It’s hardly an uncommon opinion, but “Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice” is a bloated and messy movie. It’s nearly the DC comics equivalent of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”. For reference, I thought “The Amazing Spider-Man” was a flawed but charismatic and interesting spin on the Spider-Man mythos, and a solid enough starting point for another series of Spider-Man movies. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” was a massive drop in quality because Sony studios was more interested in setting up a cinematic universe, to try to replicate Marvel’s success, than they were in telling a good story in it’s own right, like the movie they were currently producing. They stuffed it with so many characters and subplots, without developing most of them, that it lost the heart and sharp focus that made the original movie so likable in first place, and killed whatever potential that series had dead. “Batman vs Superman” nearly does the same, because even though it’s supposed to be a sequel to “Man Of Steel“, it’s more like a rushed attempt at setting up a Justice League movie. Around the early 2010’s, DC clearly got jealous of the success Marvel was having with their movies, so they wanted to create their own ‘cinematic universe’ (I am really getting tired of those, by the way) to try to compete with them, without taking the time or putting in the hard effort to do it properly.
If you want to introduce Batman in Superman’s second movie and come up with a contrived reason for them to fight each other, instead of focusing on Clark’s new life in Metropolis, then by all means, do that. But if you also want to bring in Lex Luthor’s daddy issues, Wonder Woman and the future members of the Justice League, some weird flashforward involving Darkseid and his parademons, and finally, Doomsday and the death of Superman arc, it really doesn’t need to be said that that is overkill. No one ever seems to learn from “Spider-Man 3” that adding a whole bunch of fanservice characters and subplots to one movie does not actually make it superficially cooler, it just makes it an undercooked, overstuffed mess. There are several points in this movie where you won’t even understand what’s happening anymore, because there are a few scenes thrown in that contribute absolutely nothing to the plot at hand and only exist to set up some future Justice League / Darkseid movie, like Bruce’s nightmare about future Clark, followed by the Flash appearing from the future to tell him something (what?!), or Dinah checking out files of random, superpowered people Lex is keeping tabs on, right in the middle of the climax. It’s just all over the place. Despite that, there are still things I appreciate about “Batman vs Superman”, as a sequel and its own film.
Henry Cavill starts his series of diminishing returns as Clark Kent / Superman in this film. I think the first thing that you’ll notice is that while Cavill is still likable, personable and sympathetic as Superman, he’s also a good deal more passive this time around. For all of it’s flash and spectacle, “Man Of Steel” was a very character driven movie, particularly when it came to Clark. At it’s core, it was all about Clark’s desire to find his purpose, his background that informed his choices, and eventually his need to make the hard decisions for the greater good of humanity. “Batman vs Superman” is less interested in Clark as a protagonist and his ongoing character growth than it is in other people’s opinions of him. It’s ultimately everyone’s perception of Superman – from Bruce Wayne to Lex Luthor to the general public – that drives the conflict and plot of this movie forward, which is a lot less substantial to watch. Arguably, the character who receives the largest, complete arc in this movie is Batman (who I’ll be talking about in a bit). As a side effect of all the mediation on Superman, as a person and an ideal, the ‘Superman as a messiah figure’ allegory is played up heavily once again. “Batman vs Superman” expands on the theme from the previous film – Clark putting out himself there in the world, wanting to be accepted by humans – by dealing with the consequences of Clark’s first mission. Even now, two years later, humanity is still slow to accept his presence. On the one hand, Superman and his allies saved the world from Zod. But on the other hand, Zod made it pretty clear on live television that Superman was also the reason he came to their planet, and Metropolis did not escape unscathed before the invasion was stopped, so they have some pretty good reasons to be wary. A hot topic among the people of America, as well as the United Nations, is Superman’s limitations and how much he should be allowed to meddle in human affairs, unencumbered, as an unknown element who answers to no one.
It’s a frustrating time for Clark, since people seem to love and hate Superman, and the idea he represents, in equal measure. Eventually, he feels utterly rejected and hurt. He starts to lose his drive and motivation, as a result of his trademark optimism and idealism fading. He starts to wonder if ‘Superman’ is just a fool’s dream, a parallel to the dangerous feelings of despair and powerlessness that are currently driving Bruce. Something Clark struggles to accept is the reality that sometimes he will try his best, do everything in his power to help, and it still won’t be enough. Some people will still die, and some people will never accept him. But he shouldn’t let that stop him from trying. So he tries his best to ignore it and make some waves as both Clark Kent and Superman, since his strong moral fiber remains with or without the glasses. He tries to look into a vigilante named the Batman, a destructive loose cannon who’s been blowing into Metropolis lately. Clark doesn’t approve of the Batman’s methods, and is worried he’ll get more people killed with his crusade, so he warns him to stay out of Metropolis. With or without their capes, Clark and Bruce are strongly opposed to each other, having very different viewpoints on how to handle crime, though Clark doesn’t actually want Bruce dead, unlike a certain Bat. Thanks to Lex Luthor’s machinations, the pair eventually wind up trading heated blows. After the fight is over and Martha has been rescued, the rest of the climax feels like a redux of the last two Superman movies. Like in “Man Of Steel”, Superman and a hostile, alien brute have a destructive, overblown showdown in Metropolis, but with less impressive green-screen, and then we get the heroic sacrifice scene from “Superman Returns”. Like in “Returns”, the people of America wanted a world without Superman: they shunned him and took him for granted. And then in his darkest hour, Superman died for our sins and humanity realized how wrong they were to doubt their messiah figure (even though they had some pretty good reasons to).
