Every year, there is a film that polarizes moviegoers and drives a wedge between film critics and audiences. Often, what audiences want to see can get in the way of what is actually going on in a film, and the experience of seeing characters we like is more important than the context or significance of their actions. By all accounts, I wanted to be swept up in the allure of seeing Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman come together and begin the formation of the DC Cinematic Universe. But this is something that has to be earned by the filmmakers, and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice too often tries to take the easy way out, and ends up falling far from what it promises.
Beginning after what is now the fourth time we have seen Batman’s parents die on film (I counted), the story begins 18 months after the events of Man of Steel. With Superman having still not answered for the destruction of Metropolis, the world asks the question of what to do in a world with superman. But after witnessing the destruction the Man of Steel is capable of, an older, darker Bruce Wayne looks to find Superman’s weakness and take him out before humanity comes under his crosshairs again. Meanwhile Lex Luthor tries to frame and kill superman, Wonder Woman shows up, and details are thrown at the audience about the other films in DC’s future. Tie everything together with a final boss fight with Superman villain Doomsday, and there’s certainly no lack of things going on throughout the films 2 ½ hour running time.
Before I get into the many problems this film has, I want to acknowledge the one thing that is legitimately great, and that’s Ben Affleck’s portrayal of the dark knight. This is one of the best versions of both batman and Bruce Wayne that we’ve seen on film, a brutal and bitter man that’s lost all sense of sympathy and compassion from his 20-year crusade to protect Gotham. As Bruce Wayne, Affleck effortlessly acts circles around his co-stars, managing to remain charming in scenes where he is called to act like an unlikable douchebag. When the Cowl is on, his batman is fluid and lethal, moving and fighting more closely to the characters comic iterations, when compared to previous Batmen on film. While many will have issues with this new Batman’s tendency to outright kill bad guys, Affleck manages to breath life and character every time he is on screen.
The same cannot be said for the rest of the cast, however. Henry Cavil’s portrayal of Superman is no different as his Clark Kent, with both coming off wooden and emotionless. Often tasked with some of the films heaviest scenes, Cavil often appears uninterested or just lacking in direction for what to do or feel. Much has been made about Gal Gadot and the first film incarnation of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, but she isn’t given anything to do. Most of the time, Diana just wanders around scenes wearing dresses that show off her figure, and teasing her involvement in an upcoming Wonder Woman movie. While she has a few fun moments in the final fight, her character feels like it could be removed altogether with no major impact on the film.
Speaking of removing things, among the biggest problems in Batman v Superman is the abundance of useless scenes. In total, almost an hour plus of the film’s running time is set aside for dream sequences and set ups for future films. At many points, the film simply stops to remind the audience of the impending franchise that will spawn off of Batman V Superman, or dreams that simply happen and are never explained. At one point, Batman has a dream that seems to be hinting at a possible villain for the upcoming Justice League film, but is then dropped and never addressed again. For those wondering what role DC characters like Flash, Aquaman or Cyborg play in the film, the short answer is that they don’t, and the long answer is that the movie stops right in the third act to essentially show teaser trailers for each character and their upcoming solo films. If you’re not well versed in comic book lore already, the inclusion of these scenes borders on egregious, and serves only to further confuse audiences and pull them out of the movie.
But even if that hour was removed from the film, Batman V Superman still falls short in almost every area. Constant ideas are set up that would make for fantastic sequels to Man of Steel, with one character asking early on “do we need a Superman?” only for the film to offer up no answer by the end and simply drop these points in favor of more franchise building. Superman, Lois and all returning characters aren’t given any new insight or development, with most remaining the exact same at the end of the film as they were in the beginning. The new cast members, excluding Affleck, are all given paper-thin roles in order to move the plot along quickly to the next dream sequence or bit of action. The script’s lack of exciting dialogue, combined with wooden acting during several key scenes, causes a real lack of connection with the events occurring on screen, leaving the film feeling hollow and disinterested overall.
Most baffling is the conflict between Batman and Superman, or more specifically how little there really is. Despite being titled Batman V Superman, the two characters only share a few scenes with one another, and only one actual fight. The film’s focus on prioritizing Batman causes the audience to feel obligated to take his side, leaving superman gone for large portions of the film and given no real motivation to be a hero, outside of wanting to protect his girlfriend. It’s clear director Zack Snyder has no interest in Superman as a person, but just as a guy that punches things a lot, and reminds us how clearly wrong to direct this material he is. When the fight between the two heroes finally comes, the film has already chosen the side of batman, turning what should be an engaging brawl between two titans into a 5-minute montage of Batman beating up Superman with relatively little trouble.
Further harming the film is a lack of motivation from ANY character. Jesse Isenberg’s Lex Luthor gives a different motivation for being a villain in each scene, ranging from hating superman, god, and his father, but never settles on just what exactly he wants. Superman spends so much time wondering if he should be a hero, but the question is never answered. The conflict between Batman and Superman is so lacking that the film eventually manufactures a new reason they have to fight, despite the fact that a one-minute conversation could have prevented the need to punch each other at all. And in the prime example for how hollow this films conflict truly is, Batman decides not to kill Superman and joins forces with him….because both of their moms were named Martha.
Many have come out in defense of this films action, arguing that even if the film is lacking, its set pieces are worth the price of admission on its own. And while a single fight towards the end between batman and a room full of henchmen is honestly spectacular, this single positive doesn’t make up for the sheer lack of action in the film. Despite an almost 3 hour run time, 4 actual fights happen, often ending abruptly or lacking context or motivation. To make up for this, Zack Snyder goes completely crazy in the finale, as a fight between Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman against Doomsday borders on sensory overload. The final 10 minutes are full of so much bad CGI, Explosions, screams and flashing lights, aided by an obnoxiously loud soundtrack, that any action that might seem cool becomes completely incoherent, and ends up bringing the awe of our favorite super heroes fighting down with an unceremonious thud.
In many ways, I haven’t scratched the surface on all the things that are wrong with Batman V Superman. As a sequel to Man of Steel, it continues none of the ideas and themes from its predecessor, and throws away any potential we saw in Henry Cavil’s portrayal of Superman. As a film in which to build off from and create a franchise, the amount of set ups for future films (at least 7 that we know of) borders on overkill, harming any potential enthusiasm for future films in the process. And even on its own merits, the lack of character development, weak acting, and constantly over-dark tone prevents the film from even being so bad that you can laugh at its expense. I have never walked out of a film more tired, disappointed and beaten down, both as a lover of film, Comic book fan, and casual moviegoer. Batman V Superman, removing all exaggeration, hyperbole and metaphors, is just an awful movie you don’t need to see.
Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 3 Better Movies Out You Should See instead Out of 10