Batman v Superman: A Bad Movie with Hints of Greatness
On Saturday, I went to go see the kickstart to DC’s cinematic universe: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I’d read the terrible reviews and was not eager to see this movie, but I did anyway. So why did I go?
A couple reasons: First, I’m not a film snob. (I ranked Ant-Man higher than The Birds, after all, and I stick by it. The Birds is a better movie, technically, but I enjoyed Ant-Man a great deal more.) I can sometimes enjoy pop trash as much as high cinema, and I want to make my own assessments on whether a movie is good or not. A lot of film snobs hate Zack Snyder. I don’t. I think he’s generally a good director. He’s made a couple movies I really liked (Dawn of the Dead, 300, Watchmen) as well as some stinkers (Suckerpunch), but he’s basically a competent director. Second, I’m a huge Batman fan and I had heard that the Batman stuff in this movie is quite good. Third, and most importantly, it was starting right when I arrived at the theater. Ha!
As usual, I’ll lay out the pros and cons and let you decide for yourself.
This is not a terrible movie like some critics would have you believe. There are a few bright spots in it, some even bordering on excellent. If you haven’t seen the movie, beware that there are spoilers from here on.
- The Batman stuff. As I mentioned in the introduction, despite all the bad reviews, I had heard the Batman aspects were all very good. I agree. Batman is the star of this movie, and Ben Affleck is fantastic. He was great both as an older, grizzled Bruce Wayne and as a brawler Batman. The first time you see him in costume on screen, it’s terrifying. Even more than Christian Bale’s interpretation. (Unlike Bale’s version, Affleck’s Batman voice was explained as a gadget that changed it.) The warehouse fight was probably the best Batman fight ever put on the big screen. The Dark Knight movies, while superior films, tended to muddle the fight sequences so the viewer couldn’t tell what was happening. Not here. Jeremy Irons was probably the best Alfred to date, and his chemistry and banter with Affleck was perfect. Batman’s detective skills were put to good use in this movie, and the secret entrance to the Batcave is very clever. Comic book fans can rejoice, too, as Bill Finger FINALLY gets credit for his contribution to the creation of the character. I read that Ben Affleck will be directing and starring in a solo Batman film, which I’m very eager to see after his turn in Batman v. Superman.
- The music. Every hero had his/her own theme. When I first heard this, I was worried it would come off pandering and cheesy. Not so. The theme songs were woven into the film’s score to get the audience excited. The music was also used as a clue in one point of the movie in a clever way.
- The themes. The movie raised a lot of interesting questions: What would humanity do if a god-like figure like Superman suddenly appeared? Should he be accountable to the government? What if he turned on us? How could a mere mortal defeat a god-like figure? Of course, these themes were all lifted from the comic backstories of these two characters, especially The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. Unfortunately, some of the interesting questions were asked and then promptly forgotten. However, it was nice to see them translated to the screen.
- The visuals. Often, the film looks beautiful. Zack Snyder is not a terrible director, despite what many film snobs say. Snyder and his DP have consistently been able to create many striking visuals over the course of their careers, and this movie is no exception. I’ll go back to the first appearance of Batman. The tension is built up perfectly, and the shot flow and composition was on point. Another example is the shot of Superman hovering over the armored Batman in the rain. This shot was taken almost directly from The Dark Knight Returns, but the translation from comics to film was well done.
- Wonder Woman. Let me preface this point by saying that Wonder Woman did not belong in this movie. (I’ll touch on this point in the cons section.) However, Gal Gadot was great. She had the right presence when she was Diana, and she kicked ass as Wonder Woman. Many fanboys were worried that she’s too skinny and frail to be Wonder Woman, but happily they were proven wrong. After her turn in this movie, I’m looking forward to the solo Wonder Woman movie. Before I watched Batman v. Superman, I wasn’t.
So, the movie’s good, right? No, far from it. Despite these glimpses of greatness, it’s a mess. I cannot in good conscience recommend it. My list of cons isn’t going to be super unique… if you’ve heard or read any other reviews, you probably know most of these. It’s a shame because there’s a good movie in here somewhere trying to get out. It’s just not what we were given.
