Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat (pun intended). The fact that a viewer might enjoy a film does not make it well-made. A lot of folks enjoyed this film. These folks are much like the two guys who sat behind me during a Man of Steel showing years ago. During the pre-film trailers, they bashed Gravity as “stupid” and gleefully expressed their excitement to see R.I.P.D. You know, one of the worst films of that year.
Here are some quotes from folks who gave this film high marks:
“It was easily the best superhero movie of all time, even better than The Dark Knight.”
“Affleck needs to win an Oscar for Best Actor.”
“Zack’s done it guys. He’s created this year’s Mad Max….Marvel’s movies don’t hold a candle to this one. D.C. has their Empire Strikes Back.”
Statements like these show that these folks generally wouldn’t know a well-made film if it bat-branded them in the face. To compare this film to The Empire Strikes Back or The Dark Knight? Mad Max? Their reviews become essentially unreliable. They are likely so invested in the film, so eager for DC to make something good, that they are too insecure to admit the truth.
I’m not saying this film is the worst thing I’ve ever seen. I enjoyed parts of it for sure. Some parts were simply fantastic. But it wasn’t what it should have been, and that makes things that much worse. If you liked the movie, great! I liked the original Ghost Rider film, but I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t artistically a good movie. There’s a difference between personal opinion and objective truth. Batman v Superman was far from what we’ve grown to expect from comic book films. It just wasn’t a good movie. Here’s some of the reasons why. And yes…BIG SPOILER ALERT!
1) Character motivations are never clear.
The film’s strength is the cast. Ben Affleck gives us the best on-screen Batman yet, with some amazing fight scenes akin to those we’ve seen in the Arkham video games. Jesse Eisenberg is a great Lex Luthor, when his character isn’t being poorly written, and Jeremy Irons is a perfect Alfred. But we really have no clue what motivates these characters because either it’s never shown, or it’s changed throughout the film.
Why does Lex want Superman dead? To protect the Earth? In the comics, Lex is really an awful human being, but his hatred of Superman stems from his pride. He thinks he, not an alien, should be Earth’s savior. If that’s really the case here, why does he unleash
a troll from Lord of the Rings Doomsday, who will certainly be just as big a threat as Superman, and why is he so happy that Darkseid is coming? Either way…no savior card for you, Mr. Luthor. Lex is a genius, and we get some awesome moments in the film (the Senate bombing was done so well, classic Luthor). But he changes mid-film to a cookie cutter baddie. There is no way his plan is going to result in anything other than a trip to jail, something that Superman has always had a notoriously hard time accomplishing.
Luthor isn’t the only one written poorly. Throughout the film, a common question is basically if men are truly good or evil. I’d like to tell you which characters think which option is true, but they change their minds so much I can’t tell. First, Batman says they are evil, which is understandable. Except he is somehow both inspired by his parents death to be Batman, because lives are worth living, and haunted by their words about how bad people usually are, so they deserve nothing. Superman starts brooding and thinking the same, and Lois Lane has to convince him otherwise. Then Wonder Woman tells Batman that she left the world of men because she didn’t think they deserved her protection, and BATMAN convinces her that men are worth saving, so she changes her mind.
Head spinning yet?
2) Everything is surface level, and the deeper things don’t work.
There’s a lot of dream sequences. We even get the classic “I had a dream about a character I don’t even know exists.” None of the dreams add anything to the plot that wasn’t there already. I’m not sure how bats levitating a young Bruce Wayne or a Man-Bat bursting out of a grave serve as good symbolism. Its like the writers wanted us to think profound things, but didn’t add any meaning to find. The lone exception is the creepy painting in Lex’s office, which really did add a layer of fear and premonition to the plot.
Of course, this all leaves the plot paper thin. It completely revolves on getting Superman to fight Batman. Usually plot points advance a story or a moral, they get from Point A to Point B. But the plot here isn’t linear, its orbital. Batman and Superman need to fight. Everything orbits that. Nothing needs to make sense, the characters can act completely different from one scene to the next, as long as we can get to the fight! For example…
- Superman lets a bunch of terrorists go so he can tell Batman to stop being mean to criminals.
- Gotham is close enough to Metropolis that every person in Superman’s city can see the Batsignal. If that were the case, and Superman dislikes Batman’s brand of justice so much, he would have long ago started cleaning up the streets of Gotham. He flies around the world to save people, of course he could go right across the bay!
- Superman finally decides to ask Batman for help, but gives up way too easily on the whole “Maybe I should just refuse to fight this guy and mention that we have a common enemy that you are also really concerned about.” Honestly, all he has to do is say “Lex Luthor wants me to kill you or else he’ll kill my mom.”
- Speaking of Lex, he orchestrates this gladiator match for no reason. He wants Superman dead, right? Why send him to Batman when you already have Doomsday?
- Superman can hear when Lois is in danger from thousands of miles away, but his mom gets kidnapped and he can’t tell that she’s probably within 30 miles of where he is. We saw in the beginning of the film that Superman is truly faster than a speeding bullet. He could have saved his mom easily, but no, he had to go get Batman’s help.
