Right here is what I call an “expectations movie,” meaning, your enjoyment of the movie will be directly correlated to your expectations for the movie. If you’re expecting The Dark Knight, or even Batman 1989, you’re probably going to be very disappointed by this excessively grim, nearly humorless and overstuffed picture. If, however, you’re like me and went into the theatre expecting a film that lives up to the movie’s current %30 rating on Rotten Tomatoes, you just might be pleasantly surprised by the expertly staged action, good performances, and moody atmosphere. So while I only got a %50 positive movie experience out of Batman v Superman, that was a %20 net gain on my expectations.
Not the most glowing recommendation, I know, but I enjoyed this movie for what it was, flaws and all. Put another way, when I shut my brain off and just got swept along for the ride, I found myself enjoying the film and I definitely wasn’t bored. On the other hand, in the four days it’s been since I saw the movie, it doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny and more and more problems seem to come up the more I think about it.
Some things I liked about the movie include the performances from most of the cast. The character actors fare the best, with great seasoned actors like Jeremy Irons as Alfred the Butler, Laurence Fishburne and Amy Adams giving solid and convincing performances in their supporting roles. Ben Affleck gives his all in an unfortunately underwritten role, delivering mediocre dialogue convincingly and he looks the part both in the suit and out. Affleck definitely has the best Bat jawline I’ve seen in a film yet. Henry Cavill is much the same, doing the best he can with a Superman that is far too dark and moody. While I liked Man of Steel, this film unfortunately doubles down on the dour that threatened to derail that film, instead of lightening up just a little bit. Superman is at his best with a side of optimism, and there’s barely any to be found here.
The Batman portions of the film are exciting, well shot, and action packed. It makes me wish that they had simply made an establishing Batman film before coming out with this one. I believe that there is a good to great Batman movie inside director Zack Snyder, and his moody and grim touch suits the Dark Knight better than it does a superhero crossover movie or a Superman film.
The only actor in the film that seems to realize how silly this whole endeavor is is Jesse Eisenberg, who chews through his scenes with a side of chips and salsa. His performance as Lex Luthor is way over the top and full of energy, not unlike Jim Carrey’s performance as the Riddler in Batman Forever. What little humor is in the movie flows mostly through Eisenberg, and he’s up to the task.
I think a big problem with this movie is the studio’s desire to have their cake and eat it too. Nothing in this film is earned and everything feels rushed, which is weird for a two and a half hour superhero epic. Wonder Woman just kind of shows up, and despite a very good performance from Gal Gadot in the role, she’s given little to do and no reasonable motivation. The sub-climactic battle between the two titans is certainly fun to watch and exciting, but the motivations and resolution of their battle are both absolutely ridiculous.
While the trailers suggest that this film is heavily inspired by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns comic from the 1980s and it is, the film veers heavily to another famous line of comic books in the last half hour, which is entirely rushed and unearned as well.
There’s also some pretty insulting setups for the upcoming Justice League films that grind the movie to a halt and add less than nothing to the plot that is unfolding. There is literally a scene during the climax of the movie that boils down to mini-trailers for upcoming Justice League films. It’s pointless and makes this film feel like a commercial for upcoming movies instead of a standalone film.
Zack Snyder is an excellent visual artist, and even if you hate his movies, you have to admit that they’re always beautiful to look at. In his best films like Dawn of the Dead and Watchmen, his eye for style turned good movies into great ones. Even his flawed films like Sucker Punch and 300 were not total write offs because of how gorgeous everything looked. This film is no exception, although I think a lot of the look of the film was misguided. Obviously they were going for a dark and moody atmosphere, but it becomes overwhelming as the film goes on. This is a movie about Batman fighting Superman, it doesn’t need to look like Saving Private Ryan 85 percent of the time. Even Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight had brightly lit daytime scenes and clashing of the Joker’s purple suit, adding some visual levity to a film that did a far better job of earning it’s moodiness and grim tone. Heck, even Man of Steel was brighter and had more color than this. On the plus side, I really liked the visual design of Batman’s suits. The armored suit during the climactic battle was especially great.
