder, but, ultimately, none of this really matters. What matters is if Batman v Superman is a good movie.
And a good movie it is not.
Actually, that’s being a bit too kind. Batman v Superman is a god-awful mess of a film. It’s somewhat sickening that an estimated $410 million was spent making this incoherent, testosterone-fueled abomination, and, rest assured, this isn’t the nerd-rage talking. I don’t want to see people fail. More to the point, I’m not some Marvel elitist who feels pitted against DC fanboys. Simply put, there are 410 million reasons this film should not exist in its current state. I wish that weren’t the case because I’m sure a legion of decent people worked on this film, but here we are.
I took notes on the film, and I’m glad that I did because it’s going to be a real chore trying to piece together what Zack Snyder considers a narrative. You’ve been warned, several times already as a matter of fact, but allow me to be perfectly clear. Not only is Batman v Superman held together so tenuously that it feels like three boring films spliced together by an editor on meth, but it’s chock-full of enough meaningless plotlines to make your head explode. It’s as incomprehensible as it is stupid as it is boring, and it’s hard for me to talk about something so ludicrous without sounding a bit crazy myself. So I apologize in advance.
Here goes nothing.
We start with Batman’s origin story, which unfolds during the opening credits. Jeffrey Dean Morgan steps into the shoes of Thomas Wayne because Jeffrey Dean Morgan must die suddenly and tragically whenever he’s on camera, so sayeth our Hollywood overlords. Now, Batman’s origin does not need to be belabored, it’s already been done to death (har-har). However, Snyder does make an interesting choice here that’s worth mentioning. That’s a nice way of saying, “He done goofed up.” You see, Thomas Wayne doesn’t die trying to keep his family out of harm’s way. No. Thomas Wayne, instead, decides to provoke his accoster by punching him in the face like some HGH fiend, basically getting both him and Martha, his wife, shot and killed in front of their son. Why? “Why not,” says Zack Snyder like a manly man that loves men more than Vince McMahon. Buckle in.
That first scene is over quickly enough, but it sets the tone for everything yet to come. For people who value good characters with proper motivations, you’re screwed. For Batman purists who know exactly what they want from a 2016 Batman film, abandon all hope. For regular ol’ folk who just want to turn their brains off and have fun for a night, grab a pillow. It’s all downhill from here.
During this opening scene we get interspersed shots of little boy Bruce running away from his parents’ graves. He, of course, falls into a cave, with a bunch of bats, and you already know how this goes too. Or do you? You see, what actually happens next is the bats swarm Bruce creating a vortex around the child that levitates him from the cave floor back to ground level. I’m not even kidding a little bit. All I could picture was Harry Potter somewhere off-screen yelling, “Wingardium Leviosa!” in young Bruce’s direction. Of course, it’s a dream sequence, one of many in the film, but that doesn’t change the fact that Batman v Superman confused several audience members enough at my theater to incite a wave of chortles and scoffs before it could really get started.
When the movie finally does begin, we relive the final act of Man of Steel, but through Bruce Wayne’s eyes. In it, we’re treated to Ben Affleck running through streets, staring up at buildings collapsing, and calling his employees to warn them, to like, run away and stuff. Bruce actually has to say, “Get the people out of the building, right now,” to one of his employees as they all watch two aliens lay waste to the skyscrapers around them multiple stories off the ground. It actually made me feel less conflicted about the people Superman may have accidentally killed during the last movie—you know, Darwinism and all.
Next we cut to Lois Lane who is somewhere in Africa interviewing a terrorist. The cut happens exactly that abruptly, and if you plan on seeing this movie you better get used to these rough transitions.
Being the award-winning journalist that she is, Lois’s first and only question to her interviewee is, “Are you a terrorist?” because that’s a good use of everyone’s time. I’m not making this up. I wish I were. It’s agonizing for me to get hung up on dialogue this early in the movie—especially when there are far more obvious flaws to address. That’s like ridiculing a serial killer for poor dental hygiene. I’ve mentioned the dialogue once, it’s bad throughout, let’s move on.
