So, the critical world decided that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was an affront to cinema days before its wider release. It was dour, they said, a slog, a downer, a never-ending parade of bad action sequences done in a palette so muted that it was hard to see what was going on. With that in mind, I attempted to fortify myself against deep disappointment. Which means that I refused to take the film as seriously as Zack Snyder and Co. clearly wanted me to, and that I walked in feeling pretty cynical.
And I somehow walked out feeling really bad for this film. It’s not a paragon of cinema by any means… but this perpetuated train wreck narrative is throwing me for a loop.
(Spoilers for all of Batman v Superman.)
For the record, my refusal to take the whole rodeo too seriously led to a lot of laughter at moments when it wasn’t called for, and I was not the only one in my theater to try that move; the couple behind me were also laughing throughout the majority of the movie. And I think we all enjoyed it more as a result. But to really address where I get the criticisms and where I don’t, I’m just gonna go through it and parse out my reactions to this strange never-ending movie:
We begin with the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne, which we should all know by now is a terrible idea because how many versions of this scene do we really need on film? The one pointed difference is that Jeffrey Dean Morgan is playing Thomas Wayne (almost as though Snyder wanted to apologize for casting him as the Comedian in Watchmen), and when the random robber pulls a gun on him, this Thomas Wayne clenches his hand into a fist and looks like he might deck the guy. So, a pretty significant alteration, particularly since it suggests that Thomas Wayne was partly responsible for his and his wife’s deaths by lashing out at the guy.
Later on in the film, Bruce is waxing to Alfred about Wayne family history, about how the Waynes made their fortune, and he goes all the way back to their roots in America, talking about trading pelts with the French and stuff. “We were hunters,” he says ironically, and suddenly my brain goes Saving people, hunting things, the family business because his dad is John freaking Winchester, and there’s no other possible way this can be taken.
We see what happened to Bruce on the day that Superman fought Zod, and we find out that he’s a solid dude and a good boss who is very sad about the people dying in his Wayne Enterprises skyscraper. We know Bruce is a solid dude and a good boss because he calls everyone in his company by their first names, and helps one guy out from under some debris who can’t feel his legs any longer. Then he comforts a child whose mommy was in the building. We never find out what happened to that kid’s mom because the important part is that Bruce Wayne is cuddling a child who is now sad the way he was sad when he parents were shot. Parallels FTW.
There are so many things you have to infer in Batman v Superman. For instance, every character’s motivation, because they’re really bad about spelling anything out, or moving things in a linear fashion to help the audience piece it together. The important plot point that you can sort of figure out between all the overwritten villain monologues is this: Lex Luthor saw Superman and it totally freaked him out because power and things. He decided that Superman had to die. In order to make that happen, he helped to stoke public fear, but figured that his real ace in the hole would be to spend roughly two years making Bruce Wayne super paranoid about the guy so he’d eventually try to kill him. That is the general plot of the movie and it’s weird.
You also have to infer how everyone figures out who everyone else is because secret identities are not a thing in this film between the main characters. They all know each other and call each other by their first names, and it’s like Friends, but with armor and explosions and various cast members throwing each other through walls.
Jesse Eisenberg spends the whole movie playing Luthor like a coked out Silicon Valley CEO who likes to creep on people to prove he’s powerful. (He literally feeds a U.S. government official a Jolly Rancher after the guy has offered him access to everything he could possibly want i.e. Kryptonian tech and material because… he needed to make sure that the guy got harassed by him before leaving, or something. Hard to tell.) It makes sense insofar as this is clearly Luthor’s formation sequence. He’s not a complete super villain yet, just the punk kid version that Smallville probably should have come up with in the first place. He has an adoring, attractive, and utterly silent assistant who follows him everywhere in five inch stilettos and smiles at everything he does, and I have no idea why she’s in the movie apart from the one time she scolds Bruce Wayne for getting lost at a party.
In the meantime, Clark Kent is busy being the worst possible journalist The Daily Planet has ever employed. (How he got employed in the first place is still a mystery unless he studied journalism in college and did some kind of internship before he took up that “find myself” quest in Man of Steel.) Poor Perry White spends the entire film asking Clark to complete assignments that he never so much as fakes copy for because he’s developed a sudden obsession with Batman. (This obsession seems to be due to Batman becoming more brutal and branding his victims because Luthor has made him so angry and paranoid? Lex anonymously sends Clark Polaroids of one of those victims because we keep forgetting that Polaroids kind of don’t exist anymore.) In fact, at one point, Clark gets upset in the middle of a meeting because Perry won’t let him write a story on Batman, and tells him that when the paper ignores what’s happening in Gotham—primarily to poor and underprivileged citizens—they are letting the world know whose stories are important, and you can’t help but be like CLARK ARE YOU REALLY GOING TO TALK TO LAURENCE FISHBURNE ABOUT WHOSE STORIES MATTER WHEN YOU ARE THE MAIN CHARACTER OF THIS MOVIE? IT’S A LITTLE OFF BASE, I’M JUST SAYING.