Since Superman was established in the previous film, “Batman vs Superman” introduces Bruce Wayne / Batman (Ben Affleck), Superman’s greatest rival and eventual colleague. You know how I said Jonathan Kent was written strangely out of character half the time in “Man Of Steel”? Well, Pa Kent has nothing on Batman, who’s portrayed as quite the lunatic in this movie. The film starts with his classic tragic backstory: his parents were gunned down right in front of him as a kid, two more victims of Gotham City’s disgustingly high crime rate, which scarred him for life and gave him the drive to become Batman later in life. In the present day, Bruce Wayne is seemingly a carefree and successful man of the people, but underneath the facade, he’s very disturbed. This version of Batman is a middle-aged vigilante. The years are starting to catch up to him, giving him so many battle scars, and his crime fighting career has made him so cynical and jaded that he’s almost become nihilistic. By now, he thinks that no matter what he does, Batman doesn’t really make a difference in the world: there will always be some new, greater evil to immediately pop up and replace the last one he stopped, and he won’t be around forever. Not to mention, his sidekick Robin was apparently brutally murdered by the Joker. Having lost hope in Gotham, Bruce has gradually started to abandon his own code of ethics, becoming more and more ruthless and reckless in his attempts to crack down on crime. His butler, Alfred, disapproves, but at this point, he basically sticks by him out of loyalty. To quote a significantly stronger Batman movie: ‘you either die a hero, or live long enough to become the villain’. Throughout the movie, we see Bruce tumble further and further down the slippery slope of morality, until he eventually starts to become an anti-villain, only pulling back at the last minute from crossing a line he couldn’t come back from. It’s a vastly different portrayal of Batman than we’ve ever seen before, and a very alienating one, since Bruce goes way out of character in this film, but it makes for a strong arc.
Batfleck is clever, sharp and quick on his feet, but he’s also rather thuggish and brutish; he’s not afraid to throw his weight around to get a job done. Bruce blames Clark for Zod’s attack on Metropolis, and his paranoia, resentment and xenophobia encourages him to view Superman as a threat, frequently dehumanizing him throughout the movie. Eventually, after some manipulation from Lex, Bruce decides Clark needs to die. Despite that, he’s also a hypocrite. Clark clearly strikes a nerve when he correctly points out the Batman has no problem turning the streets of Gotham into his own personal warzone, not worrying too much about the collateral damage. It’s pretty clear that despite what Bruce tells himself, Clark is just a convenient outlet for all the many, many issues that have been building up inside the deranged billionaire for a while now. During their fight, Lois and Clark unwittingly trigger Bruce into having a PTSD episode, forcing him to see Clark as a flesh and blood person and giving them a chance to talk him down. I like how Batman spent most of this movie aggressively projecting his issues onto Clark, to the point where he tried to kill him, and then at least part of the reason why he relented and became cooperative was because he started to project his issues about his dead mom onto Clark’s. Someone really, really needs to get Batfleck some therapy. In any case, Bruce makes good on his promise to save Martha just in time to face down Doomsday, and after all of his vicious behavior in this movie, it is incredibly cathartic to see Doomsday humble him and make him squirm. Even if it diverged from the comics, the ending of this movie would have been a lot more satisfying if it had been Batfleck who was sacrificed to stop Doomsday, and a nice redemptive capper to his arc. Instead, Bruce gets what he wanted: Superman’s death. He finds it doesn’t feel as great as he thought it would, and has to live with the guilt of letting it happen, having learned his lesson about ‘he who fights monsters’ just a bit too late. Bruce is angry that Lex Luthor used him, but he’s even angrier that he let him do it, and he’s reminded why he has to be better than that.
