Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Starring Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Gal Gadot, Holly Hunter
Director of Photography: Larry Fong
Music by Junkie XL, Hans Zimmer
Edited by David Brenner
Written by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer
Directed by Zack Snyder
Rating: 2,5 out of 10
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has an appropriately silly title for a movie that is so bad, it could easily work as an unintentional comedy or a drinking game or a thesis on how not to make a comic book movie. It is that bad, one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a cinema in a long time. Granted, I expected not to like it but had to see it anyway, mainly because its predecessor Man of Steel was one of the kickstarters for this blog. I’m not sure BvS:DoJ can solicit as deep an analysis as Man of Steel did, but there is plenty to discuss anyway. But let me stress one more time: this movie is really, really bad, worse than Man of Steel, incompetently bad and a really bad sign for DC’s attempt at creating a movie universe. And I say that as a confessing comic book and superhero fan. This movie is stupid, incoherent, annoying, laughable and boring. I’ll keep my bets on Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse even more than before.
Let’s first get to some film review basics: Zack Snyder’s direction is as chaotic as always, full of meaningless slow motion shots, often incomprehensible action sequences and an inherent misconception of tone and character. The acting is all over the map: Henry Cavill looks really unhappy for most of the movie, Ben Affleck is serviceable, Amy Adams is just tragic, Jesse Eisenberg is unbelievable as Lex Luthor, one of the worst character jobs ever conceived. In a way, all of the actors are completely wasted because there is nothing for them to do with this material. The script has dialogue that will make you cringe and roll your eyes alternately while its plot is mostly a mystery, full of endless hints at a franchise that doesn’t exist yet (and which must be baffling to anyone who has no background knowledge) and often seeming to miss entire subplots that everyone keeps referring to. The music is one of the worst scores I have ever heard, trying to pummel you into submission. At one point it sounds as if Hans Zimmer himself (whose music I generally like) forgot to add the music and left in his description of what it should sound like, shouting “Da! Da! Da! Da! Bam! Bam! Bam!”. The effects are fine but there is too much CGI, especially for Batman. This is not a good movie.
One of Man of Steel’s major issues was its enormous human casualties that the movie didn’t seem to care about. Director Zack Snyder repeatedly said that we just have to wait for the sequel to see the consequences. That logic always escaped me because Man of Steel in itself still is that detached mass murderer, but seeing BvS:DoJ really helps to show that Snyder has no idea what he is talking about. There is that long opening scene of Bruce Wayne witnessing the destruction of Metropolis first-hand, supposedly giving us the civilian perspective of the destruction by the semi-gods Superman and Zod. This does not work even a little bit, mainly because the movie is too concerned with watching Bruce Wayne instead of focusing on the real victims. Snyder’s idea to heavily evoke 9/11 here makes it all worse because it is so obvious (he makes look more like 9/11 than World Trade Center) and completely inappropriate. You cannot equal the consequences of superheroes fighting (which is an intriguing idea) with a horrifying terrorist attack. And most of the sequence still works as a disaster porn, with buildings crashing and people screaming which is supposed to excite us.
The movie throughout then pretends to deal with the consequences and how Superman is perceived by the world but this attempt is so half-assed and thoughtless, it doesn’t work in any way. We never understand what Superman’s status is now in the world. We see him save some people here and there and there is that embarrassing scene where Mexicans fall to their knees around him (those stupid Mexicans are so easy to manipulate in their faith – an idea that fits into the movie’s ideas about race) or him coming down from the sky like, well, a god. He has an enormous statue in Metropolis for some reason and there is the one guy who hates him because his legs were cut off in the initial attack but he is only there for Lex Luthor and the plot. What the movie basically does is to say “Superman is like a god, you know, which is really interesting if you think about what that means for him, how he can be kept in check and whose authority he has to follow. Really, really interesting to hint at those things but we didn’t really want to deal with it, so there you go. It’s really complicated anyway and we want to blow up more things instead!”
And so they do, as Superman and Batman fight and destroy buildings and factories again and again. The movie goes out of its way to say that there are no people around this time (in a way, admitting Man of Steel’s mistakes) but this doesn’t change its heroes’ recklessness. They don’t care if they destroy everything around them, they still don’t lure the bad monster away from the city (which is even discussed but explained by the MacGuffin of the Kryptonite spear). Batman doesn’t fare any better although he is supposed to be the one who keeps Superman in check, who really hates him for the collateral damage he caused. But how convincing can that be when he himself is portrayed as a torturer? The movie’s high concept falls flat on its face multiple times. During the first half the movie repeatedly deals with an attack on some African village (that’s how Africans live after all) that has never been properly established and therefore remains a mystery to the audience.
The problem is that we never really learn anything about the two protagonists. Superman is as empty as he was in the first movie. He has a relationship with Lois Lane that doesn’t seem to have any depth besides bringing her flowers to shut her up about his responsibility. Bruce Wayne doesn’t fare any better, having cryptic nightmares that we are not supposed to understand and in the beginning also being portrayed as a Jesus figure which tells us what exactly? This must be one of the lamest Batmans ever put on film. Both characters act like children who don’t know how to act in this world. Superman is still haunted by his overbearing father (who is still treated like a god) and listens to the completely pointless advice of his mother. Batman’s parents have been killed, in case you didn’t know that, so he has to mumble some nonsense about them too. Nothing adds up to anything, except for some wannabe philosophy lines that expose the movie’s lackluster ideology: “No one stays good in this world.” Why? You know, like, why? “People are good … we can change, we have to.” Okay, so it’s the same old “People are flawed, the world sucks, but let’s just change human nature and it’ll be fine.” Been there, discarded that. When the big tragic death happens, it couldn’t mean less because we have been given no reason to care about the character and we know, even before it happens, that it won’t last anyway. Does Snyder have the patience to leave the fate of the character in any kind of uncertainty? No, the last shot is symbolic for everything wrong about the movie.
