What the hell happened here?
I went into Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice knowing not to expect the finest comic book story ever told, but I was not prepared for this, one of the most incoherent and baffling major Hollywood productions in recent memory. It simultaneously moves along at a frantic pace, not allowing anything to resonate, and yet at the same time really overstays its welcome. At the bare minimum, the titular battle should at least be satisfying, but even on that front this movie falls flat because the two heroes have very little reason to be fighting at all.
Dawn of Justice is a complete mess. Watchmen, one of Zack Snyder’s previous superhero films, was improved by a director’s cut, but I can’t imagine the extended edition will fix this film to any meaningful degree. Let’s break down merely a few of the nonsensical decisions that were somehow approved by multiple individuals at Warner Bros.
From here on out expect spoilers for the entire movie.
Batman and Superman have no reason to fight
Every versus movie must at least provide a believable explanation that the characters would go up against one another, but in that respect, freaking Freddy vs. Jason outshines Batman v. Superman.
Why does Batman hate Superman? At first it’s because of the destruction that took place at the end of Man of Steel, and because Bruce Wayne is threatened by Clark Kent’s unchecked power. That’s the setup, but beyond an opening action scene, Bruce barely references the Metropolis attack ever again. Instead, it appears that this whole set piece was thrown in simply to shut up Man of Steel detractors rather than to motivate Bruce’s decision-making.
Bruce Wayne makes the perplexing conclusion that because Superman is a mighty force who theoretically could turn against humanity one day, he must be destroyed. There is zero evidence that Superman is dangerous at this point in time, though. Reckless, maybe, considering how many died during his battle with General Zod. But Superman was saving the entire planet from a fucking alien. It’s not as if he was bored one day and suddenly started blowing up buildings to let off steam.
According to Bruce, if there’s even a one percent chance that Superman is his enemy, the man must be annihilated. Really? So if you’re 99% confident someone is innocent, you should definitely murder them? You know, just to be safe?
Maybe Batman could have acquired some Kryptonite after the incident in Metropolis as a precautionary measure, and then some second tragedy goes down which forces Bruce to conclude Superman has to be killed. But no, instead Batman’s logic for wanting to assassinate Earth’s savior is that he accidentally caused too much collateral damage one time.
What’s Superman’s motivation for fighting Batman? Oh, this is even worse. At least Batman has his own internal justification, but Superman goes up against the caped crusader because…Lex Luthor made him.
Seriously, Luthor kidnaps Clark Kent’s mom and tells Superman that she’ll die if he doesn’t fight Batman. Are you kidding me? That’s the best they could come up with? So the brawl that this story is hinging upon could have been easily avoided if Superman simply explained his situation? Basically, Snyder put as much thought into this as the writers of a typical Three’s Company episode.
The pacing is out of control
I have previously written about Man of Steel‘s pacing, complaining that the opening hour is nothing but a series of two-minute scenes thrown together with no rhyme or reason so that the audience struggles to invest in anything before Snyder moves on.
Oh Jesus, if only I knew how bad it was going to get in the sequel. My personal theory is that Warner Bros. held a meeting taking pitches for what the beginning of Batman v Superman should be, but then instead of choosing one, they just decided to film them all and place the footage together in any random order. The result was three straight hours consisting purely of opening scenes, then some poor editor had to cut this all down into 45 minutes, and that’s what we have here.
Really, it takes roughly an hour before it feels that Dawn of Justice has started, and for this first act, the audience is catapulted through a collection of unrelated sequences that are finished before we even realize what the hell just happened.
In one egregious instance, Superman rescues Lois Lane in Africa, and later on he’s blamed for the ensuing massacre. This becomes the basis for the senate to hold hearings about Superman’s actions – for some reason, the destruction of Metropolis didn’t call for that, but this did – yet the actual scene in question is maybe two minutes long. The events that will dramatically impact the remainder of the movie begin and end before we have a chance to even catch our breath. Within seconds, Superman has saved Lois, and Snyder is already on to the next plot beat. He has no damn patience or ability to build suspense.
The editing is seriously just out of control, as if we are watching a two-and-a-half hour trailer for a nine hour film. The same way a trailer quickly smashes from one visually–dazzling moment to another without any connective tissue, that’s how Dawn of Justice operates from beginning to end.
Lex Luthor is a horrible villain
Jesse Eisenberg appears to be playing your friend who wouldn’t stop doing his mediocre Joker impression after The Dark Knight came out. Never does this guy come across as a businessman who has been driven insane, and not for a second do we buy him as a living being who could possibly exist in our dimension. He is so ridiculously over the top that it’s like a Saturday Night Live parody of all the wacky antagonists with curious mannerisms we’ve seen in the wake of Heath Ledger’s Dark Knight performance.
But Eisenberg shouldn’t receive all the blame, as he was presumably delivering the performance Zack Snyder for some reason wanted. The more significant crime is that we never have a firm understanding of what Luthor wants. Most of the time he’s just spouting off insipid God vs. Man monologues like a college freshman who recently took Greek Philosophy 101, and he needs Superman destroyed because, I guess…he doesn’t like Gods? Really, what’s the explanation? He’s trying to demonstrate to the world that Superman is mortal, I guess, but why? And if his plan was to spark an altercation between Batman and Superman, how was Doomsday going to factor into his scheme, assuming it went off without a hitch? From what Luthor says, it appears that Doomsday was Plan B. So in Plan A, Batman kills Superman and then…now Lex has to deal with this uncontrollable monster too?
Eisenberg’s Luthor is like the worst villains of 1980s action movies who are motivated by some vague, poorly thought out desire to take over the world and be evil because that’s what’s written in the script.
