I finally saw Batman v Superman this past weekend, its third week at the box office. After a strong opening weekend totaling $166M, putting it just ahead of The Dark Knight’s $160M opening, the bad reviews began to roll in and the movie fell off nearly 70% in its second week. There’s prediction that it could have difficulty reaching its $800M profit-generating threshold and is being critically panned on the whole. I wanted to follow my viewing with a film analysis and I anticipated my review not being great, given the plethora of critiques. That was an understatement. As a comic book fan, both Marvel and DC, I was excited for what this movie could be and what a strong and interesting cornerstone it could form for the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). Instead what we got was a sloppy mess wherein Zach Snyder ignores every good lesson of superhero filmmaking learned over the past decade in favor of his own disjointed version of what he wishes these characters were. For the sake of SPOILERS and not disheartening the yet unviewed fan I will save the rest of my opinions until after the jump, but let’s just say they aren’t great. So may I now present, in no particular order but the way they strike my angry memory, the top 10 problems with Batman v Superman that make it so damn bad.
Before I rip into the Snyder-helmed debacle, and blame rests almost 100% on his shoulders, I need to say that my disappointment with this movie was made much worse by the fact that it could have been good. Other than Eisenberg I had no qualms with any casting choices. Gal Godot is pretty awesome. I understand and respect the resistance to Batfleck but I think he was actually good and at times quite good. And Cavill’s problems to me are all writing. He’d be a fine Superman otherwise. The initial premise, established in the first half hour as we see the Battle of Metropolis (from Man of Steel) from the human side of the destruction, is strong. Batman, a superhero who is really only a man, is logically and soundly placed opposite the omnipotent alien superhero who doesn’t yet know how to keep his power from harming humanity. Herein lies excellent soil from which this film could grow, but its director fails to bring that struggle to life, and then piles on a woeful series of missteps, fumbles, and outright fuckups.
- “You’re letting him kill Martha!”
We’ll begin with the film’s absolute worst moment, the crucial point in the battle between the two titans, when Batman is about to strike down with the kryptonite staff and end the Last Son of Krypton. He is halted from the reckless murder by the fact that their mothers share the same first name, Martha. We’ll get into the problems with Lex Luthor’s villainous plot in a moment, and maybe you can somehow overlook the whining, whimpering Superman who is saved by Lois Lane arriving on her urgently chartered chopper from Metropolis (which is apparently across the street) to help in a completely unforeseeable way. The biggest issue here is the movie’s director chose a coincidence of the names of the characters’ mothers as the central swing point in the title fight. If you imagine Zack Snyder writing this, he has to settle on the Martha coincidence before deciding to make plot points of her kidnapping and subsequent rescue. That’s a poorly conceived plot.
And BEYOND THAT, when the moment is over Batman and Superman are immediate allies despite their previous issues not being resolved or even addressed in at all. Given that the entire movie was about their conflict and then team-up, they could have done better with the central struggle if nothing else.
- Snyder turns Batman into a murdering fuckhead, and it’s for no apparent reason.
Batman’s legend of never killing has been drawn into question given his actions in BvS and there is certainly some ground for discussion. In the very earliest iterations he carried a gun and acted like a 1940’s vigilante cop. But that version of the Caped Crusader didn’t last long and within a few years he had adopted his less-than-lethal force credo. Throughout the character’s history there have been notable exceptions of sorts, the best of which explore that line rather than simply ignore it. Tim Burton’s Batman kills rather indiscriminately, but Burton had no idea what he was doing in terms of the source material, while Nolan’s Dark Knight choosing to let Ra’s al Ghul die in a firey subway car crash is an interesting superhero-philosophy moment- Batman doesn’t kill, but does that oblige him to save an evil-doer from death? He changes his stance between the end of Batman Begins and when the Joker is tumbling to his death in The Dark Knight, a statement on the character’s struggle/decision on right and wrong as an agent of justice.