Pulling the strings from behind the scenes, Lex Luthor serves as the main antagonist of this film – again. The Superman movies really seem to have an obsession with Lex Luthor, and Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of him is probably my least favorite one so far: because he never shuts up. Jesse’s Lex is a quirky, sinister manchild who’s really a psychopath with no empathy for human life and loves creating chaos for his own amusement: he seems way more like a discount Joker than a re-imagining of Lex Luthor. Additionally, have you ever noticed that Jesse seems to play a similar sort of character in most of his movies? The skittery, OCD, hipster nerd. Either he has very little acting range, or he’s getting typecast. In any case, Lex Luthor in this continuity is a schizophrenic billionaire with loads of time and money on his hands, who’s developed a personal interest in Superman, or rather an obsession, looking down on him as an arrogant false god. Like several other versions of Lex, he would call himself a man of Metropolis and a defender of Earth, defending it from Superman and the threat he might pose. Of course, it’s all total rubbish. All he’s doing is projecting the multitude of unaddressed mental health issues he has (courtesy of his abusive father) onto Superman and using Clark as a convenient punching bag for his own nihilism. If that sounds familiar to you, then it should: Lex clearly exists in this movie to serve as a morally bankrupt foil to our darling Batfleck, a glimpse of where Bruce’s dark side might ultimately lead him. Throughout the movie, Lex exerts the tremendous amount of influence he has to frame Superman for various wrongdoings and turn the public against him, while also fanning the flames between Clark and Bruce. Eventually, he forces Clark to fight Bruce, by threatening to kill his mother, while siccing Bruce on Clark took a lot less strong-arming. When Plan A doesn’t work out, Lex creates an abomination and sics it on Clark to finish the job, standing back for the rest of the movie and watching the show.
Amy Adams reprises her role as Superman’s co-worker, confidant, and girlfriend, Lois Lane, and like the previous film, Lois and Clark’s scenes together are cute and touching. After two years, Lois and Clark have established a stable, daily routine – Lois solves conspiracies, Clark fights crimes, and they both come home to a warm bed – but things can still be difficult. Loving an alien superhero is something very few people have ever had any experience with: there will always be parts of Clark that are distant from her, parts of him that she will never understand, and she’s starting to grow worried about his loyalty to her. Clark is a good boyfriend and he will always come to her aid when Lois needs him, but people are starting to notice that, particularly Lex Luthor. So Lois tries to be a good, supportive girlfriend in return. With Lex trying to besmirch Superman’s good name, Lois is naturally the one to pick up the case and investigate things, and she’s given her own subplot in the film. Luckily for Lois and Clark, they have one more friend in the government after the events of “Man Of Steel” (I still like seeing Lois butt heads with the US military). Lois manages to clear Clark’s name, just in time to watch him die, and afterwards, she discovers he was going to propose to her, just so Zack Synder can really drive that knife into her gut. Gal Gadot makes her debut in this film as Diana Prince / Wonder Woman, an enigmatic woman Bruce repeatedly encounters who he has shiptease moments with. Gal does a fine job as the confident, secretive Amazonian, but I’m gonna be honest here: Diana contributes nothing meaningful to the actual plot of this movie until the last twenty-five minutes, when she participates in the fight against Doomsday, and we never learn much about her. Wonder Woman is primarily here to set up that future Justice League movie DC really wanted, as well as her own solo film (which gained a much warmer reception than “Batman vs Superman”, so I’ll congratulate her there).
After getting to direct a large scale, sci-fi alien invasion movie in “Man Of Steel”, Zack Snyder clearly savors the opportunity to helm a smaller, detective mystery movie in “Batman vs Superman”, embracing the gritty, noir vibe Batman always brings with him and the different style of fighting the Dark Knight has. While “Man Of Steel” had a bold and striking color scheme to match Superman’s optimistic personality, “Batman vs Superman” is frequently somber and grey, dragging us into the Dark Knight’s cynical perspective. As always, Zack manages to make the movie’s action scenes pop – in particular, there’s the audience’s first introduction to Batman, which is shot like a horror movie to build tension, the titular fight Batman and Superman have as they each briefly gain the upper hand, and an impressively shot and choreographed scene where Batman takes down about two dozen goons to rescue Martha Kent – but his bombastic, city-wrecking fight scenes officially start to wear out their welcome at this point. Around the time Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman face Doomsday, I’ve officially have my fill of Zack Synder destruction porn. Speaking of which, I’ve mentioned before that the writing quality in these movies seemed to decline with each film, as DC tried harder and harder to push an expanded universe, but the production values seemed to be on a downwards slope as well. “Man Of Steel” had great visual effects and looked like a $200,000,000 project. “Batman vs Superman” does as well for the most part, though the seams are more noticeable in places. By the time you get to “Justice League”, that movie is so clunky and unpolished that it looks more like an amateur hour television show than a theatrical film. So, what happened there? Hans Zimmer writes another quality for the film, expanding on the themes and leitmotifs he wrote for Lois and Clark in “Man Of Steel” (like a few sad, quiet reprises of Superman’s theme), as well as composing some dark, theatrical material for Batman’s tortured character. My only complaint is that Wonder Woman’s rock theme feels weirdly out of place with the rest of his traditional score.