Let me rant just for a little bit about Lex Luthor. His character is unexplained too, he is totally insane, really bonkers, and we never know why. He is a clown, not to be taken seriously in any second and Jesse Eisenberg goes all the way with that characterization. He supposedly has the same fear as Bruce Wayne, that some alien can control the earth with no one keeping him in check so his solution is to create a giant monster that destroys everything it sees and that no one can keep in check. I’ve seen the trailer many times but only here, when he says with great amazement “Clark Kent meets Bruce Wayne!” and does his thing, I wondered why he would care about Clark Kent who no one knows or cares about. To us it says “those two famous comic book characters finally meet” but in the reality of the movie this sentence has no real meaning. But this is the movie in a nutshell, tropes, clichés and big gestures and one thing more shallow than the other.
Let’s look at some more general issues. How about ethnicity? It seemed to me like the killer of Bruce Wayne’s parents was, I don’t know, not white for some reason. I could be wrong. I know that there were lots of “natives” “somewhere in the Indian Ocean” finding Kryptonian objects for white scientists because that is what they do. There is that scene in “Nairomi, Africa” that could make anyone scratch their heads as to what the fuck that is supposed to be? Since it is in Africa there is of course a warlord/terrorist who is quickly killed by some white people along with his crew. Later we see a black “African” woman detailing the story about her “village” (as mentioned above) just to show another black (female) victim. The only major non-white character is Perry White played by Laurence Fishburne but his role is as pointless as in the first movie. With seemingly major plot points cut out for this version (so they can sell the “Uncut R rated version”) it is a mystery how his storyline was kept in the movie. He shouts at Clark Kent and Lois Lane a little bit and holds up a newspaper in the end. Everyone else who does anything useful is white in this movie.
How do the women fare you ask? Don’t ask. Okay, because you asked. One of the first shots is Martha Wayne being threatened by a very phallic gun in a strangely pornographic/rapey way, holding the gun upwards, under her necklace up to her mouth. Not a good start. Batman’s first (and only, we have to say) adventure involves a dungeon full of enslaved women, an image we can’t see often enough to reinforce the idea that this is what women do in our world. Are they freed by female cops? Cops can be women? Sorry, wrong reality. Lex Luthor has an assistant named Mercy Graves who has no waistline to speak of, seems to be mute and does nothing actively in any way. Lois Lane acts like an unenthusiastic cheerleader to Superman with no reason given as why she would waste her professional and private life to this empty shell of a man. She is pretty good at being rescued by him, though. Or standing around. Or, let me detail her actions in the last part of the movie. After being rescued and left alone again, she stands around all by herself, takes the Kryptonite spear and throws it in a pool of water for no apparent reason except being stupid. Five minutes later she realizes that thing could be useful, so she dives into the water to get it, only to be trapped there, almost drowning until she is rescued yet again, so that Superman can get that stupid thing himself, hurting and eventually killing himself. Good job, Lois, thanks for your contribution to the misogynist cause. Finally, Martha Kent (did I mention that the whole conflict of the movie between its two superheroes is solved when Batman realizes their mothers have the same first name?) is kidnapped and Lex Luthor has some photographs for Clark Kent that seem to come straight from a torture porn movie, her eyes all bulged out, gagged and bound. Snyder stays on these photographs for a long time and then shows her in person too, just to enjoy her agony even more.
Okay, you say, what about Wonder Woman? Everyone says Wonder Woman is the best in this movie. This is true, although considering the low level this movie moves on, this doesn’t mean much. But yes, Wonder Woman is kind of cool. She avoids the romantic clichés I was afraid of (flirting with Bruce Wayne for example) and seems to fight really well. But, one, her role is as pointless as anything else in the movie and she is forgotten for long stretches of that final fight. When she uses her lasso for Doomsday, that is really cool, but no one bothers to explain that or show how important that move is. Two, there is at least one scene where she lies on the ground, her ineffective costume revealing a lot of skin (especially compared to Batman who has only a mouth left to see), and her legs are uncomfortably spread, leading to an almost crotch shot that made me cringe to no end. I couldn’t help imagining Zack Snyder congratulating himself for the ultimate nerd jerkoff moment.
This movie is not a good movie for female characters, despite those few Wonder Woman moments. Or for non-white characters. Or superhero fans. Or anyone. It’s a movie for Zack Snyder who for some reason will be able to go on ruining the potential for those movies. In my opinion, the Marvel are not only clearly better, but they at least use their chance a little bit (some more, some less) to convey some relevant messages in their billion-dollar franchises. Snyder doesn’t care about anything, so his movies are empty, loud, narcissist vessels with nothing to say besides emphasizing that white men-children, like himself, are the only ones that count in this world.