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.
In line with some comments you have made in the past about Constantine, I really hope people don’t watch this movie. I really hope that a line in the sand is drawn and viewers make it clear that we don’t just want superhero movies, we want GOOD superhero movies.
It’s weird. I can’t quite call it “bad”. Just not good.
Other than the couple things I mentioned there’s nothing offensively awful.
Mostly it’s just a complete mess. There appeared to be no thought out into telling the story at all.
If it didn’t have Superman or Batman in the name, would it have even a slight chance of not bombing?
Yes. It would be moderately successful but not great. There are enough pretty fights in it (one batman one is amazingly awesome) that some people will enjoy it just for the spectacle.
But it would be a worse move without batman and superman. Unlike MoS which didn’t really rely on the superman mythos at all, there is a bunch of stuff that only makes sense in the DCU context. Too much? Without getting into spoilers, Wonder Woman’s subplot, Doomsday’s subplot and the whole Justice league setup only make sense in relation to the greater mythos (batman’s too, to a lesser extent). That’s one of the big problems… Without knowing the backstory those elements literally would make no sense.
Your review comes to the same conclusions as the Screen Junkies. https://youtu.be/Yu8u65ZxlaE
I guess I’ll skip it, not that I was super hopeful, I thought MoS was pretty meh.
Not surprising. I agree with them often, actually.
Thank you. I was tempted to use my next free day to rent and watch Man of Steel then catch this. One day maybe I’ll still rent them, but I’m hoping more to just catch them for free on Netflix now. I have too little money to spend on seeing a film in the theater to waste it on a film that isn’t good, and sadly the Siskel and Ebert-like show I watch each week hosted by the guys from Super Hero News wouldn’t comment on it other than to tell people to go to the theater then form their own opinion (which is dumb when I specifically watch them for /their/ educated opinion). I think I’ll spend my limited money on Cloverfield instead.
Apparently Ben is not feeling good about it either? https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cwXfv25xJUw
yeah I saw it. Affleck is a good actor and a great director. No matter what he says publicly he knows this isn’t good. He’s admitted years after the fact that he knew daredevil wasn’t good too.
And as I said in the review, to his credit he does his best. He’s the best part of the film by far.
You can tell by the look on his face how “happy” he is.
Chris Maverick I love you but you had me at the first paragraph
As in you agree?
Finally saw it. Definitely have mixed feelings about it. Nothing you said was wrong, that’s for sure. I think my general opinion was a bit higher, but I am notorious for “liking bad movies”.
I’m sure once the weather breaks again we will have a long conversation about it that will make all the other neighbors think we are crazy people.
Damn Photoshop! I posted this on the Super-delegate post instead, and THEN on one of the “shared posts” that was on your timeline. Not enough coffee. At all.
Reeve’s Superman did kill the Kryptonian supervillains too.
He even let Lois kill one of them herself.
Do all the deaths that occurred from the earthquake rest on Supermans shoulders? He went back in time far enough to save Lois, but NOT the extra few moments he needed to save everyone else.
Yes, and Batman kills a WHOLE BUNCH of people in the Keaton/Burton films. Like really a lot of people.
It’s not the killing that expressly bothers me. It’s the inconsistency of the narrative. Since they both killed in the Snyder film, the ideological differences they are fighting for are less pressing.
But even that isn’t my big problem with the film. It’s more the looseness of the narrative in other points. The plots just weren’t tied together. They are chaotic and unclear. Yes, I can follow them. Obviously. I’ve been reading comics for decades. But that doesn’t make them cohesive. And there was just a lot of fluff in it. By far, the “Justice League” subplot was the dumbest thing ever. It was pure fan service. There was no point to it. It does not push the narrative. At the end of the day, we spent 5 minutes in the middle of the movie watching Wonder Woman open an email from Batman with a movie trailer in it.
By the way. I’m not even saying fan service is bad. I’m saying that deep comic fans were destined to like the movie no matter what. And that’s fine. But the excuse of “this was a movie for the fans, not the critics” is dumb. It’s an excuse and a false dichotomy. There’s no reason you can’t make a movie that both fans and critics like: Mad Max: Fury Road, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Captain America: Winter Soldier and Dark Knight are all recent examples.
$250M is an awful lot to spend on a movie that is just for the fans, unless each fan is going to spend $300.