I mean, Superman = People’s Hero, but also oh nooooooooooo.
There’s also a section that I have mentally titled “Superheroes F*ck” because I’m pretty sure that’s what Snyder or David S. Goyer or someone shouted in their script meeting when they conceptualized it. It’s two scenes that occur kind of next to each other, the first involving Superman getting into Lois’s bath with all his clothes on to cheer her up. (It’s actually a pretty sweet scene that features Lois and Clark behaving like adults in a relationship where talking occurs and people cook dinner for each other, and then you think aw, Clark Kent is such a great boyfriend and a terrible upstairs neighbor, how cute.) The second is when Bruce gets up out of bed to brood, and we see a nameless hot lady still slumbering away while he stands at the window of his lake house, which is basically a house made of giant glass panels connected via a metal frame. This is relevant because while we have to assume that Lois and Clark do sleep together (being in a longterm relationship), we rarely get such a clear indication of it either in comics or on screen. It’s an even bigger deal where Bruce is concerned because so many versions of Batman usually show him playing the part of a playboy, while effectively being celibate because he’s far too serious to do things that mere men do in their spare time. Apparently, it was important to have it on record this time, a la one of those People Magazine columns: Superheroes—They’re Just Like Us!
The first SuperBat face off occurs sans capes at a strange party where Lex is getting honored for donating money to a library? Go with it. Clark proceeds to corner Bruce about his opinion on the Batman and how he’s terrorizing Gotham residents. He says lots of true things and lots of pushy things, and then he says something to the tune of “Batman acts completely outside the law” and you’re like CLARK, OH MY GOD, PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN GLASS HOUSES SHOULD NOT THROW STONES AT OTHER PEOPLE WHO ALSO LIVE IN GLASS HOUSES IT’S CHAOS. Unshockingly, Bruce Wayne says pretty much the same thing about Superman, before he steals some information from Lex Luthor’s mega computer system. Or he tries to. Wonder Woman is also at the party, and she grabs it first.
Gal Gadot is a spectacular Diana at first blush, and she’s happily in much more of the movie than I anticipated. Bruce is clearly intrigued by her, but in a concerned you-remind-me-of-some-other-women-I’ve-been-inadvisably-attracted-to sort of way, to which Diana’s response is basically, “You don’t know me, step off.” To his credit, Bruce does, mostly because Diana returns the stolen files to him after trying to find a picture in them that she claims belongs to her. Bruce hacks the files with ease (don’t ever forget HE’S A DETECTIVE), and finds files on all his soon-to-be metahuman Justice League pals, including a totally badass picture of Diana and her crew of mens during World War I. And then he sends her an email—he somehow knows her email—being all “Whaaaaaat the hell is this. Can we be friends Y/N?”
This incarnation of Batman is surprisingly chill, when it comes right down to it. Sure, Luthor gets him all riled up to go punch Superman in the butt, but Ben Affleck’s version of the Bat is older, and resultantly more done with everything. He’s got his own act down pat at this point, but he’s also jaded and caught in a routine that’s not doing it for him anymore. (It’s rumored that we lost a flashback scene with Jenna Malone as Batgirl and Jared Leto’s Joker, and the Bat Cave also displays what appears to be Jason Todd’s ravaged Robin uniform—though they could retcon that into any version of Robin, of course.) Jeremy Irons’ Alfred is glorious, as he plays the part with equal parts sarcasm and mother hennish-ness, and also has a lot to do with the whole Bat operation. Most of his conversations with Batman go as follows:
Bruce: You know, I’ve realized that we kinda suck.
Alfred: Mm. Yes. Now please give me some grandchildren.
This might be my favorite aspect of the film, full stop.
There’s a whole subplot in this film that the trailers alluded to about the world trying to decide how it feels about Superman and his near-god status, and it’s so important that it’s dropped about an hour into the movie. Holly Hunter plays a senator from Kentucky who is trying to make people think harder about how Superman should behave and who he should answer to, but then she pisses off Lex Luthor by not letting him import Kryptonite (it’s in the Indian Ocean amongst the World Engine wreckage), so he blows her up. And then imports the kryptonite so Bruce can steal it and make weapons out of the stuff. This all… sort of changes public opinion on Superman? It certainly makes Superman sad, so much so that he has a dream about his dead dad. Most of the things that happen in this film make Superman sad aside from taking a bath with Lois and saving Lois and talking to Lois and generally being around Lois. So the answer to all his problems is pretty clear.
