I’m gonna try and make this quick, but ‘Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice’ is an unwieldy beast of a movie and I’m not sure I can unpack my reaction to it in 600 words or less. I’ll try, but I make no promises.
Spoilers ahead, but frankly, if you’ve seen the 200 trailers this sucker had, well… you know most of it by now.
Obviously there’s a lot of talk about how bad the critical reaction to ‘Batman V Superman’ has been; followed with more talk about how good the box office has been; and yet more talk in some corners that says the box office success proves how the critical reaction is, essentially, worthless. All of these points are more or less true but meaningless.
The critical reaction is correct: ‘Batman V Superman’ is lousy movie. It’s sloppily edited, creatively thin and utterly unsure of what it wants to say and be. A less charitable observation might be that the makers of this movie really aren’t brave enough to say what they want this movie to be, but as this is primarily a piece of corporate product and creativity is typically low on the priority chain of these things, I’m gonna go with the less accusatory comment of “unsure”.
But the box office is also correct: the sheer weight of money being generated by this lousy movie means that it’s actual quality has no bearing on the measure of it’s success. The critical reaction does not matter one bit. ‘Batman V Superman’ has done and will continue to do exactly what it’s creators wanted it to do – make a lot of money.
However, the box office success of ‘Batman V Superman’ does not mean that it isn’t a lousy movie: it simply means that there is no chance that anyone with even a passing interest in it isn’t going to go and see it – even if it’s just so they can “decide for themselves” whether it’s any good or not. This movie was always going to make a ton of money, no matter how bad the reviews were. I say this with no cynical intent. Going to this movie is almost like jury duty – you have to do it, because you think your opinion might actually matter.
I avoided the advance reviews. I mean, obviously I heard how bad they were. And there was no way I could avoid the trailers, which honestly pretty much do spell out exactly what’s gonna happen in the film, so… Spoiler Alert. But I honestly did try to go in with no expectation, good or bad. Oh sure, I snickered at first when I heard about the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman. But then my mature brain kicked in and I realized that everyone also snickered when Michael Keaton was cast and he turned out to be the best of the bunch, so… yeah. Plus, Affleck was great in ‘Hollywoodland’. No reason he couldn’t be a great Batman.
More troubling to me was the ‘Man Of Steel’ debacle. It seemed pretty clear from that movie that director Zack Snyder and co. had no fucking clue about Superman. More importantly, the endless retroactive justification of certain, uh, “creative choices” in ‘Man Of Steel’ made me think that they maybe didn’t have a clue as to how they wanted to develop the DC comic books into a viable movie world. (I pictured a fevered meeting after the success of Marvel’s ‘The Avengers’ where the suits turn on Snyder and Nolan and scream “JUSTICE LEAGUE MOVIE! GOTTA DO IT! NOW! NOW!!! NOW!!!”) And then came the news that ‘Batman V Superman’ would also feature the big screen debut of Wonder Woman and Aquaman. I did the math: sequel movie, plus reboot of the ‘Batman’ franchise, plus setting up the basis for the inevitable ‘Justice League’ movie, divided by the root of (finally!) bringing Wonder Woman to the big screen, multiply the results with Aquaman and… well, we had a potential cluster fuck.
Sadly, that’s exactly what I saw in the movie theater this afternoon. ‘Batman V Superman’ opens with a retelling of Bruce Wayne’s parents being murdered and then jumps ahead to show us Bruce racing through Metropolis during the climactic slaughter of ‘Man Of Steel’. There’s some great moments in these early scenes. Young Bruce being lifted by a swarm of bats is a reminder that Snyder can be a brilliant visual storyteller when he isn’t bogged down by dumb old plot and character action. Affleck seals the deal as Batman/Wayne right in this opening sequence, as Wayne tries to save his employees from the devastation being wrought by Zod and Superman’s battle. (Too bad there was an advertisement right before the movie that showed most of this scene as a frigging car commercial. Undercut the tension just a little bit.) In fact, the opening 10 minutes actually got my hopes up.
Then, the remaining 140 slowly beat them back down.
One of the truly annoying things about the way Snyder handles Superman is that he clearly doesn’t trust the character. He thinks Superman has no place in this “serious”, “mature” world of “graphic novel movies”. (Because Snyder doesn’t make “comic book movies”.) But Snyder can’t seem to actually come right out and say that, so he stacks the deck against Superman ever appearing actually, y’know, “heroic.” We see Superman doing good deeds, but he’s always frowning. Like, should I actually rescue these people from this flood? Should I drop everything and save a girl from a burning building in Mexico? Snyder needs him to be aloof and unlikable, so that he can justify a movie where Superman would actually get a bee in his bonnet about Batman as opposed to an obvious psychopath like Lex Luthor.