- The script. The best lines are taken from the comics. The rest… ugh. There are more than a few cringeworthy lines, including the infamous “Do you bleed? You will.” It’s supposed to be menacing, but it comes off hilarious. Same with the “Ding, ding, ding…” at the end. It’s supposed to be disturbing, but it’s just funny.
- Superman’s characterization. Superman is supposed to be the representation of all the human race should strive for. He always tries to do the right thing, no matter what. He’s good, he’s kind, and he’s the ultimate boy scout, basically. Superman in this movie is angry, bitter, and dour. He whines. He makes threats. In short, he’s not Superman. Man of Steel, for all its faults, handled the character better, despite a few big missteps. (Zod’s murder, especially.) Batman v. Superman gets his character almost totally wrong, with one exception. There’s a scene in which there’s a montage of Superman doing heroic things while there’s a voiceover of people discussing his ideals. Not only is it one of the best parts of the movie, it’s the only scene that gets his character right.
- Lex Luthor. His plot. Lex Luthor doesn’t work in this movie at all. The best version of Lex Luthor is the charismatic, untouchable CEO. A man who is above the law and can talk and/or pay his way out of any trouble. Jesse Eisenberg’s version is a spoiled millenial hipster who is clearly insane. He even gives a very uncomfortable speech at a fundraiser that leaves everyone perplexed. OF COURSE this guy is a bad guy. I didn’t buy the characterization at all. Jesse Eisenberg is not a bad actor. I loved him in Zombieland and The Social Network. He just wasn’t right for this. (Bryan Cranston would have been awesome.) Not only is Eisenberg’s performance goofy and a bit insane, but his evil plot makes no sense. His reason for hating Superman is dumb, and his plan to get rid of him is more full of holes than the Pittsburgh infield. (That one’s for you, movie buffs.)
- The Batman v Superman resolution. It’s so stupid, and it happens faster than Anakin Skywalker becomes Vader. They call a truce when they realize their mothers have the same name. That’s it. I wish I was joking. I’ve embedded the clip from the movie Step Brothers where they become friends. Batman v. Superman is funnier, and it’s not supposed to be. (I’m not the first to notice the similarity.)
- The sound design. Though the music is good, the sound design is terrible. Stock sound effects are used and overused, and often it doesn’t match what we’re seeing on screen. That’s inexcusable for a major Hollywood tentpole release.
- The dream sequences. There are too many. When used right, a dream sequence can give insight into a film character’s psyche. Here, they’re just used for the hell of it, I guess. There’s even a dream sequence within another dream sequence, which would be pretentious in an arthouse movie. And this is a comic book movie.
- Doomsday. Doomsday is another character that didn’t belong in this movie. The only reason he was included was so that Snyder could cram in the death of Superman story arc. It didn’t need to be in this movie, and it doesn’t work. It’s not logical and it carries zero emotional weight since Superman is a huge jerk throughout most of the film. Doomsday’s design is terrible, too. He looks exactly like the cave troll from The Lord of the Rings.
- Shoehorning in the Justice League. Since the subtitle of this movie is The Dawn of Justice, several members of The Justice League are featured in this movie, each for about 30 seconds. They didn’t belong in this movie, and added nothing to the story. The way they were introduced (via email!) is lazy and contrived, too. Make the character introductions memorable, or don’t do it at all.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice should have just been Batman v. Superman. There’s more than enough material in the comics to focus just on this rivalry and make an interesting film. Take out the other Justice League characters, and take out Doomsday. For a movie called Batman v. Superman, about 5% of the movie is actually Batman up against Superman. That’s probably the most frustrating part of the experience. If you have to see this movie, wait for it on DVD. Watch the first hour and half and then turn it off after the Batman/Superman fight. You won’t miss anything and it will probably enhance your enjoyment of the movie. Better yet, just watch the animated version of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. (My Amazon link will take you there.) It’s a pretty faithful adaptation of the comic, and a much better film that Batman v. Superman.
Story: ★ of 5
Sound: ★ of 5
Acting: ★★ of 5 (Affleck and Irons prevent this from being one star)
Action: ★★★½ of 5
Direction: ★★½ of 5
Visuals: ★★★★ of 5
Overall: ★½ of 5
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