Speaking of dreams, Batman’s paranoia is so acute that he has a dream sequence too, but this time it’s simply atrocious—I’d almost prefer another boring dream conversation between Supes and the world’s worst Robin Hood. (Zak Snyder has a penchant for these scenes. I think he needs to start admitting that he has no idea how dream sequences should work and bleed them from his repertoire, the way medieval medicine would have it.) There’s a lot of terrible fight choreography and screaming and dream-within-a-dream nonsense, and it contributes nothing to the current plot whatsoever. Batman is wearing a brown trench coat over the batsuit because someone probably thought that would convey its dream-sequence-dystopia-ness better, but it only makes the audience very confused. In fact, this whole sequence is meant to set up the forthcoming Justice League arc, with a clear reference to Darksied, and an appearance from the Flash, but… it’s so goofy to do it now when you’re just puzzling a good portion of your audience. (If you would like an excellent breakdown of what the dream sequence might be pointing to, head on over to Vulture.) It also contains that very erotic scene where Batman is all tied up and Superman rips off his cowl. Which is very different when you realize that this is in Bruce’s head and not actually happening–or maybe happening in the future? Just saying.
On the other hand, the soundtrack is phenomenal. I cannot stress this enough. It sounds like an opera, and that hyper-dramatic choice often makes the film’s most overwrought moments work when they wouldn’t have otherwise. And then Diana shows up and it’s all drum circles and electric guitar OBVIOUSLY.
There are entire action sequences in Batman v Superman that are jokes. And I don’t mean they suck, I mean that the action sequence itself is a series of set ups with a punchline. For example, when we first see the Batmobile in action, we watch it complete a series of laughably impossible tasks. This slim hybrid of Burton’s cruiser and Nolan’s tumbler actually drives through a brick wall and then has a giant sea vessel dropped on top of it, and makes it through without a scratch. Then Superman appears and the Batmobile bounces off of him. GET IT. DID YOU GET IT? I GOT IT. HIGH FIVE, EVERYBODY.
You know what, though, I’m totally fine with action sequences having punchlines.
There’s also a scene that I have dubbed “Bruce Wayne does Crossfit” where we watch Bruce get into even better shape to go fight Superman, and it’s this Navy Seal-type workout where he’s doing pull-ups with weights attached to his waist via a thick chain, and he’s dragging giant tires across the floor, and generally grunting and shouting. It’s simultaneously great for showing the ridiculous training required for a person to reach Batman levels of fitness, and hilarious for it’s awkward placement in the narrative.
Eventually, Lex Luthor captures both Martha Kent and Lois to get Superman’s attention. Lois is thankfully not captured for long as she’s more of an attention grab; Lex chucks her off a building to prove that she’s basically the hinge that Superman swings on. Lois gets rescued by Clark a lot in this film, but I kind of love it? Because aside from that moment with Lex, most of the rescuing is due to Lois rushing into dangerous situations because she has to do something; those “damsel” (I don’t even really like using the word here, it doesn’t fit) moments are about Lois being an active participant in her job and in the film’s narrative. She refuses to shy away from peril—much like Clark—but she needs a hand, on account of not being Kryptonian or Amazonian or possessing Bruce Wayne’s armored arsenal. Plus, every time Clark rescues her, he has this adorable well, here we are again look on his face, making it so clear that her refusal to sit around is part of what he loves about Lois.
To be perfectly honest, opinions about Synder and Goyer’s version of Superman aside, they are easily my favorite portrayal of Lois and Clark as a couple on screen, ever. When Lois realizes the SuperBat fight that’s about to go down, she asks Perry for a helicopter to take her across the bay to Gotham, and he’s like absolutely not, and she’s like it’s for personal reasons, and he’s like okay fine but only because you’re my favorite child and your love life is very important to me. Even Perry ships it.
It kind of sucks that Martha has to get captured for all of this to work. I mean, I get it, but she was threatened in the last film, and two times is honestly too many. The point is supposed to be that Lex knows he can only get a real fight out of Clark if he holds something precious over his head, but it’s disappointing that we have to watch Martha Kent be all tied up and scared. It’s one place where the film gets gratuitous.
A lot of people have been grumping about how Batman versus Superman as a concept is horrible to begin with because they are good guys and have to be on the same team and watching them fight forever is a terrible idea. So, imagine my shock when I realize that they have ONE FIGHT in this ENTIRE MOVIE. One. There is one. They snark at each other at the party, then Superman warns Batman to retire, and then they have a single fight. (Clark tries to stop it by explaining that they’re being messed with, but Bruce is pretty far gone at this point.) It’s not even a particularly long fight, pretty average for an action film these days. They throw each other around, and Batman uses kryptonite grenades and stuff because he’s a smart guy, and this allows something of an equal playing field. The fight itself is kind of silly, and then Bruce gets his rage on, and is about to stab Superman with a kryptonite spear when Clark suddenly tells him that he’s “killing Martha.”
