!!!!FULL SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!
I don’t review or give my impressions of movies because right out of the theatre I can never get my thoughts straight to formulate decent analysis. But I saw Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (for the sake of brevity I’ll refer to the film as BvS for the rest of this post) twice over the weekend and my mind is buzzing from the spectacle that was thrown at my eyeballs. My conclusions are far from favorable – I’ve come away from BvS with great disdain for where the DC Cinematic Universe is headed, however there are very specific parts of the movie that I liked and a only one character that I want to see more from.
Usually I can sit through a bad superhero movie and draw some good out of it. For example, Man of Steel had poor pacing and felt bland, but I liked what it was doing and how it built Superman from a lonely kid to a god among humans. Plus the end fight was cool from a mindless summer blockbuster point of view. Another example, The Dark Knight Rises – hated the grand scale of the story, how it spanned multiple countries and how it felt too unbelievable to be set in Nolan’s grounded universe, but I liked the characters, I liked Batman’s/ Bruce Wayne’s motivations, so I stuck it out. The worst of Nolan’s trilogy for sure, but still passable as a superhero movie. BvS was the first time I ever wanted to walk out and ask for my money back in the first half hour of the film. Granted, I liked the final fourth or so of it, but god damn was the rising action’s a slog to get through. It’s disjointed and contrived, going from one character telling you about something that’s happening or going to happen off screen to another. The film assumes we know about past occurrences and characters from the comics, when the average movie goer knows probably zero about Cyborg or how Flash can travel through time or what Darkseid’s omega symbol looks like. It’s either Snyder assumes our knowledge of the DCU, or, even worse, he’s going to fill in the blanks in later movies, expect us to keep up with and remember the world they’re building and have us have a realization later that that’s what BvS was referencing. And that’s probably the largest mistake that this film commits: trying to force all these concepts and characters and history on us without letting them grow organically. They tell us rather than show us – a HUGE gaffe in any story-telling medium. Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is where it’s at now in the public consciousness because it’s been taking its time introducing us to new characters one by one and discovering new concepts with us instead of us being dropped into this whole universe with its own backstory that we need to catch up on. I get DC wants to speed up the process and build a cinematic universe with the Justice League that rivals The Avengers, but tossing out stupid films like BvS that have poor narratives, stale characters and a drab, morose settings aren’t going to make us see their vision.
I’ll stick to specific plot points and scenes in the movie from here on out.
- Lex Luthor
I generally like Jesse Einsenberg in films, but casting had me scratching my head from the moment it was announced. I wanted to give him a fair shake – nobody though Heath Ledger could pull off The Joker and look how that turned out. I went into the movie with an open mind about Lex Luthor, but came out disappointed and confused about the villain’s motivation and identity. He’s meant to be a young, eccentric billionaire heading this multinational corporation – a very millennial trope. He’s meant to sound brilliantly psychotic in a sort of “you don’t understand my evil brilliance” sort of way. I guess he’s behind the plot to get Superman and Batman fighting, but that’s not well conveyed in the rising actions at all. I never understood why he was even in the film until the end when he created the fifth ninja turtle… I mean Doomsday. To that end, isn’t it super convenient that the Kryptonian ship Luthor gets access to just happens to have all the information about the history of Krypton and other spacely things? Like, wow! Great tool for the bad guy to have and get easy access to. Overall I’m unimpressed with Luthor in the new DCCU and I’m not looking forward to seeing him in future films.
- Superman/ Clark Kent
I wish we saw more Clark Kent and less Superman this time out. In Man of Steel, we kind of connected with Clark, seeing his family, his father die and his struggles during his childhood, but we don’t experience happy Clark or depressed Clark or angry Clark. We do see Superman angry – when Luthor shows him the pictures of his captive mother and in Man of Steel when he’s punching Zod a bunch – but Superman isn’t really who the man is. We never connect with Clark the average Joe. There could have been so many opportunities with him and Lois simply conversing, struggling to figure out what’s the right thing for him to do, maybe even arguing about it in their apartment for us to relate to the god posing as human. The only emotion Clark ever conveys is “stoic concern,” like he’s always analyzing situations rather than letting his emotions control how he feels. Like I said, we get a brief glimpse of him being emotional atop LexCorp in his suit, but not in the glasses. That’s why ultimately when he dies at the end and they try to drum up sympathy with a long, drawn out double funeral sequence, there is a noticeable lack of concern from the audience (or at least from the two showings I went to). I genuinely don’t care that Superman is dead and that bothers me because I should. It’s Superman! Truth, justice and the American way! Hope incarnate! Just not in this universe; not to me.
