Sometimes, there’s a movie so big, so important, so relevant to popular culture, that one opinion just isn’t enough. That’s why we have Review-Off, where the writers here at Popculture-y can argue semantics about how and why these films are good, terrible, or just downright disappointing. This round, it’s Zack Snyder’s latest franchise building flick, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Sean O’Malley laments the downfall of the Superhero.
There’s a haze that falls every time a superhero film swoops, grapples, or leaps into our lives. For those plugged into the hype, it’s a haze filled with expectations, foregone conclusions and ultimately, no fucking clue about what we’ll be walking into.
No one could have predicted that Deadpool would be the most successful R-rated movie to date and certainly no one could have predicted that Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice would be one of the most macabre viewing experiences of my life.
A lot of people will tell anyone who cares to listen that Zack Snyder is a bad filmmaker. The director behind the wheel of 300, Watchmen and Man of Steel hasn’t made it to where he is without pissing people off for how he treats his source material.
But I disagree. Snyder isn’t a bad filmmaker; he isn’t really a filmmaker at all. Watching BvS I couldn’t help but think he’s a comic book artist who chose to pick up a camera instead of the coloring pencils he would have been better off with. He uses good intentions, far too much CGI and money, a fuck-tonne of filtered lenses and absolutely no through line or common sense to make monoliths out of sand castles. What worked so well in Watchmen, his ability to emulate the feel and structure of the comic and to bring the deep, fluid and epic panels of the page to life, works so disastrously here I don’t understand how the film was allowed to be released in the state it’s in. It’s literally like reading a comic book with the pages stuck together. There are interesting, sometimes stunning and exhilarating scenes with absolutely no cohesion to make them fun to watch. And all efforts to make these heroes and their problems appear crucial fall hilariously and morosely flat.
I wish I could say I didn’t understand what the film is trying to do, I wish I could say it was just simply confusing. But unfortunately, it’s painfully clear over-and-over again exactly what Snyder is trying to say. Being a hero is hard, life is hard, everything is hard and collateral damage and trauma are both inevitable when doing the right thing. The most tragic and frustrating part of this film though, is that try as hard as I could to connect with them, all of these grandiose statements about morality and heroism fail to ring true.
Regardless of your affection for the heroes on screen or comic book heroes in general, there are so many wtf moments and inconsistencies on show, you’ll struggle to watch the film without feeling like you’re having an out of body experience.
Batman V Superman is one huge tribute to characters that thus far in the DCEU, haven’t earned a damn thing, and it suffers for taking itself so seriously. Ben Affleck turns in a tremendous performance as Batman but every time I’m confronted with a flashback, flashforward or flash-cameo I feel like I’m having a flash-stroke and the weight of his role topples before it can even stand straight.
Most of this top-heavy characterization stems from Snyder taking huge liberties with characters he spends no time crafting because he assumes we all know who they are anyway. But while a good idea on principle, there’s a big difference between not telling the audience who Batman is and actually writing a Batman worth caring about. As a result, the whole thing just comes across as dumb and confusing. Hans Zimmer’s score, the huge and tone-deaf orchestral swoons as Batman perches above his enemies, doesn’t raise the hairs or give goose bumps like it thinks it will, instead it just reads as boring and overwrought.
The drive of the narrative, Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, who hates Superman for the reason that he’s Lex Luthor so it’s just assumed he hates Superman, is volatile in all of the wrong ways. I can honestly say I have no clue why he was doing what he was doing. It’s a given that he’s evil. It’s a given that he’s insane. But an entire character-arc shouldn’t be based off of audience assumption. Already knowing he’s a “baddy” is no excuse to paint his motivations with such broad strokes.
If none of this matters to you and you’re simply hanging on to watch the titular fight and see who comes out on top, there is a very drawn-out setup for a NOT-AT-ALL satisfying conclusion. You’ll be sitting through a good two hours of a half-assed political thriller that feels like someone letting down a balloon really slowly and unnecessarily before black and red capes start getting tussled.
The fight itself, much like the rest of the film, is shockingly violent. It’s not excessively bloody or gory, it’s just sincerely and painfully shocking to witness. None of it is fun and if you have any love or affection for these characters, it will probably break your heart. Amounting to nothing more than a sincere bout of miscommunication and misunderstanding, it never feels really pivotal or necessary to see Batman or Superman at each others’ throats. I honestly put my hands over my eyes at one point because it felt like I was watching a horrendously tragic episode of the Jeremy Kyle show starring my own parents.
Anyone watching the film will understand on a basic level why they’re fighting, both men spend long enough spitting their motivations at the audience, but real people and real characters have an internal truth that this film never really deals with.
Motivations and actions are set up, explained and forgotten so quickly the characters never become anything more than hollow and empty shells, which is tragic for two heroes who mean so much to so many people. Many fans will try to justify this movie, needing to make sense out of what should have been spectacular. I’m sure I could spend hours trying to justify it myself for its great performances and sometimes thrilling action.
But what’s most surprising is my ability not to care about anyone or anything involved with this movie 30 seconds after leaving the theatre and the biggest week-to-week drop off ever could speak to a lot of others feeling the same way.
I never thought superhero fatigue would affect me, I’ve had my own cape and cowl since I was three. But this experience was so utterly soul-crushing it wouldn’t surprise me if this were the one that turned 10 year olds everywhere against the heroes in the sky.
Looks like we might have to start looking for them somewhere else…