I wanted to like Batman v Superman. Despite what I felt about Man of Steel, I believed its faults could be easily rectified in a sequel. Instead, Batman v Superman doubled down on Man of Steel‘s flaws and added a fresh batch of its own. It was a convoluted, disjointed, philosophizing mess with unlikable characters and no entertainment value.
I wish I could give Batman v Superman some credit for trying to be more than just another superhero movie. For trying to be thought-provoking, to dissect the superhero mythology, to raise philosophical questions and to ask how someone like Superman would be—or should be—received in our real world.
But I can’t. Because though it tried, it ultimately failed. It asked questions in scene after boring scene, but gave no answers or opinions. It just patted itself on the back for asking, thinking it was oh so clever when it really wasn’t. And though the questions were intriguing, they also lacked tangibility. There was no real-world parallel, like in Captain America: The Winter Solider‘s questions about liberty versus security for example. And considering the movie’s plot centered on Superman being an immigrant who was mistrusted by two rich white men because of what he could do and what others from his home planet had done, it felt like a missed opportunity.
No, the questions raised in Batman v Superman were purely hypothetical. It was a self-aggrandizing metatextual deconstruction of itself. Zack Snyder wanted to make a movie about gods among mortals, a realistic take on Superman existing in the world. On paper, it’s a good idea. But it’s all in the execution, and that’s where Batman v Superman faltered.
Part of the reason it didn’t work was because Batman v Superman was trying to be too many things at once. It wanted to be a philosophical introspection about the reality of superpowered beings. But it also needed to be an action movie about two superheroes pummeling each other, and tried using the philosophy as a framework and justification. All while trying too hard to plant the seeds for the upcoming films in the DCEU, including Justice League and Wonder Woman. It was too much to handle, resulting in every side of it being undercooked.
Another reason it failed, and one of this movie’s worst offences, was the characterization. Almost nobody in this movie was likable—especially the leads.
Clark Kent in Batman v Superman was not a character. He was an idea. He was there for other characters to talk about him. There were barely any scenes that treated him like a person, someone to empathize with, or a hero who took joy in helping others. Whenever he was actually onscreen, he was frustratingly aloof. This was not the same Clark Kent from Man of Steel. This was the ever-frowning demigod that other characters said he was. Batman v Superman got so caught up in the metaphor that it forgot to ground it in a character we could invest in.
Bruce Wayne was far more fleshed out than Clark. And on the surface, Batman was perfect in this movie. The costume, the gadgets, the Batcave, the vehicles, the fighting, Jeremy Irons as Alfred, and Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne. I was fully in support of Affleck’s casting when he was announced, and I was glad to see it pay off. I’m genuinely looking forward to a Batman standalone film.
Unfortunately, for all of the superficial similarities he shared with his comic book counterpart, Batman’s characterization could not have been further off. Even forgetting the comics, Bruce was completely unlikable, and much more so than Clark. This man wasn’t a hero. He was an angry, paranoid xenophobe. And the way he was manipulated into battling Superman turned the world’s greatest detective into the world’s most gullible idiot.
Not to play the Marvel card here, but one of the reasons I’m excited for Captain America: Civil War is that the clash between Iron Man and Captain America organically extends from their character development through several movies. Batman v Superman did the reverse. It started with the idea that Batman would fight Superman and worked its way back, retroactively altering their characters to make that conflict believable. Suddenly, we were introduced to a version of Batman that was alarmingly violent, mistrustful, and xenophobic, while being told rather than shown that he faced hardships that led him there. How could we choose his side, invest in his character growth, or see him as anything other than a villain when we never saw the good in him to begin with?
Jesse Eisenberg’s casting as Lex Luthor was another decision I supported. But in this case, I was wrong. Eisenberg’s talent was wasted on an interpretation of the character that didn’t work at all. A quirky, twitchy, over-the-top, borderline comedic portrayal that didn’t fit this movie’s dour tone whatsoever. And he wasn’t written that well, either. Sure, there were a few trailer-worthy lines. But the movie didn’t do a good job explaining who he was, what he did, why he hated Superman, or his motivations for igniting this conflict. It relied on our pop culture knowledge of “Lex Luthor = bad”, threw in a line about an abusive father and a lack of faith in God, and decided it was enough.
