It’s no secret that I wasn’t a fan of Man of Steel. I didn’t like the sets, I thought they mishandled the whole “origin story” of Superman (and, you know, his basic character traits), and the action was just absurd and excessive. Worse, they just absolutely ruined Jonathan Kent and the moral fiber of Superman / Clark Kent. There were some decent parts… I liked Adams as Lois Lane and Fishburne as Perry White, and the whole military fight that let Detective Stabler get the noble death SVU would never give him was far cooler than the generic build-up for it.
But, I didn’t really hate Man of Steel, I just didn’t like it. We’ve had some genuinely great comic book movies in recent years, and MoS went more for gritty and serious, and didn’t treat it’s characters like they were, you know, comic book characters. Obviously, some people loved the movie though, because here we are with Batman v Superman. DC has already announced that this is all a lead-up to Justice League, and has been teasing stuff for every film they’re planning to make ever, and they’re all going to be the bestest things ever.
The problem, of course, is that Batman v Superman is like if the Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones had an illegitimate child and decided to take home the afterbirth and dress it up like Superman. Batman v Superman is the worst movie I have seen in years.
Oh, and obviously, spoilers. Though likely no more than their trailers already spoiled.
I asked Ace if i could rescind the bad word rule we have for writing, and he said okay as long as I gave some warning. So, warning, my blood may get up occasionally and I’ll use a couple of words. Naughty words you may not normally see on FBTB. You can probably go read on the forums, the bad-words filter should catch them there. I’ll try to keep the damn language toned down, though.
Oh, and since I already tipped my hand on what I think, I’m going to sprinkle this review with videos you should watch instead of Batman v Superman. They have nothing to do with anything here, but that was also true of so much in this movie. At least I know that I am not alone at all in my feelings of this movie, for once.
If I can make any sort of Public Service Announcement for this movie, I think the single most important thing other than “don’t watch it” is to absolutely not watch it in 3D. I don’t know what company did the post-production effects on it, but this is the worst 3D I’ve seen in a movie not named “Clash of Titans.” Your vision is frequently pulled away from what you should be looking at by things in the foreground, entirely out of focus and blocking details. It starts in the credits, where all of the names are at the lower corner of the screen, and a 3D effect where you have to focus on it and miss the scenes.
First things first, let’s address the biggest surprise about the movie: Ben Affleck isn’t the worst thing in the movie. He’s not an awful Batman… not as good as Keaton, West, or Bale, but not as awful as Kilmer or Clooney. I actually quite liked his Bruce Wayne, as the older, bitter, and more messed up Bruce. That was always the weakest part of the Nolan Batman films in my book, so it was nice to see some focus on Bruce.
Another surprise is the part of the movie that we’d seen a lot of in spoilers… I mean, trailers, for it coming up. We knew that Batman’s motivation was the destruction of Wayne Industries stuff in Metropolis. The scene was surprisingly effective and interesting, seeing the destruction from a point-of-view of someone other than the hero and villain in battle. Even the probably-too-long car chase works, since it establishes the drive of Bruce to get to his people. He warned them to get out, and was doing everything he could.
The scene also gave us the only (intentional) joke in the whole movie, when Bruce, wandering through smoke, sees a horse. It was just so random and wonderful, and for a moment put my mind at a rest that maybe this wouldn’t be a raging trainwreck of a film. That still above, with him hugging the girl, is a well executed moment that is genuinely sad. Unfortunately, this is also probably the last time you’re going to feel emotionally invested in the movie.
One of the biggest issues with the movie as a whole package is that the whole thing is just disjointed and jumpy. I’m not sure if that’s the Nolan influence in the thing, or they’re just stitching together a few different movies, but there are times where you will likely go “what in the hell just happened.” After the gut-punch of the destruction of the Wayne building, we go to the desert to get reintroduced to Lois Lane. I liked Amy Adams as Lois in Man of Steel, so I’m glad she was back here. Of course, she goes right to woman in distress because she was meeting with a supposed terrorist to try and get an interview.
That’s interrupted when it’s revealed that her photographer, with his not at all suspicious 35mm camera, is actually a CIA plant. He gets shot, she gets taken hostage, and the man in blue shows up. The mercenaries, which will figure into the story a lot later, execute the terrorists in an effort to put the blame on Superman. In case you missed that it was a setup, we are immediately reminded of it with a cut to a senator calling for Superman to… you know, I have no idea. She never really explains it past “answer to somebody.”