For a movie that’s titled Batman v Superman, there is very little Superman versus Batman to be seen. 20 minutes of actual fisticuffs takes place between the two iconic heroes and not either comes out victorious. The fighting that does take place, I’ll admit, is pretty cool – Batman’s sense of duty to save the world against Superman’s immeasurable power. This film shows us Batman’s ingenuity through him developing weapons that can kill gods. In the comics, Batman’s always beaten every challenge he’s faced through his brilliance rather than brute force. Though he’s a just a human, it can be said that his superpower is his resourcefulness and unwillingness to give up. He was one spear jab away from defeating a damaged and demoralized Superman, that is until Superman said the magic word: Martha.
So the whole reason they stop fighting, the reason why Batman drops his undying hatred for Superman, the reason why they decide to team up when minutes ago they were trying to kill each other is that their mom’s have the same name… By saying the word Martha, Superman hits Batman where it hurts him the most – right in the feels. Instead of screaming, “Bruce I need your help!” and “There’s no time!” at the onset of the fight, why wouldn’t Superman just have said, “Lex has my mother” and be done with it? These are two reasonable, well-educated, experienced men here and you’re telling me they couldn’t have simply talked about their differences and their motivations behind the mutual disdain for each other? Huge plot hole; destroyed what little interest I had in their disagreement.
- The Death of Superman
Simply put, it feels unearned for multiple reasons. Superman’s death isn’t inherently an emotional moment. After just two films, there was no way his death could have been impactful no matter how charismatic Henry Cavill played Clark Kent. We’ve just been introduced into the DCCU and already you’re killing off your most iconic character in it? It goes right along with my main theme – Zach Snyder is telling us to feel bad for Superman not letting emotions come organically. Had Superman died in the upcoming Justice League part 2, I might have felt something for this hero who I’ve spent four films with. But here, we know he’s coming back somehow, one because the Justice League hasn’t even been formed yet and two because we see the stupid dirt rising at the very end of the film. If that happened a few films later, his future in the DCCU might be ambiguous. Here, it feels rushed. Same thing with Doomsday’s appearance and demise. In a few films, had Luthor unleashed his monster on Metropolis and killed Superman, I’d be ok with that. But in the BvS we got, a big, dumb monster shows up with a half-hour left in the movie and kills Superman. Sure, Superman give his life to kill this unkillable beast, but we care nothing about Superman’s character, we care nothing about Metropolis or this universe that Snyder’s trying to build, so Supes’ death seems superfluous. I’d have walked out of this of the theatre feeling the exact same way about the DCCU had Superman died or not.
Another example of inorganic story telling and setup. In a 3-minute scene, we’re told there are other metahumans in the world and see brief clips of each hero in action. Instead of building to a team-up movie, we’re meant to care about characters who the general audience, the non-DC fanboys, know nothing about. I wish I could say I’m excited to see more from these heroes, but I’m honestly so turned off by the DCCU at this point.
The best way I can describe BvS is disjointed. Scenes didn’t mesh together well and there was no continuity between them. We jumped from Bruce Wayne doing something to Clark Kent at the Daily Planet to Lex doing some other thing then back to Wayne saying something in a deep voice. I wish they kept the plot simple: Bruce Wayne wanting to stop Superman and Clark Kent trying to discover within himself what’s right for him to do. We should have gotten a character study about who Clark Kent is and why he needs to be Superman with minor Batman mixed in. There is no point to Luthor in BvS and Doomsday is a wasted villain as far as I’m concerned. I’ll watch Suicide Squad later this summer, but if that film feels as hollow as Snyder’s have felt so far, I’m done with the DCCU altogether.