If Jesse Eisenberg was wasted, then what was done to Amy Adams was tragic. Lois Lane was a non-entity in Batman v Superman. You could practically feel the movie’s desperation as it tried so hard to find a place for her in the story. She went on a lengthy subplot that did not actually add anything. She uncovered a conspiracy that the plot wasn’t even trying to hide (surprise, Lex Luthor’s up to no good). And in one of the more hilarious instances of bad writing, she randomly threw away a weapon, then minutes later realized it was needed, and went back to get it… which put her in a damsel-in-distress situation. Yikes.
Lois’s subplot was symptomatic of one of Batman v Superman‘s biggest problems. It was a narrative mess. A collection of plotlines mashed together without much coherence. And the editing made it all worse. The movie cut from scene to unrelated scene without any semblance of narrative flow. And the cuts were also incredibly jarring. Establishing shots? Who needs them! Oh, this is yet another confusing dream sequence? Figure it out!
“At least it was fun,” is what one would expect to hear at this point. But Batman v Superman was not fun. And I don’t mean “It wasn’t funny like Marvel movies.” I mean that it wasn’t entertaining, or enjoyable to watch. The first hour and a half, with its bad pacing, disjointed storytelling, and characters circling around the same point over and over, was legitimately boring. The majority of the action scenes failed to engage me. A mess of punches and stuff blowing up and smoke and lots of debris. It was a chore to get through.
The titular fight between Batman and Superman was a dud. It could have been exciting and creative, but it was straightforward and incredibly short, as though Snyder was saying, “Alright, let’s get this over with.” It didn’t help that there was hardly any emotional investment going into it.
There was only one 5-minute part of the movie where I felt any joy and excitement. Wonder Woman’s first appearance in full costume was a legitimately rousing moment. Her role in this movie was mostly a glorified cameo, but when she hopped into battle, she livened up the entire film—if only briefly. Even the music suddenly jumped in excitement, as though it came from a completely different movie. Batman v Superman‘s score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL was legitimately great, but the Wonder Woman theme stands out as more fresh and dynamic than anything else on the soundtrack.
Zack Snyder has always had a knack for visuals, and he lent a lot of the shots in Batman v Superman an epic, iconic feel. He wanted to treat these characters as gods, and the way he filmed them shows it. Unfortunately, the strong visuals nevertheless fell shy of their true potential, as Snyder’s devotion to a desaturated colour palette robbed them of a vibrance that would have made this movie truly pop.
I’ve seen a lot of people say that Batman v Superman was a movie for the fans, but I disagree. The fanservice in this film was as shallow as it could get. A handful of namedrops and cameos, or a couple of slow-motion shots that brought to mind specific comic book panels and splash pages, are not enough for it to qualify as “for the fans”.
Batman v Superman was riddled with Justice League setup like bullet holes. And it was the laziest and most rushed kind of setup possible. Those scenes that other movies have the presence of mind to save until after the credits were crammed into the story, completely detached from the main narrative. Most of Wonder Woman’s subplot was purely setup for her solo movie (which I’m still hopeful about). There was one egregious scene in particular that played like a Comic-Con highlight reel.
Batman v Superman drew inspiration from and referenced a lot of comic book scenes, most notably from The Dark Knight Returns and the Doomsday story arc. But, and to quote Jurassic Park, “it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. [They] read what others had done and […] stood on the shoulders of geniuses.” Snyder borrowed iconic imagery and storylines from comics without understanding what made them so great. He didn’t succeed in recreating the feelings that those classic comics elicited, instead opting for an “aha, I recognize this!” reaction.
This was exemplified in the movie’s ending, a story development that felt completely forced and utterly failed to resonate. And much like that scene, Batman v Superman aimed very high, but the weight of its many flaws brought it crashing down.
Rating: 2.5/5 (Subpar)
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