Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (dir. Zack Snyder)

Posted: April 1, 2016 in Uncategorized

“Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” is a mess.  It is not a laughably bad movie, and it does contain enough nuggets of goodness to keep the film from being a complete failure, but the movie is nonetheless a sloppy piece of work, largely at the screenplay level.  This is a movie that has no idea what it wants to say or how to say it, so we get some half-executed mixed metaphors combined with some lackluster action and a hideous-looking third act sound and light show that combines the worst elements of “300” with the sensibilities of Michael Bay.  This film is the first major disappointment of 2016.


The biggest criticism, aside from the color palette, that was launched against “Man of Steel” was regarding that film’s climax, where Superman (Henry Cavill, who really does play a wonderful Superman in two films that have no idea what to do about Superman) and General Zod (Michael Shannon) have a giant fight in Metropolis that knocks down tons of buildings. That film kind of ignored how many people were likely to have died, and that Superman was probably complicit in some of those deaths by willy-nilly flying through skyscrapers to fight his enemy.  Well, director Zack Snyder obviously heard those criticisms, as “Dawn of Justice” is pretty much a two and a half hour response to those criticisms.  Thankfully, he didn’t pull a Shyamalan with “The Visit” and blame his audience, and he did try to craft an actual story dealing with the implications of that film’s finale. Hell, in this film’s action climax, we get Anderson Cooper telling us the city is largely empty because the fight takes place after the work day has ended. Apparently Metropolis is a ghost town when business ends?


The film begins during “Man of Steel’s” finale, and Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, giving a by-the-number lousy Ben Affleck performance and not the “Gone Girl” performance I was hoping for) is witnessing the destruction and the people being injured or dying, and blames Superman.  This version of Bruce Wayne is a bit odd. He suffers from hallucinations and some form of psychosis, and is clearly hampered by PTSD, possibly due to a run in with the Joker as the film makes mention of “clowns” and shows a Robin outfit written on by the Joker.  This is not the Bruce Wayne of the comics who has a strict moral code.  This is a Bruce Wayne who is a Batman that is dangerously close to becoming the Punisher. In the film’s attempted political metaphor, Batman represents the United States post 9/11.  A once noble (in the filmmaker’s minds) power that has been corrupted by fear and tragedy to break the rules (brand criminals if you’re batman, waterboard if you’re the United States) and loses sight of reason because he’s single-minded focused on the worst case scenario.  For Batman, he views the mere possibility that Superman could turn fully evil as an existential threat to mankind, and develops an unusually fierce hatred for the man because of it. Seriously, the film never quite adequately explains why Batman is so damn angry and afraid of Superman, especially when it seems clear that Superman is trying to help and any damage he causes is collateral, not on purpose. Superman is slightly less at fault for death than a United States drone that kills innocent people while also killing a terrorist.


If Batman represents the United States as it is, Superman represents an idealized version of what America either was or never was but has strived to be. Perhaps that is why Batman hates him, because Superman represents the ideal that Batman cannot live up to. In any case, Superman’s position in this world is confusing. The senate is holding hearings about him, indicating people think he’s an uncontrolled menace or something because of the battle with Zod in Metropolis. If that’s so, why is there a giant memorial to the victims of that battle that contains a huge Superman statue which was erected only 18 months after the battle? The film can’t decide if Superman is widely loved, widely hated, or in what ratios he is both. In a scene where Lois Lane (Amy Adams, who is too good for the way they under-write the character) goes to interview an African warlord and is taken hostage, only for Superman to come and save her, mercenaries with guns kills some of the warlord’s men in order to…frame Superman? How does shooting people frame Superman? When has Superman ever needed to use guns?  And why would the mercenaries use special experimental bullets that can easily tie them to the man who hired them as opposed to…you know…normal bullets that are perfectly capable of killing people?


The idea is that Superman can still do all the good he wants to do, and people will hate him regardless.  If we apply this Superman-as-America, it is a weird apology for America’s imperialist evil that seems to come straight out of Dick Cheney, but coming from Zack Snyder, who directed the pro-Iraw War metaphor of a film “300”, I’m not surprised. In a scene where Superman talks to his mother (Diane Lane) she tells him to be everything people want him to be, or be none of it, because he doesn’t owe the world anything.  She might as well be saying “Fuck the rest of the world if they don’t appreciate what America does.”  I expect Ted Cruz to say that at a GOP debate.


The America metaphor, which is not very explicit, doesn’t really hold because the film doesn’t sufficiently provide an enemy that stands in for an actual enemy the United States faces.  Instead, our villain is a weird collection of tics and eccentricities named Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg).  Luthor is like if Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg from “The Social Network” merged with a Bond Villain.  He’s over-the-top and more than a little annoying, and his motives are stupid. Luthor is where the film fails the America metaphor, though the film still argues America needs to be less like Batman and more like Superman in general, and it goes for the other metaphor, which is of religion.


