Batman v Superman is a very bad film. Critics and fans alike have made that clear. But it’s so much more than just a bad movie. It’s a sign of the times and the state of the film industry itself as well as the world of superhero entertainment. But we’ll get to that. And by the way, for those who haven’t managed to catch it yet, this review is spoiler free.
With something as near and dear to our collective hearts as a Superman or Batman adaptation, people seem hesitant to admit it’s awful. It’s hard to hate it. It’s hard to admit the hype was wrong. This stops here. This doom and destruction showcase is a mega-budget, soulless, scattered mess only the likes of Hollywood could deliver upon eager fans. It is a two hour and thirty-three minute slough entirely devoid of character development beyond the most fundamental explanation of motives and origin. Aside from Jesse Eisenberg’s twitchy, nervous take on Lex Luthor, no one displays any form of individuality or idiosyncrasies. All of the sullen players in this grand drama serve only as plot devices. Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck show little emotion regarding their exploits as Superman and Batman respectively other than angst, the only emotion director Zack Snyder appears to be able to coax out of his actors. And this movie certainly has enough hamfisted, brooding angst to satisfy even the most hardened Game of Thrones fan. Although it’s easy to understand what Eisenberg was shooting for with this Heath Ledger Joker inspired interpretation of Luthor, it feels out of place and disjointed in this stoic flick like a
DayGlo rainbow across Zack Snyder’s somber sepia tone landscape. Some have even gone so far as to say Eisenberg ruined this film, but this is certainly unwarranted. He merely comes across as a disappointingly predictable villain in a genre where the viewer needs some surprises along the journey to the inevitable superhero victory as he delivers stilted and forced dialogue and an endless stream of lame puns.
Henry Cavill is devastatingly mediocre as both Clark and Superman, despite the fact that we see almost none of him as the mild-mannered reporter. Snyder’s Superman doesn’t have time for activities that don’t involve explosions or scantily-clad women. Despite the excessive flak he has gotten, Ben Affleck is a fairly serviceable Batman. He does about as well as can be expected with a ramshackle script and a suffocating atmosphere. His role requires no versatility and he appropriately displays none. Oh, and don’t forget that they cast the legendary Jeremy Irons as Alfred to be reduced to making only dejected, surly comments about Master Wayne’s disregard for his own health…
One of the most disheartening things about this film is that it seems the creative minds that put it together may have never known, spoken to, or been in the room with an actual woman. All of the females in this and the previous Superman installment are peripheral one-dimensional characters who’s only apparent purpose is to be eye candy, a cliched damsel in distress, or a motivation for the actions of their male counterparts. This is especially offensive when you have the acting prowess of Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Holly Hunter, and the young Gal Gadot at your disposal. And when illustrating tough, independent female leads like Lois Lane or the Kentucky senator [Help! We Kentuckians desperately need favorable portrayals in TV and film] played by Holly Hunter, writers Chris Terrio and David Goyer and director Snyder seem only to know how to make them vaguely stubborn and dumb. “Fierce” and crass are not the same thing and are not to be confused. In very recent action flick female lead memory, we can compare this to Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road, who’s quiet intensity and dignity stands in stark contrast to the boring sultry or rude portrayals of females in BvS.
Giving the viewer “the feels” in a Superman fiction should be like shooting fish in a barrel. The framework is already a part of the fabric of the American consciousness. Give us Lois yearning for Superman but ignoring Clark. Give us Lois’s fear that something bad will happen to the man she loves and the man the world needs. Give us Superman’s overwhelming daddy issues. Aside from the awkward and out-of-place bathtub scene’s halfhearted attempt at romance and the deux ex machina “our moms have the same name,” revelation, we get none of that. The characters just kind of exist on the same plane where these events are happening and none of the interactions are believable or compelling. In fact, when Martha Kent cracks a wry joke late in the film, it is downright jarring because it’s the first time humor has breathed cool air into this dense, brooding mess. Then again, a movie this jampacked has no time for reasonably paced dialogue or humor.
Batman v Superman sets out to do far too much. We have to introduce Lex Luthor, Batman, and Wonder Woman; set up Superman ‘on trial,’ find reasons for Clark and Bruce to dislike each other; introduce ANOTHER villain (and they do the iconic comic book villain Doomsday a great disservice in his big screen representation); explore Lois and Clark’s relationship; explore Alfred and Bruce Wayne’s relationship; and have the climactic final battle. The film was almost surely doomed to failure with this much on it’s plate to tackle in a 2 1/2 hour format without it making you feel like the entire film is an advertisement. Oh, and if you do like commercials in your film, fear not, there is practically an extended trailer for the upcoming Justice League movie shoehorned into the middle of this one.
Zack Snyder must truly be the meathead’s meathead director. He excels only when heading up shot-for-shot adaptations of successful graphic novels such as 300 and The Watchmen. When given more artistic control, he proves repeatedly that he will see to it that any and all artistic subtlety and nuance will be washed away in a deluge of punches, swooshes, explosions, half-naked women, and juvenile humor. He is even so bold as to shamelessly recycle the “make a god bleed” theme and scene from 300 as though his viewers are too stupid to catch on. If there was a GoFundMe to have him tarred and feathered in the street in front of DC Comics headquarters, I might donate my next three paychecks.
However, the principal failure of this film is more nebulous and hard to quantify. Simply put: it’s got no heart and soul. Superhero films are at their core moral tales, and this installment doesn’t have one moral quandary or a moment of pumping your fist because the good guy made the right decision. In fact, there is a lot more thinking “Geez, should Batman be doing that?” “Superman sure is making a mess…” and “Okay now the careless good guy SURELY killed a bunch of people.” Even Nolan’s Batman films, which these films borrow heavily from thematically, explore moral gray area and critical decision making. The protagonists in Snyder’s bleak world merely hurtle mechanically and destructively towards their inevitable showdown and victory over the villain.
This is the biggest part of what is wrong with the superhero movie game these days as well as a microcosm of what is wrong with the entire film industry. This movie serves no purpose other than to be a special effects extravaganza full of supposedly “awesome shots,” and “wicked cool moments” that is designed to sell merchandise and perpetuate the machine. Feed the beast. Set up the next five movies in the series because these suckers will flood into theaters to see anything with a franchise name on it whether it’s good or not. This film is far below average yet had the fifth biggest film opening of all time. Ticket buyers must use discretion. If we don’t demand a better product with our spending dollars, we won’t get a better product. Nothing can save us from the world of bland films and soulless marketing but ourselves. Not even Superman… and most certainly not THIS Superman.