Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) Review

Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: David S. Goyer, Chris Terrio
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot

(Originally written for Youtube Mar 27 2016)

First thing first, this review will contain spoilers; you’ve been warned.

This one is going to be short, because I really don’t have a nuanced opinion on it. In summary, I hate this movie. This movie makes me angry, and more than that, it makes me sad that it exists. That so many people came together to make this film, spent almost half a billion dollars doing so, and all with such a fundamental misunderstanding of these characters; characters that are so simple at their core because they’re for children; and they just don’t get it. More than that actually, watching Batman v Superman, I can’t help but feel that this movie doesn’t just not understand Superman, it actively hates him.

And while it’s that hate for the character more than anything else that resigns it to the mess it is today; that is far from its only problem. This entire movie is a mess. The plot makes absolutely no sense, and at many points is laughably baffling. The first hour or so of this film is basically a structure less montage, with scenes happening at random, because honestly, they’re all kind of unimportant. Most of the main characters have no motivation, and those lucky enough to have that are plagued by inconsistency. The film is constantly dark and gloomy, and the soundtrack is plodding and about as epic as a wet fart. The fight at the center of this film, the titular one between Batman and Superman has no reason to actually happen, and the way it resolves itself is the most idiotic plot-point I have ever seen in a film, only barely beating out another plot-point in this film involving, and I am not making this up, a mason-jar of Lex Luthor’s piss.

But a film can have structural issues and be good. A film can have character inconstancies, and laughable plot-points, and still be good. And there is some good here. There’s maybe half-an-hour of what could be the best live-action Batman movie ever tucked into this two-and-a-half-hour mess. But what a film can’t do, if it wants to be good, is hate itself; and that’s exactly what I get from this film.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice does not believe in Superman. It doesn’t want to believe in Superman. This is a film that does not want to believe in hope, or that there could be something better, or that people can want to do good simply because it’s the right thing to do. In Batman v Superman all action comes from selfishness, all benevolence must be interrogated, and any symbols of hope must be stabbed through the heart. This film is the one thing a film about Superman should never ever be – cynical. And it’s so dogmatic, so unrelenting in its cynicism that it refuses to realize how incredibly idiotic it all is.

We have a Superman who never smiles, who doesn’t have any emotions at all in-fact; and likes to preface all of his heroic deeds by hovering above those in need for prolonged periods of time as sizes up the scope of his burden. I can’t tell you why this Superman decides to rescue people, and I’m not sure he could either. He doesn’t seem to like anyone who isn’t Lois Lane. He clearly isn’t happy. And this film’s nihilistic Batman fares no better. Affleck’s is a Batman with a body count, as comfortable shooting a variety of guns as he is in the role as executioner. His doesn’t seem like a Batman out to prevent the crime that happened to him from befalling anyone else, or even out for vengeance. And I can’t believe that he wants to fight Superman because I can’t believe he wants to do anything. The only character in this movie to escape this black hole of hopelessness is Wonder Woman, who pops up at the end of the movie, and because of a lack of proper development, is given enough room so that the audience can project heroism onto her, free to believe that she decides to do good because it’s the right thing to do.

Luthor, the film’s main villain doesn’t get off any easier. He switches between being motivated by a distrust of power, a jealously of Superman, and a resentment that these heroes didn’t protect him from his abusive father; and prances about the film talking in sporadic word-associative half-sentences that don’t actually mean anything. And his villainous plot to frame Superman of international terrorism using prototype bullets, and somehow tricking Batman into killing Superman for him, but also creating a world-ending supermonster…just makes absolutely zero sense.

But again, this film isn’t as terrible as it is because of a lack of intelligence, but because of a lack of heart. I forget which one of the disposable dour cynics in this movie says that we fear what we can’t understand; but that ends up perfectly summarizing what’s wrong with this. When, at the end of the film, for reasons that make about as much sense as anything else in this film, Superman suddenly decides to do something selfless, he is immediately punished for his transgressions; the symbol of hope on his chest pierced clean through. Such is the fate of the heroic in this film – no good deed unpunished, no hope left unquestioned, no hope left at all. Batman v Superman kills Superman because it does not understand him. It does not understand the very core of this character created by two Jewish immigrants on the eve of the holocaust, this character created for children to look up and aspire to – that there are people who want to do good in this world because it’s the right thing to do, and that no matter how dark things seem, with hope we can reach a better tomorrow.

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