After she gets back, we get our weirdest scenes, where Lois, obviously shaken, takes a bath. I love Amy Adams, but it is just a strange scene… did we need to get our T&A fix or something here? It just feels so strange, for her as an actress and as a scene in general. The best I can say is that they’re trying to sell that she and Clark are a couple now, but he’s fully dressed (and takes off his shoes only before stepping in the bath here. It is cool, though, that this is one of like four movies made in the last fifty years where the woman is older than guy in a relationship. And cooler that it was never mentioned… I just knew how old Amy Adams was (because of the Muppets… I loved that movie).
The problem with Lois Lane in the movie is that she’s basically just a prop by the end of the film. She had a whole investigation part, and it was Amy Adams doing Lois Lane like she deserves… but it just fizzles after Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor junior tips his hand. That picture up there is in the very last little bit of the movie, sadly. Before that, he’s pretty much classic comic Luthor Jr in look, with the hair at least, though he lacks that glorious beard of the comic version (at least the 90s one).
Most of the movie is spent trying to convince us he’s insane but brilliant, but then trying to get us to believe that the government would trust him anything more than a parking meter (he does look kind of bunny-like… Zootopia is a far better movie than this one was). He is incredibly creepy in this movie, like if Mark Zuckerberg was more Charles Manson than likeable Steve Jobs. Eisenberg isn’t a bad actor, but he is just a terrible Lex Luthor (Jr.). And he’s done no favors by a movie that wants to hang every little trope around him (including an abusive father).
It doesn’t become apparent until the final scene what his whole play is in this movie. He wants Batman dead for some reason, I guess because he stole the kryptonite that Eisenberg smuggled into the country. I haven’t reviewed the set yet for that, but have pictures taken (I liked it, generally). That set is missing a pretty big component from the chase, though: a Batmobile made from Adamantium and Uru metal. Oh, and a semi.
Seriously, I’m not sure anything is quite as absurd as the amount of things the vehicle smashes through chasing the semi with the kryptonite. Eventually, it was ended by Bats crashing into Supes (which was seen in the trailer). That knocked the car to the side into the side of the building, but apparently that wasn’t enough to actually stop the car, which he drives back to the Batcave.
Of course, the biggest thing that sticks out here, if you are a fan of Batman in movies, comics, or television shows, is that Batman has totally gotten over that “no killing” rule. When chasing the Semi with the kryptonite, he just outright kills some guys with the Batmobile’s guns. Later, in the biggest “wtf, am I watching the same movie” moments, we see him actually toting guns and shooting the Superman-Nazis and insect aliens.
Yes, Nazis. This is sort of an homage to some of the “What If”-ish comics that DC has done over the years. Those troops are all wearing the Superman logo, and they are hunting Batman for some reason. That’s where the Darkseid logo shows up in the trailer. Also, Superman has no issue executing people, and the Earth has gone from the dark black and dirty gray to the more classic orange and blue that we all known and hate. Look, this is still an Snyder film, of course there was going to be some orange.
What does Superman having his own private army and executing hobo Batman have to do with Batman v Superman? Nothing. It all happens in a dream sequence. It’s not even a dream, it’s actually a dream in a dream, some sort of vision. It has hints of the comics here, especially stuff from Injustice (in fact, a whole line was pulled straight from there… “She was my world, and you took her from me”). But what’s weird is that it’s just dropped in the middle of the movie. The first thought I had in my head when this started was “are we suddenly watching Fury Road?” It was out of nowhere, like you were suddenly in a different movie.
The end of it, we get our first view of The Flash, wearing some awful armor or something. I do like, on one hand, the absurdity of Flash being able to run backwards in time. That’s very Flash. But the TV show is just so much better than absolutely everything in this movie, so I don’t like seeing someone else in the part. And that costume, in the little bits we see it, just looks dumb.
In fact, so much of the movie plays as just setting up Justice League, it’s to the detriment of the rest of the film. DC learned exactly the wrong lesson from the success Marvel has seen in the film universe. There were no phases to start… it was just Iron Man, and the little stinger at the end lit an absolute inferno and pushed for something bigger. Even when the Incredible Hulk came about, it was unclear that something bigger was coming along. Once Iron Man 2 hit, and Thor after it, they were clearly planning and moving to something bigger. They built up credibility and excitement with audiences, and that made the whole idea of a “franchise series” a success. And it’s expanded past the movies into TV and other media.
DC wants to skip that whole building phase, and go right to the “franchise” part. I like to imagine that they’re like the Underpants Gnomes, and just missing that important step 2 before moving on to profit. Man of Steel didn’t set the world alight in clamoring for more, and they’re just plowing ahead with it. The fact that this is getting terrible reviews isn’t going to knock them off that path, because it’ll make money (I mean, it’s opening against My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 on a holiday weekend).
