WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW
If Man of Steel can be called anything, it’s divisive. Ever since its release three years ago, fans haven’t been able to make up their minds about it. This even applies to me. I watched the film twice in theaters, both times thinking it was a stunning and kind of ingenious piece of work, even if the third act was too big and too loud for its own good. After seeing it four times, I’m kind of on the fence about it. It’s not bad at all, but it isn’t great. It’s one of those movies that gets worse upon each viewing, but after four, I can still say that I think it’s a pretty good movie and an interesting take on the character of Superman and how humans would react to his appearance.
Walking into Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (still a mouthful of a title), I wasn’t sure what to expect, but that didn’t stop my heart from pounding with excitement in the minutes leading up to the showtime. As a lifelong fan of Batman, there wasn’t a single reason not to be excited for this movie, and anyone who tells you you shouldn’t be eager to see it doesn’t deserve your time. This is Batman fighting Superman on the big screen, and that is enough to get butts in the seats (this movie will make its money, don’t even worry about that).
Walking out of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a completely different story. As a fan of Batman and someone who has defended this movie ever since the beginning, from the casting choices to the set images to the trailers, I couldn’t help but wag my head in disbelief at just how bad some of this movie actually is. And before you grab your torches and pitchforks and rally together in the comments, hear me out: I did not want to not like this movie. To even suggest that I would want to dislike this movie is madness, given my aforementioned defending of the project every step of the way. I thought DC was onto something with their whacky casting of Jesse Eisenberg and while I hated the reveal of Doomsday in the trailer, I thought maybe, just maybe, they had something else planned for us to digest. And unfortunately, none of this is the case (unless you’ve never read The Death of Superman).
The funny thing about Batman v Superman is that it begins with an opening credit sequence that pretty much successfully tells you what kind of movie you’re in for. In typical Zack Snyder fashion, we see an ordinary event that everyone who is familiar with any comic-book ever knows about, but he manages to film it in the most beautiful way imaginable. It’s great to look at, but it was one of those scenarios where right off the bat I realized that nothing inside Snyder had changed and he was just ready to make a movie filled with cool special effects and interesting camera angles. I wanted to be more cautious with how I presented this, but after a few hours of thinking (and there is a lot to take in here), I did find a lot of Zack Snyder’s directorial decisions to resemble those of Michael Bay’s (although it seems, here, that he is beginning to do it intentionally).
About that opening sequence, it’s not a bad one. Seeing Martha (#NMWDT) and Thomas Wayne gunned down on the sidewalk (no alley this time!) can only be presented differently through the lens of a Zack Snyder movie, and for an opening sequence, it’s pretty solid. Again, my issue with it isn’t the sequence itself, but what it says about Snyder’s style and how he favors it over story. It’s a good sequence, and I don’t want to push any buttons (of course I do!), but I do think it’s better than the scene in Batman Begins. Some of the shots Snyder gets are straight out of The Dark Knight Returns, especially when the gun gets caught on Martha’s pearls. Once we move past the shooting, seeing a young Bruce falling into the cave and being swarmed by bats is visually stunning, and it looks much, much better than the same scene in Batman Begins. It feels like a true Batman origin, straight from the comics.
Then we get into the present, where the Battle of Metropolis is still going on. Superman and Zod are destroying buildings, people are dying, and a panicky Bruce Wayne is driving through the chaotic streets to one of his buildings, where hundreds of his employees are at risk of being annihilated. And annihilated they are, sparking a rage inside Bruce to bring this god-like being to justice. And that’s really the majority of Batman v Superman. The first hundred minutes (really not even exaggerating here) are nothing more than politics and meetings and character introductions that are far from interesting. It’s kind of weird, really, because as much as I love some of these characters, the script just gave them nothing to work with besides, “Look! Superman has too much power! Let’s do something about it!” Sorry, but I’m just not buying it.
