Warning: Massive Spoilers Throughout!
First, let me say that I am a gigantic superhero film fan and I wanted to love this movie. I am a fan of both Marvel and DC characters, especially Batman and Superman. I also quite enjoyed ‘Man of Steel’ and approve of both Henry Cavill as Superman and Ben Affleck as Batman. In fact, the performances within this film are actually the least egregious aspects of it. Rather it is the handling of said characters actions and motivations throughout the muddled story that plague it most in my opinion. I believe Zack Snyder, or maybe the studio heads (its legitimately hard to tell), honestly missed the point of the characters. In fact, the whole idea of Batman Versus Superman is silly in general as you have to work pretty hard to get two, supposedly, intelligent characters that are, again supposedly, morally good to duke it out. A far better movie would have been an adaption of ‘World’s Finest’ where the two meet, are appropriately cautious of each other, then realize they need each other to surmount odds they could not traverse on their own merits.
‘Batman Versus Superman’ takes place eighteen months after the events of ‘Man of Steel’. the initial beginning to the films takes us back to the finale of that movie first with Superman battling it out with General Zod in Metropolis. We are introduced to this scene from a different angle this time however, from the literal street perspective of Bruce Wayne as he rushes through downtown Metropolis in a valiant effort to save friends and collegues of his in the Wayne Enterprises building. Here is a strong opening to the movie that brilliantly sets up how Bruce Wayne’s perspective of paranoia and unease towards the Man of Steel is earned and understood.
Sadly that is some of the last good character motivation we get throughout the film. Yes, lots of things happen in this movie, but they just… happen, there is no cohesive storyline that connects all of these events. Thus we get, in my opinion, Zack Snyder’s weakest film to date. And yes, I saw ‘Sucker Punch’. In fact, ‘Sucker Punch’ has similar issues to this film. Looks great, but the plot is a quagmire. I feel the only proper way to analyze this movie is to separate out the core aspects of it and dive into each one individually, because there are good aspects to the movie, they’re just buried in a tangle of mistakes.
“I don’t care..” That single line best represents my issue with the adaption of Superman in this film. Somehow Zack Snyder lost the Superman he crafted in ‘Man of Steel’ while transitioning to this story. This version of Superman is dour, brooding, and devoid of the ability to maintain his own trademark optimism whatsoever. You may say these same issues plague ‘Man of Steel’ but I disagree, the level of outright mishandling of the core mindset of the character that is on display here is a confusing creative choice. ‘Man of Steel’ did not have the same misunderstanding of what makes Clark Kent Superman. At the end credits of that movie I felt that Henry Cavill’s Kent was on his way to becoming a more traditionally inspired take on the character.
Never has Superman been this grotesquely unsure of his own actions, he even congeals over whether or not he is actually a good person. Let me be clear though, Henry Cavill’s performance is not what seems to be the problem here. It seems that the creative team was trying to push Superman out of the way, because Batman is here now! That’s my take anyway. In fact, they even set up what could have been a great scene when Superman visits the Senate to discuss his take on his actions, to answer the question of whether or not the world actually needs a Superman. What a great chance to dive into the philosophy of the man of steel! But no, the scene is wasted on an attempt at tension and to point out to the audience that, yes, Lex Luthor is a sinister bastard. I think we could all infer that just from looking at that haircut.
Superman’s portion of the film is possibly what irks me the most as he was greatly underutilized. Superman may have gotten top billing along with Batman but he clearly wasn’t the focus of the filmmakers. They wrote the character as a little too cocky for me at times and then on top of that they had the audacity to kill him.. but only to bring him back in time for the Justice League movie. They did not earn that moment. Superman honestly deserved to have at least one more film before this one to work out his character within this emerging DC world. I submit that a George Miller directed sequel with Brainiac as the villain would have been beyond excellent. Reality, however, dictates that we do not live in that world. We must trudge on with the bungling harbinger of the eventual Super Friends movie that we have before us.
Let me just add that Superman’s greatest superpower is his ability to inspire hope in others. In this movie he could barely find it within himself, let alone inspiring others. How did this happen?
Okay, first off, Batman kills people now? This ultimately undermines his heroism, plus when it has happened before in the comic form it was a big deal, he never killed without great purpose and dire need. This was a drastic leap from the character’s moral code without any explanation whatsoever. If he hadn’t utilized blatant murder so flippantly maybe I could see past one super baddie getting his teeth punch down his throat and neck snapped, but Ben Affleck’s Batman simply had no regard for people’s lives in this movie. I would even consider it a begrudging pass if he had one conversation with Alfred challenging him on this, to at least have some sort of acknowledgement to this change in ethics. As it stands Ben Affleck’s Batman is essentially the Punisher in a Batsuit. If I wanted that take on a character I’d just watch season two of Daredevil on Netflix, and you should, its a far better use of your time than this film.
However, I have to say, beyond that Ben Affleck’s version of Bruce Wayne and Batman’s fighting style is downright excellent. This is the only character with solid motivation and reasoning as he moves throughout the storyline. His banter with Jeremey Irons’ Alfred are some of the best lines throughout the film. Batman himself gets several great lines such as, “You’re not brave. Men are brave.” Nice. Too bad that quality didn’t transcend the rest of the film.
One last thing though. Why did we have to have a montage sequence where he’s throwing tires and ropes and chains? A good ole workout won’t do you much good when your rival combatant can take a Nuke to the face and continue the fight moments later. A better montage would have been Bruce and Alfred constructing that admittedly badass supersuit Batman just happened to have lying around for the final showdown. I can’t even remember how he got that.
Suprisingly I didn’t despise Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor as much as I thought I would. I don’t believe he’s the Luthor the audience deserves, but its the one we got, so we must go on. Once his schemes involving the manipulation of Batman and others were unraveled I was somewhat impressed with his cunning ability to have multiple schemes going at once. I was not, however, impressed with his actions regarding him pushing Superman into a fight with Batman near the climax. It was just lazy writing. It was the easy way out. Which is painfully irritating for a character that is supposed to be incredibly intelligent.
Jesse Eisnberg’s Lex Luthor wasn’t the Lex Luthor I wanted, nor one that I was familiar with, but the character’s spirit did seemed buried in this performance, as if this were his origin tale as to how he became the Luthor we knew and will know.. hopefully. Although, I’ll be honest, Mark Strong would have been my first pick in casting for Luthor.
Gal Gadot’s amazonian princess was fairly solid in her performance. Her fighting with Doomsday was also action packed and appropriate for the character. This does not mean she was needed in this film though. Her reveal and moments of interaction spread throughout the film feel desperately pushed by the studio, almost as if you can hear executives at Warner Brothers saying “Well we need her in this movie so people can get used to the idea of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman before the Justice League!” She will be the only solo character to get an another origin before the Justice League, I wish she had her film before this one though. It would have made her presence all the better for the fanboy antics that she riled up upon her arrival.
There is a way that this story could have worked beautifully. Alas, it did not. Lex Luthor tricking Batman into picking a fight with Superman by manipulation is an interesting idea. Although, I would have preferred Batman not being duped by such a young, slightly annoying, Luthor. The movie just has so many creative choices that make no sense whatsoever. For example, when Lois Lane, who is ultimately wasted throughout this film by the way, picks up the Kryptonian spear Batman forged and threw it in a well filled with water, only to force Superman to save her and retrieve it, felt so blocky and half baked in terms of editing, movement, and pacing. And how many times will Lois Lane be shoved off the side of building? One of these days we’re going to expect her to get saved as she always does, then splat. Dead Lois. It would be consistent with Zack Snyder’s concern over the characters in this world, like Jimmy Olsen. Oh, did you not realize he was in this film? He was the CIA operative posing as a reporter with Lois Lane in the opening of the film. Zack Snyder shot Jimmy Olsen in the head in the first ten minutes of this movie. Ugh. It’s not like he was the most interesting character in the world, but did they have to shoot him in the face?
I can’t mention story here and not point out the flaw in storytelling that is the Martha scene. Both Superman and Batman’s mothers are named Martha. Right before Batman is about to kill Superman with a spear forged from Kryptonite Superman mumbles out “Save.. Martha” and Batman loses his mind, “WHERE DID YOU HERE THAT NAME?” and Lois Lane just so happens to appear at the last second to explain to Batman that Martha is his mother’s name. Batman immediately realizes he was tricked, or something like that I guess, and goes off to save Superman’s mother from Lex’s hired thugs. What? Wow. That is so sloppy and incoherent of a choice to make right at the climax of the fight.
He is now the Michael Bay of Comic Book movies. He just doubled down on everything that didn’t work in ‘Man of Steel’ and nothing that did. Granted, he is not the only one to blame by a long shot. Warner Brothers very clearly had their mitts all over this in an attempt to have the competitive edge against Marvel Studios. Which ironically is probably what made this film suffer the most. As the director I do believe he deserves some of the blame though. He really didn’t get the point of the characters, or if he did he let the story take this shape anyway without righting the careening ship. Like the Captain of the Titanic in full denial Zack Snyder forged ahead and smashed right into that iceberg full of money. We all knew, by the way, that regardless of what this film was like, it would make boatloads of cold hard cash. It definitely has already, and that’s great if you loved this movie, which is fine. I didn’t hate the film in the least, rather I was massively disappointed with it. What worries me now though is the two part Justice League movie, both of which he is directing. If he had such a difficult time handling two of the seven League members, how in the hell is he going to be able to step up to the plate and deliver us two quality films about these characters?
The Super Friends:
Lastly, speaking of the other Justice League members, they too were shoved hastily into this film. When Batman steals Lex Luthor’s secret files concerning the other members of the eventual team he sends Wonder Woman an email with the contents. She clicks through the icons, which by the way have each character’s logo emblazened on them, to see video content of Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash. Wow is that incredibly lazy. I mean, someone got paid to write this film.. and that’s how they thought an appropriate reveal of several members of the Justice League should play out. At least the Flash has another moment where he appears to Bruce Wayne through time travel to warn him that Lois Lane is the key, and that “You were right about him!”, although if you didn’t know that A: The Flash can time travel, or B: that typically anytime a red blur with lightning surrounding it appears in the DC universe it’s usually the Flash, that moment would be lost on you.
So, all in all, the film has moments of greatness that are ultimately lost in the muck among the many many problems this film has. Lets all hope they find a better way to handle the Justice League, because I desperately want it to be an epic fufilling movie-going experience. As it stands now I am very concerned about it. Superman may not be able to, but lets all just have a bit of hope. I’ll leave you with a fun article and accompanying video, enjoy!
Final Score: 2/5