At times it was a mess. At times, the plot made no sense. At times it was weird and uneven. At times it was a bit over the top…
So why did I like it?
This is a strange review for me. I didn’t find Batman v Superman to be the worst comic book movie as the critics have made out. It must have helped that I had very low expectations especially as I wasn’t a fan or keen on any of the trailers besides the teaser. I went into this film expecting to hate it but came out feeling like the world didn’t end. At its most basic level I did enjoy the film and found it entertaining.
If there was a general flaw then it comes down to execution, pacing and balance. Other than that, the themes and the ideas presented were good. The argument about the film being “too dark” or “lacking humour” is not an issue. I like that DC can take an unorthodox approach to their storytelling nor should there be a one size fits all blueprint on “here’s how to make a comic book movie” and follow it beat for beat. At the end of the day, comic book movies are adaptations therefore I don’t get too hung up over small details/changed character traits. You will always have the originals! Warner and DC Comics took some risks, some of it ballsy and some elements paid off.
Yet to overlook the problems in this film would be me putting a rose-tinted glasses over my eyes and pretend it didn’t exist. Even as a comic book fan like myself, the flaws in this film are there to been seen.
“That’s how it starts. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men… cruel.” – Alfred Pennyworth
From a thematic point of view, Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman reminded me of his previous film, Watchmen – underrated yet also critically panned but I personally think that’s his best film. It’s a gritty, explorative film that depicts an alternate 80s world facing imminent danger from nuclear war. Superheroes are outlaws as they struggle with their identity and their purpose when one of their own is murdered. The film initiates the political debate of superheroes and our reliance on their powers, especially in the case of Dr. Manhattan. And if you want me to go to the depths of a far-fetched ideology, Watchmen had the Doomsday clock, Batman v Superman had Doomsday!
But anyway, unlike Watchmen where the narrative is clear and strong (also helps with character narration), Batman v Superman delves and juggles the political complexities about superheroes but at times falls short in making that justifiable statement or the point is overcrowded by other plot elements.
One thing that Batman v Superman does gets right from the aftermath of Man of Steel is that it makes Superman (Henry Cavill) accountable. The issue of Superman becomes a political debate on whether he’s good for our world. Some view him as a God, a protector of Earth and saving the helpless while others view him as a threat, bringing unwanted destruction and pain and needs to be stopped or better yet controlled. The film showcases both sides of the argument with juxtaposing shots of Superman performing his usual heroics such as saving a kid from a burning house during the Day of the Dead festival whereas on the other hand, Wallace Keefe (Scoot McNairy) lost both his legs during the battle of Metropolis and blames Superman for it.
If you’re a Superman fan, you might be a little disappointed because Superman’s storyline is more about his internal struggle on whether he’s actually doing any good for the world. Unlike Man of Steel where the focus was solely on his development in becoming that symbol of hope, his perspective takes a backseat in Batman v Superman. Pretty much everyone is against Superman, his actions being constantly scrutinised and becomes a vilified figure by the public.
So what takes his place? Batman v Superman essentially becomes a Batman origin story.
If there’s one bright and awesome thing about this film, it’s Ben Affleck’s portrayal of the Dark Knight. It’s a new iteration and interpretation for the big screen which I had no issue with. His depiction is brutal and vengeful and if you’re a comic book fan, there’s a lot to appreciate about Affleck’s performance. Director Zack Snyder recreates one of the finest Batman comic stories in Batman v Superman – The Dark Knight Returns.
In a film where some developed character motivations are lacking, there’s enough solid evidence and justification behind Bruce Wayne’s actions. Affleck plays an older Batman, retired after twenty years of crime fighting and it has taken its toll on him. His parents’ death still haunts him and judging from one brief moment in the Bat Cave, Robin’s suit (possibly Jason Todd) becomes a constant reminder of the tragic double life he leads. Like an homage to Back to the Future Part II, we see from his point of view the destruction from what the Superman/General Zod fight did in the battle of Metropolis. It’s frightening watching the chaos unfold around him and it’s from that moment he starts to view Superman as being a threat to mankind. Superman in his eyes is not a man, he’s an alien and he has brought the war to Earth’s doorstep.
Seeing Bruce descend into a paranoid obsession and madness echoes the famous line from The Dark Knight – “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Bruce is a scared man and while fear use to be his friend, it has made him weary and hellbent. He dons the cape and cowl once again to initiate his own brand of vigilante justice, a dangerous path which Alfred (Jeremy Irons) warns him about. Every time Bruce gets closer to his goal, the more he loses himself, questioning the essence of being a hero. He has nightmares, prophetic dreams about a world where if Superman completely loses his humanity and enslaves the human race. At times he’s reckless – his combat fighting skills straight out of the Batman: Arkham videogames. As controversial it is, I loved every single moment of Affleck’s performance.