The first real issue we need to address is Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, because apart from Ben Affleck’s casting as Batman, there hasn’t been a more controversial casting choice in a comic-book movie… ever. And all of those worries were well warranted, even though I will admit that his performance, while far from good, isn’t what I thought it would be. I expected Jesse Eisenberg to play Jesse Eisenberg, with no real resemblance to the character of Lex (and I know that this is the real Lex’s son, but still). What I got was Jesse Eisenberg playing Jesse Eisenberg on crack, amped up to eleven and becoming more and more over the top and the running time ticks on. I don’t even blame him, per say. I think Snyder and company had a vision for Lex and picked the perfect actor to realize that vision. Unfortunately, that vision turned out to be a disgrace to one of the best comic-book villains of all time.
Eisenberg’s Luthor goes on and on with his plot to end the corruption that is Superman (“The oldest lie in America is that power can be innocent,” he says at one point), and by the end of the movie you begin to realize that this isn’t the character that we know. This isn’t the Lex that is smart enough to simply use his intellect to defeat Superman. Sure, there’s a Kryptonite element to the story, but the best thing about that is when Batman gets his hands on it (more on him later). But by the third act you realize that this is an insane character that doesn’t even remotely mimic the intelligence of the character that we know and love, and we’re left wondering if he’s going pull something stupid like create a giant monster or something to fight the all-powerful man of steel.
And of course, in typical CGI-heavy-ending-fashion, he does (obvious if you’ve seen the trailer, which spoils everything that could’ve been a surprise). Doomsday may look better than the Abomination from The Incredible Hulk, but he isn’t much better as a villain. Instead, one of the more significant villains in DC history is wasted, created by Luthor from Zod’s DNA but never having any real significance to the story, let alone any kind of emotional impact that should be had from Superman seeing a buffed up, Frankenstein-esque version of his former opponent. It’s so, so bad, and it makes me regret being encouraging to people on Twitter who correctly assumed that Doomsday’s plotline would be shoehorned in as a reason to have Superman and Batman fighting an opponent together.
Speaking of Batman, let’s just go ahead and talk about him because there’s plenty more negatives about this movie to discuss (it still crushes me to write those words). I’m not going to jump the gun and say that Ben Affleck is “the definitive Batman,” and here’s why: He isn’t exactly the Batman we know from the comics. This is not only an older and experienced Batman, but this is a no-fucks given brute of a machine, not hesitating to break necks, shoot faces, stabbing chests, and branding skin. This is without a doubt the most brutal Batman we’ve seen on screen, sometimes pushing the limits of the PG-13 rating (this isn’t Batman for kids and I can’t wait to see him decapitate a guy and drink his blood in the R-rated director’s cut).
So how does this transition to the screen? Well, I could sense the discomfort in the room as Batman was shooting people, blowing things (and other people) up with blasters on the Batmobile, snapping necks, stabbing bad guys. People aren’t used to this in the movies, and I can see why this would turn some people off. But somehow, as someone who loves Batman for the morality of the character and the deep psychological themes that run through his stories, seeing Batman killing people was the least of the film’s problems. I was on board, generally smiling the entire time, and I think I know why.
It would be easy to see Christian Bale’s Batman shoot and kill someone and think, “Whoa. That was uncalled for.” And you would be right. But why is it okay for Ben Affleck’s Batman to shoot people and kill them? For me, it’s all in the timing. This is an aged Bruce Wayne, one that has seen some things. It’s certainly possible that this Batman once had a “No killing” code of conduct, but given his age and experiences, it’s perfectly acceptable to assume he’s a killing machine. After all, this Batman has already faced the Joker, already witnessed the death of Robin, and has more than likely already had his fair share of psychological and physical traumas caused by other classic DC villains.
So what does that mean for Batman in the movie? Well, we know from his first minute of screen time that this isn’t our typical Bruce Wayne. This Bruce is depressed and damaged, and this Batman is equally destructive and deranged. And I was on board with it from minute one. Batman’s introductory scene is brilliant (really, brilliant). It’s clear from the beginning of the scene that we’re in for a treat when some children tell the cops that “the demon saved us.” We know we’re about to get a look at Batman, but Snyder wisely holds off and just gives us a glimpse, but the glimpse meant the world.