In Frank Miller’s comic ‘The Dark Knight Returns’, there is a controversial scene where Batman bursts through a wall and shoots a bad guy holding a toddler hostage. The scene is intentionally vague on the part of the artist, and arguments exist on both sides for whether or not Batman broke his code in this moment. The scene is at best ambiguous and several sound analyses (which you can find here and here) point to Batman merely injuring the perp. This moment happens to be from whence Dipshit McSnyder draws his justification for taking the ‘Batman doesn’t kill’ ethos and tossing it to the wind. Read this explanation from an interview with Hey U Guys:
“A little more like manslaughter than murder, although I would say that in the Frank Miller comic book that I reference, he kills all the time. There’s a scene from the graphic novel where he busts through a wall, takes the guy’s machine gun…I took that little vignette from a scene in The Dark Knight Returns, and at the end of that, he shoots the guy right between the eyes with the machine gun. One shot. Of course, I went to the gas tank, and all of the guys I work with were like, ‘You’ve gotta shoot him in the head’ because they’re all comic book dorks, and I was like, ‘I’m not gonna be the guy that does that!’”
Snyder simply doesn’t like superheroes not being murdering fuckheads and wanted to see his version of what Batman is supposed to be.
What’s more and possibly worse, is that he doesn’t own it, he never takes responsibility for Batman consciously making that decision, instead showing bad guys absolutely about to die or crumpled in a car from which there is no hope of survival. Though this Batman doesn’t blink at gunning down henchmen with a machine gun at one point, most of the time Snyder simply lets it be an implied, seemingly unimportant fact.
- The several irrelevant and downright bizarre scenes
In BvS, there are quite a few scenes that if deleted would make no difference to the film whatsoever and some of them are downright bizarre. The simplest is when Clark climbs to the top of some mountain (in a dream?) to have a pep talk with his dead dad about… I’m not really sure, I think it’s about not saving people. More confusing and misplaced than that, though, are Batman’s two fever dreams (or are they visions of the future/an alternate reality?). In one he finds himself in the desert fighting Superman’s S gestapo, with the mask reveal that was shown in the previews. There’s absolutely no explanation of this dream, and it’s not short. Later, as Bruce is falling asleep at the computer in the Bat Cave a time-travelling Flash appears to him to deliver a dire warning about not trusting “him” and Lois Lane being the “the key”, but lacking in important details. He also mentions that he’s travelled to too early a time, explaining why Bruce (and the audience) have no idea what’s happening here.
What Snyder seems to have been trying to achieve was a brewing subplot related to the ‘Injustice’ video game and subsequent comic, wherein Superman becomes a world-dominating tyrant and Batman leads the fight against him. In theory, this could have been an interesting dimension of the Justice League movies as the team (and the world) wrestle with the issue of Superman’s omnipotence, bringing the JL together only to have them then choose sides in a
superhero Civil War battle either with or against Superman. Again, the biggest problem with these dreams/visions is not necessarily their bizarre, sci-fi, alternate reality style but rather that they are left hanging in the viewer’s mind, never referenced or explained.
Doomsday, in a word, sucks donkey dick.
I won’t belabor this. He is a giant monster that comes out of nowhere, lacking motivation, with ludicrous CGI garbage, created in a convoluted way simply to haphazardly attach the Death of Superman storyline to this movie. His powers are in no way related to the comic book version (though he is actually of Kryptonian origin) and obviously his creation from the body of General Zod is a film adaptation. Though created by Lex Luthor, there is no actual connection between the two villains in the film and is merely a marriage of plot convenience.
- Lex Luthor sucks a different but no less heinous donkey dick.
Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is the one casting choice that actually bothers me. I was willing to give the talented but fidgety actor a chance going in but the character is both terribly written and performed. What is it that he actually wants? Rather than the calm, controlling businessman that defines Luthor, in this movie he seems to be some kind of Joker stand-in, scattered in background information, chaotic in both tactic and vision, and clearly going insane. No background is given to his hatred of Superman, no explanation is given for what he has against Batman, his jar of piss analogy is ridiculous, and even his megalomaniac motivation (the simplest of super-villain tropes) is made unclear. At film’s end comes the big moment of the character donning his more recognizable comic book visage (executed just as shittily as Waltz’s Blofeld in ‘Spectre’) as he’s shaved bald… because he’s going to prison? Is this supposed to seem like a normal practice? And when did Luthor get arrested, by the way?