Of course, Lois’s interview deteriorates into a shootout rather quickly, and her alien boyfriend has to intervene, and then America gets mad at him for reasons, I guess. Superman’s main obstacle throughout the rest of the film is helping the people who fear him, only there isn’t much internal conflict for the Man of Steel. He keeps saving people because that is what super men do. I think this is supposed to qualify as a theme of sorts. It’s the whole “with great power comes great responsibility” thing mixed with moral obligation, which we’ve already seen done to death in other films (like Man of Steel, for instance). Read into it more if you’d like, but that’s an exercise in futility not worth anyone’s time if you ask me.
The dichotomy between men and gods, Batman and Super-not-man, is what the movie emphasizes above all else. It’s represented as subtly as Bruce Wayne’s sullen slow motion walks to his parents’ stately mausoleum. I will admit, however, there are some moments akin to poignancy. For instance, Bruce has a decent line to Alfred—who is more Lucius Fox than he is butler in this movie—about his determination to subdue Superman. Wayne basically says that even if there is a one percent chance that Superman is a threat, he has to do something about it. Swap out “Superman” for “gun violence” or “global warming” and that’s a rather noble concept to get behind. One might even say that it informs the brand of heroism this character prescribes to, which is why it’s too bad Batman’s lust for blood eventually gets the better of him. And no, I don’t think that’s much of an overstatement.
Pitting these two icons against each other—mostly from the sidelines—is Lex Luthor, played by Jesse Eisenberg. Luthor is less megalomaniacal super villain here, and more manic Mark Zuckerberg. Let me first say that this is one of the weirdest depictions of Lex Luthor that I’ve ever seen, mostly because I’ve always known the character to be, first and foremost, a capitalist. Granted, this is supposed to be Lex Luthor Jr., but that doesn’t make his M.O. any clearer.
Luthor claims to also see Superman as a threat, but that’s only to get access to General Zod’s corpse and his crashed ship. Despite getting his hands on this alien technology, he never uses these assets to gain power. Instead, he turns into the Joker and decides to create chaos. He’s nefarious only because the film needed an antagonist to bring its main characters together, which is why it feels like such a waste. This is not Lex Luthor or a wholly unique character; this is Jesse Eisenberg doing his best imitation of Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight.
While the main players try stopping the unstoppable force that is Superman, the audience is treated to: more dream sequences, Perry White screaming at his writers at the Daily Planet that, “No one cares about Clark Kent taking on the Batman,” (no kidding), and a mystery bullet plot that goes mostly nowhere. And now, to rant about all three.
Dream sequences can be effective. Six Feet Under, for instance, used visions, delusions, and nightmares to enhance its emotional impact and inform certain characters. Batman v Superman is the antithesis of that. Each dream sequence in the movie is more preposterous than the last, and pointlessly distracting to boot.
The opening that depicts Batman’s origin story is the only time a dream sequence serves at least some purpose, but since the execution stinks I can’t excuse it from ridicule. What’s worse is that Batman v Superman uses this flashback twice because after sitting through this tedious movie for two hours the filmmakers assume you’re also too dumb to remember something as prolific as Bruce Wayne’s childhood. It’s pretty clunky, but still not as baffling as including dream sequences for cameo appearances, or to depict a potential future full of Parademons. The latter is used to justify an action sequence, almost as if Snyder could sense the movie dragging.
The only thing maybe more confusing than these lengthy, false asides are Lawrence Fishburne’s Daily Planet tirades. The movie cuts to editor-in-chief Perry White on a few occasions, during which he demands to know the whereabouts of Clark Kent before the movie goes back to something slightly more important. I’m not even sure the followings scenes always cut back to Superman immediately afterward, which could have been humorous, maybe. Instead, like some deranged truancy officer, Fishburne hovers around Clark’s desk and interrogates his employees despite having a newspaper to manage. I’m sure glad this side story was thrown in to flesh out the universe, especially when White seems so indifferent to Superman’s existence in the first place.
