Reel Talk

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Hates Heroism

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Well, the time has come. The long-brewing and much maligned second film in the new DC Cinematic Universe has escaped captivity and brought itself before an unsuspecting public. I’m not going to lie people, I was not looking forward to this movie. Man of Steel was the worst superhero movie I’ve ever seen. That sounds like hyperbole, with movies like Green Lantern and Ghost Rider out there, but while those may be worse films, Man of Steel was the worst representation of a superhero, and honestly the concept of heroism, that I’ve ever seen. So needless to say, this movie wasn’t really that anticipated by me. And really with every bit of news we heard about it, it seemed to become more and more of a potential trainwreck. Just about every bad call they could make, they did. But, and I want to make this clear right at the top, I was still hopeful. Yes, I’m much more of a Marvel guy than a DC one. Always have been. It’s just my preference. But unlike some people, who seem to think the Big Two superhero companies are like political parties where you have to absolutely be in one camp and forsake the other, I don’t have any issue with DC. I actually like DC a lot. Batman is one of my favorite superheroes, Lex Luthor is one of my favorite villains, and characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Flash have really been growing on me in recent years. So, even though I hated Man of Steel, I don’t want to root for this movie series to fail. I want a great Justice League movie. I want great superhero movies in general. I love the characters, and my world would be that much richer if I could go enjoy a good Avengers movie, and a good Justice League one. That would be amazing. But sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the world we live in yet, because while Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is certainly an improvement on Man of Steel, it’s more like the difference between an F- and an F. Technically better, but still failing pretty hard. So! Let’s dig into this mess and try to find the cause of death.

I’ll get the plot out of the way first, and then try to perform a proper autopsy on this movie, getting more to the heart of the matter. The film starts off with what was probably the strongest part of the film, the title sequence that succinctly and quickly explains the origin of Batman, with the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Honestly, title sequences that quickly explain back-story is probably Zack Snyder’s one true skill, and he does a good job here. And from there we see an adult Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck giving probably the only good performance in the movie) doing everything he can to save people in Metropolis during Superman and Zod’s drag-out fight from the end of Man of Steel. Wayne runs around, saves kids and an employee of his whose legs were destroyed when one of the buildings fell, and just generally starts to resent and hate this Superman guy who has destroyed one of the biggest cities in America. We then reach the present where we’re treated to two hours of incredibly disjointed, badly edited and paced scenes that try to fill us in on what’s been going on in the world since Man of Steel. Apparently Superman (Henry Cavill, who maybe has thirty lines in this movie) has been flying around the world, silently and sullenly saving people while being incredibly impersonal, causing everyone to be suspicious of him. And that’s not helped by the fact that he apparently follows Lois Lane around, acting like a drone who takes out terrorist camps that she investigates, apparently killing them. He also apparently just leaves after killing terrorists, leaving the citizens to deal with the now angry terrorist cells and corrupt governments, who then punish them for Superman’s actions. Awesome. And it’s acts like this that have necessitated a Congressional committee to decide what the US should do about Superman. But he doesn’t really care, because he’s busy living life as Clark Kent, and sleeping with Lois Lane (Amy Adams) who essentially fulfills the role that Laurie does in Watchmen, where she’s just there for the invincible godlike being to have sex with, and little else.

