So, “Justice” has apparently… uh…. dawned… which is to say that Batman v. Superman came out today. Err… yay! Or something. I had done a pretty good job of avoiding spoilers moving up to its release (and I will be try to avoid giving them here) with the sole exception of the official trailers that Warner Brothers released for the film. It’s no secret that I didn’t really like Man of Steel. The thing is, I don’t hate Man of Steel. My actual feeling on it is that it is a perfectly serviceable mediocre alien invasion movie. Fundamentally it is no different in structure than Independence Day, Cowboys and Aliens or Pacific Rim. It is an action movie variant of The Day the Earth Stood Still, except for some unexplained reason, the good guy alien happens to be wearing a giant S on his chest. That was my key problem with Man of Steel. Zack Snyder went out of his way to not just update the Superman mythos, but seemingly disavow it. Snyder is a huge comic book fanboy. He knows that Superman is not supposed to kill. He made a conscious to reverse this.
I love big dumb action movies. I really do. Even coming from Zack Snyder, I’ve said before that I loved Sucker Punch. It was gorgeously shot, had a great soundtrack and score, had amazing action scenes and special effects, had pretty girls running around, the makeup and costuming were excellent. I have often said that it is quite possibly the best movie that can ever be made without plot. Man of Steel had a plot. It had character development. It was nothing special. As I said, it was a serviceable narrative; it had pretty action sequences and cinematographically it was very strong. Snyder just chose to get rid of all of that pesky, hokey, Superman ideology.
I understand Snyder’s (and fans of the MoS) rejection of the Superman ideology. It is sometimes hokey. It is sometimes dated. It’s also the essence of the character. When I go to see a Superman movie, what I’m looking for is an exploration of how the ideology that is inherent in the character plays in the world constructed by the new creator. Superman is hokey overly moralistic ideology. Without that, he’s just an alien. I don’t care the he can fly. I don’t care about laser vision. Lots of characters have that. I want to see that morality interpreted, not erased. Snyder’s problem is that he is not actually a fan of Superman. What he wanted was Batman with Superman’s powers. So while Sucker Punch is the best movie you can make without plot, Man of Steel may be the best Superman movie you can make without Superman.
Batman v Superman was NOT the best movie one could make in any way shape or form.
I’ve read some reviews trying to defend it and I see wha they’re saying. But the problem is everyone has to try very hard to make the justifications. When you’re trying that hard, that usually means something is seriously wrong with the movie. Something is seriously wrong with this movie. Or, maybe I should say movies. Where Sucker Punch had no plot at all, BvS has way too much plot. There are six. There is actually a pretty good 40 minute Batman movie embedded in here. And in fact, for all those people who thought Ben Affleck couldn’t pull it off a few years ago, you were totally wrong. He worked his ass off. The problem is that 40 minutes is embedded in an additional two hours of chaotic and schizophrenic nonsense. There is the Batman story, the Superman story, the Wonder Woman story, the Batman vs Superman rivalry story, the introduction of the Justice League story and the Doomsday story.
The Batman story isn’t necessarily my favorite vision of Batman, but it was interesting and I honestly wanted to see where Snyder and Affleck would take it. What we got to see of it was very well done, and the highpoint of the film. But since the movie was already two and a half hours long, they never got a chance to end it. Eventually there is just so much other stuff going on that the movie kind of forgets that Bruce Wayne has his own life. It’s touched on in BvS part of the story and the Doomsday part of the story, but very very badly and it just doesn’t work.
The Superman story is less good. In a way it outshines MoS because at least there was a point to his actions. There was an interesting idea being played with concerning a world that at the same time worships him and hates and fears him. It probably belongs more in an X-men movie than a Superman movie (again, I don’t think Snyder actually likes Superman) but at least it was interesting. The problem is even less comes of it than the Batman narrative. It’s very disjointed and unresolved. It probably could have been extended into a 2 hour MoS sequel and been better than the first movie, but it wasn’t. It felt rushed. I’ve often said that Warner/DC’s problem is that they really want to catch up to Marvel/Disney and are rushing to get to a place that Marvel spent 6 films building. And that’s what happened here. They crammed six movies into one and Superman was a major casualty. Furthermore the film is MASSIVELY hurt by the character of Perry White who appears to be in the film for little more than to offer Snyder a mouthpiece to directly argue with his critics. Lawrence Fishburne quite literally spends the majority of his dialogue directly referencing the criticism of Snyder’s portrayal of Superman and justifying it. The storyline reason for his words is flimsy at best. He serves almost no real purpose for the film other than to explain that Superman in 2016 needs to be a killer.