Then, there’s Lois who is on a wild goose chase to find where a bullet lodged in her notebook—after her failed interview with that terrorist guy—came from. It’s another weird aside, because it means so little in the context of the story, but I guess if you’re paying someone as talented as Amy Adams you might as well try to get your money’s worth.
The bullet is unlike any other bullet, apparently. How Lois knew this to begin with I have no idea, but good on her for being so observant. She gets the bullet analyzed at the Pentagon, which is another thing I don’t think I’m supposed to think too hard about. They tell her it certainly is one strange bullet. I imagine that conversation went something like, “Weird bullet you’ve got there, ma’am. Sorry we can’t be of more service. Here’s your bullet back, and your Ziploc baggie. Have a good day, and thanks for visiting the Pentagon.”
Not to be deterred, Lois then takes the bullet to—who I think is—the Secretary of Defense. He also says, “Yep, pretty weird bullet, Lois. The CIA agrees too. Also, we think Lex Corp. had something to do with it. Bye!” This is all a long way of getting to the fact that her interview with (maybe a) terrorist was a setup, one that was supposed to get Superman embroiled in a congressional hearing and hurt the public’s opinion of him.
So we have this conspiracy—one that has actually been successful to a large degree. Then why doesn’t this huge conspiracy fully turn the public against Superman? The whole thing does indeed culminate in a befitting way that I found genuinely shocking, but after all of this, society decides to embrace Superman more, not vilify him. A forensics team figures out—despite a rather lavish explosion—that the carnage in this particular scene isn’t Superman’s fault. It’s the one time the movie does its due diligence, and the absolute least interesting time for them to do it. You had a chance for the entire country to hate Superman instead of this 50/50 split thing that never feels substantive. Why not go for it? I guess it’s not that big of a deal since Batman is still pissed and brooding like some internet blogger who refuses to let things go (Hi!). He’ll make Superman pay if no one else does, but this bullet conspiracy is still such a waste. Especially when you consider the potential, or that it actually somewhat resembles a narrative.
Earlier, I said the movie was chock-full of plot. However, to assume these plotlines are of any significance or coherence would be folly. There’s certainly a lot to setup in this movie, but instead of building a universe similar to how Marvel and Disney have, by actually telling stories first that can later play off one another later, Batman v Superman procrastinates. It’s like Snyder and company knew they had a big biology final tomorrow so they decided to study by watching cats on YouTube all night. There’s a laundry list of other examples that I could rant about, but I’ll leave you with this final one.
Minor Spoilers Ahead (Four Paragraphs)
If you’ve watched any of Batman v Superman’s trailers—which distill all the “best” bits of a film that is two and a half hours in two and a half minutes—you know that Batman and Superman reconcile their differences. Given how diametrically opposed these two are in the beginning of the film, you’d think this would require a bit of character development and some interwoven storylines. It doesn’t. Instead what forces them to unite is a person, but in the most ridiculous way possible.
Batman gets his hands on kryptonite, and that’s how he is able to fight off Superman during their rather climactic clash. It’s actually a somewhat entertaining fight provided you’re still awake at that point. After Batman gets the upper hand he plants his metallic foot on Superman’s chest and holds the pointy green end of his krypto-spear up to his face. Before the killing blow, Superman utters, “Find him. Save Martha.” Batman grows angered and confused because Martha was his mother’s name (insert that origin scene here). That’s when he decides he can’t kill Superman, and instead helps Clark find his mother, who Lex Luthor has kidnapped.
Instead of Superman assisting Batman to SAVE HIS MOTHER, Batman goes at it alone. After he’s able to rescue her from death by flamethrower, Batman tells Martha, “I’m a friend of your son’s.” Yep.
They haven’t actually hashed anything out, but since their mommies share the same first name they might as well be friends now, water under the bridge. And I know this might sound like a gross oversimplification—like I’m being reductive and hyperbolic. I assure you, this is what happens, and I’m still in utter disbelief how these grievances were settled, or not settled at all.
