So I saw Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (Or as a bubby of mine calls it “Punching Buddies: First They Punch for a Bit, Then They’re Buddies”) and oh boy… I’m not sure where to start. I’m probably gonna have to go deep into the realm of spoilers with this one so I don’t suggest reading this before seeing the film. Even if you’re not fussed about spoilers. You have to be disappointed just like I was. I’ll say this though, the film gets quite a few things right. Mostly stylistic things and the occasional genuinely good scene… but overall, the film is a God damned (Batman) mess. It’s not Fantastic Four (2015) bad. It’s not really bad overall, just not good. I doubt you’ll remember my RoboCop remake review but there I felt for everything it did wrong it did something right. Batman V Superman is like that, but with a fair bit more in the wrong/infuriating column. So yeah, this is the end of the non-spoiler stuff. So I wouldn’t continue unless you really want to.
So you’re still here… cool. About 10 minutes into the film Jimmy Olsen is shot, execution style, by an African warlord. Got that? You all know Jimmy Olsen, right? I mean, he wasn’t in Man of Steel, but you know the character. He’s Superman/Clark Kent’s best friend. He’s in this film in an early scene but not mentioned by name. He’s Lois lane’s (Amy Adams) cameraman when she goes to interview the previously mentioned warlord and it turns out Jimmy was a plant for the CIA or something and then he gets shot in the face. We know this is Jimmy as his actor, Michael Cassidy, is credited as Jimmy Olsen. Very specifically. This isn’t like Jenny from the last one that some people thought may have been a lady version of Little Jimmy Olsen. She doesn’t even have a surname anymore. This is 100% definitely him… and Zack Snyder has his brains blown out 10 minutes in.
Why? What purpose does that serve? We haven’t met this character in the films before. He’s a pretty key character in Superman. He’s not played by a big name actor to give us that “holy shit” style, anything can happen, feeling. He wasn’t established. Not named. He could have been generic guy #26… but he’s not. He’s Mr Action himself Jimmy Olsen. This is, like, some sort of super evil level of character dismissal. It’s like Zack is some jock that didn’t want a nerd like Olsen nerding up his manly awesome film so out of spite he kills the character off instantly. No Jimmy Olsen in any future Superman or DC films then. Imagine if Iron Man 2 started with James Rhodes getting killed. Could have happened once Terrance Howard got the boot. But he’s a key character to the Iron Man world so they recast because the character is important. Anyway… I need to move on from this dismissal of a character and get onto some of the other problems.
The reason Batman (Ben Affleck) wants to punch Superman (Henry Cavill) for a bit is because he saw all the destruction of Man of Steel’s finale first hand and, quite rightly, figured this was all a bit too dangerous. He believes that if there’s even the slightest chance that Superman is bad he must take it as an absolute certainty and finish him off. Meanwhile, Clark Kent isn’t too keen on this bat vigilante in Gotham because he’s got some sort of God complex that means he’s the only one allowed to be a vigilante apparently. Sure, Batman’s a bit brutal in his method but it’s not like he kills people. Oh… he does… Well then. Yeah, Batman kills people in this one. Mostly by blowing up their cars. To be fair, Batman has killed at least one person in almost every Batman film so far. Despite that the general rule of thumb is that Batman doesn’t kill, so for some casual movie goers this may be a bit surprising. Anyway, them’s the motives for a fight happening. That isn’t the reason they fight though.
After about 10 years of build up based on the premise I just mentioned Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) kidnaps Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and tells Superman that if he doesn’t kill Batman in an hour he’ll have Martha killed. So now the motives are changed and Superman plans to confront Batman to get his help. So yeah… and hour of build up and they suddenly switch the motives for the fight 5 minutes before. I suppose Batman still wants to kill Superman for humanity’s sake… so he’s still good to go. Batman’s had time to prepare with Kryptonite he’s stolen from Lex (after 2 attempts because the first half of the film didn’t move slow enough) and made a spear that can kill the God.
For the first half of the film Lex wants to kill Superman because something to do with power. Lex’s motivations are so muddled. I suppose it’s better than another real estate scam though. Lex seems to crave power and figured that you can’t be all powerful and good, so he wants to prove Superman is either not all powerful, by killing him, or prove he isn’t good by having him kill Batman. Except that’s barely conveyed until Lex just lays it all out to Superman in that scene 5 minutes before the title fight. Up until then we just know that he wants to mess with Superman, going as far as to blow up a congressional meeting Superman is attending, which is a stupid thing to do because Superman isn’t a bomb so of course everyone knows it’s Lex behind it. By the way, that scene kills Mercy Graves (Tao Okamoto), who’s Lex’s long time trusted assistant/assassin in the comics, along with a guy in a wheelchair who was unwittingly hiding the bomb in his shiny new chair he got from Lex. Also there’s a jar of piss. I’m gonna leave that one hanging so you can just try to figure out why a Batman V Superman film involves a jar of piss as a plot point.