But Superman isn’t the only nominal”Hero” who is being an asshole to the people he protects, because Batman is busy torturing and branding the criminals of Gotham so he can get information on something called the White Portuguese, which he needs to get a hold of. Bruce and Alfred are on the tracks of this mysterious person/object, thinking that it will be the key to stopping Superman. Since he’s the closest thing to a supervillain that this world has. Oh, except for good old Lex Luthor (Jessie Eisenberg putting in a remarkably abysmal performance) who is courting the Congressional committee from earlier to let him make weapons out of Kryptonite, which he’s recently discovered. Lex is a twitchy, scenery-chewing mess of a character in this movie, and is doing everything he can to make weapons to kill Superman. Because he’s scared of him, or he’s crazy, or his dad beat him and he’s fearful of authority, or he knows that that will allow an alien God to arrive on Earth and destroy it. His motivations are a little muddled. Now, this part of the movie is really hard to describe, because we jump between all twenty characters at a ridiculously rapid pace, just checking in on nonsensical little scenes for about a minute each, with little to no connective tissue between them, so it can get confusing. We leave Lex to see that the guy from the beginning of the movie that lost his legs is now bitter and resentful of Superman, and spraypaints “False God” on a giant Superman statue in Metropolis, which unless I misheard a news-report later in the movie, netted him 40 years in prison. We also get to check in on the Daily Planet, where we get to see Perry White, often a voice of reason and wisdom in a Superman story, arguing with his employees about how optimism is dead and pointless. Which is exactly the place you want to come from when making a Superman movie.

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But soon after that we get what was my favorite part of the whole mess, when we suddenly got a fun Bruce Wayne spy movie out of nowhere. Bruce has to go out, sans Batman costume, doing some detective work in a tux, sneaking around in underground MMA fights and stuff. It was pretty fun, even though it lasted like fifteen minutes of this movie. We also see that Bruce is having these weird dreams/hallucinations/ predictions of the future that are starting to mess with him, and spur him on in his hatred of Superman. And after Bruce and Alfred go over the info they got from the MMA fight, they decide the next puzzle piece is in Lex Luthor’s mansion, and wouldn’t you know it? Bruce just got invited there for some charity thing! How convenient! So Bruce heads out to the gala, along with Clark (who I guess is just a “reporter” and doesn’t work for any specific part of the paper, and is now in the society section) and Diana Prince who won’t be Wonder Woman until the last twenty minutes of the movie. All four characters wander around the party, trying their best to steal stuff from Luthor and have awkward chit chat with each other while hammering in the point of the movie, which is that you shouldn’t trust heroes. But in the end Diana steals the little gadget Bruce used to steal all of Luthor’s secret files, and escapes, so Batman ends up with nothing. And after this party sequence, which seemingly broke a rule this movie had since it featured three of our future Justice League members in the same location for more than two minutes, they all split back up and go their separate ways. We see Clark gets yelled at by Perry about how optimism is dead again, and that it isn’t 1938 anymore (which just reeked of “this ain’t your dad’s Superman!” to me), and that Luthor is now working with that legless guy who spray-painted the statue. Now, I feel like the logical move would have been to make that guy Metallo, and have Luthor develop some crazy Iron Man-esque suit for him that would then become the heavy hitting villain of the movie, but instead Luthor just gives him a new wheel-chair and makes him a political tool instead.

And here we get to the dumbest part of the movie, which in the notes I took during the movie I kept referring to as the Batpocalypse. This is Bruce Wayne’s longest and most nonsensical hallucination in the movie, and really felt like the movie that Zack Snyder really wanted to make. It’s set in the future, where Superman has gone evil and enslaved the world, apparently working with Darkseid, since his logo is in a couple places. Batman is the leader of some resistance group, trying to get Kryptonite so he can kill their autocratic overlord. But then Superman’s goons show up, Batman starts machine-gunning people, and ends up getting captured, and then killed by Superman. This scene was completely needless, way too long, and really just seemed like a mission statement from Snyder, like this is what he really thinks of Superman, and would be the movie he made about the guy if Warner Brothers hadn’t told him he wasn’t allowed to make Superman the villain two movies in a row. But the ridiculous dream sequence isn’t over yet, because Bruce wakes up in his Batcave only to be visited by a time-travelling Flash, who warns him about how evil Superman is, and that Lois is the key, before vanishing. But Then Bruce wakes up again, because he was apparently two dreams deep? Was he being Incepted? Hey Zach, you’re aping the wrong Christopher Nolan movie now!