The Justice League introduction is laughable
It boggles the mind how any of this shit made it past the first draft. Remember when Iron Man 2 came out and we all criticized the S.H.I.E.L.D. subplot, saying it was awkwardly shoehorned in to set up The Avengers? Well, that was only a few minutes and was at least kind of woven into the fabric of the film, but here, the other Justice League characters are literally introduced out of nowhere because Batman sends an email to Wonder Woman.
In the last act, when we should be concentrating entirely on wrapping up this movie’s plot, Snyder decides to take a break so Wonder Woman can open an email that includes video clips of all the Justice League characters, complete with snazzy logos that I guess Lex Luthor designed in Photoshop himself. None of the brief scenes shown are even particularly interesting, so it serves no purpose other than to make audiences aware that a Justice League movie is coming out. An entire subplot has the same effect as a Justice League poster would.
What’s especially mystifying is that the movie has no after credits scene, so why the fuck not just put the Justice League stuff there? Imagine if Iron Man 2 randomly interrupted the conflict with Ivan Vanko so that S.H.I.E.L.D. could discover Thor’s hammer.
The explosion at Capitol Hill accomplishes nothing
What’s the inciting incident that makes the public question Superman’s benevolence and makes Clark Kent doubt himself?
The attack in Metropolis? Nah, Superman still doesn’t give a shit about the thousands of people who died, and the public at large was so unaffected they built a monument to honor him. The African massacre? Not really. The government blames Superman for it – even though his innocence should be painfully obvious considering everyone there was shot – but it’s unclear what the average citizen thinks.
No, apparently the catalyst is when the U.S. Capitol blows up while Superman happens to be there, but even then, this seems to have no real impact other than that Clark is kind of crestfallen on a balcony for 60 seconds. First of all, why blow up the freaking Capitol in a movie if it’s not going to be a massive turning point, and second, why did we need three separate incidents to have the public turn on Superman? And why do none of them seem to matter that much in the end?
The end of the fight is incredibly sloppy
Batman and Superman stop fighting because they both have mothers named Martha.
Okay, not really. Snyder was clearly going for something where it suddenly hits Batman that Superman is not all that different than him; he grew up on Earth, not in space, and to kill Clark Kent would be to rip a boy away from his mother. Bruce Wayne knows something about mothers and sons being ripped apart by a murderer, and so this realization is what gives him pause.
But that’s not at all how it plays in the movie. Superman says “Martha,” Batman freaks out and yells WHY DID YOU SAY THAT NAME over and over, and their melee ends unceremoniously. The film didn’t need to spell out everything I wrote above, but in a movie called Batman v. Superman, the moment the characters decide to stop fighting is pretty important, huh? Snyder butchers it.
Superman’s death is completely unmoving
Superman freaking dies in this movie, and I felt nothing. Well, that’s not true, I did feel something: utter shock that Snyder was dumb enough to cram such a crucial development into the last ten minutes of an already jam-packed film.
That’s not only because there isn’t a single person in the theater over the age of six who doesn’t expect Superman to come back to life. It’s also because Snyder 1) decides to kill Superman in what is only his second appearance on screen 2) makes no real attempt to build up to the death more than two minutes in advance and 3) never even makes clear why Superman has to die.
I mean, Superman impales Doomsday with the Kyrpotite spear, but unless I’m missing something, is there any real reason Batman or Wonder Woman couldn’t have done that? Maybe the one guy who Kyrpotine kills shouldn’t be the one handling the Kyrponite weapon? It’s less a noble sacrifice and more something that unfolds because the movie is almost over. I had more of an emotional reaction to Tony Stark’s 60 second “death” in The Avengers, and yet Snyder stretches this out for so long that I was begging for the credits to finally roll.
So. Many. Dreams.
How much shorter could this have been if all the unnecessary dream sequences were removed? Batman’s nightmare in particular goes on forever, with enough time for there to be a full fight that means nothing since it’s just in Bruce’s head, and yet no essential information is conveyed (at least essential for this movie). It is a complete waste of fucking time. Or how about Clark Kent speaking to his dad on top of a mountain? We needed that, right? After this, I think it’s time to introduce something called the “Dawn of Justice Rule” mandating a limit of one dream scene per movie.
The trailer ruins everything
To be fair, this is not something we can blame on the movie itself, but since it so negatively impacted my viewing experience, I feel I should mention it. Never before have I seen a film where I can barely recall a single significant plot beat that wasn’t in the trailer. If you’ve been to the cinema over the past few months, you’ve seen the Batman v Superman trailer, and therefore you have already seen Batman v Superman. The only major element left out is Superman’s death, but other than that, the film is little more than an expanded version of what we’ve already seen going in. And because of the crazy editing, some scenes don’t even go on for that much longer than they did in the trailer.
Batman and Superman are both unlikable
I don’t necessarily have a problem with how dark Batman v. Superman is, and not every superhero story has to be light and silly. But what does create an issue is that both Batman and Superman are aggressively unpleasant, and I did not want to spend any more time with either of them.
The battle between the two should, one would think, be a battle between a hopeful, idealistic savior and a pessimistic vigilante, and so therefore it’s as much a conflict of ideas as it is a conflict of people. But in Dawn of Justice, both characters are assholes who kill willy-nilly and who just kind of brood around all the time. Gee, I wonder who’s going to win, the sad guy in the red suit moping over the state of the world, or the sad guy in the black suit moping over the state of the world. Does it really matter?
In conclusion, please, DC, get rid of Zack Snyder immediately. The guy is a great visual storyteller, but he has absolutely no idea how to structure and edit a movie, and if he’s kept on board, I’m probably going to have to opt out of this whole cinematic universe until you can get your shit together.