An interesting little thing I noticed that Zack Snyder did, for some reason, is reference the 1981 film Excalibur. In the film’s first dream sequence (I’ll be getting to another later), we see a slightly wrong version of Bruce Wayne’s origin (Thomas Wayne swings for the mugger instead of doing all he can to protect Bruce). As they leave the theatre the film showing is Excalibur. But that’s not it. In the film’s climax a weapon of otherworldly power is needed to defeat the big bad, that being Doomsday… or big grey CGI monster No.3374. Batman made a Kryptonite spear to kill Superman with and after their fight Lois chucks it in a body of water. They need that spear so Superman has to retrieve a weapon of mystic power from a lake of sorts, Lois was drowning in it and there’s your lady that calls out to the hero for the weapon’s retrieval. But that’s not all. Superman, all weakened from holding the Kryptonite spear plunges it into Doomsday, who then stabs Supes in the chest with an bone spear and Superman pulls himself closer to Doomsday just as Arthur does to kill Mordred in Excalibur. This isn’t actually a bad thematic as Arthurian imagery is used often in Justice League, which we’ll be getting to in the coming years. They even have a round table for meetings in some versions of the DC universe. Oh… Superman dies because that’s pretty much Doomsday’s entire purpose. Death of Superman was a cool comic… The return… not so much.
Zack Snyder deals in imagery primarily. It’s always been his greatest strength. But that’s pretty much all he’s able to do. He has constantly shown an inability to structure a story, to feel the beats, to use character effectively. You can show Superman as a God like saviour figure as many times as you like (At least 5 times here) but it means shit if each time it doesn’t mean anything new. You’re just wasting our time Zack and we got enough of the Jesus symbolism in Man of Steel. We get enough of that in superhero films in general, never mind that Superman is a parallel for Moses, not Jesus.
Batman V Superman thinks it’s dealing in big ideas, and I’m sure Zack is convinced he is. But it’s like he’s handling those ideas with a stone club rather than with the finesse of a sword. He clubs you over the head with the thematics so much that some scenes seem to only exist so characters can repeat messages of how much power is too much, or how can you trust someone with the powers of a God over again because it’s been maybe 2 scenes since the last time we heard it. There’s a sequence where Bruce dreams… again… and this time he sees a ruled of apocalyptic despair where an army wearing Superman’s symbol are hunting him down. Because Superman could rule us all and stuff… and then this scene gets more convoluted. I hope you’re seated for this.
So in the dream Batman sees the symbol of Darkseid, and all powerful alien from the planet Apokolips, along with creatures known as Parademons in the DC Universe. As viewers, especially those unfamiliar with the expanded DC Universe, none of this is recognisable and it’s certainly not explained. DC fans will get it but then we have to think like this… This is presented as a dream. How does Batman know what Parademons or the Omega like symbol of Darkseid looks like. Superman catches up to Batman and as he’s about to kill him Bruce Wakes up…. and then someone appears through a big flashing portal shouting something about Bruce being right all along and that Lois is the key. This person is, apparently, The Flash. He has a scraggly little beard going on, which is a no-no for keeping your identity a secret, and all you see of his suit is a read mask, which has an exposed nose that just looks weird. He’s wearing some sort of spacesuit-future armour… no sign of the iconic Flash symbol, which the public would recognise thanks to the CW series. He’s just there shouting stuff, Bruce looks miffed, he vanishes… and then Bruce wakes up again. Yes! That was also part of the dream… or the premonition. Can Flash give people future dreams? Does Batman has precognitive powers? Why did he dream that? How did he dream that? Why are you putting this scene in this film DC? You could have The Flash appear to Bruce from the future in a post credits scene or something?
There’s a whole load of other stuff I could go into, like how Superman and Batman’s first face to face serves no purpose to the plot at all as the result would have been the same had Batman stolen the Kryptonite at that time. I could go into them using a dumb piece of trivia as the thing that makes Batman change his mind about Superman. Or how really fecking lame the appearance of the other members of the Justice League is… seriously… it’s like seeing clips from someone’s YouTube fan videos.. literally. I’d be here all night if I went into all that stuff in more depth though. You already know about the jar of piss, right? Anyway… let’s list some good things this film does.
The film mostly looks nice. Lighting is good. Affleck makes for a good Bruce Wayne and Batman. Performances are generally decent. Jesse’s Lex is different but acceptable and feels a fair bit like an origin story for him. Jeremy irons plays a tired as hell Alfred that I could easily see being the future of Sean Pertwee’s Alfred in TV’s Gotham. They managed to sneak KGBeast in the film which is pretty obscure. Hans Zimmerman’s music is alright… Junkie XL’s contributions are better. The bit where Batman beats up a load of thugs to rescue Martha feels ripped right out of the Arkham games. Gal Gadot does a pretty cool job of being Wonder Woman once she actually is Wonder Woman, before that she’s just mysterious woman No.5. There’s a grave with Solomon Grundy’s name on it, as if we’ll ever see him in a DC film. Although, I suppose, modern films love their big grey CGI monsters. Right… Is that it? I think so.
Batman V Superman is a mess. A pretty mess, but a mess. It’s pacing is terrible in the film’s first half. Motivations are someone simplistic but then complicated to the point where they no longer makes sense. Zack Snyder needs get a really good writer in and maybe someone with real quality directing experience to advise if he’s going to make a decent Justice League film. I honestly don’t think I want to see another DC Universe film if it has this same, miserable, unearned moody tone for such a huge runtime. These days films are a bit more optimistic. That’s what people want. Now, you can totally go dark and moody, but you had better do it well. If not the tone just won’t jive with many people. This film needed half an hour trimmed from the first half and a lot more thought put into it’s scene to scene transitions. This is a film of shots and events but not of character or story. At least it isn’t embarrassed to be a comic book film. It’s certainly fully in that universe… it’s just that it hasn’t done a good job of establishing that universe at all. Oh well… I still have hopes for Suicide Squad and it’ll be nice to see a superhero film led by a woman in Wonder Woman next year.