Anyway, after dream-time, Batman suits up and goes to attack Lex Luthor’s goons, because he’s now found out that the White Portuguese thing he was looking for earlier is a boat belonging to Luthor that’s transporting a huge hunk of Kryptonite. Batman then starts running Luthor goons over like crazy, because I guess vehicular homicide isn’t against his code against killing. Although as becomes increasingly clear in this movie, I don’t think they gave Batman that code, because he kills a staggering amount of people in this movie. And after Batman chases the goons around a bit, Superman shows up to scold him, and tell him to stop being Batman before ominously flying off and not saving all the dying Luthor goons. Batman then delivers the famously stupid “Do you bleed?! You will!” line and we move on to more horrible ideas. Because the next day is another one of those Congressional hearings, where the legless guy is being asked about how much he hates Superman, which was apparently enough of a draw to bring Superman to the Capitol building to give his side of things. But when the hearing starts we’re treated to an elaborate pee joke that ends with the wheelchair guy secretly having a bomb, which he detonates and kills everyone inside the Capitol building, except Superman who just stands there mad that it ruined his day. Which was ridiculous, because this would have been the perfect time for Superman to finally talk to the American people, and give some sort of speech about heroism or something, really anything to make him not seem like a weird aloof alien who blows up cities. But no, I guess pee jokes and terrorism are more cool than sentimentality and morality.

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But that explosion was the final straw for Bruce, who then starts a Rocky training montage where he prepares to fight Superman with all his new little gadgets, even stealing the Kryptonite from Luthor to make weapons. And after his montage we get another string of useless and weird scenes where we see Lois figure out that Luthor has a private army, Luthor gains access to General Zod’s body and space ship where he starts incubating some weird clone made from Zod and his DNA, Superman goes to the mountains to have a hallucination of his own where Pa Kent once again tells him being a hero is for suckers, and Wonder Woman  gets to look through Luthor’s files that Bruce stole, leading to one of the stupidest moments moments of this movie. Because we find out that Lex Luthor has apparently been keeping tabs on all the metahumans in the world, including Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg, and even has videos of them all. Oh, and he also apparently gave them their superhero names and logos, which I guess means Lex Luthor created the Justice League. But whatever, we’re now ready for the first of two disappointing climaxes!

Turns out Luthor has kidnapped both Martha Kent and Lois Lane, since women are only in this movie for sex or hostages, and uses Lois to get Superman to meet him on the roof. Lex awkwardly quotes Lolita before pushing Lois off a skyscraper, incurring Superman’s wrath. But before Superman snaps his neck, like a hero, Lex says that he has Martha hostage too, and unless Superman goes and kill Batman he’ll kill her. So Superman flies off to Gotham, which is apparently just on the other side of a river from Metropolis, to fight Batman, who is ready for him. Batman is wearing that stupid armor from Dark Knight Returns, and the two start fighting in basically the same ways from that overrated comic. They smash the hell out of each other, and we get to see Batman trick a guy with X-Ray vision with a smoke grenade, before gassing him with some sort of Kryptonite smoke that can temporarily remove his powers. The two have a long and surprisingly boringly paced fight as Batman just kicks his ass. All leading up to the moment that Batman is going to just spear Superman with a Kryptonite spear, when we get what was possibly the dumbest part of the movie. As Superman is flailing around, begging not to die, he mentions that he has to save “Martha.” This confuses Batman, who was unaware that women other than his mom can be named Martha, although that’s cleared up when Lois comes out of nowhere to tell Batman that Martha is his mom. The two then immediately bond over having moms with the same name, and decide to work together to stop Luthor. That’s all it took! Batman went from murder to BFF in like two seconds! But don’t worry folks, because the movie can get even stupider!