Then there’s that scene. Batman’s first real scene is that weird, dreamlike sequence from the trailer that hints at the arrival of Darkseid (and he is coming, unless this movie is just stupid and included multiple random nods to the character), and it is awesome. I don’t just mean that it’s pretty cool to watch. No, this is a truly great fight sequence, and for my money, it’s the single best Batman fight sequence in any Batman movie. I mean that. And the fact that it’s filmed in a single take only helps matters. I wish I could tell you in words how much I love Ben Affleck as Batman, but I’m finding it hard to locate the right words. There are no words. He just is Batman. He’s easily the best Bruce Wayne and the best Batman we’ve seen on the screen, no questions asked. He is the single best thing about the movie by a landslide.
Affleck is so good in the role that he makes it hard to give the movie a negative review, but you can’t judge a movie based on one single great element. Batman fans everywhere now owe a debt to Snyder for choosing Affleck despite backlash because without that decision, we wouldn’t have this Batman, who is ripped straight from the pages of The Dark Knight Returns in the best way imaginable. Unfortunately, everything around Batman implodes on itself.
And when I say “everything around Batman,” I’m excluding Alfred. Michael Caine was a great friend to Christian Bale’s Bruce, but Jeremy Irons is my new favorite on-screen Alfred, not because Ben is my favorite Bruce, but because he just brings everything I want out of Alfred to the screen. I loved how the script allowed him to not just be Bruce’s only remaining family to help him out and cook him meals. In Dawn of Justice, Alfred is awesome, getting his hands dirty by actually assisting Bruce as he is out beating up baddies. Seeing Alfred in the Batcave controlling the Batmobile when Batman is busy or simply feeding him information through telecom, I couldn’t not smile at seeing the truest and coolest version of Alfred to date. Plus, Jeremy Irons is just naturally incredible (see High-Rise when it releases because he’s awesome in it as well).
Now, about that “everything around Batman.” It’s just a big mess, and I even walked in expecting a big mess. The beginning is okay, but as the movie progresses and you realize that it’s been almost a hundred minutes and we’ve barely seen Batman (or Superman) in action more than a few times (and you look at your ticket stub and realize that the movie is indeed called Batman v Superman), there is fundamental problem. It would be one thing if the script had made the setup interesting and riveting, but Chris Terrio really gives us next to nothing in terms of intense buildup.
With an Oscar-winning screenwriter at the helm of a Zack Snyder movie, you would assume that the script would be the least of its problems, but here, the script is one of its worst. The screenplay for this movie is all over the place, going from a scene of Superman saving someone in a foreign country to Bruce Wayne sulking in the Batcave to a weird court trial going on on live TV to Bruce Wayne getting angry over pictures sent in the mail with personal messages written on them whilst watching said trial on live TV. It’s a goofy movie, with events sometimes trying their best to be serious and intense, but none of it comes off that way. It’s all fluff, sometimes unintentionally funny (was Granny’s Sweet Tea supposed to be funny? How about that Jolly Rancher scene?), sometimes just plain stupid (the two aforementioned scenes). Maybe when we read about Ben Affleck polishing up some things in the script, we shouldn’t have gotten excited, but concerned instead. Affleck probably tried his hardest to fix things, but the movie is filled with so much exposition and truly awful bits of dialogue.
But I think I’ve rambled enough about the first two acts, and if you’re still with me, I want to personally say thank you, but it’s not quite over yet. The third act of the movie is everything we thought we would see, judging from the trailers and the first two acts of the movie itself, only amped up to ten and on lots of drugs. It’s basically Man of Steel all over again (just when we thought Snyder was done destroying things without apologizing for it). I’m eager to see how all of you take the destruction that occurs in the final act of Batman v Superman, even if it is a little different than Man of Steel because here the culprit, Lex, is incarcerated and Superman isn’t to blame.