Just as clearly as he dislikes and mistrusts Superman, Snyder clearly loves the Frank Miller take on Batman. So much so that I’d argue he forgets that the majority of Miller’s Batman stories are not actually part of Batman Comics continuity. Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns” (which was, unarguably, a groundbreaking moment in comics history) and “Dark Knight Strikes Again” (which was not) are one-off speculative re-imaginings of Batman. Even his “All Star Batman & Robin” series is set outside the acknowledged canon of the Batman comics universe. They are “what if?” stories. The only “real” Batman Miller ever wrote was “Batman: Year One”, and the Batman in that series is a very different character than the “Goddamn Batman” Miller has perpetrated in the rest of his work.
With that in mind, it’s not so surprising to me that Snyder also gets Batman pretty much fucking wrong in ‘Batman V Superman”. As an example, the way this movie introduces Batman is… Well, it’s scary and effective as fuck. But it is just so WRONG. The Batman of 75+ years of comic book history would not let a fucking rookie cop nearly kill his partner, just so Batman can make a scary exit. When Batman goes to steal Kryptonite from Luthor’s goons, he doesn’t do it with stealth and cunning, the way the real Batman would; he does it by engaging in a car chase. As I watched the new Batmobile barrel through a confusingly shot, poorly edited barrage of car chase clichés, I kept thinking, “Batman simply isn’t this stupid. He would not blast his way to a solution. Also? I can barely fucking tell what the new Batmobile looks like because of the bullshit way this is being shot.” But that chase scene is indicative of the movie’s whole attitude, which seems to be: Hey pussy! It’s not 1938 anymore! Grow up and read your Frank Miller!
I really can’t stress that date enough. Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White has a whole speech where he tells Clark Kent that it’s not 1938 anymore. That’s the year Superman was first published. That character has no place in the world that this movie inhabits. Another character who has no place in this world is Jimmy Olsen. And the way that Snyder handles that character tells you more about Zack Snyder and his attitude towards Superman and, indeed, Batman than anything I could ever theorize.
Oh, sorry. Did I not mention that Jimmy Olsen, plucky photographer for the Daily Planet and “Superman’s Pal” is killed? Yep. That happens. Here’s the director talking to Entertainment Weekly on why that happened:
“We just did it as this little aside because we had been tracking where we thought the movies were gonna go, and we don’t have room for Jimmy Olsen in our big pantheon of characters, but we can have fun with him, right?”
Yeah. “Fun”. Put a bullet through Jimmy Olsen’s head. Hey! It’s all in good fun. After all pussies, It’s not 1938 anymore, am I right?
Fuck you, Snyder. In that one “creative” decision, you managed to make ‘Batman V Superman’ a more reprehensible movie than Joel Schumacher’s appalling ‘Batman & Robin’. Also, fuck you for whatever the fuck it is Jesse Eisenberg is doing as Lex Luthor. It’s a truly wretched performance that might be the worst part of this whole lousy movie.
I promised myself that this wasn’t going to be a total hate-fest, so I’ll say that in the middle of all of this bullshit, Ben Affleck is great as Bruce Wayne/Batman. I didn’t expect to come out of this movie thinking that, even if he is saddled with a dumb voice modulator. (It’s still better than Bale’s ‘roid-rage Bat-voice.) I hope we get to see him in a real Batman movie somewhere down the road. Jeremy Irons as Alfred is arguably the best screen version we’ve seen yet of Bruce Wayne’s faithful butler. There’s also a perfect use of the fact that Superman’s mom has the same name as Batman’s mom. I’d honestly never made that connection before, and it works beautifully here. And kudos to the opening credits for crediting Bill Finger along with Bob Kane as the creator of Batman. For too long, Finger’s rightful title as Batman’s co-creator has been ignored.
Oh and, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman flat-out steals the movie. And she manages to do so with only about 20 minutes of screen time.
There’s one scene in the whole two-and-a-half hours running time of ‘Batman V Superman’ that actually feels right. One tiny, precious little gem of a scene. In fact, it’s not really a “scene” so much as it is a moment inside a scene. The scene is the climactic battle between Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman against the Cave Troll from ‘Lord Of The Rings’. I’m not being an asshole. That’s what they’re fighting, plain and simple. Oh sure, Lex Luthor calls it “Doomsday”, but really, it’s the fucking Cave Troll from ‘Lord Of The Rings’. Wonder Woman is kicking ass seven ways to Sunday, but the Cave Troll finally manages to clobber her. Wonder Woman gets knocked prone, and as she starts to regain her senses, a crazed grin sneaks across her face.
She’s enjoying herself. She’s having the fucking time of her life. Because, damn it! She’s Wonder Woman.
In that one moment, Gal Gadot manages to do the one thing that 150 minutes of Affleck and Cavill and Snyder being somber and scowling and serious couldn’t: make me feel excited to see super heroes on the big screen. That one little second gave me a tingle of hope. And it really makes me hope that Zack Snyder stays the hell away from the Wonder Woman movie.
Because fuck you, Zack Snyder. You killed Jimmy Olsen.