Finally on Luthor, and my fellow nerds can help me with this, were they laying the groundwork for him to be the cloned “son” of Lex from the comic books and then just abandoned that idea? Or am I reading too much into his mentions of his dad and his long stringy hair?
- Jimmy Olsen must die, says Zack Snyder
Early on in the movie, Lois is sent on a mission to “Nairomi, Africa” (ugh) to interview some random very bad guy. The scene has two objectives, both of them shoddily executed, the second of which is one of Snyder’s most dick moves across a film full of them.
First, the scene is constructed in order to frame Superman as a bad dude who will murder a bunch of people with assault rifles to save Lois. Why he would need such weapons and ergo, why that would look to the general public like Superman had committed the atrocity makes no fucking sense.
Secondly, and here’s where Snyder just decides to take a shit on real fans, the photographer on assignment with Lois that turns out to be working for the CIA is none other than Jimmy Olsen. In Man of Steel, Snyder decides to replace Jimmy with previously non-existent sister Jennie (for absolutely no reason), a role she still holds in BvS. Not stupid enough, Snyder then introduces Jimmy in BvS, only to have him immediately shot in the face. Though it seemed innocent enough at the time, Snyder had this to say about Olsen’s role before the film’s release:
“We just did it as this little aside because we had been tracking where we thought the movies were gonna go, and we don’t have room for Jimmy Olsen in our big pantheon of characters, but we can have fun with him, right?”
Hey Zack, go fuck yourself.
- Lois Lane is somehow both central and useless in this movie.
Part take-no-shit journalist, part damsel-in-distress, in Man of Steel I actually thought Amy Adams had a good handle on the role. She does her best to pull a real person from the script’s tattered remains in Batman v Superman but there are just too many problems.
Immediately after the Bats and Supes battle, Lois Lane throws the Kryptonite staff into a deep well in the middle of a warehouse. She does it presumably to save Superman, though she has no way of knowing what the green stone is. Why the fuck is there a random deep well in the middle of a fucking building? Because Snyder. After she throws it in the well, she then realizes her folly, somehow knowing that it is the only weapon that can kill Doomsday (again without explanation), diving into the water just in time for the walls to collapse and trap her underwater. I swear to Jeebus I thought Aquaman was going to swim up the Metropolis building well, save Lois, yell something about how the next Game of Thrones season is going to blow, and then descend back into the abyss. Instead Superman hears Lois banging to get free and leaves the fight with Doomsday to have a touching moment with his girlfriend.
Said moment with said girlfriend is completely stale and useless and brings up another fundamental issue. The moment is supposed to be some kind of culmination in Superman’s choice between being a superhero and a real man who just wants to find love, but given that the film makes no effort to have us care about their relationship previous to this moment we totally don’t give a fuck in the middle of the major final battle.
One review I read put it best by saying this:
“Why do Clark Kent and Lois Lane love each other? Answer this question for me using only the material found in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. Don’t talk about their love story from the comics or from other Superman films. I’ll wait.”
- The movie is very confused about how it’s supposed to feel about Superman.
One of the central themes to be explored in Batman v Superman is the question of how much power is too much and how does the world address forces of unchecked power (like Superman). Do we trust him to always make the right decision? Especially in a film that sets him in opposition to the most human of superheroes, this was a perfect thematic thread to pursue. Unfortunately, it’s handled clumsily and there’s no transition to the changes in public opinion on Superman. At the film’s beginning they are wary, though most seem to praise and appreciate him, enough to erect a statue of him in the middle of Metropolis. After he supposedly commits the atrocity in Nairomi the Senate holds a hearing about how to handle him. The subsequent explosion in the Capitol Building is never further addressed and has absolutely no bearing on the plot. Superman stands stupidly in the middle of a burning room and though there is little his powers could have done to prevent the catastrophe (other than hearing the ticking bomb), the scene is silly and out of place and shows nothing about Superman’s character.
