[BATMAN: “What’s the S stand for?” SUPERMAN: “It stand for fuck you, that’s what!”]
Let’s get one thing out of the way, BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF FRANCHISE is a terrible movie. and this is a huge bummer. Its script is a mess, both its screen talent and its characters’ legacies are wasted, and its action is shockingly boring. It may actually amount to the greatest disparity between potential and payoff that I’ve ever seen in a superhero film (and I’ve seen Fant4stic).
I was really holding out hope that, with the writer of Argo on board, Zack Snyder might accidentally stumble into a halfway thoughtful film this time. I should have trusted my instincts when I heard him say he knew he was ready to direct Justice League, since it’s basically the same as Watchmen. I’m honestly beginning to wonder if Snyder even reads the scripts to the films he’s shooting, because simple concepts like Motivation and Theme seem to escape him completely. At least he can keep falling back on paint-by-numbers “cool imagery” stolen from superior material.
Let’s use Batman as an example. There’s been an ongoing debate in the fan community over whether or not Batman kills. The truth is, it depends on the writer. I’ve seen everything from a Batman who’s practically terrified of holding a gun to Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, who is maybe a cat’s whisker from becoming The Punisher and straight up shooting his villains.
Zack Snyder’s Batman is not a killer. He’s a murderer.
About a third of the way through the film, The World’s Greatest Detective deduces that “[Superman] has the power to wipe out the entire human race, and if we believe that there is even a one percent chance that he is our enemy, we have to take it as an absolute certainty.” To be clear, at this point in the story, Batman knows pretty much what we know. Superman fought his kin, preventing a full scale alien invasion of Earth, and thousands of humans were killed in the process. There is also a convoluted and bafflingly weak subplot about Superman being framed for indiscriminately murdering members of an African village (with automatic weapons no less) while saving Lois Lane, but Batman never seems to have drawn any conclusions from it, and even if he did, it would be like the pot calling the kettle black.
Batman deciding to murder Superman at this point makes about as much sense as declaring war on all airline pilots after 9/11, because you suddenly realize that all planes can be used as weapons, and because pilots “didn’t do enough” to prevent the attacks.
This is just one of many examples of Zack Snyder learning all the wrong lessons from his divisive Man of Steel. Fans weren’t angry because there were casualties in the film, they were angry because Superman seemed more interested in punching Zod than he did in protecting lives. This is a direct result of Snyder valuing the “cool factor” of focusing on property destruction over the stakes of saving humanity.
Despite this discrepancy, I don’t think any moviegoer watched Man of Steel and thought “Y’know… this Superman fella really could use a good murdering,” Yet that’s what Batman, one of the most beloved superheros of all time, decides. Never mind the fact that, assuming he were to fail in successfully killing Superman, his attempt might raise the likelihood of Supes wanting to murder all mankind above that theoretical 1%.
At this point you’re probably thinking, “But why do we have to worry about these kinds of stakes? We know Batman comes to his senses and they team up. It’s in the trailer. Shit… it’s in the goddamn film title! We’re promised that it’s all going to become okay and they’ll team up to become the Justice League!”
[minor spoilers follow]
Unfortunately, Batman kills a shit-ton of innocent people during his planning phase for taking out Superman. About a third of the way into the movie, Bats attempts to steal some kryptonite from a convoy of LexCorp security. He uses a sniper rifle to tag the semi truck with the payload and… Stealthily boards the truck? Uses knockout gas to suppress the guards? Sneaks off with the goods without a trace?
No! He follows them in the Batmobile and rams or machine guns them all to death!
“Wait. What? You mean he kills people who were posing no threat to him, and were in fact just doing their legal, and not even directly morally questionable, jobs?”
“Damn! This Batman sucks. Snyder’s Man of Steel may be a brooding mope of a hero, but at least he must come off okay.”
Well that’s where things get even worse.
Yeah. Superman catches Batman in the act.
“And that’s why they fight?!?”
Nope. They fight for a much lamer reason. In this case Supes lets him off with a warning.
Yup. And then, utterly remorseless, Batman asks Superman if he bleeds.
“Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaattttt? So Batman’s a creepy megalomaniacal murderer and Superman lets him walk free?”
“That’s fucked up!”
Yup. And that’s just the most prominent example of character motivations making zero sense in this film.
So I’m already opposed to the film on a moral standpoint. These are not heroes to aspire to. Definitely not ones you want kids (or man-children) looking up to. I’m already irritated by the film’s incoherent story. But is the film at least fun?
A few times: yes. Most of the time: no. Batman v Superman is shockingly pretty boring.
I’m not even comparing its action to film from movies like Up or The Avengers, where the action and the character development come together in miraculous harmony to create not only a thrill of spectacle, but of camaraderie and hope. I’m comparing it to the most base, roller coaster ride, cotton candy action movies out there. John Wick. Transformers. Hell, Ant Man had better fights scenes, just for sheer “gee whiz” factor. His unexpected skirmish with The Falcon is more creative than the slap fight that Batman and Superman have.
About 2 hours into this slog, Batman finally fights a room of armed thugs in a scene that would make gamer fans of Arkham Asylum proud, but it’s too little too late, and the subsequent showdown with Doomsday doesn’t seem to know how juggle it’s JL members in satisfactory fashion, though Wonder Woman gets in a few satisfying hits.
Speaking of Wonder Woman, one of the only things that didn’t let me down about the film was her representation. Zack Snyder miraculously even refrained from sexualizing her with the camera. I mean… the film doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, and Wonder Woman feels less necessary to this film than Black Widow was to Iron Man 2, but at least I’m not dreading the Patty Jenkins helmed Wonder Woman now.
And that’s the funniest thing about Batman v Superman. It sets up what could be a really interesting DC Cinematic Universe, but it feels completely skippable. My most sincere recommendation is that you do. Don’t reward WB for this drivel. Let BvS bomb and get Zack Snyder fired! Hope for a better Justice League movie than the continuing garbage he would almost certainly give us. WB has the talent. Demand a better Wonder Woman film. A better Batman film. A better DC universe than the one we’ve just been served.