There are a number of complaints that have been leveled against Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel.” Outside of its tone and a distinct lack of color, they tend to deal with stuff like the director having so much destruction rain down on Metropolis, Superman allowing said destruction to take place, and (SPOILER, I guess, if you haven’t seen the movie which is came out in 2013) our hero’s killing Zod. “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” picks up on these threads, and does so in equally unsatisfactory fashion.
Henry Cavill (our Superman) has said does that this new movie, the first film truly in the DC Extended Universe does not have as a goal addressing “any issues” people had with “Man of Steel.” However, watching the film, it quite definitely exists for specifically that purpose. And, like its predecessor, it’s going to leave a bad taste in the mouth for a whole lot of people.
“Batman v Superman”‘s main tale revolves around the world, including Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), thinking that Superman is a danger. Much of the world feels as though Superman needs to follow the law, that he isn’t above it. That isn’t specifically Batman’s take on the whole thing, the Caped Crusader just wants to know more, understand more, and be able to stop Superman.
The movie does not draw a distinction between Batman’s stance and that of the rest of the world. This, despite Batman clearly not having a problem with the notion of a person in a cape operating outside the law.
So, over the course of the movie, the tension mounts; it mounts between the world (including Batman/Bruce Wayne, which, yes, I’m using interchangeably) and Superman. The whole movie in fact is about Superman being beat up on all sides by everyone except Lois (Amy Adams). As an aside, were I a different person I would write an in-depth piece about how Superman is actually a stand-in for “Man of Steel,” the world’s population in the film are critics/non-admiring viewers and Snyder is Lois, standing by her man to the end.
But then, suddenly, the movie isn’t about that anymore. I don’t want to get into spoiler-y territory and give anything away about what happens, but there is a moment in the movie where Superman goes from being questioned by everyone in the world to being lauded by them. People go from wondering if it’s okay for him to operate outside the law to praising him to the high heavens for it.
Rather than being any sort of sensible critique of our response to various security threats at home and abroad, Snyder offers all of this without comment or analysis. Superman goes from being seen one way to a different way. Superman is, essentially, redeemed for his “Man of Steel” actions by operating in the exact same fashion here in “Batman v Superman.” We can now, the illogic goes, move on to “Justice League” without worrying about Superman because the world has forgiven him. In our world—the real world—the issues remain the same, but within the movie, they are swept under the rug to be dealt with no more. It feels like a bait and switch. The gross destruction and violence of the first film is resolved by the gross violence and destruction of the second.
One other fix is offered by Snyder for another tangentially related aspect of “Man of Steel,” specifically, audiences not liking it when a civilian population is decimated. Consequently, no fewer than three times during the climactic battle we are told that the area in which our heroes and villain are fighting is uninhabited. The fight takes place in more than one location, but for whatever reason Snyder will not/cannot take our characters out of the confines of the Metropolis-Gotham confines (the two cities sit on opposite sides of a bay). Instead we get things like laughable voiceover from a popular TV news anchor explaining how a particular portion of a fight is taking place in downtown Metropolis which is mostly empty because it’s after the close of the business day. It feels like a direct response to previous criticism, and while responding to criticism is fine, it is handled in ludicrous fashion. If, as a director, you want the fight to take place in a city (or two), have your fight take place in a city, don’t throw in magical excuses for the city being empty.
There is good in the film. In fact, one of the best parts of “Batman v Superman” is the score by Junkie XL and Hans Zimmer. Of course, while I say that, I have to also point out that although the score is great on its own, it is an incredibly over the top affair. It is weighty and self-important and when combined with the self-important dialogue, look, feel, and posturing of “Batman v Superman,” the score isn’t as good. It is one too many things piled onto a plate that is already overfull. There are moments during the climactic battle sequence when the score proves to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, moving the sequence from semi-incomprehensible fighting due to the angles and editing style to humorous semi-incomprehensible fighting.
Much more to the good is Ben Affleck, who truly is outstanding. He manages to carry off Snyder’s desired gravitas without succumbing to it, unlike virtually everyone else. Affleck’s Bruce Wayne is less Christian Bale cavalier playboy (which totally would not fit with the movie’s self-serious tone) and more corporate executive with a second job, but a Batman I would happily explore further.
Another notable exception to the gravitas issue: Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White. Fishburne’s version of the character would fit perfectly with the ’80s “Superman” movies or J.K. Simmons’ J. Jonah Jameson. That is to say, he is a lot of fun to watch which essentially means that he belongs in a different movie.
Yes, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” as one may have surmised watching “Man of Steel,” isn’t built to be fun. Instead, it is built as a head fake towards answering the issues with its predecessor and introducing us to the characters we’re going to get to know as the DCEU moves forward.
Of course, movies don’t have to be fun. Even comic book movies don’t have to be fun. What they do have to do is provide a reason for the audience to care, a reason for us to show up and be interested in what’s happening. If the answer isn’t “fun,” it has to be something else, but all “Batman v Superman” gives the audience is overwrought dialogue, moody lighting, and pompous—but empty—ideals.
Many ideals within the film are spouted by Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. Quite honestly, Eisenberg’s take on the character is fantastic. As with Affleck’s Batman, Eisenberg’s Luthor is a guy I want to learn more about. And, just as with Affleck’s Batman (and Fishburne’s White), he is a guy ill-suited to the movie he’s in. This Luthor, from the moment we first see him, oozes smarm and evil. He is Luthor after Luthor stops pretending like he’s a good guy. He is Luthor after achieving super-villain status, except that somehow the world at large is blind to Luthor’s true self. The film offers absolutely no reason to think that the world wouldn’t realize Luthor is evil, it is simply another thing Snyder and the script by David Goyer and Chris Terrio chooses to ignore.
This issue isn’t a by-product of us knowing Luthor’s evil, Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch is well aware from the first moment she meets Luthor that he’s evil. Exactly why no one else sees it or seems to care in the slightest about it is insanely perplexing.
Fortunately, Snyder does avoid one of the big traps that could easily have sunk the movie on its own – he doesn’t go about introducing too many characters. Yes, as promised, get Aquaman, Cyborg, and the Flash, but those are nothing more than cameos. Anyone going to the movie to see any of those characters is going to find themselves sorely disappointed.
In fact, Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince/Wonder Woman is only in a handful of scenes. We are offered absolutely nothing about who she is, how she has come to be, why she is in Metropolis, or anything else. She is brilliantly realized during the final fight, a truly exhilarating addition to a silly battle and I greatly look forward to seeing her in her own movie because she has no character here.
Final summation time. There is something disquieting about the manner in which Zack Snyder has constructed the DCEU. “Batman v Superman” feels as though it is an extended response to the criticism that was issued with the release of “Man of Steel,” but that rather than attempting to formulate a well thought out, reasoned response, Snyder starts down the road of giving an answer only to then decide that people really just want to see stuff destroyed. That, combined by some intensely self-serious—and silly—dialogue and a desire to drop extended hints about the Justice League characters’ past and future cause the film to topple under its own weight.
If you’re a fan of the characters I don’t know how you possibly skip the movie, but that doesn’t mean you will like what you see.