One of the things that makes the DC Comics Universe unique is its “multiverse” concept – in addition to the “main” Earth, where all of the in-continuity adventures of iconic superheroes like Batman and Superman take place, there are also an infinite number of alternate Earths. These Earths are home to older incarnations of superheroes, twisted versions, evil versions, etc. and they all have varying histories and cultures. For example, the alternate Earth that features prominently in season two of The CW Network’s The Flash series, dubbed “Earth-2,” is a world with neo-noir architecture, fashions out of the ’40s, corrupted doppelgängers of virtuous characters, and the Earth -2 Flash/Barry Allen is married to his true love, whereas the “main” Earth Barry’s love goes unrequited.
Upon seeing Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, I imagined what it would be like to live on Earth-2 and see a version of this film that was bright, fun, exciting, and inspirational instead of the bleak, ponderous, overwrought slog that it is here. Somewhere, out in the cosmic void there’s a world where these beaming iconic superheroes are treated with reverence and care; where they’re allowed to be the beacons of light, hope, and unwavering morality they’ve been for decades. Somewhere, there’s an Earth where you actually feel good coming out of a movie with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman teaming up for the first time.
Somewhere, there is an Earth-2 where Zack Snyder actually gets it.
Alas, we live in this reality, where Snyder just doesn’t get it at all; where he continues to actively go out his way to make a mockery of the Man of Steel and all the values for which has stood over the course of his long publishing history. Now he’s added Batman to the list of characters he’s warped and desecrated – pitting him against his morally ambiguous, tortured Superman in a terrible, joyless, sloppy film that takes itself so seriously it threatens to careen into full-on parody.
After Watchmen, Sucker Punch, and especially Man Of Steel, It’s crystal clear that Snyder has no interest in entertaining an audience with engaging, likable characters, efficient and compelling storytelling, or any sense of fun whatsoever. He’d much rather bludgeon moviegoers over the head with empty, operatic bombast, heavy-handed themes, and co-opt classic comic book iconography without any of the context. Everything Snyder does in this film is an overly complex, plot heavy circle jerk in service to getting Superman to fight Batman in the Dark Knight Returns armor, so he can live out a fanboy fantasy by re-enacting some of the gags and traps employed in Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novel.
The problem is twofold — firstly, the showdown is completely unearned, because it has none of the subtext or satire of Miller’s work and these are two characters who are essentially meeting for the first time. Why should we care? Neither of these guys is very likable at all, and there just isn’t enough at stake. Secondly, by the time the bell rings on the titular prize-fight, nearly two hours of screen time has crawled by, mired in some of the worst editing, narrative structure, character development, and universe-building for future franchise installments in the history of comic book movies. Batman V Superman does a terrible job of building this showdown up and planting a clear picture in the audience’s mind as to the reasons they are about to destroy each other. Instead of being filled with awe and adrenaline as these two immortal pillars of my upbringing squared off, I was bewildered and bored by the preceding storytelling deficiencies.
“Storytelling deficiencies” is a bit of an understatement, really. It’s more like a complete, over-plotted clusterfuck: Over the course of the 18 months since Superman snapped Zod’s neck and caused the deaths of thousands in Metropolis due to his carelessness, Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor—for reasons unknown to just about everyone in the film (and especially the audience)—unfurls a needlessly convoluted plan to get Batman so angry at Superman that he feels he has no choice but to take him out for the sake of mankind’s safety. Luthor’s plan involves framing Superman for a massacre in an African village, acquiring Zod’s corpse, gaining access to the crashed Kryptonian ship, getting his hands on Kryptonite recovered from the wreckage of the World Engine (which is still sitting in the Indian Ocean, doing god knows what to the ecosystem), manipulating a U.S. Senator for literally no reason, and…a jar of his own urine. Yes supervillain piss is a plot element in this movie.
