Spoilers for the few remaining details not already revealed in the trailer. For a more review focused take, read Vivek’s review.
Lets get one thing out of the way: Yes, I’m a huge fan of what Marvel is doing on their live-action front with their Cinematic Universe, I’ve never obscured that fact. That makes it easy for someone to just call me a fanboy and say that I hate DC. But the thing is the reason I criticizes DC for what they’ve been doing with their Extended Universe is because I actually love DC, warts and all.
I’ve loved Batman since I was four, and had a strong liking of Superman as well. I’m all but raised on an unhealthy dose of Tim Burton’s Batman (released the year before I was born), The Animated Series and Mask of the Phantasm. The first new Batman to come out during my fandom was Batman Forever which I watched with the same repeat intensity on VHS in my room. Hell, I was seven years old and the exact target audience for Batman & Robin, a painful, unwatchable piece of garbage, that I liked at the time. Because I loved Batman and I was seven!
Even as Batman & Robin almost killed Batman as a film franchise, I continued to rewatch the already released films and any new piece of Batman media released: Batman Beyond, Justice League, heck, even The Batman. So imagine my excitement when Batman Begins was announced, and it didn’t hurt that they were filming scenes in my home-country of Iceland. I love the Dark Knight Trilogy, I feel that Nolan succeeded completely in delivering his grounded take, with seriousness that was backed up by emotional bombast and compelling characters. Begins practically defined the origin story for the modern era, The Dark Knight is one of my favorite films of all time full-stop and I still stand by my five star review of The Dark Knight Rises, a film I will always go to bat for, pun not intended, while completely understanding if people didn’t like it.
That brings us to the Boy in Blue. Much like Batman, I was introduced to Superman on film when I was very young. Funnily enough, while I very much connect Batman to my childhood home, Superman I link with my grandmother’s house, where I would watch the first three Christopher Reeve films and a healthy helping of old Superboy cartoons. Not the same character, but it speaks to my appetite for Superman related media at the time. I found things to enjoy in Superman Returns, primarily in the heroism of the main character, though ultimately the film is a weirdly detached bore, an element I’ve come to recognize in the work of Bryan Singer, but that’s a discussion for another time.
In general, I greatly prefer Batman to Superman, mainly because I still feel that, on film, the character has never found himself in a truly great story. So when it was announced that Christopher Nolan would oversee a Superman film directed by Zack Snyder, whose style I had largely liked despite his general weakness in delivering emotional depth and complexity. I was confident that Nolan could guide him in making a great film, applying the general approach of Batman Begins to Superman. The excitement that I had from the trailer, which still stands as a great piece of Superman media, led me all the way to the theater, where my hopes were devastated.
Man of Steel, for me, completely botches several of the characters, most prominently Superman himself. It simply didn’t work to transplant the dark tone to Superman, a character whose greatest quality is his unwavering heroism and the fact that he’s a beacon of light and hope, not dour and brooding, the desaturated colors dead giveaway. That quality is all but snuffed out in the movie, where Superman not only never attempts to move a devastatingly destructive battle out of populated areas, he actively brings the fights into them (an element that the ending makes clear they had no intention of addressing). It would’ve been fine for him to fail, but he never even tried. A huge element of Superman is that he finds solutions to impossible problems, so when he is contrived into the final situation with Zod, snapping his neck should’ve been at the bottom of a list of 15 different options you could come up with in seconds. Add to that the notion that Snyder has alluded to about Superman having to kill to learn to appreciate life is both profoundly stupid and deeply troubling to contemplate.
When Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was announced at Comic-Con in 2013, coming from the same people which instantly was a cause for intense worry. Over the almost three years, nothing really changed that feeling and much of what they released, in the form of trailers and information, even compounded and added new fears: Superman doesn’t feel like Superman, everything looks so dour, Batman doesn’t feel like Batman; as well as questions: What is Jesse Eisenberg doing? What’s even going on? Are they adapting a story that is very much a conclusion without doing any of the actual build up?
