I saw Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice on Thursday, possibly so you don’t have to. As promised, these are my thoughts on it. This is a special review because it’s both audio & visual! Embedded below is my guest review of the film on The Wages of Cinema podcast. Beneath that is my solo written review. This counts as visual because you need to read letters with your eyes.
So if you opted out of the audio review, let me reiterate that this movie is dumb & pretentious. I am on record as thinking this movie would be a bad idea. Much of my doom foresight proved accurate. If you hated Man of Steel, you’re not going to like this either. That said, I didn’t completely hate this movie. I didn’t read all the negative reviews for it, but touting it as the worst movie ever is hyperbole. I say this objectively, having seen far too many abysmal movies in my life. It’s not a very good movie, mind you, but loathing it that much gives the film too much credit. Or it doesn’t give the film enough credit in the wake of all the obstacles & expectations it faced, if you’re in a generous mood. Now let’s dive into SPOILERS & nerdy nitpicks for a critique that’s as overly long as the movie’s name!
I actually thought Man of Steel was an okay film (mostly due to Antje Traue as Faora) & didn’t have a problem with its controversial ending. I was expecting them to build on that phyrric victory by showing us a Superman who strives to prevent any more deaths. Unfortunately, the movie reintroduces us to Superman by having him smash a terrorist through a wall. Of course it’s possible that the human only suffered permanent paralysis of his entire body to prevent a violation of Superman’s no-kill policy if you’re a die-hard on that subject. While Man of Steel showed Clark Kent directly saving people before putting on his Kryptonian costume but not after, this movie does include a montage of a costumed Superman doing rescues. Sadly Superman is still taciturnly glum & uninspiring. He does a very half-assed attempt to explain why he & Batman shouldn’t fight. Henry Cavill does get to be charming as Clark Kent when he interacts with Lois Lane & Perry White, but those scenes are few & far between.
In a metafictional sense, Batman & Lex Luthor represent the fans who hated the collateral damage of the prior film. Ben Affleck is solid Batman & makes a good team with Jeremy Irons as Alfred, who at first tells Batman that Superman is bad news but then changes his tune once Batman acts on his advice. Batman didn’t seem quite as overpowered as I feared. I hated the Frank Miller stumpy ears & bloated bat-insignia though. Even if you’re directly homaging the monstrously overrated The Dark Knight Returns, Batman should still be OCD enough to put his logo on his anti-Kryptonian armor. After all, this version is so dedicated to brand awareness that he literally brands criminals with his sigil. He doesn’t directly murder anyone with handheld firearms, but has no qualms about if they’re mounted to a vehicle, which is not a new hypocrisy invented for this movie. Snyder managed to make Batman’s fights more agile & brutal than previous movie appearances. His thug fight at the end was just the right difficulty level (providing you ignore all the internal damage Superman would’ve given him in real life). He’s still a colossal asshole for stealing Lex’s Kryptonite just so he can murder Superman himself.
Jesse Eisenberg is miscast as Lex, but he’s so frenetic that he’s the least dour & therefore most fascinating character to watch. He’s more like Münchhausen syndrome by proxy incarnate than a character with consistent goals. He wants to make the world hate Superman as much as he does for being an uncontrollable alien menace. So he has his mercenaries shoot up terrorist-harboring African village with experimental LexCorp bullets. This riles up the public since nobody realizes that Superman doesn’t need bullets for murder. He blows up the Senate with a wheelchair bomb as Superman’s about to testify, which the media somehow thinks was Superman’s idea. Both frame-ups are superfluous because the Kryptonian invasion is still fresh in the public’s minds & Lex isn’t relying on the world’s governments to kill Superman for him. He starts making Doomsday before his Kryptonite is stolen, even though Doomsday is an even less tractable alien threat. (It’s unclear whether Batman stealing his Kryptonite to kill Superman was part of his convoluted master plan or a happy coincidence for him.) He wants Superman to kill Batman for no real reason besides the title. He gets his iconic bald scalp the same way Andrew Birchenough did for our podcast but with more prison because he was awful at covering his tracks. His hobbies are sharing upsetting Polaroids, ignoring xenobiological contamination, & laboriously explaining superhero metaphors that the audience can see for themselves.