There was a scene that was filmed showing Superman leading the Kryptonian villains away, that sadly wasn’t used. How far the Kryptonians fell is ambiguous in the film.
Jeff: Exactly. $250M budget, plus $150M in domestic advertising. Best estimates are that the movie needs to pull about $450M domestically and $800M worldwide to break even with $1B being needed for “success.” I’m actually expecting them to make it, but despite having the best opening weekend for a superhero movie ever, there was massive falloff from friday to sunday and that’s troubling if you’re a WB exec. What’s going to be interesting is what they make in their second weekend.
Actually the Reeve Superman killing Zod was an editing mistake.
There is footage, out takes and other evidence of Donner and Lester shooting a resolution that includes Luthor going away and the three being taken into custody. There is a clip on YouTube of Luthor trying to bargain with Supes as they lead him away and you can clearly see the 3 in the background in custody…
My guess… Stopped the movie and pacing flow.
Yeah. I know. But all that matters is what made the final cut. In the final cut, dude is dead.
Same thing with terrorist dude in new movie.
That scene didn’t make it into the Richard Donner cut of the movie when it came out a few years ago…
Jason Louis yeah, he mentioned that the shot still stopped the flow.
And as originally scripted, the ‘spin the world’ aka the time travel scene was the originally intended ending for the 2nd film… And then Supes was supposed to have sent the ‘mirror’ back hurtling into deep space.
Oh well… Lol.
The people I saw it with felt like this version of Lex owed a little too much to Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Based on each characters motivation, I don’t believe the story was convoluted. I think there are parts of the movie that are meant to tease things for more hardcore fans, but they were not big enough parts of the story in my opinion to alter the core elements.
Batman/Lex feel powerless in the wake of Supermans arrival.
Superman is conflicted with his place in the world.
Luthor is exploring several ways to combat the threat.
Batman is exploring one.
Batmans plan interferes with Luthors, so he goes to plan B. He does not anticipate them working together or the arrival of Wonder Woman. Plan goes to shit, the end.
I started a more in depth response but it was way too long. i agree there are some elements that could have been done better, but that did not take anything away from the overall movie.
Vic: I don’t have time to answer this now. I will get to it later, but can you do me a favor and edit your response to put the word SPOILERS in big letters and then a blank line or two (and then’ll I’ll address it when I have time)
Sorry it took so long to get back to this.
To be clear, it’s not that I didn’t understand the story. I’ve been reading comics for nearly 40 years. I understood it just fine. It’s that the story was unnecessarily convoluted. There was too much going on and that’s bad filmmaking.
The typical excuse has been that “this is a movie for the hardcore fans, not the critics” BUT, there’s a false dichotomy there. There’s no reason that a film can’t be for both groups. Hiding easter eggs in the narrative is great. But being more concerned with packing the film with these than telling the story is problematic.
Key in point, my least favorite part of the movie. Almost halfway through, the film literally stops so that Wonder Woman can open an email from Batman and watch movie trailers for the next three films. Yes, I get that it was a good fan service moment. But it’s five minutes of “nothing that has to do with the plot.” The comparison keeps getting made to Marvel’s post credit teasers, but there’s a difference there. Having something after the credits does not interrupt the structure of the film. This did. A lot of people keep saying “stop thinking of it as a stand alone movie. It’s not, it’s a part of a trilogy.” but that’s bad writing. That’s the definition of bad writing in fact. Not subjective, but objectively bad writing. it is everything they teach you not to do in writing classes. Will it bother everyone? No. But it will bother a lot of people and since it doesn’t really add anything, why do it at all? If that scene had been moved til the end of the movie not one fan would have complained and the critics wouldn’t have cared either. For the record, this is not a DC problem alone. I also felt the same way about the Thor and the Magic Hottub scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Also, the Cyborg sequence was BAD on every possible level.
The motivations for Batman and Luthor are derivable but not earned. Yes, I get them. But Batman’s fear of Superman seems irrational because their ideologies are too similar. They’re both vigilantes. If one of them was more altruistic (either one) it would make sense. Luthor’s is worse because there is no build up to it at all. He simply appears and begins acting. Yes, I have 75 years of comics in my head that fill in the gaps for me. But comic fans represent like 1% of the film audience. I’m not supposed to have to fill in massive holes with personal knowledge. It’s the difference between intertextuality and good storytelling.