For someone whom the public adores and praises as savior (or do they hate and mistrust him? Hard to say…), the US government is quick as shit to nuke Superman’s ass once he’s out of the atmosphere. Like lightning quick. There are no ethical conflicts, no debate on right or wrong. Instead, in the 6 seconds that Superman decides to launch Doomsday into outer space the US government is right in step, ready to nuke.
- The ‘Death of Superman’ storyline is sloppily attached to the end of this movie.
In the comics, the Death of Superman was a huge event, with a several issue introduction of Doomsday, a ‘Funeral for a Friend’ series that spanned the various Superman titles, followed by his return as four (technically five) different entities. I can remember collecting most of them and putting away for posterity a copy of the compilation book in its white plastic wrapping. It was well built up and well executed, drawing in new and old fans alike. In BvS, as Superman wearily charges Doomsday with the kryptonite staff, I and many audience members felt a pit form in their stomach. Though the monster’s existence as a character hinted at a certain fate for Kal-El, as the movie trudges along one gets the sense that perhaps it will take a different route. But alas, it’s not to be as Superman and Doomsday collapse together, killing each other in the same moment. The harsh reality is that within this movie his death makes no fucking difference. It carries no emotional weight and does nothing to advance the plot. It simply allows Snyder to stitch together a bunch of iconic shots and lines from the comics (“…they’re burying an empty casket back East…”) and end with the public once again loving Superman enough to give him a military funeral. It’s an especially cheap contrivance given that we all know Superman will be immediately returning for the Justice League movies.
Wonder Woman is a shining light in this mess of bad, and even she is nearly wasted.
As it is she lacks any sense of character motivation (you’ve been hiding for 100 years, what’s suddenly bringing you out now?), her identity is suddenly known and unsurprising to both Supes and Bats, and her sword, which seemed to be her central object of focus is suddenly back in her hands despite mentioning that it is hanging over the bed of Sultan So-and-So. There’s no explanation of why she’s in Metropolis except to retrieve a photo that no one would know was of her anyway if she stayed in hiding. But she uses the Lasso of Power which is cool and anticipation of her solo film is certainly one of the best takeaways from this otherwise disheartening film.
A host of other problems with Batman v Superman
-Despite the destruction of Metropolis in Man of Steel being a chief motivator for both Batman’s and the general public’s distrust of Superman, the Super Three repeat the destruction in the same city without any sense of remorse and/or irony.
-The Kryptonian ship, that once had some serious security, now lets Luthor simply take over by voice-command. And why is the ship still in the middle of Metropolis? Isn’t the cool thing about the ship from Man of Steel that it’s presumed to become a new version of the Fortress of Solitude? How will it do that if it’s just a discarded piece of trash in the middle of the city?
-Why does Superman carry the Kryptonite staff (which then weakens him enough for Doomsday to kill him) when he has a) a super-powered friend who’s not allergic to the green stone and b) a non-super-powered friend who has absolutely no other useful role in a battle against an “unkillable” alien monster?
-There’s no proper way to address this but Granny’s Peach Tea and the jar of piss that is supposed to mean so much, is both a confusing as fuck metaphor and, like so many elements of this movie, completely irrelevant to the work as a whole.
-What is with the Bat-branding?? Whose twisted mind thought that one up and if Batman is so sadistic what’s the statement in him not branding Luthor?
-This version of Batman is a pretty bad detective. He is not stealthy at all, but he apparently doesn’t have to be as Luthor’s henchman watches him install a download device in Luthor’s mansion. This encounter is, like much in this film, never addressed again and the henchman (henchwoman) is killed, quite noticeably and for no reason at all, in the Capitol bombing.
-How does anyone know the secret identities of anyone else? Batman and Superman each inexplicably know the other’s civilian identity and so does Luthor, and when Wonder Woman shows up her powers aren’t surprising to anyone either.
-What is Batman’s reason for wanting to form the meta-humans into the Justice League at film’s end? Is it because of his dystopian vision of Superman as tyrant, even though he’s now “dead”? Is it out of honor for his recently fallen friend? Somehow it’s both, even though they’re complete opposites, and it’s explained away with the line, “I’ve just got a feeling”, symptomatic of Snyder’s storytelling abilities as a whole.