BvS teaser does nothing to convince me that the film will be any better than MoS.. And it seems to be getting Batman quite wrong.
— Sveppi (@Sveppi) April 17, 2015
And how did it all turn out? Everything that I was afraid would go wrong did go wrong and on top of that there were ways that I didn’t even think of that Snyder screws up. Batman v Superman completely fumbles and misunderstands the main characters on fundamental levels. The titular black and blue (a very, very dark blue) just don’t have enough contrast; both broody and scowly with a permanent grimace. Not only that but they’re also portrayed as incredibly stupid and easily manipulated. Lex Luthor’s masterplan isn’t some genius con, that cleverly manipulates them, they are just pushed around by the whims of the (terrible) script. The cherry on top of all this is that the titans of DC literally meet twice, both times very shortly, before their big fight, and Superman is such a passive side-character in the film that he isn’t even aware of the fact that Batman has it out for him. The film completely fails to juggle its two protagonists, if you can really call them that.
It’s painful to me, as a fan of a certain and dominantly portrayed version of Batman, to see Ben Affleck wield guns on several occasions, shoot up thugs with the Batmobile and Batwing’s chain guns, not to mention when he drags a car full of people behind him to ultimately slam it into another car full of people. I had my hands in the air in disbelief sitting in the theatre. I don’t have a problem with Batman being brutal, but wanton murder is just too far. Perhaps one of my favorite Batman moments of all time is from the beginning of Batman Beyond where an aging Bruce has a heart attack while tacking down some thugs and resorts to point ing a gun at the only one left, so as not to be killed. And then he literally stops being Batman, the mere notion that he might ever have to use a gun, the instrument of his parents murder, enough to make him realize that he can’t fulfill his mission anymore. Not using guns is also a huge part of The Dark Knight Returns, suggesting Snyder hasn’t actually read it, despite all the cribbing he does from it. But while we’re on the subject of Frank Miller comics, can we get movies based off of material from any other comic writer, please? To be fair the hamfistedly shove The Death of Superman and the most minute version of The Flashpoint Paradox in there, but again it’s there without any weight or meaningful build up.
I realize that the earliest version of comic book Batman used guns before he was cemented into the character we know today. If that’s your argument then I hope you enjoy your Superman that can’t fly and simply jumps really, really high.
Also, this entire element works against the film, as if Batman’s worry is that Superman could either kill everyone or subjugate humanity, then him just indiscriminately killing criminals is, in his own words, a bit hypocritical, wouldn’t you say? And wouldn’t it be much more powerful if he had never killed anyone and were wrestling with doing it in this case, if you insist on having him do any killing? It’ll be interesting how, down the road, they explain how any of Batman’s rogues gallery are actually alive after his twenty years in the cowl, as there is no reason that this Batman hasn’t, for instance, already killed The Joker.
Superman to Batman in Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come
“The deliberate taking of human – even superhuman – life goes against every belief I have — and that you have. More than anyone in the world, when you scratch everything else away from Batman, you’re left with someone who doesn’t want to see anyone die.”
Superman meanwhile continues to mainly pout and grimace, brood and look sad, Henry Cavill’s natural charisma beaten into submission. Though that’s basically a holdover from Man of Steel, what with his Earthly parents spouting self centered objectivist philosophy at a character whose core tenant is supposedly supposed be an unwavering will to save people. Don’t get me wrong though, BvS does make his characterization even worse, as the first thing we see him do in the film is fly a thug through several walls, which in a ‘grounded, realistic’ universe is impossible to explain away how that didn’t kill said thug. Then they take the Christ allegories to their logical conclusion of a film that’s released on Good Friday. The problem with that though is that this Superman isn’t even remotely Christlike and there’s no reason to care about his sacrifice that comes out of nothing. On top of that while Man of Steel drew almost no distinction between Superman and Clark Kent, Batman v Superman ultimately does away with Kent completely.