The Christian god and many Greek gods are mentioned in this film, and Superman is compared to a god in the film. The problem is that if you want to make Superman into a metaphor for the Christian god, it’s not very tenable because Superman is clearly not omnipotent.  Superman is more in common with the Greek gods who, while extremely powerful, have many limits on what they can and cannot do.  The reason this is a problem is because the arguments for and against Superman given in this film, especially by Luthor, are the arguments Christians make for their god and Atheists make against god.  We get basic Christian apologetics in favor of Superman, and we get the Problem of Evil from Luthor.  Yeah, it seems Luthor’s only motive is to kill “god” because no “god” helped his father out when he was alive in Communist East Germany.  Luthor is a violent antitheist who hates god and wants people to top believing in him.  So, we basically get the villain from “Prisoner”, that awful Christian serial killer movie with Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal.  Or maybe Luthor wandered into this movie from “God’s Not Dead 2”, I dunno.   The problem is that if Superman is not omnipotent, then you can’t blame him for not stopping all of the evil in the world. Superman isn’t the Christian god. He’s not even Dr. Manhattan from “Watchmen”, power-wise.


Beyond the failure of the film’s messages/themes/metaphors, we just have a bad script here.  While everyone knows this film is meant to set up a new slew of DC movies, this film does it in that horrible “Iron Man 2” fashion of shoe-horning in previews of future movies in ways that do not add and actually distract from the current film we’re watching.  We literally get a scene where Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) watches videos of other superheroes on a laptop for 5 minutes while we see previews of heroes that are yet to get their own films, like The Flash and Aquaman.  Hell, Wonder Woman has no real reason to be in this movie. Her presence in the climactic fight is not necessary story-wise, and she spends the movie going to cocktail parties in order to…keep an old photo of herself hidden? Really?  She came out of hiding to do that?  Luthor at one point even makes that “If you can make god bleed” statement, which Mickey Rourke made in “Iron Man 2”.  Way to copy the worst film of Marvel’s for your new universe, DC.


Perhaps none of this would matter if the action was good, but it’s not. The fight between Batman and Superman is lackluster, with lots of throwing each other around and punching each other in the face. How the fight ends is laughably bad, and the way Batman turns on a dime from ready to commit murder to Superman’s ally is awful.  This fight is the biggest letdown it could have possibly been.  Of course, any shittiness of that fight is surpassed in shittiness by the climax, wherein Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman fight Doomsday, a giant abomination.  This climactic fight looks ugly, with dirt clouds and a brown color palette, and has constant unnecessary electricity bolts and lightning and roaring. This thing is a CGI bore of ugly, wasteful special effects. I have also complained about the CGI orgies that ended both “Avengers” films, but at least those endings, while boring, were not unpleasing to the eye.  Following the conclusion of the fight, we get an ending so drawn out that it reminded me of “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King”.  The film takes its sweet time putting all of the pieces into place for the next films in the universe.  This follows two and a half-hours of odd pacing and choppy editing. There is no flow to this film at all.


Look, the film isn’t all bad. Jeremy Irons makes a great Alfred, Batman is actually shown doing detective work for once, the concept of having Superman testify to Congress is cool even if the film handles it poorly (he didn’t hear that bomb? The senator is taunted with a jar of urine?), and the film gives us a lot more wet, naked Amy Adams than I ever expected to see, so I guess that’s something.  However, I cannot imagine any fan of Batman not being angered over this very not-Batman-like Batman that the film gives to us. I can’t imagine any comic book fan who can’t think of a better comic book story that featured Batman and Superman at opposite ends of a controversy that would have made a better movie than this one.  I cannot imagine anyone not walking out of this movie disappointed.


“Dawn of Justice” isn’t a “Green Lantern”-like trainwreck. It’s screenplay, by David Goyer and Chris Terrio, is fucking awful. Why does Luthor even want Batman and Superman to fight? Why is Luthor concerned with Batman at all? The film fails thematically, sure, but it also fails at basic storytelling with character motivations and events logically leading to other events. Zack Snyder, who has directed two good films (“Dawn of the Dead” and “Watchmen”) and a number of absolutely horrible movies (“300”, the awfully misogynist “Sucker Punch”) does the film no favors.  The movie is almost black and white for how silver, brown, black, and ice blue make up the color palette. The ending is a failure on every conceivable directorial level, from general visual aesthetic to knowing the spatial dimensions of where everyone is standing. Snyder is the wrong person to helm this universe, and if it has any hope of not being garbage Warner Brothers needs to find someone else to handle this.


“Dawn of Justice” is not the worst superhero movie of the modern era, but it’s the worst “Batman” movie since “Batman & Robin”, and that’s bad enough. C-


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