Length: 151 mins
Writer: Chris Terrario, David S. Goyer
Dir.: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Gal Gadot
I always love it when movies like this come along. There’s something oddly fascinating about them. How can so many intelligent, talented people make such an absolute train wreck of a film? Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is bafflingly bad. Just totally, incomprehensibly bad. And they know it. Everyone involved with that movie knows how bad it is. And no amount of dismissing what film critics have said is going to change that.
At it’s core, the story is relatively simple. Basically, Lex Luthor wants to kill Superman for some incredibly arbitrary reason, manipulates Batman into doing it, and sets giant monster called Doomsday on them when Batman wusses out. (Incidentally, all of that was in the trailers, and is therefore not a spoiler.) Everything else is either a needless complication or a tie in/set up for something else. One of the main problems with the narrative is that it can’t quite decide which story it wants to tell. As with The Dark Knight Rises, the film borrows much of its material from Frank Miller’s increasingly over referenced The Dark Knight Returns – in which an older Batman comes out of retirement to save Gotham, but comes to blows with a state sanctioned Superman by the end. The design of Batman in this movie draws most of its inspiration from the panels of the graphic novel – in some cases directly, with several shots copied exactly from the comic.
The problem is that the writer chose to awkwardly mash this story with one of the most ridiculed events in DC comics history – i.e. the inclusion of Doomsday from the rightly maligned 1992 run The Death of Superman. I won’t go into too much detail for fear of spoilers – but the comics were a painfully 90s gimmicky reinvention of the character (Superman ends up with Mel Gibson-esque hair and an all black costume) that was swiftly forgotten. There is no real reason for its inclusion in this film – but it is clearly referenced by the end of the movie that this is set up for something else. On top of this, the writers – presumably at the prompting of the studio – had to awkwardly shoe-horn in an introduction to other characters from the Justice League (DC’s equivalent to the Avengers), along with set up from the Wonder Woman movie and the next few films – heavily referencing the story-line of the Injustice: Gods Among Us video game/comics in the process. Basically, the film tries to tell several different and often conflicting stories at once. Badly.
I have seldom seen such an incoherent story so ineptly told. It makes every mistake that Man of Steel made but turns them up to 11. The hell-for-leather pacing combined with some breathtakingly bad editing and an overweight narrative make for a film that somehow seems rushed and slow at the same time. Every scene lasts five minutes and then jump cuts to another one – which often includes different characters and plot lines – and the audience is never allowed to get to grips with what’s happening. The huge amount of characters – all with at best ill-defined motivations and personalities – get zero development over the courses of the story and, again, many of them have next to nothing to do. They show up, state the character they are playing and then get on with it, like a bizarre school play. Yet again, Lois Lane is entirely superfluous to the story and serves no other purpose than to be rescued or just watch events happening around her.
That’s one of the biggest flaws of the movie – despite having a knock-out cast and great characters for them to play, they are criminally underused. Affleck is brilliant as Batman, and I maintain that he is one of the best things about the film. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman doesn’t do much until the climax of the film but pretty much steals the show. Henry Cavill also does well showing us a conflicted Superman who is struggling with the burden of his self-imposed responsibility. Even the supporting cast are good – Jeremy Irons clearly enjoyed playing Alfred as a sarcastic prick, and Amy Adams gives a great performance as Lois Lane. And I want to see more of these characters – I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing them again (in their own movies where they have something to do). But the story doesn’t utilise them well and actors can only do so much to breath life into crappy material.
The only misfire character-wise, for me, was Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. Here, Eisenberg plays the cold and calculating villain as a discount Joker with ADHD and it just doesn’t work. Like, at all. I really like him as an actor and I can definitely see what he’s going for, but his portrayal doesn’t fit either the character or the film in general. Disappointing.
In comparison to Man of Steel, there are some limited improvements. The product placement in this movie is surprisingly low-key and there isn’t so much blatant Jesus imagery in this one, but they effectively replace the latter by near-constant reference to Superman being the literal manifestation of God. It’s all so bloody dour and miserable. I wasn’t exactly expecting a laugh-a-minute, but its unrelenting in its total devotion to deadpan seriousness and melodrama. I say again, the central character is a flying underwear model with a fabulous cape who shoots lasers out of his eyes. Cheer the fuck up!
Comparison with the Marvel movies is inevitable and natural – the internet has been arguing about which comic book company is better for as long as it’s been around. Batman v Superman gives the distinct impression that Warner Bros. wanted to get all of the set up for a DC cinematic universe out of the way in one fell swoop rather than putting an effort in whatsoever. Throughout it’s production they kept crowbarring all this extra stuff into it – first they put Batman in it, then Wonder Woman, then all of the Justice League stuff, Doomsday, Lex Luthor – they just kept piling it on. Suddenly, what should have been a straight forward sequel became the sole foundation on which the vast inverse pyramid of the DC cinematic universe rested. Loathe as I am to quote Man of Steel, as General Zod said: ‘a foundation has to be built on something’.
Warner Bros. has put no effort into this franchise – they just keep throwing money at it in the hope that it’ll sort itself out. They want all of the rewards for none of the work. In the end it’s all about the money, rather than making something that people would enjoy. And this film will still make a shit-tonne of money, I can promise you that. Never mind having a coherent story, or well developed relatable characters, or making a good movie. As long as they get their money, who cares about any of that? I know that Marvel and Disney are not exactly saints here – Age of Ultron anybody? But at least they actually worked to get where they are.
Do yourself a favour: don’t go and see this movie. It’s an utter mess and a waste of time. Films like this need to fail – it’s the only way studios will get the message. I genuinely hope Batman v Superman tanks completely, just because it might make Warner Bros. actually think about what they are doing. Maybe we’ll get some good movies out of it too.
Anyway… we’ve still got Suicide Squad to look forward to!