The film expends enormous energy into justifying that Batman really, really hates Superman and wants to kill him. That’s what the final battle hinges on, that Batman powers through in his single mindedness and that Superman will rip his head off because Lex threatens to set his mom on fire. How is said conflict resolved? Batman has Superman dead to rights (kryptonite of course, which they didn’t seem to have any intention of including in their universe in Man of Steel) and is about to stab him to death with a spear (because we all know Superman is Jesus) until Superman utters that he has to save Martha, which stops Batman in his tracks. You see, Superman’s mom is named Martha and Batman’s dead mom was also named Martha. So all it takes for Batman to drop his mission, which he has been absolutely laser focused and completely sure of, is that their moms shared a name. Yes, that is the conflict resolution.
Zack Snyder pays the loosest of visual lip service to superior stories that feature superior versions of these characters, without any of the depth and dimension that made those stories great. To borrow a phrase, he’s all icing and no cake. The most obvious of these is The Dark Knight Returns, a story that sees Batman and Superman on opposite sides of a legitimate ideological conflict, backed up by the full weight of their decades of friendship. In short that fight feels meaningful. Here they’re reduced to two dumb meat bags who barely know each other, engaged in a surprisingly lifeless and dull fight, comprising all but 7 of the 151 minute runtime.
It’s all wrapped up in this overwhelming self seriousness that permeates everything in the film and suffocates it completely, as there’s nothing of substance in the seriousness, just a bunch posturing in manner that yells “look how serious we are!” without actually having any emotional depth or complexity. There’s no meaningful explorations of any of the surface level themes, the film doesn’t really have anything to say and most of what goes on is so dumb that being taken seriously should be the least of their worries. The Nolan films were dark and serious, but there was never the overwhelming cynicism of Snyder’s work here.
Setting aside anything to do with who these characters are, the film is just a weirdly disjointed jumble, character motivations are all over the place and things just seem to happen for little reason, as well the actual reasons that several characters know things are completely obtuse. It’s a bad movie. The whole thing is so needlessly convoluted and bloated, trying to explain the plot to someone who hasn’t seen it will have you sounding like a crazy person, as the story and conflict is completely smothered with DC/WB’s attempt to go from zero to a million in their shared universe. To put it plainly, Batman v Superman makes Iron Man 2 look like the Citizen Kane of extended universe building (in the final step up to the climactic fight Wonder Woman who is completely removed from the conflict sits in a hotel room and watches what are basically confusing, mostly bad YouTube videos of the rest of the Justice League). At the very least Man of Steel is a complete film, as opposed to this overwrought mess. And there’s plenty of nonsense that I won’t even go into, equal parts because it would just descend into an angry rant and because I feel this film leaking from my memory, mercifully.
To be fair, it’s not all completely bad. There are a handful of things that I liked, none without caveats though. The opening 10-15 minutes is strong, the music though overused is great and Wonder Woman is pretty cool, even though she’s given nothing to do and largely feels shoehorned in. Hell, at least she cracks a smile during the fight against Doomsday, showing a degree of joy in heroism that is far beyond the titular duo. I also like the design of Batman’s costumes as well as some of the imagery. The cast is also largely fine, but the script and direction ask very little of them and does them no favors either, as no characters really gets any development and you’re hard-pressed to find a reason to care about anyone or anything.
I won’t say that with Batman v Superman they’ve ‘ruined my childhood’ or anything like that, as such refrains are impossibly childish. I still have those memories and I still have those films to revisit. I simply like when there’s new versions to bite into and this one tasted like rotten bat flesh.
The other day I was taking a walk, listening to “What Are You Going To Do When You’re Not Saving The World” from the Man of Steel soundtrack. As the music soared I looked up at the night sky and was filled with a sense of boundless hope, wonder and joy, feelings that Snyder’s DC films have so far completely failed to elicit from me and I fear that if this is their path forward they never will. It appears that I’ll have to wait another 8 years, if not more, for someone to revive Batman on film for me, because this iteration clearly isn’t for me.