Retrospection: Batman v Superman

MAJOR SPOILERS for BvS, but also, who cares

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Yes, this is over a year old, but with the next DCEU film on the horizon I can’t help but feel apprehensive based on their previous track record. I saw BvS opening day, and hours after my screening I was so frustrated and angry about this poor choices made in the movie that I had to vent it out. Sadly I didn’t know anybody else who had seen it opening day, and so to relieve my stress I furiously wrote my own personal review for myself and absolutely nobody else, burying it my documents folder immediately after. The following was written sometime in the evening on March 26th, 2016. I was half-asleep and extremely angry, so just at least keep that in mind while you judge me. Feel free to skim:

“BATMAN V SUPERMAN IS A BIG BAG OF DICKS AND HERE’S WHY:

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is nearly three loud and blinding hours of wasted potential. Sloppily edited, poorly written, and unnecessarily convoluted, this film forsakes what could have been a layered concept for explosions and shells of beloved characters. Director Zack Snyder, or whoever is responsible for these poor design choices, shows a fundamental misunderstanding of these relatively simple characters— specifically Superman, who lacks any real motivation other than the overly-complicated yet somehow paper-thin one he is forced into.

The sloppy editing makes short scenes feel even choppier as the film cuts from subplot to subplot (of which there are roughly six)— some of which don’t feel entirely necessary in the first place and don’t have any satisfying payoff.  The casual fans will undoubtedly enjoy seeing these two classic heroes punch it out, but this film writes itself into many corners, and despite all its attempts to be something epic, just creates narrative obstacles to overcome in future films. It practically shoehorns in an advertisement for future DCEU films, as well as way too many story arcs that waste source material typically held in high regard among comic fans. And Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor (JUNIOR)— what the hell happened there? Why would they go in this direction with that character?

Is it all bad? No, not exactly. Ben Affleck’s performance as the new (yet still poorly characterized) Batman is something to behold. Visually the film is quite gorgeous and creates a spectacle typical of Snyder’s films. The action scenes are all explosive and fun, even if they lack the narrative depth they deserve. Also, it is great to finally see Wonder Woman on screen. “Fun” is the right word here, as it IS somewhat fun. Despite being aware and annoyed with all of the flaws, I begrudgingly still had fun watching the movie. However, I would hesitate to call it a “good” movie. And I say that as a lover of comic book movies and a defender of Man of Steel’s missteps. It doesn’t derail the DCEU’s future, but it certainly makes me very uneasy. I hope Suicide Squad can pick up the slack.”

Alright so, there are some parts of that make no sense to me and I’m the one who wrote it. Yet, looking back on this, I was hoping to refute my enraged nerd rant comments and eat my words, even just a little. However, after some serious thought, I really can’t. I’ve seen the film three times in total; twice in the theater (I went a second time with family against my own wishes), once when I was inexplicably gifted the “ultimate edition” that featured very minor improvements. Honestly, my opinion on it has gotten even worse since then, but I can retract a lot of that viciousness from last year. It’s bad, but not horrible… though if Suicide Squad had never come out, I wouldn’t have such a low bar to judge it against.

Phew. Okay. My Man of Steel breakdown was super lengthy, but only because it has been a long while since I’ve seen it in full. Meanwhile BvS and the accompanying rage is still fresh in my mind, so I’ll make this a bit more concise. Here are my three major issues with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Too Much, Too Soon

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It is evident now— as it was to me before the release of this movie— that Warner Bros are rushing too quickly towards the ideal cinematic universe like that of Marvel’s. Say what you want about the Marvel Cinematic Universe; not all of their movies are home runs, but the majority of them feature carefully and thoughtfully developed characters. Each major hero was given their own obligatory standalone film so that moviegoers would at least be introduced to them before seeing them come together in The Avengers. Not only were the first phase of Marvel films met with varying degrees of success, but The Avengers was massive critical and financial hit. The DC Extended Universe however, has hit some… bumps.

Instead of introducing characters to audiences individually and building to a crossover, Warner Bros started with what many consider to be a pretty mediocre Superman film, and overloaded its sequel with characters, story arcs, and unnecessary easter eggs for the sake of creating the shell of a cinematic universe. Now, nobody said that Marvel’s way was the right way to do it, but the natural sequential buildup of characters and concepts has earned them critical love and a big pile of money. Warner Bros, who undoubtedly also want a big pile of money, chose their route: rushing. They took a so-so movie, made it foundation, and crammed in anything into the sequel that would make it sell, and of course, it did. It sold well despite not being the success that they had hoped for, but it was slammed by fans and critics alike.

Warner Bros was banking on the built-in fan base to make this movie a success, thinking that the sole appearances of famous characters like Batman and Wonder Woman would be enough to make it a hit. To their credit, they were partially right— I went opening night, even after my initial shock at all the poor reviews. However once I was in the theater, everything suddenly made sense: its cool to see these characters interact, but I do not care about any of them. They may be well cast (with the exception of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor), but none of them are well-defined or even that likeable— more on that in a bit.