Oh, and even the plot points that don’t necessarily revolve around making the two icons duke it out are clearly afterthoughts. They don’t make any sense.
- Lex goes though a huge conspiracy plan to make it look like Superman was responsible for a bunch of deaths somewhere in Africa. Except all those deaths were caused by bullets. We’re not talking Iron Man here, Superman doesn’t use a gun. So he saves Lois, but it’s pretty clear that Superman didn’t do any of the killing. But it creates tension…so…there’s that. Oh, and accusations fly that Superman somehow saw the bomb at the Capitol but chose to do nothing to save everyone. Except its not common knowledge to these people that Superman has x-ray vision, so why would they suspect he could have known the bomb was there?
- Lex somehow needs government permission to transport a chunk of kryptonite into the U.S. Maybe I’m wrong, but are there really laws that prohibit new minerals from being transported? He’s not even selling it to anyone. If I had a small chunk of kryptonite and I wanted to get in the U.S. with it, I’d put it in my suitcase and fly home. If I was rich and had a big chunk of kryptonite, I’d just put it on a ship in a big crate, or fly it in on a private jet. I wouldn’t tell the government about it until I actually had the dang thing, and maybe not even then!
- Speaking of kryptonite, Batman puts a tracker on the transport truck, but still physically chases the bad guys. This is only going to get people killed. Just wait until the tracker stops moving, you know, like Spider-Man does in comic books from 50 years ago!
- And as long as we’re talking Spider-Man, when did Perry White turn into a J. Jonah Jameson clone? The character was really solid in Man of Steel, but here it feels like they are trying too hard to make him a jerk. Stern is fine, but it was a bit much, especially when he says “nobody cares about Clark Kent taking on the Batman.” C’mon man, the Batman is obviously front page news if it’s a big TV story. I’d totally want to see Clark Kent taking on the Batman.
- Why does Lex have his head shaved when he goes to jail? That’s usually not standard operating procedure. It just feels like the writers wanted us to have another AHA! moment.
- This one is nitpicky, but when Lois gets to the Capitol, two security guards have to check her credentials. But she isn’t going to the interior, she’s just going near the protesters. She obviously didn’t need credentials for that.
3) We don’t care about these people.
Probably in an attempt to get to an expanded universe faster, DC opted to throw a bunch about all these characters at us at once. So much has happened before the events of the film, but we weren’t along for the ride, so we don’t have anything invested in any of these characters.
Lois and Clark’s romance is all of a sudden there, which is fine, but we didn’t see its progression, so we don’t care about it like we care about Pepper and Tony, or even Arwen and Aragorn. Heck, Lois isn’t even likable. And she’s written so poorly, like the screenwriters thought they needed to hit us over the head with how intense she is.
Henry Cavill’s Superman is also not incredibly likable. He broods, he let his dad die in Man of Steel and he has no Clark Kent charm. And he’s always hovering over people. Who thought that was a good idea? “Oh look, a family trapped on a roof during a flood. I’ll just hover here a bit before I save them.” “Well, I’m here for a Senate hearing where lots of people are protesting my very existence. Might as well hover over them to make them feel small or something.”
I felt absolutely nothing when
that troll Doomsday killed Superman. I didn’t care. And we all know he isn’t really dead. People like to say that Marvel is afraid to be serious, but both Phil Coulson and Quicksilver have been killed and those deaths made me sad (not super sad, but it produced an emotion), even shocked me. This wasn’t shocking. I was a little surprised, but only because we’ve really had no time to get to know this Superman. We do know that a lot of people actually don’t like him at all, so why should we care, as an audience, if he’s dead?
And Batman. I can’t really empathize with a character who treats life so callously. The thing that makes Batman different from the Punisher, or Deadpool, is that he isn’t a killer. The Robin costume was a good touch to see how much toll the Batman life has had on Bruce, but we don’t see enough of that toll to justify Bruce willing to kill Superman. And not just be willing, but to make that Plan A, not even a last resort. Plus his motivation is so cloudily presented that I can’t get on the same page.
The interesting thing is that the characters I actually care about were in the film very little. Wonder Woman was set up nicely, and the scenes of the Flash and Aquaman were very well done (and it was very thoughtful of Lex to design logos for them too!). I care more about what happens to those three than I care about what happens to Batman, and especially Superman. I’m actually excited for the Wonder Woman movie now, although I’m not as sold on Gal Godot’s role as some folks. Oh…Cyborg. I’m just curious if they are renaming him “Bad CGI Man” because I’ve seen better special effects on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
I could go on for much longer, but I won’t, because dead horses don’t need beating. If you enjoyed this movie, good for you, but it is very shaky ground to build a mega-franchise on. Stay home and rent this later. Or if you want to spend money on it, wait for the Director’s Cut to be released, perhaps it will be edited better than the awkwardly paced hodge podge we got in cinemas.
Final Grade: 3 out of 10 stars.