It’s all nonsensical and contrived as it reads, but what’s even worse is all of it plays out alongside other big story elements competing for screen time, like Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne dealing with the fallout of Wayne Tower’s destruction during the Zod-Superman fight in Metropolis (one of the film’s only solid, logical ideas), and his investigation into something called “The White Portuguese,” which eventually lands him in the path of both Lex Luthor and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Oh, and have I mentioned Batman’s multiple, out of nowhere, superfluous dream sequences that seem to pop up every five minutes to interrupt the proceedings with baffling nonsense? Yep. They occur so often that the line between what’s actually happening in the film and what’s just fantasy begins to blur. One of these visions – the “Knightmare” sequence, which you may have seen in the trailers or other marketing (the stuff with Batman in a post-apocalyptic wasteland wearing his cowl with a trench coat instead of a cape, and Superman is a pissed-off tyrant),is beyond jarring and literally has no function in the narrative. It’s there simply because Snyder thought it would be cool to shoot in IMAX. For hardcore comic fans, it offers a tantalizing glimpse at some future antagonists in the planned Justice League films, but I cannot fathom how incomprehensible it must play to average moviegoers.
All of these disparate story threads jockeying for position results in a series of brief, disjointed scenes that are completely bereft of any narrative flow or logical transitions into one another. Batman V Superman‘s editing is destined to go down in film history as some of the all-time worst. This film has no forward momentum, no flow, no excitement or urgency. It lumbers along, boring and bewildering us, serving up the occasional jolt as something explodes and Hans Zimmer’s oppressive warhorns pound us into submission.
Character-wise, Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne/Batman is the best in the movie, but only by default, because everyone else is patently awful. Alffleck looks great in the Bat-suit, and is absolutely fine as a middle-aged, soul-crushed Bruce Wayne who has moved out of the mansion and into a custom-built glass and steel structure on the property. He does all the requisite Batman things – performs a little detective work, attends galas and acts drunk/stupid to divert attention away from himself, verbally spars with Jeremy Irons’ Alfred over the cost of what he does, uses lots of cool batarangs and gadgets, and kicks a ton of criminal ass. A solo Batman action sequence that occurs late in the third act is actually the best sequence in the entire film, mostly due to the fact that it has a clear end goal, and has nothing to do with Superman or Lex Luthor.
Unfortunately, Batman doesn’t quite escape Snyder’s now-trademark character assassination. His vision of the Dark Knight is one that is haunted by his failings and the deaths of those close to him, and now because he’s getting older and more bitter about things by the day, he’s far more brutal in his crime-fighting methods. This means branding certain types of criminals (in this case, a sex slaver) with white-hot batarangs, so that inmates in prison will know to shiv them when they arrive inside. Charming. Batman, a character who has had a long-standing “no killing, no guns” rule for decades, also ruthlessly machineguns baddies with ordinance in the Bat-wing and Batmobile; and is put into a similar a no-win situation like Superman was in Man Of Steel that is sure to launch a thousand thinkpieces in the coming months.
As I mentioned earlier, Snyder carries over his contempt for Superman’s core values and sense of purpose into this debacle, again presenting Kal-El as an angry, lost, brooding, soul-searching stiff in a red cape. Henry Cavill spends the majority of the run time with a deeply furrowed brow and a scowl, never once displaying an ounce of Superman’s warmth or charm. Even when he is shown saving lives, it’s a somber montage that fails to illicit any feelings of inspiration or wonder. Nothing about him soars. It’s almost as if Snyder shot the sequences out of agitated obligation to the millions of fans who criticized Superman’s disregard for civilian safety during the battle of Metropolis in Man Of Steel.
The dual Kal/Clark dynamic fares even worse – instead of separating the two personas Cavill pollutes both identities with an overwhelming dullness. If Cavill’s attempt was to make his Clark Kent the world’s most boring human, he succeeded spectacularly. He has zero chemistry with Amy Adams’ Lois Lane, which is deeply problematic for the film’s third act, as it relies heavily on their romantic bond as the driving force for Superman’s motivation, as well as the catalyst for his potential turn to the dark side should anything happen to her.
I truly feel awful for Amy Adams. She is a fantastic actress, but remains horribly mis-cast in the Lois Lane role. It’s a thankless task for her in Batman V Superman – she spends the first insufferable half of the movie spouting exposition and serving as Clark’s cheerleader without really having any agency or purpose of her own and in the second half she becomes a walking plot device/deus ex machina. What she ends up doing in the finale is one of the strangest, most confounding things in a movie loaded with strange, confounding things.