Batman then heads out to save Martha Kent while Superman goes to deal with Luthor while Lois throws away the Kryptonite spear, since they probably will never need that again. Batman takes out a whole warehouse of Luthor goons, in a scene that was very reminiscent of the Arkham video games. Which is odd, because while I have fun with those games, they’re pretty terrible Batman stories, and are often way more violent than I like my Batman. But that’s okay, because Snyder ups the violence and has Batman straight up shoot and stab some guys to death, because “fuck you people who care about Batman!” And while Batman is freeing Martha, we learn that Luthor’s weird Kryptonian-Human hybrid is ready to be born, and it ends up being Doomsday (here played by the CGI cave troll from Fellowship of the Ring). Which begs the question of whether or not a hypothetical child between Clark and Lois would become a Doomsday. Whatever, Doomsday starts fighting Superman, and kicking his ass immediately. This right away leads to Superman and Doomsday having a huge brawl that level Metropolis for the second time in like three years. They fight for a while, Wonder Woman learns about the fight as she was getting to fly out of the country and angrily heads back to be a hero against her wishes, and Batman heads over to help out too. But before they get there we get to see a moment that seemed to be David Goyer spiting the audience, by having Superman fly Doomsday into space to leave him there. Unfortunately the US military decides that’s not explosiony enough, so they launch a nuclear warhead at Superman and Doomsday, which triggers and really does nothing to either being, and probably gave everyone in Metropolis radiation poisoning. Doomsday lands on Earth, grows those little rocky things like in the comic, and starts fighting Batman and Wonder Woman, who do their best to never talk or make eye contact. Superman comes back, and the Holy Trinity of DC characters team up for the first time, never saying a word to each other, and start fighting Doomsday in an incomprehensible scene full of CGI lasers and explosions. And in the end, Clark gets that Kryptonite spear Lois threw away, and stabs Doomsday, but not before getting impaled himself, dying. Yep, the second Superman movie, and the one that was supposed to introduce us to the Justice League ends with Superman dying. Because Zach Snyder hates Superman. The world mourns this alien who destroyed one of their most beloved cities, twice, and his death ends up spurring Batman to create the Justice League, because Superman was the Agent Coulson of this movie. Batman also apparently knows that Darkseid is coming, and decides to create the League not as a peacekeeping force of heroes, but as an army to kill another evil alien. The end!

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Holy crap you guys. This movie was a goddamned mess that seemed to either not care about the characterization that it’s characters have had for decades of comics, or was actively trying to spite them. I was worried it was going to be bad, but I had no idea that it was going to be this bleak, cynical, and oppressive. It was an ugly, dingy movie, and none of the characters are acting the way they should be. Superman is barely in this movie that’s theoretically about him, and when he is he’s this sullen, silent, angry being that more people fear than love. Were these movies actually about Bizarro? Because that would honestly make more sense than someone telling me that Warner Brothers was cool with Zach Snyder making two movies about one of the most recognizable and famous characters in the world, and getting the character 100% wrong. Clark seems to hate being a hero, and gets all moody and upset by the fact that people don’t love him and faun over him. When he goes to save some people during a Day of the Dead festival in Mexico, which came off shockingly racist to me, he seems happy that the people there are practically bowing to him, but gets all mad when the Congressional Committee even suggests the idea that he’s dangerous. Good god. I guess Wonder Woman was okay, but she barely spoke, and similarly to Affleck’s Bruce Wayne, was more interesting as Diana Prince than Wonder Woman. Lex Luthor was terrible in this movie. I’ve talked before about how much I love Luthor, and when in the right hands can be a deeply sympathetic and compelling character. But in Zack Snyder’s hands he just became a weird, twitchy, campy villain with no motivation, and who just seemed evil. I honestly can’t tell you why Luthor did what he did in the movie. The end almost implied that he somehow knew about Darkseid, and knew that if he killed Superman Darkseid could come to Earth and take it over. And that was a positive thing? I really can’t tell. He was just crazy and evil, and I guess we were just supposed to leave it at that. And then there’s Batman. I’ve said it before in this article, but I really liked Bruce Wayne in this movie. He was a fun spy who was using both sides of his personality to investigate things. Bruce Wayne actually does some detective work! But Batman? Ugh. We was overly violent, killing several people (with guns no less), and just came across as Nolan Batman turned up to 11. I liked Affleck, and Jeremy Irons as Alfred, and honestly if they could shed some of the violence and darkness from this movie we could get a really fun Batman movie from them that would feel more like a Bond movie than anything else. But as he stood in this movie, I wasn’t a fan.