Remember how Bruce’s mom’s name was also Martha? Yeah, it freaks him out.
And then you realize that this is the entire crux of the fight (and the reason why Mrs. Kent had to be the one to get captured script-wise). Bruce demands to know why Clark would bring up his mom, and Lois rushes in to explain that he’s talking about his own mother, who Luthor has captive, and sudden Batman’s entire demeanor shifts, and he goes from a giant gray rage monster to OH WOW MY BAD IT’S YOUR MOM? I AM SO. SO. SORRY. WOW. SO SORRY. WE SHOULD BE FRIENDS. IF YOU WANNA BE FRIENDS. DUDE, SERIOUSLY, I FEEL TERRIBLE RIGHT NOW LET ME GO RESCUE YOUR MOM TO MAKE UP FOR BEING SUCH A JERK TODAY (AND EVERY DAY).
And he does: He goes and rescues Martha Kent after knocking out a lot of bad guys. This Batman’s code on guns seems to be “I won’t carry one, but if you happen to be toting a semi, I will totally grab your hand and fire it for you to kill all your friends.” This was another point where I laughed a lot because that makes no sense as a code whatsoever. On the other hand, it’s got some very pretty fight choreography. Honestly, this whole section gives you whiplash because with the guns you’re all Batman NO, and then he rescues Martha Kent and introduces himself by saying “I’m a friend of your son’s” and you’re all Batman YES.
Luthor creates Doomsday out of Zod’s body and some of his blood (kid’s got problems) using the Kryptonian ship that Superman wrecked in the last film. It’s not remotely plausible, but it’s a blockbuster and sometimes these things happen. Really, it’s terrible because Doomsday is kind of like a giant slimy Uruk-hai (his birthing scene is exactly the same as the one Jackson’s LOTR trilogy only bigger and grosser), and is therefore an incredibly boring super bad. The upshot is, Superman and Batman don’t know how they’re gonna beat it until Wonder Woman shows up, and the entire theater inevitably bursts into applause. We’re all clearly ready for our Wonder Woman movie.
The thing I really love about the final fight sequence is that it manages to highlight each one of the trio’s strengths. Superman and Wonder Woman are bruisers, and Diana is clearly much more coordinated than Clark due to real training—Batman knows he can’t compete in terms of muscle, so he uses himself as a distraction and picks his moments. Of course, Lois realizes that they’re going to need that Kryptonite spear that she threw away earlier (when it was only posing a danger to Clark), so she goes after it, and she and Clark eventually retrieve it. And then Clark says “I love you,” and talks about how he finally feels like he’s a part of humanity and thanks Lois for giving him that, and you’re like this seems like a goodbye, but Superman can’t die, so….
Spoiler alert: Superman totally dies. Um.
It’s awkward for a number of reasons, Number One being another Jesus parallel that this team is heaping on the Superman mythos, which it really doesn’t need. Because we all know that he’s coming back to life. He’s Superman. So now it’s going to be a resurrection. (OH WAIT, IS THAT WHY YOU DECIDED TO RELEASE IT OVER EASTER WEEKEND? UUGGGHHHH.) Of course, knowing that he’s bound to come back robs the death of it’s impact. The only reason it has resonance at all is because Lois is heartbroken, and Diana is looking at her like she knows exactly how that feels, and you’re suddenly super invested in all these characters mourning together.
We end with two funerals, one for Superman and one for Clark Kent. Bruce and Diana attend Clark’s funeral, and he tells her that they should form a team with all those other sweet metahumans because he was wrong about Clark, and someone needs to pick up where he left off. Lois finds out that Clark had planned to propose to her. Everyone is deeply sad, but the Justice League is totally happening, and Lex Luthor is bald and in jail (I cannot figure out what he thought was going to happen after he unleashed Doomsday, it makes no sense at all), and Clark is clearly going to rise from the dead any second.
No, I mean that the film ends like Inception, with some dirt rising from Clark’s grave, and then a cut to black.
I laughed again.
But you know what? Outside of the resurrection iffiness, I’m on board. Batman and Wonder Woman were excellent. The Justice League seems like an exciting prospect. And I’m still a bit… baffled. This film was no more messy and overloaded than Avengers: Age of Ultron, but it’s being talked about like some great trespass, as though the critical world suddenly came upon a mashup of Sesame Street and A Clockwork Orange and couldn’t unsee it. I understand that the lack of humor is something DC needs to rethink on film, but the atmosphere surrounding BvS still strikes me as odd. Perhaps it’s because Batman and Superman have been with many of us all our lives, and we simply cannot accept a version of these characters that goes against what we love about them.
But I’m a fan of alternate universes. So I plan to stick around.