Wonder Woman has about as much screentime as Black Widow in Iron Man 2. (The whole movie has a lot of parallels to Iron Man 2 minus a sense of fun.) She makes an impression, & they don’t have time to ruin her. There was a lot of speculation that the Amazons would actually be early Kryptonian settlers, they’d use her New 52 origin as another of Zeus’s shame babies, Wonder Woman would break up Lois & Clark, or she’d be dating Batman because the filmmakers worship him. Thankfully none of that happens in the theatrical cut. (Hopefully Patty Jenkins takes my advice for the Wonder Woman solo movie.) It’s refreshing that she just appears fully formed to do superheroine things without any context. She barely uses her Lasso of Truth though, which I expected to break up the titular misunderstanding slugfest. (The real deus ex machina is Batman’s & Superman’s moms having the same first name, which I never noticed as a fake nerd boy.) Trying to recover photos from Lex was a flimsy premise, & I still wonder why she couldn’t be bothered fighting Zod’s invasion if she’s been hanging around since WWI. She could’ve been more pivotal to the plot, but I’m still glad Gal Gadot was there. Her rolling her eyes at Lex’s mangled Prometheus anecdote is the film’s (intentional) comedy highlight. Sadly she is also the only woman who isn’t murdered or kidnapped.
Doomsday is actually an improvement over the comics. His origin is still ridiculous, but this time it involves Lex Luthor ruining a perfectly nice suit by wading through Kyrptonian goo. (Because the alien database already knew mixing human & Krptonian DNA would make a monster, this is also how Lois’s & Clark’s kids would turn out in the movieverse.) What makes this Doomsday better is that he can absorb & redirect energy. He can also fly. This makes him a much more formidable threat than gray Hulk with bones on top. It also explains why Superman can’t just lobotomize him with heat vision or toss him into the Sun. Doomsday tearing off his skin to grow boney spikes was a cool moment. The movie’s climax is kind of like a kaiju battle uniting DC’s trinity & got me reinvested in the movie. Despite the massive death tolls earlier, this battle bucks that trend by being specifically set in the Metropolis/Gotham (the two cities are now located just across a harbor from one another) version of Angel Grove’s abandoned warehouse district & begins with Superman flying him into space. This is good because it shows superheroes can reduce casualties by working together. It also gives us a more satisfying death of Doomsday & Superman than the two just punching each other to death like the source material. So this movie once again ends with Superman killing an unrepentant superpowered villain that there’s no way to safely imprison in case that’s a deal breaker for you. Strangely there is no action figure for movie Doomsday even though he was spoiled months ago. He’d be a much more enticing
Build-A-Figure Collect & Connect than the Bat-Grapnel gun.
Although Jason Momoa was hyped up as Aquaman & even got a few toys, he’s only in the movie for about twenty seconds. We get more of Ezra Miller as the Flash. From what I recall of his costume, he looked even more like discount Iron Man than TV’s Atom instead of a sneak peek of the much better looking metallic Flash costume. His solo movie is being developed by The LEGO Movie’s Phil Lord & Chris Miller, so there’s a chance it could be legitimutantly great. The weirdest cameo is Cyborg, whom we meet as a mutilated torso hanging in his dad’s lab until the Cenobite equivalent of an accordion (perhaps a Mother Box?) spontaneously jumps into him to cyber-convert him. That scene is Exhibit A of DC’s mega-franchise being absurdly rushed. They don’t all assemble for the Justice League in the closing shot, so there’s still the possibility that they’ll also be fighting each other throughout Justice League Part One.
Senator Purrington has the movie’s best name. Sadly he in not a large cat. Then this happens to poor Holly Hunter:
And then immediately thereafter she gets exploded by the bomb in Scoot “nobody cared who I was before I gave myself a ridiculous name” McNairy’s wheelchair. Yes, this is a real scene in a big budget studio tentpole film. And you thought Gotham was pants on head crazy!
McNairy was heavily rumored to be playing Jimmy Olsen, but fans of Superman’s pal can rest easy knowing that’s not the case. They can be upset that Jimmy Olsen is photographer working undercover for the CIA that gets shot in the face in his only scene without interacting with Superman or revealing his name. Rao forbid he be the photographer at Lex’s library gala that briefly talks to Clark Kent. I rag on how dull Supergirl‘s James Olsen has been, but he does come out on top in this comparison. Another canon character that gets unceremoniously murdered without contributing anything is Tao Okamoto’s Mercy Graves. Was her death scene written by the Joker based on her badass name?