But this movie wasn’t just a disappointment from a comic book geek’s viewpoint. Because that’s not always what matters. Superheroes are big money nowadays, while comic books still limp along as this vestigial component to the characters that most people don’t think about. Warner Brothers wasn’t making this movie for comic books fans. That’s abundantly clear. They made it for people who are familiar with the characters, but have never read a story about them once in their lives. This as a movie made for people who thought the Dark Knight trilogy was “fucking awesome, bro,” but wished it had been more violent. And I guess that’s fine. I personally prefer the Marvel movies, which seem to go out of their way to put little nods to the comics in their movies for the loyal fans while crafting stories that respect the characters and own up to the ridiculous and colorful pedigree that they have. This movie didn’t do that. It was dark, dingy, and seemed embarrassed to be based on comic books. And whatever, that’s one way you could go with a movie like this. I can complain about how this movie shits on the legacy of some of the most enduring characters in the history of comics, but who cares, because there’s clearly a lot of people who don’t care about that, and they’re who this movie was made for. But some of the biggest problems come from the fact that it just isn’t a good movie in general. It’s way too long, and yet somehow also feels rushed. The superhero movie it reminded me most of was The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which is not a good thing. It felt like three different movies crammed into one. So while it limped along at almost three hours, it was full of these weird, brief little scenes that didn’t seem to have anything to do with each other. So many of these characters don’t even interact in the movie, it’s like they’re in different films. We get a Bruce Wayne spy movie tucked in the middle of a mediocre and violent Batman movie, which is then tucked in a weird Lois Lane political intrigue movie, which is surrounded by a terrible Superman movie with a college freshman philosophy major’s understanding of morality. It was like this movie tried to cram Man of Steel 2 and 3, along with a Batman origin movie, into one overstuffed bag of crap. And really, that gets to a big problem with this movie, and the DC movie universe as a whole.

DC is almost always behind the curve with Marvel. Which is weird, because Marvel so often has just straight up stolen the concepts for characters from DC, and then made them work. But besides characters, Marvel is usually the company that gets ideas first. And then DC tries to rush in and do the same thing. To varying levels of success. The Marvel Cinematic Universe was carefully constructed and has taken a lot of time to pull off. The Avengers was the sixth movie in the franchise, and the five movies before it worked hard to introduce us to the characters while also setting up the universe. And sometimes that didn’t work. Iron Man 2 is widely considered the worst of the MCU movies, because they tried to do too much legwork in it, to the point that it stopped being an  Iron Man movie, and ended up becoming just a series of foundational moments for the rest of the series. DC saw all the money that Marvel and Disney were raking in from the MCU, and decided they wanted some too. But whereas Marvel was making money hand over fist by making movies that respected their characters, and embraced the inherent silliness of comic book superheroes, DC decided to do the opposite, and make things dark, gritty, and “mature.” They also saw Marvel carefully planning their universe over the course of almost ten years, and decided that that shit was too lame, and that they wanted to do everything right away. This movie felt like it should have been the fifth or sixth movie in the franchise. And don’t even get me started on how idiotic it is to have Suicide Squad be the third movie in this franchise, when it hasn’t even established any villains other than Luthor and Superman. This movie became the Iron Man 2 and Amazing Spider-Man 2 of the DC franchise. It tried to do way too much, and didn’t do any of it particularly well. This was a bloated movie, with terrible pacing and editing, lackluster cinematography that relied on crummy looking CGI, and was just a narrative ill-made film that just came off as a really long video game that you didn’t get to play. Which is kind of Zach Snyder’s specialty. He’s pretty good at making adaptations, especially when they basically become shot-for-shot recreations of comics, but when he’s left to make a new story using characters? Not so good. He really should just be like Saul Bass, and focus on making title-sequences, that seems to be his real passion and talent.

