Yeah, this movie sucks. Let’s find out why I think so.
(Warning: Spoilers…even though you may have already read those spoilers and/or have already seen the movie. Just being courteous)
So, here’s a confession: I have spoiled myself rotten on this thing. I have read the reviews, seen the marketing campaigns, and observed the increasingly sour conversation on social media and beyond, so I can’t say that I viewed this with fresh eyes. Nor can I say that I viewed this with, “objective” eyes, given my distaste for, “Man of Steel” and my general dislike of Frank Miller’s version of Batman, a version that only ever worked when working with artist David Mazzucchelli, colorist Richmond Lewis and leterrer Todd Klein in, “Batman : Year One”. In other words, I think, “The Dark Knight Returns” is an overrated piece of shit whose, “deconstructions” of Batman and Superman are at best surface-level and at worst embodiments of some of the most psuedo-intellectual, grimy and ridiculous attempts at maturity comics has, as it is today, been held back by. The same can also be said for, “The Death of Superman”, a work that somehow is even more shallow than that.
BUT, I want to give this a chance. So despite spoiling myself and despite my cynicism, I bought an Imax 3D ticket for an early screening just to check it out. Maybe the internet conversation is hyberbolic and just likes to revel in negativity (after all, the crowd I saw it with seemed enthusiastic at first, with plenty of nerds donning t-shirts with Batman/Superman logos on them), maybe the reviewers are being a bit nitpicky and snobby, and maybe I would be one of those few people who finds something to defend and love about this movie despite it’s flaws, like I have for, “Jupiter Ascending”, “Rat Fink A-Bo-Bo”, “Rise of The Guardians” and other movies. Unfortunately, I find myself at the mercy at Warner Brother’s/DC Comics very own multi-million dollar debacle in the style of, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”: an empty, contradictory, unengaging experience that is 2 parts informercial for future movies, one part boring, another part pretentious, and one last tiiiiiiny part that is actually very cool despite them being a walking plot device and mostly a vessel for said informercial (Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot). This movie reduces it’s own source material and the leads it plucks from them into stereotypes that both looks back to a dark age of comic books, and looks forward to a world filled with cynical nerd pandering. This is a not just a bad movie, but a tremendous waste of resources, legacy and material, reducing it’s men to brutes in costumes and it’s women to mere pretty things shoe-horned in with embarrassing results (again, the exception is Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, but even their goodness is all too brief to save this). Nerd culture, through it’s navel-gazing, rabid exclusion and self-deification, has created a monster out of its own blood, and its name is, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”.
But hey, let’s not get too negative. So, let’s get some positives out of the way: the cinematography and scene composition are actually pretty good when the movie fully embraces its own material, however pretentious it gets. While it is a chaotic mess of plot threads, limp characterization, special effects and a cliched score, the movie does indeed look like a million bucks. There’s an opening sequence playing out the tired and true story of Bruce Wayne’s childhood, with the death of his parents and a funeral going on in their behalf, with Bruce running away in grief. A banal scene with a few cinematic flourishes that soon morphs into delirium, ending in a very blunt metaphor where Bruce Wayne falls into a bat cave, is swarmed by them, and then lifted up by said swarm while Bruce strikes a Jesus Pose, with an overbearing score informing us that this is A Very Important Moment. So, the movie is up its own ass, but at least it looks nice doing it. And then a voiceover from adult Bruce (played by Ben Affleck) says that it is bullshit, and we move to a pretty inconsistent recreation of the infamous fight(s) from, “Man of Steel”, showing us (and then telling us) why Bruce Wayne/Batman hates Clark Kent/Superman (played in a shallow way by Henry Cavil. Poor guy, he’s good in, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”).