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On top of that, it takes plot influences from famous comics like The Dark Knight Returns and bizarrely— The Death of Superman— and squanders them. Not only do the new versions of Superman and Batman have a thinly motivated, poorly contrived, boring fist fight, but I’m supposed to care? I have no attachment to them. This murdery-fan-fic version of Batman is new to me, and I barely know Cavill’s Superman from his meh standalone film. What, and then I’m supposed to care when he dies? When SUPERMAN dies? This movie and franchise has had no buildup; no amount of time for audiences to build any attachment with their characters. And yet, they decide to kill what is essentially their main character? Not only is the moment unmoving and unmemorable, but I was well-aware of the upcoming Justice League film and the plans to make the DCEU franchise— even if many other audiences members didn’t. I know he isn’t dead. I know he isn’t going to die. He’s fucking Superman.

The point is, they haven’t thought through the development of this franchise, and the entire construction of Batman v Superman is prime evidence of that. They decided to shoehorn in as much superhero stuff as fast as they possibly could onto a film foundation that wasn’t so great in the first place, and that wasn’t such a great idea.

Oh, and surprise, they spoil Superman’s resurrection at the end of the film maybe 20 minutes after his death SO WHAT WAS THE FUCKING POINT IN THE FIRST PLA—-

The Messiest Plot

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This movie carries on too many subplots that could have easily been simplified, cut out of the film, or entirely replaced with more engaging and essential sequences. We don’t really need to see the discovery of kryptonite in the ocean, we don’t need to see much of anything in the Daily Planet offices, and we certainly didn’t need to see Bruce Wayne’s parents get shot again (though it is probably the best looking Wayne Family Murder yet). Most of the excess in this movie teaches us about auxiliary characters who aren’t essential to this film’s core narrative, and only relates to the main characters of the film more indirectly. The exception of course being Bruce Wayne’s parents, who audiences do not need more context about. Afraid of bats. Parents die. Batman. We get it.

The sole purpose of these subplots is to slowly reveal Lex Luthor’s scheme that forces the two protagonists to fight, and not only is his plan flawed and convoluted from the start, but unnecessary in motivating the heroes to do so. Of all the potential motivations to utilize, we’re given this long-winded plot of intrigue that involves terror incidents, bombings, kidnappings, mysterious letters, ugh… honestly, this movie makes more work for itself than it needs to. In the end, I guess it doesn’t matter why they fight because these two extraordinarily intelligent men don’t have so much as a single conversation before engaging in a relatively dull brawl through a warehouse. Point is, the movie wastes our time with unimportant subplots instead of bolstering the underwritten main event.

Characters like Lois Lane, Perry White, Wallace Keefe, and Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch are all largely unnecessary to the central story. This isn’t to say they shouldn’t have been used, but they didn’t all need their own subplots. Had this movie kept it simple, even with all of the cameos and hints at future films, I think it would have been much smoother and more enjoyable. This is all made worse by choppy editing between the unnecessary subplots, but I’ll save that rant for Suicide Squad.

Zack Snyder’s Bizarre Characterizations

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So, I touched on this a bit in my Man of Steel review, and since then it has only worsened. Zack Snyder is a very visual director and I’m sure not all of the story flaws are his fault, but does he actually understand these characters? If the muddled motivations somehow aren’t a red flag, Batman and Superman act distinctly unlike their typical selves.

Arguably the one of the best (and most consistent) characters in the film, let’s look at Ben Affleck’s Batman. He’s decent. He’s the overly serious straight-arrow comic fans are accustomed to. In BvS, despite the convoluted plot, it is pretty clearly established that he hates Supes for the massive collateral damage he is partially responsible for in Man of Steel, including the lives lost at Wayne Enterprises. Batman then chooses to attempt to kill Superman on that basis.

So yeah, Batman is kind of a murderer nowadays.

The Batman action scenes, as wonderful as they all are, show some brutal combat that often lead to the death of his opponents. Now I know this isn’t that big of a deal; Batman doesn’t always avoid killing and he’s done it on film before, but that isn’t the problem. Batman doesn’t really show a regard for the lives he’s destroying at all, and that is a huge issue.

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He has no problem gunning people down and throwing them into grenades or even executing Superman. I mean, what the hell? That is a pretty big contradiction of Batman’s philosophy, but even if that didn’t matter: even if they have just wanted to try a new take on the character, how are they going to justify him letting his villains live? He has no issue with killing ordinary people, but for some reason can’t kill the Joker? Why the hell did he let any of the Suicide Squad live? Why did he save Harley in that film? Even if it’s for the sake of the action, it’s another narrative hurdle to overcome for no good reason.

As for Superman, he’s even more dour and angsty than he was in Man of Steel. He isn’t given much to do, other than be passive and mopey through most of the film and fly a human man through several concrete walls. This Superman doesn’t seem to like saving people all that much because of how they continue to question his allegiance to humanity, and while I think that is an interesting angle to take, it is incredibly non-heroic of the character. He also barely speaks, despite being a main character. As far as I’m concerned, the DCEU Superman already needs a serious reworking. Hopefully his appearance in Justice League is better defined and more closely aligned with the traditional Superman, because this one is really off-putting.

This movie has barely grown on me. The few things it does right ar severely outweighed by bizarre mistakes that could have been easily avoided. It isn’t the worst comic book film by any means, but this is a low— especially for the two biggest comic book characters ever. Even at the time, I shifted my expectations onto Suicide Squad, and that was a serious mistake. Honestly, I’m not sure that I can sit through that movie again for a proper retrospection. Believe me, I will try.

 

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