End of minor spoilers
I went into this movie with the lowest expectations I’ve ever had for a film, and I’m still flummoxed. I haven’t even spoken about how all of Gotham seemingly goes straight to bed after their 9 to 5 jobs (or so says Anderson Cooper), how Batman plays real life Rocket League in the streets of Gotham with as much regard for human life as Superman in Man of Steel, or how the United States government hands over an alien spaceship without supervision to an unstable twenty-something with little pause because he’s a bibliophile and philanthropist. Oh, or how Metropolis rebuilds so quickly. Also, why does the city build a monument to their destroyer? That is pretty baffling too.
There are so many dots to connect it’s driving me insane, and I like a bit of ambiguity. Actually, I like a lot of ambiguity, but it feels like some deranged toddler ate half of the pieces to the Batman v Superman jigsaw puzzle, and his name is Zack Snyder. So, this is my “sorry not sorry” apology if I’ve failed to deduce what the hell is actually happening in this movie with 100 percent accuracy.
At the end of the day, Batman v Superman isn’t just incoherent, but it’s a boring film. It makes about as much sense as Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, only with even less explosive action. The first two hours of the film are a real slog to get through, and even if you can follow the plot there aren’t any exciting reasons to do so. The end of the film tries to make up for the monotony with shock value. What should be a pretty big moment in the DC Universe is just infuriating because of all the ways it could have been avoided. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that I wish I cared like I was supposed. I really do.
Aside from Wonder Woman’s fantastic introduction near the end of the film, the only times I was forced from my induced stupor was when the soundtrack did something interesting, which usually involved the use of Lex Luthor’s theme. Unless you’re really into slow motion walking there simply aren’t many “cool” moments.
Surprisingly, not all is lost for DC fans. I do think that Ben Affleck’s Batman could be great if he’s actually given the right material. Not only is Affleck appropriately suited for the roll of billionaire playboy, for obvious reasons, but I enjoyed his disturbed, borderline deranged portrayal of the character. If it results in Batman delivering more slick Rock Bottoms to bad guys, capable of making Dwayne Johnson weep, then I’m all for it. I’m not even upset about him killing criminals, though I probably should be. Again, not the biggest problem Batman v Superman has, and that says something. It only bothers me in the context of this film, where he hates Superman for endangering civilians. Regardless, with a better script and less moving parts, a standalone Batman with Affleck could be quite something.
The same thing goes for Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, although I think it’s mostly because her character has the absolute best scenes in the film (and trailer). They were far too few and far between, but Wonder Woman definitely earned her time in the spotlight. The character actually feels akin to Joss Whedon’s inclusion of The Hulk in the first Avengers film. It’s something that could have gone awry, and in this case should have, but ended up being the most exciting thing the movie has to offer.
I’m guessing I’m not going to make too many friends bad mouthing some of the most popular comic book characters on a nerdy website, but I’m not going to pull punches either. This movie is bad, and I imagine it will make other people—who have a far greater attachment to these characters than I do—feel even worse. Seeing Batman v Superman w It will make money, sure, and some people will convince themselves they like it. Good for them. For the rest of us, however, well…let’s just say “Doomsday” sums it up best. God, I didn’t even mention Doomsday, but this is already a pretty long rant. I’ll just say that he’s terrible too and leave it at that.
Maybe Batman v Superman isn’t the worst film ever, but having a huge budget certainly doesn’t help its case. It’s the difference between being shot with a paintball gun and being shot by a bazooka. They both hurt, but one’s a bit louder, more insulting, and, ultimately, does way more damage.
Gadot’s Wonder Woman
Han Zimmer Score
Convoluted, boring, tedious mess of a plot
Joyless, brooding self-seriousness
Egregious use of slow motion
Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor
Justice League feels crammed in
Betrays significance of characters’ origins
Jumped the Aquaman, Nuked the Superman. [WT]F out of 10.