But that isn’t to say that it isn’t nonsense. I won’t lie. As obnoxious, repetitive, and seemingly never-ending as the final hour-long battle sequence in Man of Steel is, I think it’s better than the final battle in Batman v Superman. On the plus side, here we get to see Batman being Batman, flying the Batwing around, but the believability factor is thrown out the window as soon as we see Doomsday fire his laser, hitting the wing of the aircraft, and it magically keeps flying. Not to mention Batman’s grand idea of having Doomsday follow him back to Gotham so he can grab the Kryptonite he stole from Lex (the only way to kill the big monster). When Wonder Woman shows up (and it is a grand entrance, completely worthy of applause), she asks Batman why he brought Doomsday back to Gotham, and I’m half surprised Batman didn’t scratch the top of his cowl and say, “No reason, now that I think about it.” But this script has no such sympathies for the audience.
I know at this point I’m drawing near to 3,000 words, but I have so much to say about this movie and I know that once this review is finished, I will still have things to say, but I’m going to try and convey all of my remaining thoughts in the next few paragraphs. One of those thoughts is Wonder Woman, and here is where things get a little tricky. On the one hand, I wasn’t a fan of how the femme fatale Diana Prince was handled for the first hour or so of the movie, and that is a problem when you consider that Diana Prince isn’t always Wonder Woman. But, as the film progressed, I did become more enthusiastic about her character, and it does give me hope that she will be more interesting in Wonder Woman (still my most anticipated upcoming DCEU movie). But yes, when the final battle scene came about, I was excited for Wonder Woman, even though I don’t think her stuff is as great as some are making it out to be. She shows up, she kicks ass, and… that’s pretty much it. I think Gal Gadot looks great, sounds great, and is pretty spot on as Wonder Woman, and if Batman v Superman has had any lasting impact on me, it’s that it has inspired to me to go out and purchase Wonder Woman comics and read the shit out of them.
As I draw near to the end of this piece, I want to focus your attention on what this movie is (or should be) all about. When it isn’t busy terribly setting things up for Justice League (there’s a terrible email scene that you have to see to believe), Batman v Superman is busy setting things up for Batman v Superman. It’s coming, and we know it’s coming, and when it finally comes, it’s… okay? I mean look, I’m not saying that Batman fighting Superman isn’t cool to see, but here’s my issue (and hopefully I’m not alone on this): I didn’t believe one single punch thrown in the fight. The fight was cool to watch, and I absolutely loved how Batman used the Kryptonite gas canisters to weaken Superman, but I was immediately turned off to the fight when the reason they were fighting was revealed.
Sure, you could say Batman is fighting Superman because he has too much power, but that’s about as justifiable as Donald Trump banning Muslims from entering the U.S. because they’re Muslims. It’s the reason that Superman goes to Batman that got me (I didn’t actually think the #NMWDT stuff would actually be true). Poor Ma Kent, kidnapped by Lex and the only way for her to live is if Supes delivers the head of Batman. Why does Lex want Superman to kill Batman? Who the hell knows? It’s just another lovely screenwriting error that makes everything in the movie feels so disjointed and ridiculous.
But of course, when Superman lands and says to Batman, “You don’t understand!” and I’m pretty sure he also said, “I need your help,” Batman doesn’t even begin to attempt to hear him out. They just start throwing punches, and it all feels so dumb. And then there is one of the worst line deliveries in the entire movie, when Batman steps on Superman’s neck and he managed to get out, “Save… Martha.” It was at this moment that I turned my brain off and almost audibly said, “NOPE” to the screen. Then Zack Snyder decided to show us a flashback of Bruce’s parents dying and a closeup of Martha’s gravestone.
“WHY DID YOU SAY THAT NAME?” Batman yells. But in rushes Lois Lane to save the day, confirm Superman’s story, and the two become pals. My god, just thinking about makes me angry. It’s just so stupid.
But, for everything that doesn’t work in the movie, there’s still Batman! I mean, I’m not exaggerating here. If you love the darker and ultraviolent versions of Batman (this is even harsher and more psychotic than most of the darkest comics), then you’re in for a treat. And Wonder Woman rocks, too! It’s a good looking movie, but so are most of Snyder’s movie. I refuse to bash him and I refuse to bash this movie, because I don’t think it’s terrible. I think that just as Man of Steel is a pretty good movie with really terrible moments, Batman v Superman is a subpar movie with really great moments.