They are trying to build some little bits of background, though. I want to say I love the Batcave in this movie… but honestly, it was so hard to get a handle on. The camera angles and shots didn’t reveal much of it other than the work area or the little lobby area for tours or something. We get some implication that this Batman has a whole lot of history. We saw two bits of that in the trailer, with a picture of Batman armor covered with Joker taunts and the line about Gotham having a problem with clowns. There is nothing more in the movie, just those two bits.
There most certainly was a highlight in the movie in the form of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. While she’s Diana Prince (though her name is only revealed towards the end), she steals the screen just with her presence, and her interactions with Affleck/Bruce Wayne are far too short. Plus, she kicks some serious amount of ass when she shows up in the final fight, and easily is the most effective part of the trio there. She’s the one that uses skill and tactics when fighting the big monster, and actually hurts the thing.
I’m glad we’re getting Aquaman and Wonder Woman movies, and that they are in different hands, because they could help redeem this growing mess. Both of those castings look to be solid, but we will have to see how it goes. We do get some extended looks at Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg, and Wonder Woman in the ten minute preview sequence. You have to admire Lexcorp’s dedication to creating icons for each of them, and putting those videos for Diana to watch. Seriously, there is a ten minute sequence that amounts to watching previews of the other “Metahumans.” But, hey, at least we know what Henry is up to after Eureka shut down.
I’m going to assume that was the only term they could come up with. Thanks to Agents of SHIELD and the MCU, Marvel has most of the other terms cornered (enhanced, gifted, powered, Inhuman). Really, the highlight comes down to the picture of Wonder Woman from 1918, shown above. I would watch the absolute crap out of this movie. Outside of the fact that World War I is sorely underrepresented as a setting… I mean, just look at that thing. There’s a Native American soldier standing with Wonder Woman! That single still is already better than the rest this movie and Lone Ranger combined.
I kind of want to skip the rest of this review and go directly to what the plot would be for that movie. Please, by all means, go to the comments with that. Let us use our nerd powers for good.
The movie is just full of so many misfires, though. It’s just an ugly film to look at. It’s all gray and dark, like Snyder spent his mornings spreading tar and the tear of comic fans on his lenses. At times, the music seems like it’d be cool, but sometimes it ramps up like we’re about to see the opening of the Ark of the Convenent, and it just fizzles out. Part of that is caused by the fact that the movie skips around.
There are several weird WTF moments stitched together. We get the required Bruce Wayne origin scene where his parents are killed. They took a lot of cues from Frank Miller in this scene, down to taking his iconic image of Martha Wayne’s pearls. I’m not sure if the price of the ticket would cover getting the trade for Dark Knight Returns, but it’s likely a better use of your money. It’s actually not awful the first time you see it in the movie, but it shows up two or three more times. Not before we get to see Bruce find a bunch of bats in a cave and start to fly around with them. No, wait, that was another dream/flashback/hallucination. Affleck tells you that in voice over that they didn’t really fly him, but you certainly had time to turn to anyone sitting next to you and ask “wait, can he fly now?”
That Martha thing is important, because apparently having moms with the same first name is all it takes to go from big enemies to exchanging BFF bracelets. For being titled “Batman v Superman,” the whole conflict between them just feels so tacked on. It’s not helped by the fact that everything Lex is doing feels so obvious and stupidly evil that you don’t buy the conflict. Ultimately, though, the fight between them amounts to “Bruce Wayne is a fascist asshole that thinks assassination is just fine if someone poses a 1% danger” and “Superman is powerful, trying to do the right thing, and that causes collateral damage.”
That is the thing that this movie does a bit better than Man of Steel, and that’s capturing the fact that Superman is an ideal as much as he is the character himself. There was a very interesting potential in looking at that here, in the ramifications of that help and the damage. Of course, once Lex manipulates him to murder Congress for some reason (which by the end of this election season may be a misdemeanor at best), and Clark goes off to hallucinate in the mountains somewhere with his dead adoptive data, there is just a story there about Clark struggling with that too. It’s also not great that the movie just flat out keeps telling us Clark is having doubts (like, actually saying it pretty much like that).
I guess they didn’t want to go down that road though (unlike, say, the upcoming Captain America: Civil War)… because it mostly goes down to Bruce being afraid and deciding it’s time to kill Superman.
