Somewhere in the deep recesses of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice lies a story that needs to be told. About how Gods and men should interact when the illusion of powers beyond our understanding become tangible. BvS also wants to use stylistic imagery to showcase how conflict is an experience that’s more than human, and that it’s a shared burden that unites heroes and creates bitter enemies. That no one is truly “good” or even evil.
The writers clearly had this in mind with BvS, but somewhere along the way, someone or some group of people (take your pick in this blame game) overthought and overdramatized what should have been an impactful, satisfying film. A character in this film asks, should there be a Superman? After two and a half hours of this character-assassination dressed up as a franchise starter, it’s easy to think there shouldn’t even be another Superman movie.
BvS starts as a spinoff of Man of Steel, playing off the events of that film in order to introduce a brand new (yet older to match his Dark Knight Returns roots) Bruce Wayne, played admirably by Ben Affleck. In a hasty and unintelligible opening sequence, Bruce Wayne hikes toward an office being savaged by the collateral damage of Superman and Zod’s battle in Man of Steel. For whatever reason, the people inside the Wayne Tower of Metropolis couldn’t evacuate unless Bruce Wayne was a mile away, ordering them to avoid obvious peril on his cell phone.
Then BvS clumsily slides into being a pure sequel to Man of Steel, rightfully continuing the storyline one would expect 18 months after the introduction of what everyone regards to as a god (this parallel, unfortunately, is so overused during the course of BvS that it becomes meaningless very early on).
The people of the world don’t know what to make of Superman. And for whatever reason, the movie uses short, unrelated scenes to drive this point throughout the first two acts in one of the most off-putting narratives I’ve seen in a superhero film.
It was as if the projectionist was shuffling between deleted scenes of the DVD at random. Think Game of Thrones, except none of what you’re watching seems to be adding up to much outside itself. A scene with one character will occur (usually with no dramatic buildup), only to be followed by something completely disparate that undermines the momentum of everything that came before it. Then watch this happen about a dozen more times.
It really is like a comic-book movie, in that it contains multiple threads and storylines that one would expect in a standalone story like The Dark Knight Returns. And yet, so was director Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, a somewhat overly faithful, yet mostly amusing adaptation to the comic that has a lot of the same problems of BvS. A comic book and a movie just aren’t the same medium, as they both have different levels of energy and pacing that dictate the structure of the story. It should be obvious, but movies aren’t meant to be written like comic books, and vice versa.
For this reason, the most interesting aspects of BvS are buried by poor editing and a clearly overstuffed script. In between two of the most pivotal scenes of BvS, which includes the titular brawl, the movie inexplicably cuts to another character hundreds of miles away watching videos on a computer, which only exists to remind the audience that a “Justice League” movie happens to be coming out next year. This bizarre, transparent ploy to earn a reaction from the audience comes at the expense of what most of the moviegoers came to see, making it quite the opposite of “fan service.”
Ben Affleck plays a well-realized Batman, complete with an inspired costume design and the best fight sequence of the entire film. But all of this goodwill is immediately eviscerated by the impossibly moronic decision to make Batman a character who kills criminals with a gun. Multiple times.
It’s not just moronic. It’s infuriating. Not because there’s no room for evolving the character of Batman, but because this updated take on the character still borrows heavily from a source material that makes no sense if Batman is an indifferent murderer. The movie even opens with the explicit origin scene that explains why Batman would never use a gun or kill someone. The disconnect between this vigilante who willfully calls himself a criminal while literally blowing people up and the “hero” he despises for being involved in a battle that had a lot of collateral damage is too unintellectual to ignore.
And that’s just one example of what sums up what is wide off the mark with BvS, from the script to how these characters are poorly written. Once again, Cavill is forced to play an unlikable superhero who earns the mistrust of the world at large simply because his dour half-grin makes him look like he’s about to kill everyone he comes in contact with.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Lex Luthor as a sort of “Diet Joker,” rather than the unique, imposing genius that makes the villain work as an antithesis to Superman. And even poor Martha Kent is given a disgusting line to deliver to Superman at his lowest point, effectively encouraging him to just abandon the world because it’s too difficult being a hero. Even though Clark’s parents are meant to be the instigators of his innocence and decision to help others, this nihilistic mistake from Man of Steel is made even more apparent in BvS. Gone are the days when Superman actually tried to be someone people didn’t have to be afraid of.
Some moments in BvS are enjoyable to watch, namely a few of the action scenes that prove Snyder is a pioneer in CGI fight choreography. But most of the movie’s substance relies completely on the preconceived notions of an audience that is already on board with Batman and Superman finally sharing the big screen together. A few explosions and some nice costume designs may distract some, but most moviegoers won’t be fooled for long by what is one of the most tone-deaf superhero movies of all time.
- My wish list for this franchise? Keep the cast. Seriously, just keep everyone, because they’ve been giving it their all. The look and feel of BvS isn’t the problem. It’s Zack Snyder and his writers.
- A lot of people will give BvS a break because they don’t mind changing things up with these characters. And I understand that. But it’s not enough to alter who Superman is for the sake of making your movie seem more important. It also has to make sense and actually improve upon what already exists.
- I haven’t rolled my eyes this much at an action movie since Jupiter Ascending. I also haven’t yelled internally this much since Pan. When it gets right down to it, I had a miserable time watching this movie.
- I still have high hopes for Suicide Squad, which looks like a compelling ensemble with a unique vision. It helps that seeing the trailer again before this film reinvigorated my excitement for what might be DC’s first break in this DCCU.
- One last thing: the marketing for BvS was horrendous. The trailers don’t just give away the basic structure and major plot points. Some of the best lines in the movie were spoiled in the trailer, making them fall completely flat in BvS. Such a missed opportunity.