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. Alex Falzon gives us a detailed account of why it’s bad…
This looked like a job for Superman. Unfortunately, Superman didn’t cut it this time around. Or the time before. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is certainly better than Man of Steel, (which isn’t the worst film I’ve ever seen, but it’s certainly the most disappointing) though not by an incredible margin.
I’ll say right off the bat that if you don’t believe Superman and Batman should ever kill, you won’t like this movie. Batman kills a lot. Not in a I-won’t-kill-you-but-I-don’t-have-to-save-you kind of way, but in a fiery-explosion-men-screaming-as-they-burn-alive kind of way. He uses mounted guns on his Batmobile and Batwing to blow up bad guys by the vehicle-full. A man with a flamethrower is killed in predictable fashion. Superman also uses deadly force, though only once. These factors might be a deal-breaker to some. Personally, I’m fine with a different take on a character, as long as it’s internally consistent. This Batman never preaches that killing is bad, so I’m fine with his lethal attitude. Furthermore, it’s worth mentioning that Batman also killed folks in Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises, and Superman flat-out murders three helpless depowered Kryptonians in Superman II, so let’s not pretend that this is some fundamental rule these characters have never broken.
Batman v Superman begins with the obligatory scene of Bruce Wayne’s parents being killed in an alley, before it’s revealed to be part of a nightmare (Knightmare?) of Wayne’s. He has about five more of these dream sequences throughout the film (one’s even a dream-within-a-dream). They’re pretty lame. Superman has one too, though his is a daydream of his father (Kent, not Jor-El). Kevin Costner was nice to see here, and he tells his son a story about a drowning horse. It’s not made clear that Clark is fabricating this story to tell himself, or why he would do such a thing. Maybe he’s a little crazy. The alternative is that he’s actually talking to his father’s ghost. I dunno. It made little sense, it felt out-of-place (even more so than Batman’s weird dreams) and it’s never brought up again. After the dream, we go to the climax of Man of Steel, but from Bruce’s point of view. This was pretty cool. It was good seeing his reactions, understanding his perspective.
We then jump ahead 18 months – for no reason. I have no idea what compelled the film-makers to stick an “18 months later” in there, but there’s no purpose for it, and it’s actually pretty stupid. Why would Batman wait 18 months before stepping up his brutality out of anger at Superman? Why is Alfred arbitrarily showing Bruce images of Superman fighting Zod in Metropolis? Has he been doing this at random intervals during the last 18 months? And why would Lex Luthor wait 18 months to ask for access to the downed Kryptonian ship? Again, little sense.
Anyway, Batman wants Superman to die because Superman could kill people if he tried. This is his only motivation. Superman doesn’t like Batman because Batman brands people with a bat-shaped stamp. The hypocrisy of Superman demanding that Batman cease fighting crime would be interesting and fun if it weren’t spelt out to the audience in small words. So they don’t like each other, and neither one of them really has a good reason for this. Meanwhile, Clark is trying to write a story about how dangerous Batman is, while someone frames Superman for killing a bunch of bad guys. Bad guys who were killed with bullets. I don’t think the writers thought that one through.
Gotham and Metropolis both appear… I think. At one point, Superman is going to fly “across the bay” to battle Batman, and the bat-signal can be seen from Metropolis’ LexCorp. I wanted to give the benefit of the doubt here, really. Maybe Batman brought his bat-signal? Alas, the hole dug itself deeper, and Superman states that he must fly to Gotham to battle Batman. I mean… maybe Metropolis and Gotham really are just across the bay from each other? Let’s go with that. Silly, though.
I mentioned Superman II before. I’m not a fan. One thing I’ve always liked, though, is that when Superman must fight the three Kryptonians, he lures them away from the city, so as to keep the civilians safe from collateral damage. Man of Steel did not follow this procedure at all, as anyone who has seen the film knows. It was absolute carnage. After many people have died, and before many more people die, Jor-El tells Superman “You can save all of them”, and I laughed out loud. I hoped beyond all reason that this film would be different. That the heroes would at least try to take their fight out of the city. My hope was not only in vain, but snatched from me and crushed into pieces. During the final fight, the line “I have to get it to chase me back to the city” is actually uttered. Back to the city. Forcing the titanic fight to occur in the city. I was astounded. How did anyone in the cast or crew think this was reasonable?
It’s not the only bad line. Pointlessness, contradictory statements, hilarious computer-screen notifications (“DEVICE CLONING SUCCESSFUL” appears in large, red, capital letters on Batman’s phone, at one point). Luthor and Batman especially have some awful dialogue. And it’s really not the fault of the actors at all. Ben Affleck was great as Batman (Bruce Wayne, too, but we don’t get to see too much of the playboy persona, unfortunately). Henry Cavill was great as Superman. Gal Gadot was in the paradoxical position of doing virtually nothing all movie while being on-screen for a great deal of it. She only spoke to Bruce Wayne, and I say that with no exaggeration. She did not utter one word to any other character in the movie, not even Superman. A single other character speaks to her, and she ignores them. Pretty disappointing.
Jesse Eisenberg I enjoyed a lot. He’s got those facial ticks going, the clenched fists when he gets frustrated or flustered. Again, the characters weren’t very well-written, but the performances are great. There’s a bizarre throwaway line about Lex being Lex Jr., and not the Lex for which LexCorp was named, and there doesn’t seem to be a real reason behind it. This is clearly Lex Luthor.
And it’s probably not fair to blame all the film’s issues on director Zack Snyder, either. I enjoyed Dawn of the Dead. I loved Watchmen. Somebody just give the man a decent script. Though, while the writing was weak, the editing was atrocious. At one point, Luthor enters the downed Kryptonian ship dressed in a suit with a polo shirt and sneakers. He asks the computer some questions, then leaves. About twenty-five minutes go by, Luthor doing his thing elsewhere, over several days. He then returns to the ship to enact part of his plan… and as soon as he’s back in the ship, he’s wearing that suit/polo/sneaker combo again. I’m still having trouble accepting that this made it into the movie. It’s just so poor an effort. The editing is also fairly hit and miss through the action sequences. Generally, the scenes involving Batman taking out generic goons were pretty fun. It was the other ones that weren’t so great. Anything involving a super-powered individual fighting someone else was much too flashy, bright lights and fast cuts all over the place almost to the point of parody. The editor, David Brenner, is an Academy-Award winner, so I’ve got no fucking idea what was going on behind the scenes.
Kryptonite makes its first appearance in this new cinematic universe, which is kind of fun, though apparently Superman can still be in close proximity to it and even fly while holding it if he wants to badly enough. Bit inconsistent, but nothing new – he lifts a mountain of the stuff in Superman Returns. There’s more messianic stuff going on, which, like Superman’s hypocritical attitude towards Batman, might’ve been interesting if it weren’t so blatantly shoved down our throats.
It’s the story-telling equivalent of an autostereogram – you know, those Magic Eye puzzles. It’s just a jumble of colours of shapes, but if you unfocus your eyes and relax, maybe you can let yourself get carried away by the illusion of depth. Perhaps you’ll even enjoy yourself. Bad movie, though.