You see, that’s why he stole the kryptonite, to weaponize it and take care of the alien. He does it by turning it into smoke grenades and a spear. One of those things makes total sense for Batman to use. The only reason Superman participates in this is because Luthor figured out who he was and kidnapped his mom as leverage (and got his attention to that fact by pushing Lois off a building). I mean, I’m pretty sure my phone can do some basic facial recognition, so maybe “glasses” wasn’t the best mechanism for trying to keep that particular secret.
The whole start of the fight makes it very clear that Bruce Wayne has lost his damn mind, though. First, when Superman lands, he calls him by his first, supposedly secret, name. He asks for his help, and makes it very clear he doesn’t want to fight. Batman’s response is to attack him and promptly get his ass kicked. Of course, it was all a ruse to set up using those magic green grenades, which put Clark in a place where he actually gets hurt. It becomes clear quickly that the effects are temporary, because he quickly gets back to kicking bat-ass. Eventually, though, Bruce brings out that spear, and we sadly do not get Caveman-Batman, until Superman ends the fight by saying “Martha.”
Seriously, though, the thing that ends the fight between Batman and Superman is the fact that Clark and Bruce have moms with the same first name. Lois Lane shows up to explain why that’s important, and we are suddenly in Dawn of Superfriends. After typing that, I suddenly feel the urge to go make a MOC of Superman and Batman skipping through a field of flowers. Is that weird?
Anyway, the new friends decide that Superman needs to go deal with whatever Lex did in the alien ship that is causing it to spit lightning everywhere, while Batman goes off to rescue Martha Kent. We saw part of that scene in the last trailer, you know, the one that didn’t have spoilers for critical plot points in this film. It’s actually the most right feeling fight in the whole thing, in that it’s the most Batman-feeling fight. Though, their best bit that wasn’t shown has already been one-upped by Season 2 of Daredevil (seriously, go watch that on Netflix… it’s sooooo good). Batman does totally murder the crap out of some guys up there, though. Some he does just maim though.
I did lie above, there was another joke in this movie outside of the horse, and that’s when Batman rescues Martha (after lighting a guy on fire… old Batman has this killing thing down) and says he’s a friend of her son. Her quip is actually funny, but after that, right back to all kinds of seriousness. This movie takes itself far too serious, and doesn’t even have the decency to pipe in a “want to know how I got these scars” while it does it. The only comedy is either unintentional or done by the likes of Perry White calling out one-liner headlines.
Like Man of Steel, Fishburne’s Perry White is just awesome every time he’s on the screen. Him trying to get Clark to cover a Football story is funny, as are the terrible headlines he keeps tossing out. The exchanges between him and Lois are good as well, in those moments where we get to see something other than the fuming of our title characters. Senator Elastigirl made a good joke when she visited Lex Luthor in his home, while channeling her best Judge Judy personality. Unfortunately, that joke was a bit less funny when used as part of the plot for the assassination of congress.
Ultimately, what I felt in Batman v Superman was the complete lack of any sort of suspense or surprise. Doomsday, above, could have been a huge surprise if they could have kept their mouths shut. Instead, it was spoiled in the first full trailer, so it was clear that they were going to end this with the Death of Superman. If this was an MCU or an animated DC film, I would have reserved judgement and assumed it was a misdirect. I’ve watched several Zach Snyder movies, and I can’t say “surprise” has ever come up in them.
Even the “emotional punch” at the end, where we are treated to the contrast of two funerals for Clark Kent in Kansas and Superman in Washington DC, is diminished because you just know what’s going to happen “next.” The Justice League movies have been announced, and you simply cannot have those movies without Superman. Sure, you get that short scene at the end where the dirt starts to float off the coffin. It’s a tribute to Amy Adams here, where she delivers raw emotion and hurt in her character, despite the fact that none of us believe he’s going to stay dead. The whole ring was a bit much… but the wedding of Lois Lane and Clark Kent is like a harbinger of death for the Superman character, when the worst things are about to happen to him and to us.
*Seriously, the guy has a doctorate. Like… a real one.
I am at least a little bit curious what Snyder is going to steal next for Justice League. The aftermath of the death of Superman was… uneven at best. Maybe Lex Luthor has cloned him, but it’d need to be equal parts Superman and Peak 90s to get that Superboy back. We already saw the promo videos, and likely teaser trailers, for Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg, and the Flash. He’s used up some of the biggest Batman and Superman stories in this one movie, so he may be stuck trying to come up with a new idea or something. Also, he’s not winning friends by dismissing the TV flash in his recasting, since, you know, those shows are actually good. Especially given the reasons he presents in the article. When has Snyder ever made a fully realized character with many dimensions?