And with my attempt to be positive, I get into the movie’s biggest problem: its characterization of its leads (if it can be called that, for this movie is married to plot threads) is served in broad swipes that then gets muddled by contradictions, contradictions that are not so much signs of personality and conflict like good chracterization is as they are of bad editing and writing. Moments like Bruce Wayne’s childhood being recounted and Superman’s few acts of genuine heroism may be route and served with a forced sense of awe, but at least one can witness them thanks to good scene composition. But when it comes to connecting those moments to the wider picture, it’s a goddamn mess, and said moments end up meaning jack and shit as things pile up. Attempts to probe Bruce Wayne’s psychology are peppered throughout and seem to be aiming for some sort of sincerity, but are hammered into nothingness as the movie stops everything to sequel bait us, using Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor (played to varying results by Jesse Eisenberg), Superman and Lois Lane (played by Amy Adams who doesn’t quite overcome the contrived things happening here) as little more than vessels for world-building and plot threads when they should be doing the job of entertaining the viewer right now. We spend hours with Batman and Superman, and the closest thing we get to an soul from these characters is that Batman is a cynical asshole and that Superman is a bit cocky, yet unsure about his role as a hero.
Plus, when the movie does decide (after 2 goddamn hours) to actually set Batman’s dislike of Superman and Superman’s desire to do right by Lois in stone and use them as a motivating force for the titular fight (which only lasts about 5 minutes and is a pretty boring fist-fight), it ends said characterization with a bit of nerd trivia. Ok, so, Batman and Superman fight, but realize that they have something in common, making Batman realize that he is ok after all, and so he should stop fighting. What makes Batman realize this? Superman yells out his mother’s name, Martha, before Batman strikes his blow, and that happens to be the same name that Batman’s mother has. Which somehow makes Batman empathetic towards The Son of Krypton and makes him put down his dukes. So…let me get this straight: Batman/Bruce Wayne, you witness Superman and the Kryptonians cause a lot of collateral damage that kills some of your employees, destroys parts of your business and city, and on top of that the guy interferes with one of your bouts of dectective work that connects a very convoluted plot back to Lex Luthor. Superman does all of that shit, and what makes you not want to kill him is their mother sharing the same name your dead mother did? Folks, I am not joking. That is how, “Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice” ends an arc: with a bit of comic book trivia that no one gives a shit about.
That above all else is an encapsulation for how the movie approaches the viewer: making one feel good for knowing mere trivia about characters and settings, trivia which is then paraded around for over 2 goddamn hours as a substitute for actual plot. It’s what explains Lex Luthor being a neurotic, deceitful asshole. It’s what explains Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince being little more than something of a spy/love interest for Bruce Wayne until the movie has 15 minutes left, and then she becomes Wonder Woman and swipes her sword a few times to the tune of a guitar riff. It’s what explains the drawn-out plot threads where Lex Luthor and their henchmen entangle Batman, Superman, Martha Kent and Lois Lane in a conspiracy while using the corpse of General Zod (Michael Shannon, another great actor deserving much better) and his own blood to recreate Doomsday, possibly the most one-note character in the DC Comics Universe second only to Batman Jones (a friend who is much more knowledgeable about comics than I introduced me to this…person. Feel free to facepalm yourself to death). Hey, look, Bruce Wayne is at the Wayne Manor…but it has been burned to a crisp, and Bruce Wayne is there for some reason, engaged in monologue. Why? Who the fuck knows, just recognize this damaged, crumbling icon and feel good about it, you nerdy viewer. Here’s Cyborg! Here’s Aquaman! Here’s Darkseid and The Flash in some bugfuck outrageous dream that has nothing to do with any of the goddamn plot! Say whatever you like about the Marvel Cinematic Universe as an overblown piece of fan service and plot strewn together, it at least makes an effort to allow the viewer to understand its own characters beyond the costumes and motif. This does not.
“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is a bad movie. Not as bad as, “Batman and Robin”. Not as bad as, “Green Lantern”. Hell, it’s even an improvement over the inconsistent mess that, “Man of Steel” is, simply because it shows more of Superman doing actual heroism even if it gives one nothing to discuss when it comes to the character himself. But nothing excuses a 2 hour and 34 minute movie that is little more than a bunch of comic trivia, glorified trailers for other movies, wafer-thin characterization that concludes in the most cynical way a Hollywood production can approach adapted material, and a boring fight. This movie cost $400 million dollars to make. We as nerds should demand better from our art. Yes, even if Gal Gadot’s Diane Prince/Wonder Woman is sassy, sexy, dynamic and intriguing. What a waste of resources.
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