Similarly Luthor is just all over the map. He doesn’t just hate Superman. He hates Batman. He manipulates the story for no apparent reason. He wants Batman and Superman to kill each other. We can guess why with Superman but the Batman logic is far more nebulous beyond “well, he’s a bad guy.” We have no idea in context how or when he figured out either’s secret identity (he seems to have known Batman’s all along, though that’s not clear to a lot of people. Even fans of the movie seem to have missed that). It’s not even super clear when or how Bats and Supes figured out who each other were. There are tons of holes like this. Again, they’re things that some fans will forgive, but if they create problems for other viewers, this is bad.
Wonder Woman is entirely un-integrated into the plot. Did I like her? Yes. I thought Gal Gadot did a great job with what she had to work with. But there’s no real reason for her to be there other than “hey, Wonder Woman kicks ass, yo!” She spends most of the film marking time to get to the final fight. Her entire story arc of “I need to steal a picture of myself off of Luthor’s hard drive” is ridiculous. How does she know he has it? And why does she care to copy it? Remember, they just cloned the file to a USB drive. He still has it… because that’s how computers work. Literally nothing is accomplished by her getting proof that he knows she exists other than exposition to the audience that “Wonder Woman is at least 100 years old.”
The actual Batman and Superman fight I liked… more or less. Some critics thought there were some problems (Superman seems like an idiot by failing for the kryptonite grenade TWICE. Batman seems like an idiot for hating superman for destroying metropolis and yet deciding to fight him in Gotham). Personally I was absolutely willing to forgive most of it as a fan. What I couldn’t forgive is the logic of it happening. After all of the buildup of their warring ideologies (which was forced, but it was the only real plot development the film had) they ultimately fight because Lex Luthor has a contrived 1920s serial villain kidnap scheme. It was weak and lazy and could have been solved with a ten second conversation between Superman and Batman. What’s worse is Clark even TELL LOIS that that is the case and yet doesn’t even try to do it. Then, the fact that it ends over a mark of convenience that their mothers have the same name is just dumb. It’s a clever observation… good for Zack… but it is not a story building plot point. It’s just not. Seriously, If I were teaching a fiction writing class and that was the plot point that a student used I’d fail them. And pretty much any teacher would. It was lazy, convoluted and dumb.
Doomsday makes no sense in the context of the film. I understood it. I’ve read the original story. I knew what Doomsday was. But I could hear people in the audience whispering during the entire fight as comics fans were trying to explain what was happening to their action movie friends. There’s no reason for him to be there other than to end the movie with “big old fight scene.” His powers are nebulous. His motivations are nebulous. Lex’s creation of him makes no sense (I am afraid of the big scary alien, so I am going to build a bigger scarier alien). Worse, I didn’t actually like the fight scene (I liked Batman vs. Superman and I loved Batman vs. Luthergoons). I felt like the CGI looked positively awful. The whole thing seemed rushed. it seemed like Snyder really really really wanted to do the Death of Superman, so rather than develop it he tossed it together and put it into the last 30 minutes of the movie. It was too rushed and unearned and paled in comparison to what came before it visually.
There are other things like this and they all just sort of start adding up. Some of them are even cool looking (like the Apokolips dream sequence) but from a narrative building perspective they are pointless. The Batman movie I was enjoying, but a lot of the plot elements are dropped because “goddammit we’re 1.5 hours in and we need to get this fight going.” The Superman movie, what there is of it, literally gets blown up without resolution. I was actually intrigued by what was going on and thought there was going to be some good stuff in the senate hearing. But nope, “won’t it be cooler to just blow everyone up and be done with this?” No, that’s dumb.
When you add them all together this becomes a movie that is about “moments.” It isn’t a story. It’s a loose collection of scenes. I don’t fault anyone at all for liking it. There’s a lot to like. If your biggest requirement is “I want to see Superman and Batman on the same movie screen and see them punch each other” then you are golden. If this movie had come out in the 90s before we learned that superhero movies could be good, I’d probably have liked it. But it didn’t. It came out in deep deep pool of better movies. And it was abundantly clear for most of it that the biggest concern wasn’t “lets make a good movie” it was “lets get the ball running so we can make a Justice League movie that crushes the Avengers”