The scene at the end with a now-bald Luthor, in prison, and Batman looking to brand him, teased at what drove little Lex-y insane. He has glimpsed the darkness, and he’s coming. Combined with the Ω we saw earlier in the flashforward/flashback or whatever it was (and the fact that we saw Batman fighting his alien bug footsoldiers), it’s clear that they’re setting up Darkseid as the villain for the Justice League. It’s not as blindingly obvious as other stuff, since you need to be a comic fan to pick up a lot of those clues… but it’s clear they’re setting up the next movie throughout this whole thing.
There are a couple of other lessons they should have picked up from Marvel with this whole line. First is the most important… each movie to set up your universe should be able to exist on its own. They do not serve as teasers or hints for the next one. Marvel did this with stingers and subtle things; in Avengers… Thor, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 1 & 2, and Captain America can all be watched by themselves, and there were at most a couple of minutes that spent teasing to the next thing.
That was a safety net in case there was a failure in the bunch, but it’s also not something they abandoned once it was clear the franchise was a hit. Iron Man 3, Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Dark World, and Ant-Man still all existed as an island, with more shared knowledge but not direct ties between them. DC obviously doesn’t have that here… Man of Steel lived by itself, but Batman v Superman is a movie that messed up today because it was always looking at tomorrow.
Second, and bigger, is that the best villains are the ones that work on more than one level. Thanos is one of the primary bad guys in the comic world, and has been for a long time. He’s a complex, dark, and interesting. He was teased in Avengers, and they’ve been working towards that reveal across multiple movies, and it fits the character. I think jumping right to Darkseid is a huge misstep for DC in their setup here. He is simply too big, and too important of a villain, to end up as some big bad that’s just big and bad because DC says so.
I know some people enjoyed the movie, and that’s cool. I’m not one of them. The DC universe deserves better than to be reduced below the level of a Michael Bay franchise. Bay films are vapid and over-the-top, but at least they tend to do a better job of entertaining and capturing a bit of the spirit. The Transformers movies are dumb, but they always tend to treat the source as what it is. This movie, like Man of Steel before it, takes itself far too seriously. It’s like gritty mixed with grit and topped with more grit. It feels unnatural, is needlessly dark and violent, and is over-the-top in the wrong sort of ways.
There are moments in the fights and are funny, but mostly because they more absurd than any Transformers moment. When Superman and Batman are fighting in that… whatever building that’s apparently abandoned but has a working, clean, fountain… you see Batman swing supes around and smash him through pillars that are apparently made of plaster dust and hope. The Batmobile smashes through dozens of vehicles and walls and doesn’t even really slow down. Maybe Gotham is in decay because they build their structures out of styrofoam and popsicle sticks.
Worse, this is a movie that has to explicitly keep telling you how the characters feel because it’s seemingly incapable of showing you. They are trying to give us tensions between characters that have no history together on screen and have never interacted with one another in this universe. It’s built a few relationships up, but it doesn’t use them to draw you closer to the characters, only to try and elicit some emotional response to lend gravity to scenes otherwise lacking it. But emotional connection has to be built up by the characters, and neither Affleck or Cavill are capable of doing that in these movies. Why it does work with Amy Adams is because she actually has some layers around the character… the same with Perry White. Nolan understood that in his movies (well, kind of), so it’s kind of shad his producer credit didn’t influence the story a bit more.
If there is a silver lining to take from this, it’s that the outlook for DC looks a bit better. Wonder Woman was a highlight in the film, so despite this awfulness, I have hopes for her movie. Suicide Squad still looks like it’ll be entertaining, and is bringing a lot of characters into view we would probably have never seen. Plus, of course, LEGO Batman, and the TV and Cartoon universes are still humming along strong. And that trailer for the LEGO Batman movie is likely to be the best Batman movie that will ever be made.
After the Justice League movie, Aquaman, the Flash, and Shazam are all lined up and ready. Of course, the big problem is that we the Justice League before that. It’s being directed by Snyder and written by the same guy who wrote (okay, rewrote) the Batman v Superman script; sure, Terrio won an Oscar for Argo… but if Ang Lee’s Hulk had a lesson to be learned, it’s that talent alone does not equate to making a good comic book movie.
This movie is a One out of Five in my book. I’m not even sure I’ve ever given a score that low before, but I think I’d rather binge watch the PT followed by the Twilight series and then follow-up with the PT again before watching it again. The friend I saw it with enjoyed it in the moment, but knew it was going to fall apart the minute he started to think about it. I’m all for movies that entertain you, but usually like I the entertainment to last past getting to my truck in the parking lot.