The Monday after Easter I headed to the theatre to see Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The film has now been out for two weeks so consider this your spoiler warning.
I have to say, when the movie was first announced I wasn’t expecting much. First, it felt too much like a “me too” shout on the part of DC Comics. The MCU is having amazing success and DC wanted in on the fun. Second, I’ve always been a Marvel guy so a Justice League movie hasn’t been something I’ve clamored for1. I was not, however, part of the ohmygoshtheworldisending reaction to the announcement that Ben Affleck would be playing Batman/Bruce Wayne.
My expectations began to grow after Warner Brother released the trailer which contained the verbal sparring between Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent. Bet Affleck nailed the barely shackled emotions which emerge as Batman, and seeing Kent function as an actual reporter was a real pleasure. The humor of Jesse Eisenberg in that same trailer was also well done. I began to want to see the film in the theaters.
Sadly, I was disappointed.
The film, as a coherent whole, is a mess. It’s partly a follow up to Man of Steel, partly a super-violent Batman thriller, partly a pilot for the Justice League movie, and partly an “oh heck we needed a big baddie” CGI mess. Any one of these ideas, with the exception of the CGI mess, would have made an amazing film on their own. In fact, Affleck’s portrayal of Batman is widely hailed as the absolute best part of the film, and this is certainly the case. But, because this film is really an attempt to cram anywhere between three and five different movies into a single entity, none of these elements is given a fair chance to develop. As one reviewer put it, “This is a movie which fights with itself for screen time.” It’s a fair point.
For me the most interesting story, even though it was presented with the emotion of a wet noodle, was the Man of Steel follow-up. The trailers got me excited to see what it would look like to see Superman actually having to justify his existence before elected officials2. This is something Comics, in their celebration of heroes, don’t often delve into. In a world where there is a being flying around with god-like powers, what role could there be for a modern nation state? I was looking forward to seeing some ethical/philosophical quandaries in the vein of Watchmen. Instead, the film spent a third of its running time setting this confrontation up and then literally blew it up.
So much for moral and ethical dilemmas3.
Affleck’s Batman was, as I said, an amazing portrayal. Yet even his story arc was oddly disjointed. Part of the the time it was the story of Batman seeking to take out the false Superman god. Part of the time it was sidetracked by the aforementioned Justice League pilot. There was so much jumping around the amazing performance of Affleck was a bit lost, which I found a shame.
I loved the “Mad Max” Batman in the dream sequence, and the fight in the warehouse is worth watching by itself. It is brutal and intense and extremely well-filmed. While others have celebrated the Bat Mobile sequence where Batman attempts to swipe the Kryptonite, I can’t say I was a fan. Please understand, a stand-alone action sequence it is amazing. As a sequence in a larger film I was left scratching my head. Batman is a stealthy and brutal ninja-type. It would seem to me that theft of an important shipment would best be accomplished by stealth ninja-type moves… not putting yourself in a position where you have to blow up a bunch of mercenary guards who see you coming. When Superman shows up to put a stop to Batman’s reckless assault I was like, “Ya think?” Again, there’s nothing wrong with the way the sequence is presented, it’s actually quite beautifully done, it just doesn’t make sense. It felt like someone sat in on a meeting and said, “Umm, you need a scene with the Bat Mobile.” And everyone else said, “Oh my gosh I can’t believe we forgot that!”
The Titular Batman vs. Superman itself was pretty dang amazing. Unfortunately, it’s awesomeness was off-set by a very convoluted set up in which Eisenberg’s Luthor decides to kidnaps Martha Kent in order to force the two titans to battle. I’m still not certain what the heck was eating Luthor so much, except for a brief reference to “daddy issues.” Additionally, his plan to get the two to battle is… just plain bizarre. As satisfying as the eight minute fight is, however, the ending will go down in cinema history as one of the weakest plot points ever devised. If you want to keep ultra-violent, absolute certainty, Batman from killing you all you have to do is cry, “Martha!” The memes hit the web almost immediately.
The third act was a sheer waste of film. The Wonder Woman reveal from the trailers wasn’t a big shock, as Diana is running around for much of the film in the “Justice League Pilot” movie. Doomsday’s inclusion looks like an afterthought. And why on earth would you bother doing the “death of Superman” story line when everyone knows he’ll be back for the Justice League film? I felt nothing at Superman’s sacrifice because I knew it would be wasted energy. Also, the engagement ring in manilla made me want to scream, “How lazy could the writers be?”
I have friends, however, who loved this film. And the maddening thing about this, I understand why. There really is some beautiful film making scattered throughout the various segments, and if you’ve been dying to see Batman and Superman together on the big screen, those eight minutes of confrontation are a dream come true. While the final fight with Doomsday is largely a waste of time, Wonder Woman’s portrayal during the battle is amazing. There is a smile she flashes which left me thinking, “Wow, don’t mess with her!” Sadly, that was literally the only redeeming part of the third act.
I don’t blame anyone for enjoying this film, nor do I think there is something wrong with them for having a deep appreciation for it’s many positive attributes. I just feel, as a whole, it’s deeply flawed and suffers from a rather large identity crisis. My disappointment with BvS was not quite at the level of Iron Man 3 4, but it was a film I would have gladly waited to see at home.
- Though I do have to say I’ve been enjoying the rash of DC Justice League movies on various streaming services. ↩
- Even it was the Senate. Which, in real life, is pretty much up for sale to the highest bidder. ↩
- Yes, I know it’s a comic book movie, I get it. But BvS was advertised with this as a plot thread, and I was excited to see it. ↩
- You might have been expecting to see Spider Man 3 in that sentence. Nothing approaches that level of disappointment. ↩