Coincidently Bruce searching for a way to stop Superman coincides with Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). To be honest, this is not my favourite interpretation of Lex Luthor – I still hold Michael Rosenbaum from Smallville to be my favourite but I can understand why Eisenberg’s performance will be divisive. Luthor’s intentions does start off as noble – he wants to protect the world from outside threats like Superman. In early parts of the film, he wins the trust of Senators to back his adventure. But the longer the film went on, the more of his personality starts to reveal itself – he sees himself as the devil. He’s deliberately off-kilter and eccentric. In some scenes you can’t take him seriously and becomes annoying but then he shows moments of diabolical madness when his plan starts to unfold. The performance is deliberate, especially when Bruce and Clark Kent walk around the film looking very territorial and serious, Eisenberg provides the necessary dark humour.
However what the film lacks is providing an actual genuine reason as to why Lex Luthor would want Superman and Batman to fight each other. What did he ultimately have to gain? What did he learn from the Kryptonian archives? Yes his executed plan kept them both distracted but at the same time, Lex came off like an amateur Joker/Riddler, especially when so many aspects of his plan depended on the success of others. The fight itself between Batman and Superman, built up like some PPV fight night doesn’t last long, stopped by a moment of convenience. But in defence of that moment, it was Bruce Wayne/Batman realising that Superman is not a God. As much as he’s an alien from another planet, he’s a man with his own family. In a selfless move, Superman was willing to succumb to his fate so that Bruce could do the right thing.
The film tries to juggle so many thoughtful and in-depth elements but lacks the finesse to really cement those ideals. There are notable plot holes which you’ll end up trying to fill in the gaps or things that are introduced but never get explored further. The introduction of the Justice League is thrown in by showing glimpses of The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) but probably would have worked better as a post credit cut scene. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) embarks on a military conspiracy and while she discovers the truth about Luthor’s involvement, she ends up being a damsel in distress when she comically throws a Kryptonite spear into the water only to go and retrieve it later when she became aware of its relevance – which I still don’t know how she knew it was going to be important in taking down Doomsday. Because of the pacing, even though there are some things which are easily explainable, it gets muddled and overstuffed in a long runtime.
And that’s the real shame about Batman v Superman – frustratingly it tries too much and maybe if some elements were left out, the overall film would have been leaner and still be effective. In fact some of the elements could easily have been two films.
“We know better now, don’t we? Devils don’t come from hell beneath us. They come from the sky.” – Lex Luthor
So despite these problems, why do I still liked it? It’s because I saw potential.
DC comics were never straightforward in their storytelling. They’re devised in a dark, complex manner which not everything will be completely accessible or understandable to the general cinema going audience and Batman v Superman is the best example of straying away from a popular conformity. On this very rare occasion, having some knowledge of the comics does help to understand some of the ideas and themes. The “Knightmare” dream sequence is one clear example which at first left me baffled towards the end until I realised it was The Flash making another cameo, telling Bruce about the future yet to come.
Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is another brilliant addition to the film. Brief yes but certainly made me excited at seeing her solo movie.
From a presentation and vision point of view, Batman v Superman is very pleasing on the eye. The film feels like pages from a comic book leaping from the page unto the big screen and while that will leave some people with a jarring/disjointed experience, again it’s a change from what we’re use to seeing from other comic book movies.
I loved the dark tone from the film and without turning this review into a DC vs. Marvel debate (because I love both properties), I actually prefer this over Avengers: Age of Ultron. Batman v Superman may have felt rushed but at least they made some bold moves and was brave to execute it.
I don’t think it deserves the amount of hate it’s getting. Yes the film is not perfect nor is it the best comic book movie ever made. It’s problematic and flawed and there’s no getting around that but you can tell the makers tried. For a film I felt wasn’t going to work, I was pleasantly surprised how some aspects connected with the fangirl in me. I had fun and whilst I don’t like films spelling out every detail, at least Batman v Superman left me with enough to speculate and debate – both good and bad. I’m interested in seeing the rumoured Director’s Cut to see if the outstanding questions are answered and looking forward to see where the DC Universe will go.
If you’re still on the fence, I would suggest go and see it for yourself to judge. If you side with the critics, fair enough. But if not, you might be surprised, just like me.
UPDATE: Click here for the review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition.