Before seeing this film one might exclaim, “How lucky are we to have Batman V Superman! We get to have Batman and Superman, the two most popular superheroes on the planet, duke it out in the most epic fight of the century.” In addition, they are joined by even more beloved characters like Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, and Alfred. More than that, we get the possibility of a new DC cinematic universe to rival Marvel’s, and all in one movie. So much promise is in this film, how can it not be the greatest superhero movie ever!” But on the other hand, if your dad wanted you to have the best birthday ever, and took all of your favorite things, duct taped them into a big ball of crushed dvds, toys, and mashed up food, and then presented it to you on your birthday, would you be ecstatic? No. Unfortunately that is exactly what this film is, a compact, smashed, jumble of what the studio thinks audiences want.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is directed by Zack Snyder and stars Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill as the titular characters. Two years after Superman saved earth in Man of Steel, many consider him as a benevolent savior. However, there are many who consider his destructive power as a threat to humanity and are calling for him to be reigned in. One of them is Bruce Wayne, aka Batman, who witnessed massive amounts death during Superman’s fight in the Metropolis two years ago, and decided that he must be stopped. His hate for Superman is fueled behind the scenes by Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), an eccentric madman, bent on destroying Superman’s image and making him look like a monster. Luthor frames Superman for a series of tragedies, manipulating Batman into deciding to fight Superman to the death, and uses Kryptonian technology to create an abomination called Doomsday. Now Superman must fight Batman, defeat Luthor and his monster, and rescue the entire DC cinematic universe from being crushed under the might of Marvel Studios.
The key word to describe Batman V Superman is “desperate”. Since Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy has ended, this movie reeks of desperation on DC’s part, because the company has had the might and popularity of the Marvel cinematic universe straining and slowly crushing them, like a boots stomping on their necks. Marvel’s ability to pump out hugely popular films every year has left DC comics looking inferior in comparison. Batman V Superman is a last ditch effort to throw everything they have at the audience, launching their own cinematic universe in the hopes of becoming relevant again. They have their two most popular and flaunted superheros, one of whom (Batman) hasn’t even had his own new reboot movie to set him up yet, duking it out with each other and with Doomsday, one of the most powerful villains of the DC universe, with also a short appearance by their other flagship hero, Wonder Woman. During it all, we are offered brief introductions to the other DC heroes, setting up future movies and a wider cinematic universe. Even with two hours at their disposal, there is so much content that the film feels all over the place. In addition, the movie allots itself very little time to present its heroes realistically, opting instead to condense plot-crucial character development into a matter of seconds in order to transition from one “epic” action set piece to the next. The film feels so rushed and stuffed, with the two title characters barely sharing any screen time together. The best way to describe this movie is as the Avengers without any of the previous Marvel films to set-up the universe, characters, or story. By throwing in as many heroes, villains, and universe setup, instead of making their film “too big to fail” as was intended, DC instead makes Batman V Superman too cluttered and rushed to succeed.
By far the worst thing about Batman V Superman is Batman himself. Although I feel that Ben Affleck did an amazing job portraying the hero, he’s not Batman. Instead, he’s a moronic, paranoid, and unstable psychopath. Since DC wanted to draw in viewers by promising that their two most famous heroes would fight, they needed to contrive a way for Batman, one of the smartest, most rational comic characters ever written, to want to kill Superman. They achieve this by having him hate Superman for the involuntary death and destruction he caused when he was saving the human race. This irrational and thoughtless overly aggressive hatred combined with a series of out of place and tone demolishing dream sequences, makes Batman seem like he is both crazy and stupid. This is not helped by the fact that he is so easily manipulated by Lex Luthor, which makes him look like even more of an idiot. What makes things worse is the baffling decision to have Batman break both of his golden rules in this film. Batman uses guns liberally and kills criminals without a second thought, two actions which are forbidden by the strict parameters of his character. I can’t understand the logic behind the decision to disregard both these seminal rules. It could possibly be because they were trying to make the character more realistic like those in the Dark Knight trilogy and perhaps the writers thought a realistic Batman would kill criminals and use guns. However, Nolan’s Batman neither killed nor used guns, and those movies are the most realistic a superhero franchise will ever be, so their choices don’t make any sense. This combined with the characters other flaws results in a gun wielding, paranoid, stupid, murderous, psychopathic Batman who is portrayed more like the villain of the movie. The sad thing is, if DC had calmed down and released a Batman film before this one to set up both the character and the universe (much like what Marvel did with Iron Man) then this problem would have been solved. The audience would already know who Batman was and would have been more invested as we see all the events that drive him to his fight. His rational would have still been stupid but we would understand it more and would feel sad for Batman as we see him be mislead and turned into someone we know he isn’t. But DC was so desperate that they frantically threw the movie at us with no build up, so Batman is introduced to us as a mislead character and that ends up defining him by his insane and idiotic actions.
As for the other characters, they were mostly spared the botched job Batman received. Henry Cavill’s Superman was good and well acted as was Lois Lane (Amy Adams), although I can’t say they were very interesting characters. Jeremy Irons was fantastic as Alfred and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and they stole the entire movie and were the most interesting and likable characters despite criminally small screen time. Possibly the most stupefying casting choice was Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. The idea the someone who seems to play the same character in every movie (that is nerdy guy with Asperger’s) and who perpetually looks like he’s 25, playing one of the most menacing, powerful, and famous comic book villains had me worried. But I gave him the benefit of the doubt and watched him perform, and I will admit, he does play a convincing crazy Willie Wonka. It’s hilarious how horribly miscast and badly written Lex Luthor is in this movie, reducing a brilliant, cunning, and obsessed chimera into just a happily insane Mark Zuckerberg. He’s closer to a neutered Joker than a Lex Luthor, and Eisenberg has all the intimidation of a cute cat video on Youtube. They didn’t even bother to give him much real motive behind his actions and instead, in their haste to cram as much as possible into this film, made his motives simply that he’s insane with corrupt (and not well explained) morals.
Despite all its failings, Batman V Superman was still an entertaining movie. It held my attention and although the final battle got a little tedious at times, it was fun to watch. In addition, it is a beautifully shot film and there were some gorgeous sequences that still linger in my mind. However, I must mention how much this film is stuck in the shadow of the Dark Knight trilogy. After how dark, complex, and meaningful those films were, DC feels the need to ham-fist those aspects into all of their films. But the dark brooding tone and the moral questions they proposed were so forced that it felt ridiculous, especially all the times they compared Superman to Jesus which were so overtly out of place that they felt like parody. This movie is trying so hard to emulate the Dark Knight that all the colors are washed out and it’s always either overcast or nighttime in order to channel a brooding serious tone. Instead all they channel are pretension and joylessness. This combined with the bad writing, the perplexing character decisions and the fact that the studio grabbed everything it thought we wanted and launched it at us all at once in a pathetic Hail Mary to become the next Marvel, results in Batman V Superman being a jumbled incoherent mess. It’s a fun, good looking mess but it’s a mess none the less. I will give Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, a C.
By Sam Finbury