But as much as I’ve shit on Zach Snyder, there’s one other person that I think deserves a lot of blame, even though it may seem a little petty. David Goyer wrote this movie, along with Man of Steel, and the more I hear Goyer talk about these movies the more I think he really doesn’t like the characters, almost to the point that there’s some weird Producers-esque shenanigans going on. I heard him interviewed on a Nerdist episode, and when the subject of Superman killing Zod came up, he got shockingly defensive, and started coming up with some terrible excuses. He mentioned how annoying nerd always tell him that Superman could have just flown Zod into space, to get him away from the people he was threatening, and explained that that was impossible because this Superman couldn’t do that! But you know who can do that David? Fucking Superman! You don’t get to explain that you made a beloved character turn into a murderer because you took away an ability of his that could have fixed the situation! That makes it worse! And then, in this stupid movie, Superman does fly a villain into space, so apparently he can do that now, and it goes poorly for him, which just seemed like David Goyer specifically flipping off the geeks in the crowd.

But that got a little petty and off topic. Now, this is the longest article I’ve ever written on this site. And it’s probably because this is honestly the worst movie I’ve seen since I started the blog. Even worse than Fantastic Four. And it really shouldn’t have been. This should have been a great movie. It’s the introduction to the DC movie universe, and our first look at the formation of the Justice League. This was the first time Wonder Woman had been in a movie, and the first time that Batman and Superman had been on screen together in live-action. This should have been joyous. These are three characters who have been friends, colleagues, and even lovers. And instead we got a an angry mess where the characters barely talk to each other, and spend almost the entire runtime hating each other. Captain America 3 is coming out in a couple of months, and it too features heroes fighting each other. But that movie has almost been ten years in the making. We’ve grown to know and love those characters, and we know exactly how hard it’s going to be for them to fight. They’re friends, they’re a team, and the fighting is going to tear them down to the bone. It has pathos. It’s been earned. It’s been earned by twelve previous movies that have built up this universe, and shown us the stakes involved. This movie skipped all that world-building garbage, and just threw them into the fighting. These people aren’t heroes. All three of them barely do anything heroic in the movie, and when they do it feels like a burden. We’re told over and over, by Pa Kent and Perry White, traditionally two voices of wisdom in the comics, that heroism is overrated, and only leads to disaster. That’s what we’re going with? The Justice League has been formed, on spite and circumstance. Superman finally tried to do something heroic, and was killed for it. By a monster that had no lines and only showed up for the last fight. Heroism is worthless in this movie. It’s dangerous, and gets you killed. Batman doesn’t form the Justice League at the end of this movie to save people. He does it to fight monsters. And that’s the problem with this movie, and the franchise as a whole. It’s focused on heroes punishing bad guys, and not saving innocents. These aren’t friends. They’re fellow soldiers in the holy crusade to kill bad guys. And I’m sorry, but if you think that that’s the way a superhero, or just a hero, should be, then I’m afraid you’ve missed the point. There’s a line in a comic called the Last Days of Superman, where Superman essentially gives his mission statement. “Do good to others, and every man can be a Superman.” That may sound schmaltzy to some people, like the people this movie is marketed to, but to me, it’s the whole point of the character. Superman is hope incarnate. He’s the model of what we should be. Who cares about the powers, what we should aspire to be isn’t a superhero, it’s just a good person. That’s what Superman is all about. That’s what superheroes should be about. And that’s not what we get here.

Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice was written by Chris Terrio and David S Goyer, directed by Zach Snyder, and released by Warner Brothers Pictures, 2016.

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