One of the defenses being mounted by militant DC fanboys against critics of this film is how it’s a “comic book movie made for comic book fans, with portrayals right out of modern DC comic books.” Now, I haven’t read many DC books lately, but I feel pretty safe in saying that Lex Luthor in the comics is not, nor has he ever been, a twitchy, schizophrenic twerp who jerks around constantly and acts more like Mark Zuckerberg channeling Heath Ledger’s Joker. This Millennial, tech-mogul version of Lex is a completely unhinged psychopath who is far more annoying than threatening, and almost every line of dialogue out of his mouth is a Socratic teaching or Biblical quote or parable designed to mercilessly hammer home the film’s “Gods with ultimate power cannot be trusted and must be defeated by men” theme.
Almost nothing he does makes any sense plot-wise, and his reasons for hating Superman eventually boil down to “My Daddy hit me and he was bigger than me and made me feel weak, just like you, Superman! Waah!” Lex doesn’t even meet or interact with Superman at all until the last 20 minutes of the movie, so their rooftop confrontation is meaningless and devoid of any tension because there is absolutely no history between them. It’s embarrassing, and with this abysmal performance, Jesse Eisenberg has locked in his seat among the Pantheon of all-time awful movie supervillains, joining such esteemed company as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze, John Travolta’s Howard Saint, Jaime Foxx’s Electro.
Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman/Diana Prince is mostly okay; like a diamond in a sea of diarrhea. Gadot is striking, has tremendous screen presence and acquits herself well in the costume during the final action scene, but her very thick Israeli accent makes her difficult to understand on occasion, and her stiff delivery hasn’t improved much since her Fast & The Furious days. Her role in the narrative is perfunctory at best, and of course only exists to plant seeds for her solo Wonder Woman movie. Despite that, the background of her appearance is intriguing. It’s too bad the film’s other universe-building elements are so clunky. In fact, Val Kilmer’s casual “the circus must be halfway to Metropolis by now” line in Batman Forever is better and more organic universe-building than this forced, completely tacked-on embarrassment of a sequence where Wonder Woman watches YouTube clips of future Justice League members The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg, all stolen from Lex’s secret meta-human files.The footage is all poorly staged, awkward, and will be completely baffling to any Joe and Jane Six-pack unfamiliar with the other heroes in DC’s lineup. It’s a terrible way to introduce these characters and just falls so incredibly flat.
Eventually the Batman V Superman fight comes to an anticlimactic (and kind of silly) end, and the movie spews forth a chaotic, ugly shitstorm of terrible CGI all over the screen as the united Trinity battles the unkillable Doomsday – a brainless, speechless Kryptonian monster created by Lex Luthor in the remains of the Kryptonian Birth Matrix. It’s a loud, busy, punishing spectacle featuring rubbery CG versions of Superman and Doomsday punching and heat vision-blasting each other all over Gotham City and even up into space. Doomsday is a truly god-awful effect and character. He looks like a cave troll, but somehow with worse rendering and CG animation than the Moria troll from Fellowship Of The Ring 15 years ago. It’s a meaningless battle sequence where none of the characters communicate with one another, the staging and geography is poor, you don’t care about why they are fighting or who gets hurt, and there’s nothing at stake. It’s nothing more than a shitty fireworks display.
This disaster of a film does not bode well for the future of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) – Batman V Superman feels far too swampy for a foundation to be laid, and the glimpses of the Justice League members aren’t very exciting (Ezra Miller as The Flash, in particular comes across as a potentially horrendous casting decision). Zack Snyder continues to abuse the power he’s been given at Warner Brothers, dismissing the responsibility he has to present these mighty icons of American pop culture to a mainstream audience in the best, most traditional light possible. At every turn, he chooses to emphasize visual dynamism over storytelling, make head-scratching casting choices (he was meeting with Bryan Cranston for the Lex Luthor role, but then decided to make Lex younger because…reasons?), and he is fundamentally altering these legendary characters; possibly causing them irreparable damage. He’s a cancer to the DC superheroes and should be swiftly and surgically removed as soon as possible.