The theatrical cut of “Batman vs Superman” feels like it’s about twenty minutes too long, which why I’m surprised to find that a three hour, extended version of this movie exists. Batman, Superman and their respective character arcs are the best aspects of this movie (as they ought to be), along with the overall tone of the film, while the rest of the movie is bogged down by an incredibly miscast Lex Luthor and several forced attempts at setting up a franchise (which stretch the movie too thin) that ultimately led nowhere worthwhile. At the end of the day, my feelings about “Batman vs Superman” are mixed.
* Movies and TV shows really need to stop having characters scream in slow motion. It always looks silly.
* “Are you a terrorist, general?” “They did not tell me the interview was with a lady” “I’m not a lady, I’m a journalist”.
* Early on, some CIA stooge gets himself shot and nearly drags Lois down with him. It took me a long to discover that guy was supposed to be Jimmy Olsen. So I wondered, what was the point of introducing this character and then killing him off thirty seconds later? Apparently, Zack Synder thought it would make for a fun and shocking twist. Oh, Zack.
* “I… I didn’t know” “Ignorance is not the same as innocence, Ms. Lane”.
* “I just don’t know if it’s possible… for you to love me and be you”.
* Sweet gesture Clark, but that’s just nasty, man. You didn’t even take off your shoes before you got in the bath.
* Well, that cop very nearly earned himself some time in the slammer for shooting his partner.
* “Everything’s changed. Men fall from the sky, and gods hurl thunderbolts. Innocents die. That’s how it starts. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men cruel”.
* “You don’t have to use the silver bullet, but, if you forge one… Well, then, we don’t have to depend upon the kindness of monsters”.
* “Is the US providing experimental military arms to rebels in Africa?” “You know with balls like yours, you belong in here”.
* “We haven’t been told the truth” “Here’s the truth. A reporter got greedy for a scoop and went where she shouldn’t have. Superman acted like some rogue combatant to rescue her and people died. Don’t invent a conspiracy theory to put back his halo. Or yours” Oh, snap.
* “The bittersweet pain among man is having knowledge with no power. Because… Because that is paradoxical!” Lex, shut up.
* “The Daily Planet criticizing those who think they’re above the laws. A little hypocritical, wouldn’t you say? Considering every time your hero saves a cat out of a tree, you write a puff piece editorial, about an alien who, if he wanted to, could burn the whole place down. There wouldn’t be a damn thing we can do to stop him” Oh, snap.
* “You should hop the hub more often though, I’d love to show you my labs. Maybe we could be partners on something?” Well, I know something you both have in common…
* “Were talking about a being whose very existence challenges our own sense of priority in the universe. If you go back to Copernicus, where he restored the sun and the center of the known universe, displacing Earth. And you get to Darwinian evolution and you find out, we’re not special on this Earth we’re just one among other life forms. And now we learned, that we’re not even special in the entire universe because there is Superman. There he is, an alien, among us. We’re not alone”.
* “You know, it’s true what they say about little boys: born with no natural inclination to share”.
* “I don’t have a halo over me, Mr. Secretary. I went into the desert, people died. It keeps me awake. It should! If you think Superman is a murderer then throw it away. But, I don’t believe you think that” Aww…
* “Next time they shine your light in the sky, don’t go to it. The Bat is dead. Bury it. Consider this a mercy” “Tell me, do you bleed? Because you will” Giggity.
* “Be their hero, Clark. Be their monument. Be their angel. Be anything they need you to be. Or be none of it. You don’t owe this world a thing. You never did”.
* “Do you know the oldest lie in America, Senator? It’s that power can be innocent”.
* It’s good to see you again, Pa Kent, and it’s even better to see you give Clark some advice that’s not creepy.
* “Close, but I’m not talking about Lois. Every boy’s special lady is his mother” Make it rain, Lex!
* When it comes to eye candy, there’s nothing better than watching two angry, buff dudes in spandex brawl like madmen. It’s almost like wrestling, but with capes.
* “You’re letting him kill Martha! Find him! Save Martha!” There’s something about the awkward delivery of that line, and the awkward situation Supes is in in general, that makes me laugh every time.
* “It’s okay, I’m a friend of your son” “I figured, the cape” I don’t think ‘friend’ is the word I would use.
* “Oh, shit” Get him, Doomsday!
* In all seriousness though, despite all the cheap shots I’ve thrown his way, I don’t hate Batfleck. Batman x Superman is even my crack ship for this series.
* “Is she with you?” “I thought she was with you”.
* “I love you” “No, Clark, you can’t” “This is my world, Lois. You are my world”.
* “Man is still good. We fight. We kill. We betray one another. But we can rebuild. We can do better. We will. We have to”.
* “AND THE BELLS CANNOT BE UNRUNG! He’s hungry. He’s found us. And he’s coming! Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!” Dear God, Lex, shut up.
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