Luthor’s main henchman is the rare example in this movie of a comic book name drop that’s not completely wasted. (Apparently the professor demonstrating Kryptonite is Emmett Vale, but he fails to create Metallo for my amusement.) He’s Anatoli Knyazev a.k.a. the KGBeast. Sadly he doesn’t have a gun-hand, bionic eye, & an S&M costume. I was thinking he may don his full supervillain apparel for a sequel, but he seems to have be conclusively killed in a fiery death. If he was only going to be in this movie, it’s a missed opportunity not to present him as KGBeast but at least he got to do something before being killed.You may also remember his name from season two of (Green) Arrow, where he also doesn’t have such identifiable accouterments. WB has been prohibiting its TV from further using characters that will be in its new movies (the cast of Gotham & the lead of The Flash seem to be exceptions), but hopefully that won’t apply to Anatoli. If the season five flashbacks finally show Oliver infiltrating the Russian mob, it’ll be awkward to have him absent.
I loathe The Dark Knight Returns, so I was disappointed Zack Snyder is such a Frank Miller fanboy that it forms the basis of this movie. Just as distressing as its conceptual core, is how visually dark the movie is. Watchmen showed that Snyder does understand how to use vivid colors, so I don’t understand why he forgot in here. It makes sense for 300 to be desaturated since that’s how Lynn Varley colored it, but DC Comics aren’t. It’s so starved for color I was overjoyed by rare glimpses of Superman’s costume with a metallic blue sheen & Kryptonite glowing green. Aside from that & Snyder having the subtlety of a jackhammer, I do appreciate the film’s composition & movement. Snyder could be making really fun superhero spectacles focusing on the fantastic if he abandoned the misconception that they have to be “darkly serious.” It would help if WB fired screenwriter David Goyer, who has made a career writing comic book movies despite his outspoken disdain for comic book characters. I don’t know how much Oscar winner Chris Terrio contributed, but it might’ve just been pasting a bunch of pompous quotes in a band-aid solution to the story being dumber than a sack of cinder blocks.
Despite Snyder’s penchant for grandiose shots, the movie’s cumbersome title gets crammed into a corner during the umpteenth Batman origin. I expected it to get a triumphant sequence of its own with the hybrid logo as the music crescendos. Instead we next get a blank screen proclaiming “Chapter I: Metropolis Meets The Superman.” There are no other chapter title cards in the movie. UGH! At least the credits included a list of influential comic book creators.
The original plan for this movie wasn’t to include Wonder Woman or any other Justice Leaguers not in the title, but I’m glad that changed. The actual execution unfortunately feels like they just tacked on these appearances instead of weaving them into the story. There’s so much boring stuff surrounding scattered nuggets of cool stuff. Who wants to see dull senate debates about whether metahumans are good for the planet when we could be seeing more of Darksied’s Parademons swooping down on insectile wings? This movie doesn’t know where its awesome it. I preferred the Watchmen director’s cut to the theatrical, so hopefully the R-rated DVD will have plenty of quality stuff like Jena Malone as Barbara Gordon hopefully being awesome instead of even more banal things that shouldn’t have made it into the screenplay to begin with (looking at you, lousy actor who refused a direct order to leave the Wayne Enterprises tower as it collapsed to give Batman extra angst). At least I’ll be able to fast forward through the parts that wasted my time.
The shared DC movie universe didn’t need to start off on such a wrong foot. The first DC Animated Universe crossover, “World’s Finest,” should’ve been its model instead of TDKR. (This movie does have a better way for Superman to figure out Batman’s identity because X-rays don’t work like that.) It’s not a complete disaster, so I have hope we can move beyond it to much better movies. Suicide Squad already looks like it’s going to be superior in tone & palette. In the meantime, check out (Green) Arrow, The Flash , Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, & Gotham for a live action DC fix that evokes the source material better. The animated & TV teams have demonstrated a much better understanding of how to do DC’s mythos justice than the folks running the movies.
Now that that’s finally over with, let’s all turn our collective ire toward Iron Man v. Captain America: Dawn of Vengeance!