The Wonder Woman story was far less engaging of the main three characters. This is sad on one hand, as, in the screening I watched, the moment where she first gets to… “Wonder Woman up” is the sole point when the crowd became massively engaged. They cheered and applauded for only the second (and final) time of the evening (the first being the Captain America: Civil War trailer before the film… and that’s problematic in and of itself). People wanted Wonder Woman. They got a taste. It was encouraging. It felt like her upcoming solo movie could be very good. You know, if it has a plot and characterization and a point. As is Gal Gadot was really good at doing what she scripted to do here. I won’t go into the details here because of spoilers, but what she was doing was non-sensical. This made her story more boring than the Superman story, even though Gadot was better in the film than Cavill.
The actual Batman/Superman rivalry was… contrived at best. Part of this is because Snyder refuses to allow Superman to have his own ideology. Since he is so similar in character to Batman, the idea that Bruce fears and mistrusts him (something revealed in the trailer) rings somewhat hollow. Moreover, the actual impetus for their fight, which I won’t spoil because it’s one of the very few plot points that wasn’t revealed by the trailer is beyond stupid. It is lazy, poorly constructed, and full of more holes than anything Snyder has ever done. It was Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise level dumb. And the resolution to the fight is even stupider.
And then there are the worst two of the six plots. The introduction to the Justice League is pointless. There isn’t even anything to spoil. All of the plot lines basically stop halfway through the movie so that we can watch a five minute trailer for another movie which has nothing to do with this one. It is a similar moment to the pointlessness of the Thor and the Magic Hottub scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but worse because at least there, the characters were known to the audience. Here, in BvS, the narrative stops to advertise a bunch of characters who are unknown to the audience and not explained. There is no context for who they are. A comics fan might at least be able to appreciate them as fan service, but if you don’t know ahead of time you would have no idea what was going on.
Which leaves us with Doomsday. As an aside, I was not supposed to watch this movie yesterday. I was planning on seeing it this weekend with Steph. I am at an academic conference on pop culture and there was an early screening and so a bunch of people (like me) who make their living critiquing and analyzing comics as culture decided it would be really interesting to see it together. I’m glad I saw it this way instead of forcing Steph to sit through it. Doomsday is not only unnecessary for this film, he completely ruins it. The CGI that creates him is horrible — not bad — horrible! It has the choppiness of Jason and the Argonauts era stop motion. Snyder’s biggest strength has always been his visual aesthetic and this was just AWFUL! But worse, it made no sense. This I don’t mind spoiling, because he appeared out of nowhere in the trailer, having Warner effective spoil the film. That’s exactly what happens in the movie. He simply shows up in the third act. There are vague hints to his existence earlier that a comics fan will catch on to, but there is no real explanation in the film proper for his existence, his power or his purpose. If you aren’t a comics fan you will not understand why he is there or what he is. Snyder simply expects that everyone watching the movie read the Doomsday arch in the comic. If you haven’t… I guess… “fuck you.”
Even with this mishmash of plots the movie could have perhaps been saved if they’d dovetailed together. They don’t. The Batman and Wonder Woman stories are tenuously related in the most trivial and pointless way. The Batman and Superman stories are related, vaguely, by the rivalry storyline, but again, vey lazily. The Doomsday storyline is basically an unrelated coda that exists purely to have a reason for the three leads to fight something. And the Justice League trailer… the less said the better.
That said, it’s not an awful action movie. I’ve seen Steel. I’ve seen Green Lantern. I’ve seen GI Joe: Rise of Cobra and Transformers: Age of Extinction. There are moments that are just fun to watch. The problem is that it’s only barely a movie. It was projected on a screen. There were pictures that moved. So it technically qualifies. But that’s about it. There are a few things that work pretty well, but there are just so many many many many things that just really really really don’t.
★¾☆☆☆ (1.75 out of five stars)
You might notice that I haven’t really mentioned Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor while reviewing this. Yep.