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Movie Review: Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice

batmanvsupermanSpoiler Warning: Worrying that spoilers will ruin this movie is kind of like worrying about a hangnail on a hand that just got chopped off, but if you don’t want to miss out on experiencing all the Snyderiffic magic for yourself, you might want to wait until you’ve seen the movie to read this.

When the early reviews of Batman V. Superman: Even the Title Is Long and Uninspiring came out, The Onion ran a story called “‘Batman V. Superman’ Promotion Urges Filmgoers To Just Get This Over With.” That pretty accurately reflects how I felt. I wasn’t excited about the idea to begin with, and the more I saw of the movie, the less I wanted to see it. By the time I actually bought the ticket, I was kind of hoping it would be hilariously bad instead of just shitty.

It was just shitty.

The movie opens with a voiceover of Batfleck reading some poetry that he probably posted on his LiveJournal while we watch Batman’s parents get murdered and young Bruce stumble into the Batcave. Because like every movie with Batman, Batman V. Superman: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut feels the need to make sure that the 7 people in the world who don’t know Batman’s origin story don’t get confused. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays Thomas Wayne in the flashback, and there’s an Excalibur poster next to the Mask of Zorro one outside the theater, so I guess there’s that. I like Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Excalibur.

The next, let’s say 12 hours, of Batman V. Superman V. Kramer consists of a bunch of short scenes that are presumably there to set up the plot, but they’re so random and context-free that only a couple of them actually succeed. There’s some Batman stuff, and some Superman Christ imagery, and a scene with Lois Lane in the desert with Bono and probably some Lex Luthor stuff or something. The only part of this mess with actual forward momentum is the scene of the big Kryptonian fight at the end of the first movie where Zak Snyder proved his fundamental failure to grasp Superman as a character, but from Bruce Wayne’s perspective. A WayneCorp building gets destroyed (because apparently Gotham and Metropolis are across the river from each other in this version of the DCU), people die, Bruce is mad. That’s almost like a plot thread. Way to go, Zak Snyder!

In the next barrage of scenes, we find out that Senator Holly Hunter is mad at Superman because [something to do with the thing with Lois and Bono] and wants to [something something], Lex Luthor (oh, we’ll get to him later) has figured out the Kryptonite thing and is working with the government to create an anti-Superman weapon, and Batman and Superman each think the other is dangerous and needs to cut it out. There’s a short and extremely dull spy movie in there where Bruce plants a thing to steal Lex Luthor’s secret files, Gal Godot steals it from him and gives it back, and he uses it to figure out that Kryptonite can kill Superman. Somewhere along the line Batman gets some Kryptonite and there’s a scene with a bunch of cars driving around in the dark and Superman tells Batman to stop being Batman. Also Congress blows up and Superman goes somewhere cold and mountainous and talks to imaginary Kevin Costner. There’s also a post-apocalyptic dream sequence where Batman looks really cool in there somewhere. And maybe like 20 seconds of Aquaman.

The biggest problem with the first 84 hours of Batman V. Superman: Jason Takes Manhattan, other than the overall Zak Snyderiness of it all is the same problem Man of Steel had: Zak Snyder just doesn’t get Superman. The overall gist of the Holly Hunter and Bruce Wayne criticisms of Superman are familiar ones: that he’s so powerful they need a plan to stop him if he goes rogue and that his actions can have unintended consequences, like [whatever the fuck Bono did]. So far so good. The problem is Superman’s response. Typically, there are two possibilities: remorse (Superman feels bad and takes steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again) or paternalism (Superman insists his actions were necessary and usually dives headlong into Fascism). In Batman Vs. Superman: The Smell of Fear, Superman’s response is, basically, “fuck ‘em.” It’s like Snyder read a story where Superman was huffing Red Kryptonite and decided that must be how Superman always acts. Supes finally feels remorse (as much as a character in a Zak Snyder movie can be said to “feel” anything) when Congress blows up, but by that point there’s just been too many scenes of Superman the Nihilist for it to seem like anything but an excuse for a dumb Costner cameo.

I’ve seen a few people criticize the movie for Batman’s plan to kill Superman, since Batman is famous for refusing to kill. I don’t really have a problem with it here. In the comics, Batman is the guy who has a plan (and the necessary resources on hand) to take out every member of the Justice League if it comes down to it, and most of them (especially Superman) know that and agree it’s necessary. In this movie, Superman is a danger from the start, so Batman wanting to kill him actually makes perfect sense. It’s a better story when Batman is taking Superman out because he knows it’s what Clark would want him to do, but it still works if Superman is just a dangerous alien who shows up and starts knocking down buildings.

Where were we? Has Congress blown up? Did imaginary Costner show up? Ok, great, we’re at the first half of the third act now, after only 127 Days of watching Batman V. Superman and The Deathly Hallows Part 1. Alright, so Superman is away being sad and Batman wants to kill him, so Batman turns on the Bat Signal and stands on top of a building. This seems to be the entirety of Bruce’s plan, which seems like some weak shit for Batman, but luckily the guy Snyder keeps insisting is Lex Luthor is on the job. He tosses Lois off a building, Supes arrives, and “Lex” tells him to fight Batman or he’ll kill Martha Kent, who Bono is holding in an undisclosed location.

They fight, but right before Batman kills Superman, Superman says something about Lex planning to kill Martha, to which Batman responds, “Hey, your mom’s name is Martha? My mom’s name was Martha! We should be pals!” So they become pals and Batman goes to save Martha while Superman goes to see what’s going on at Zod’s spaceship. I just realized I forgot to mention that “Lex” used Zod’s spaceship and Zod’s body and his own blood to make Doomsday. That happened sometime during week 3 of Batman V. Superman: The Secret of the Ooze. Also, Lois throws Batman’s Kryptonite spear to the bottom of the water in a flooded building. This will an important plot contrivance later.