It’s unfortunate as well that the movie is blatantly obvious in its attempts to address the flaws in the previous Man of Steel, but they inadvertently end up doubling down on that film’s flaws. Big complaints about Man of Steel was that Superman murders someone, doesn’t bother saving people and causes massive destruction and property damage. So of course, by the fourth of fifth time that the audience is being reassured through dialogue and in-film news reports that the places where these titans are fighting aren’t populated, you just want to roll your eyes. Oh, and the film basically opens with intense 9/11 style imagery, so if it bothered you the last time, expect more of the same here too.
*** VERY MINOR SPOILERS HERE ***
My biggest problem with the film though, is that it really doesn’t even understand the heroes that its depicting. Superman needs a sense of optimism and levity to make the character work. There’s good story to be mined from a tormented Superman who has trouble consolidating his need to do what he feels is right with the realities of the modern world, but frankly, he’s just an unlikeable jerk here. In Man of Steel, Cavill was charming and played his tortured Superman with just enough Christopher Reeve silliness and charm to make the portrayal work. I don’t think Cavill smiles once in this movie. Affleck’s portrayal of Batman fares a lot better, but I couldn’t get over the fact that Batman straight up MURDERS people in this movie. Repeatedly. This is Batman 101. Batman never kills people, at least not directly. Even the Frank Miller comic that inspired most of this film knew this and gave him rubber bullets to work with. Here, Batman incinerates henchmen during an otherwise expertly staged car chase (and the Batmobile here looks awesome) and even guns people down during a dream sequence. Tim Burton fucked this up in his first two Batman movies too, so I can’t hold it too much against the movie, lest I reevaluate my love for those Burton flicks too.
Speaking of dream sequences, they are EVERYWHERE in this movie. These sequences look great and provide some necessary action beats, but good god, what a lazy way to move the plot forward and even more egregiously, setup more Justice League crap that no one asked for from this movie. One gives us a horror movie like sequence where Bruce Wayne is attacked by some Bat monster thing, and another has Superman incinerating chained up hostages in a dungeon. The ending of the movie also seems to believe that it’s being poignant and hard hitting, but simply doesn’t stick the landing. Take it easy Zack Snyder! It’s possible to be dark and moody without turning the movie into a Saw flick. I fear that the announced R-Rated director’s cut on the Blu-Ray will compound this problem, but I’ll reserve judgment until I see it.
*** END OF MINOR SPOILERS ***
Finally, my next biggest complaint with the movie is that it’s truly destined to be please no one. Filmgoers without an active knowledge of the DC universe and the comic book storylines that inspired the film will be lost and wondering what the point of a ton of the scenes in the movie are. The movie presumes that you’re a comic book lover and introduces plot points and devices that will be simply baffling without that knowledge going in. On the other side of the coin, comic purists will be seething at the departures from these storylines and its disregard for the original source material.
Phew, if you made it this far, you’re probably thinking I hated the movie, and despite all of its flaws, I didn’t. It’s doubtful that this film will ever find a place in my regular rotation of superhero films, but it’s not a complete waste. In the end, these flaws and problems with this movie are not even worth thinking too much about. It’s a strangely harmless and silly movie that happens to take itself way too seriously without properly understanding the heroes it’s depicting. There’s a cynicism at work and a rush to ape the success that Marvel has had with its own comic book to film universe, and if Snyder stays at the helm, I have to wonder how much interest I’ll retain. The Marvel universe works so well because they get different directors with different tendencies to fit different tones appropriate to the heroes being depicted. But, if you’re looking for a way to fill some time with some action packed escapism, great special effects, good performances, and Batman fighting Superman, then you could do worse. Don’t believe me? Watch Superman IV or Batman and Robin and tell me otherwise. Furthermore, when your biggest competition is Alien vs. Predator and Freddy vs. Jason, it’s an easy case to make that this is the best crossover versus film ever made. It’s a low bar to clear for sure, but at least it’s something. It’s also worth seeing on a large screen in a darkened theatre. I believe the flaws will be more, not less, prevalent in a home screening Here’s hoping that the upcoming Suicide Squad movie (which looks far better) rights some of the wrongs from this flick.
Oh, and bonus points for one more thing. The movie definitely picks a winner in this clash of the titans and leaves no doubt as to who wins the battle. I appreciated that.
Yeah Ben, I’m bummed too.
Overall, I give Batman v Superman two and a half shoulder shrugs out of five.