Let’s get this out of the way in case you haven’t seen the film: IT. IS. NOT. GOOD. We’re also going to talk about spoilers after the jump because I don’t respect this film enough to wait any longer to do so. All on the same page? Excellent, here’s the nutshell review. Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is an incoherent series of what should be cool events were they bound together by any narrative whatsoever.
It’s poorly directed, bafflingly edited, disappointingly scored (thanks, Hans Zimmer, for phoning in your HALF of the score, you being so busy polishing the masterpiece that was your work in Kung Fu Panda 3) and marred by a performance so bad that it should end that Oscar-nominated actor’s career (looking at you, Eisenberg). However, it is NOT Batman & Robin, Elektra or Fantastic Four. This is not one of the worst movies in the history of cinema. It only feels like it because buried in all of this is something that should have given fans a film for the ages. It’s the dichotomy between what should have been and what ended up (sorta) happening that makes this so bad. Spoiler-free portion over, kiddies, jump out of the boat or continue down the chocolate river!
I just spent a solid ten minutes staring at this white space trying to think of even where to start. It’s like when you eventually get around to cleaning your garage and you know it’ll take all day if you do every little thing, and wouldn’t be easier to just move? This movie is so odd. To start with, it’s a bad stepping stone to building a bigger DCU film universe. To have to wait three years after Man of Steel for installment #2 (the MCU had installment #2 out three months later), and then to have it be this mishmash, when you could have spent that time building the characters is ludicrous. DC’s statement is that they could not care less about character development and nuance. They want ‘splosions, sound so loud that your chest is rippling under sonic bombardment and people punching people and/or things. Having just finished watched Daredevil Season 2, which contains one of the best fight scenes I’ve ever witnessed and is jam-packed full of character development and plot, Batman vs. Superman is like my two-year-old nephew playing in a sandbox just shouting BOOM!!! That’s how much detail and attention was paid to the script.
The film plays like a series of vignettes, but they don’t have a binding narrative spine. It’s like they took Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Dan Jurgens’ The Death of Superman and shuffled cards and handed out script pages. Take the very opening of the film as a perfect example of how frustrating this movie is. You get the WE HAVE SEEN IT TEN THOUSAND TIMES killing of Bruce and Martha Wayne and their funeral, and Bruce falling into the Batcave and pretty much Batman Begins….until the bats LIFT HIM IN TO THE LIGHT AND OUT OF THE CAVE? I’m sorry, but what the what? Then we jump to a fantastic scene, maybe the best in the entire film, which is Bruce Wayne in Metropolis during the battle between Superman and Zod in Man of Steel. One of the buildings destroyed during Superman and Zod’s paving of Metropolis was that city’s branch of Wayne Enterprises and Bruce watches as his building containing his employees and friends falls to ashes while aliens use the city like a playground. THAT is motive. It’s a powerful scene, and it would have been an incredible impetus for Batman’s hatred of Superman, except then we jump two years forward.
All of the Congressional hearings, and outrage and kerfuffle in the trailers, isn’t over the collateral damage from the Battle of Metropolis. Everyone (except Bruce, Bruce is still brooding on that) seems to embraced Superman as a god-like hero until he saves Lois during an incident in North Africa. This is a key plot point of the film, and it lasts no more than two minutes. Everything that follows is a domino effect from this: the public distrust, the hearings, the protests, the chaos that allows Lex Luthor to use the US government, stems from Superman seemingly pancaking a dictator through six or seven houses to save Lois Lane. Did he kill the guy? No one flat-out says so but if you pancake me through a subdivision, I doubt I’m coming back fat, sassy and happy. Oh, and another unforgivable thing Zach Snyder does in this scene is that he freaking kills Jimmy Olsen on a lark. He’s literally said he had no use for the character so he though it would be fun to include him. Include him as Lois’ photographer who is actually CIA, found out by the bad guys and executed causing the aforementioned pancaking of the dictator. Hey here’s Jimmy Olsen. Bang, he’s dead. That’s his inclusion in the DCCU. A clear version of what the actual incident was is apparently part of the 30 minutes that was cut from the film to get a PG-13 rating. Maybe all the connective tissue for the narrative is in the R-Rated version. That would be nice to hope for, but futile to attempt.
Superman in this film is just lost. He loves Lois. He loves his mom. He tries to save people, but the likability that Henry Cavill exuded in the role in Man of Steel is gone. He seems in a kind of malaise of purpose. If you have a Batman/Superman movie and Superman is going to be dark and broody, then get ready for some serious “standing in the rain under a lamp post” level or broodiness. There is nothing wrong with Cavill’s performance, nor should WB “Routh” him if the second week box office tanks. The acting (with the exception we’ll get to) is not the problem in this film.
Batman and Alfred are the best parts of the film. Affleck plays Batman well, and if he doesn’t have a lot to work with, he makes the most of it. I think he certainly delivers the best work of anyone in the film. This is a different Batman than we’ve ever seen before. He’s 43. He’s been doing this 20 years (which also kind of begs the question why does Superman develop a problem with him NOW?). He’s lost Robin to the Joker (what Robin and how is apparently the plan for the Batman solo film). He’s tired, but what happened in Metropolis has infused him with a cruel rage. He obsesses over preparing for the possibility of having to take down Superman, and I will say this, we’ve never seen a Batman move like this onscreen. This is the closest to complete freedom of movement any actor has had in a Batsuit and watching him take down 12 bad guys at a time is pretty awesome.
There’s been a lot of controversy over Batman and guns. Batman uses projectile weapons all the time. That’s not a big deal. What’s sparking controversy is a dream/hallucination/vision/message from Barry Alllen from the future? (we’re never told) of a dystopian world where Batman is fighting desert warfare against soldiers wearing Superman’s crest, whom he does kill with guns all overlooking a vista painted with Darkseid’s Omega Symbol and Parademons black out the sky. I guess this is DC’s way of saying “Hey, we’ve got a Thanos too, his name is Darkseid and it’s gonna take a Justice League to stop him!” Except I’ve read comics literally 30 years and I barely got that from that scene or Luthor’s claim that he’s rung the bell and alerted Darkseid’s forces (WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN?). So, how anyone just fresh to the DCU is going to figure that out is absolutely beyond me. I think Affleck in the role is good. I think he must have been going nuts as an Oscar-winning director trying not to choke out Zach Snynder helm this cluster(naughty word). To see the interviews with him where he looks utterly deflated by the response to the films(Affleck is a lifelong comic book fan and it wasn’t his fault Daredevil sucked either, so this has to be tough). I want him in a film where he has the control over everything. That’s a Batman film I want to see. As it is, Batman gets some cool moments, but generally is a giant ball of rage walking around in either a tux or a Batsuit in this movie.
Gal Gadot is fine as Wonder Woman. She doesn’t have much screen time, but what she does have is good and sets up her now-filming solo film well. For all the talk of all the cameos that we were afraid were going to derail the film, they boil down to glorified MPEG files we watch as the characters watch. So you do see Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman, but it may as well have been a deleted scene.
So let’s talk about what took this film from badly written and directed to BAD. That would be Jesse Eisenberg’s inexplicably horrific performance as Lex Luthor. I don’t like Luthor as a villain. I don’t think he’s ever been done right in any medium; the closest being Clancy Brown in the Superman Animated Series. Kevin Spacey got closer than Gene Hackman did, playing the character like a buffoon. Jesse Eisenberg is to this film what Jar Jar Binks is to Star Wars. He’s unwatchable. His Luthor seems to be channeling the late Robin Williams, manically babbling and dancing about, talking like he’s playing the Riddler on LSD. I know Eisenberg can act. I’ve seen The Social Network and The End of the Tour. They should take his SAG card for this. He has LOCKED down the Razzie for Worst Performance by an Actor in 2016.
In the end, despite the attempts to marry two of DC’s most legendary stories, they really end up with the most basic comic book story that exists. Two heroes have a misunderstanding, they fight, they resolve their problems, look! yon villain awaits! Let us pound him now together as friends. That’s your big final showdown as Luthor turns the corpse of General Zod into Doomsday (which was about as good as Bane was in Batman & Robin) and the DC Trinity fight him to Superman’s death (cause that’s gonna stick).
There are good things in the film. I have taken nearly 2000 words tearing it a commemorative series of new orifices in the movie so I would be remiss not to compliment what does work. With the exception of Eisenberg, everyone is well cast and does the best that could be done with what they were given. Amy Adams has a whole scene where she’s in a bathtub, so thank you for that, sincerely. It all looks great. The f/x are stellar and should be for the amount that was paid for them. Like I said before, this is an archipelago of vignettes that doesn’t connect as a whole, but some of those vignettes are pretty cool. It doesn’t save the film or justify in any way Snyder’s direction, but this is not henchmen on hockey skates from Batman & Robin bad.
The thing is, it is still bad. I don’t want to see it again, though I do want to see the 30 minutes added back in that may connect things more coherently (plus there may be more Amy Adams baths, which would be a great special feature). I know this opened huge. We all knew it was critic proof on the first weekend. I have not talked to a single person who has seen the film who has liked it. I will be EXTREMELY interested in what the second week’s box office is going up against March Madness and The Final Four as stay-home alternatives.
Going forward, the DCCU…..I don’t know. I know, I’m done with Zach Snyder and he needs to be taken the heck off of Justice League IMMEDIATELY. Snyder’s replacement with a competent director (wouldn’t it be great if Affleck just seized the reigns?) is critical to this not happening over and over. Suicide Squad is DCCU #3 and looks way more promising than the first two installments. I don’t know if Gal Gadot is good enough to carry a film for #4 which is Wonder Woman’s solo film. I do know that they’re not ready for Justice League. Not unless they want to turn another fanboy dream (what if Batman fought Superman in a film!!!) into a nightmare. Compared to how bad other films can be, this isn’t without cool moments, but moments weren’t what we were looking for here. We were looking for a definitive film experience and what we got was a frenetic, disjointed, incomprehensible narrative punctuated by one of the worst performances by a high-caliber actor in a big film I’ve ever seen.
4.0/10 (Bathtub scene easily accounts for 25% of the score.)