Once Ma Kent is safe form Bono, we get to the second big final battle, where Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman team up against Doomsday, who’s played by the Cave Troll from Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings movies, but with more Toxic Avengery skin. Anyway, they fight for a while and Superman flies Doomsday up into space and the government nukes them. Doomsday’s good and falls back to earth to fight Bats and Wonder Woman some more, but Superman looks all gaunt and dead and just hangs there in space for a while. Eventually he comes back to life (almost like Jesus!) and goes back down to fight. Somewhere in there Lois remembers the Kryptonite spear and dives into the water to get it, and everyone braces themselves for the possibility of a really dumb Aquaman cameo. More battle happens, then Lois starts to drown and Superman has to go save her again. Once that’s over with, instead of saying something like “Hey Lois, why don’t you give that spear to one of the super-heroes who isn’t adversely affected by Kryptonite,” Superman takes the spear and stabs Doomsday, but since the Kryptonite has weakened him Doomsday manages to stab him to death.

With Superman dead and probably never coming back (at least if you ignore the fact that at least 30% of Superman’s screen time in the first two movies is Christ imagery), they bury him, there are about 37 more endings that aren’t particularly necessary or interesting in any way, and Zak Snyder’s reign of terror ends and you can try to remember what your life was like long ago before you started watching Batman V. Superman: Attack of the Clones.

So that gets us through the plot. What? Did you think the review was over? Oh no, my friend. We’ve still got some ground to cover. Don’t worry, though. This review would have to be a million words to seem anywhere near as long as Batman V. Superman: The Quickening.

Recently I wrote up a scenario based on shitty 90s Image comics for a game I’m working on. It might be a parody, but much like Jack Chick comics, the distinction between parody and faithful treatment is really thin due to the dumbness of the source material. In any case, the scenario included the following advice:

“Style is everything and action-packed badassery should be the top priority in every story. Substance is for wussies and Englishmen . . .The veneer of character depth is all that’s really important. Things like self-examination and emotional catharsis just waste time that could be spent kicking ass.”

I think it nicely sums up this movie, and Zak Snyder movies in general. Zak Snyder tells stories kind of like a parrot speaks English: through mimicry. He can reproduce things he’s seen other people do in stories, but he doesn’t really seem to understand what it means. There’s no sense of connection between the characters or emotional depth. All the characters seem dead inside and their actions don’t seem like they’re driven by anything real. Superman doesn’t save Lois because he loves her, he saves her because according to the script, she’s his girlfriend. Part of the problem is that when it comes to things like emotions and relationships and motivations, Snyder doesn’t show us, he tells us. The Lois and Clark relationship is a good example: in the first scene where we see them alone together, she’s taking a bath when he walks in with groceries, and lots of questions go through the viewer’s mind: Do they live together? Are they dating? Does she know he’s Superman? (did she find out in the first movie?) Am I about to see Amy Adams’ boobs? Eventually you work out that apparently the entire early part of their relationship happened off-screen between the movies, but you work it out from context, not from any chemistry or sense of connection between the characters.

I think Snyder’s method storytelling through mimicry is also the reason I’m less impressed with his action scenes than most people. The one thing I’ll give him is that he’s great at doing the cinematic equivalent of splash pages in comics (or, more often, recreating iconic splash pages directly from comics). The problem is the stuff in between. Often, it’s not clear what’s going on in between the cool images and the lack of context, combined with the lack of emotional impact or investment from the audience, make the cool visuals meaningless and dull. I really realized this when I saw Suckerpunch and realized that I was watching a woman in a schoolgirl outfit fight clockwork Nazi zombies and I was bored. The two action scenes that worked–the first half of the Batman vs. Superman fight before it got stupid and boring and the fight between Batman and Bono’s thugs when he was saving Martha Kent–only worked because they were so reminiscent of iconic scenes from other stories where Batman and Superman are actual characters–The Dark Knight Returns for the first, lots of different stories where Batman fights bad guys in a warehouse for the second–that they resonate independent of context. It’s like someone slipped two tiny scenes from good stories into Batman Vs. Superman: Breaking Dawn.

With one notable exception (which I’ll get to in a minute), it’s hard to really criticize the acting since the actors had so little to work with. What’s-his-name is the same bland but not bad not-really-Superman he was in the first movie. Affleck could probably be a great Batman and a better Bruce Wayne in a movie with room for actual characters. Jeremy Irons was pretty good as Alfred. Gal Godot didn’t get much screen time, and Wonder Woman got even less, but she looked like a total badass fighting Doomsday and I’m even more on board for the Wonder Woman movie now than I was before. The glimpse of Wonder Woman in action is probably Batman Vs. Superman: The Scorch Trials’ only meaningful contribution to the DC cinematic universe.

I guess now we should talk about Lex. We all knew that Jesse Eisenberg was a terrible choice to play Lex Luthor, but we didn’t know the half of it. There are a lot of different versions of Lex Luthor Eisenberg could have used for inspiration: Gene Hackman, Michael Rosenbaum, Kevin Spacey, a whole bunch of comic and animated versions, even Alfred Molina from Robot Chicken. Eisenberg passed on all of these and decided to play Lex Luthor as Rowdy Roddy Piper. I’ll give him credit for making a bold choice, but Zak Snyder movies are not the place for bold choices, and this one was probably a bad idea anyway. Every single Luthor scene made me wish I could reach into the screen and strangle Eisenberg. To his credit, at least he made me feel something, which is better than I can say for any other part of the movie.

If I had to sum up Batman Vs. Superman: The Masquerade up in a single word, it would be “tedious.”

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