Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Whatever [No Spoilers]

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in Batman v. Superman

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justicebvs

Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer
Starring: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Jesse Eisenberg
Warner Bros.
March 24, 2016

There are two ways to enjoy a viewing of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The tack Zack Snyder probably hopes you take is going in with an open heart willing to embrace any and all pretensions that are handed to you. The second way is to embrace how utterly bizarre it chooses to be — tonally, thematically, characterization-wise — and laugh, because there’s no other way to process it. While I tried to embrace this film with an unbiased heart, it demolished my credulity in the literal opening sequence. So, while I can honestly say Batman v. Superman was entertaining, I cannot honestly say it was good.

The film is over-serious and self-important, a man’s puffed up chest in a too-expensive suit. There’s death happening here, the movie wants to remind you, over and over again, despite side-stepping some much needed emotional resonance in relation to it. There are only a few shining beacons of interest, like Laurence Fishburne Perry White, which manage to break through the dismal tone of everyone around him. Ben Affleck’s Batman storyline is by-the-numbers: the Waynes are murdered, Martha Wayne’s pearls are strewn across the alleyway as music plays, he gets a lecture about his increasingly unethical crime-fighting tactics from Jeremy Irons’ underused Alfred, he growls, he punches, he makes some terrible plans to defeat Superman. Affleck’s Bruce Wayne is, at least, a departure from Christian Bale’s increasingly unhappy obsessive. He gets in a few cocky grins, and Batfleck is honestly a character I wouldn’t mind watching in a different film. In this one, however, Bruce is mostly kind of a dick. This would be fine if he also had a thoughtful motivation — but he doesn’t. Instead of motivations, he has dreams filled with visuals that make for nice trailers but do very, very little to advance the storyline.

The film is over-serious and self-important, a man’s puffed up chest in a too-expensive suit. There’s death happening here, the movie wants to remind you, over and over again.

Batman isn’t alone in lacking a practical mooring — the major players in this film all flounder around, searching for philosophies deeper than the ones they’re given. Lex Luthor and Batman are at least believably concerned about the potential risk of allowing Superman to survive. But most of that concern seems to be chalked up to daddy issues for Lex, and tied to an enormous logical leap for Bats. The audience is ham-fistedly reminded that Superman’s last battle with General Zod led to hundreds of deaths and decimated a city, and Batman seems more haunted by this than he does any other crime in his twenty-year career as a vigilante. We’re reminded over and over that Superman’s very existence means he brought a “war” to humanity, but that seems about as far as anyone got when sketching out a “theme” or “core philosophy” for this film. There’s a political side-story (done better in a recent Supergirl episode) which does give us a character capable of conceiving a middle ground philosophy — while Superman could use some oversight, he doesn’t need to be summarily executed. This idea is presented in a somewhat confusing manner, however, and summarily dropped by the last third of the movie.

Superman himself spends most of the movie either grimacing or being forced into poses meant to invoke religious iconography. Henry Cavill isn’t given much to do other than feel bad about doing good — as a reporter, populist Clark Kent has an almost-explored point about vigilantism, but he has to go about it in the most dour way possible. Though he’s supposedly experiencing the emotional repercussions of his heroism, he never gets to articulate what exactly he thinks he should be doing as Superman. He doesn’t even get to show off his hard-earned muscles; the one romantic scene that isn’t also mired in a near-death experience for Lois Lane has him falling into a bathtub fully clothed. Amy Adams spends most of the film with glittering tears in her eyes, hitting plot point after plot point which seem pulled out of a hat filled with damsel-in-distress scenarios. It’s not that I don’t buy their romance, it’s just that I don’t care about it at all.

Superman is facing the viewer, about to punch Batman, whose back is to the viewer.
This is the face Superman makes the entire movie.

Synder can create an enticing shot, but forges ahead with his war against bright colors and saturation in Batman v. Superman. The cities of Gotham and Metropolis hang in a perpetual grey season, and no one has adequate lighting except for LexCorp. The editing is erratic, leaving the audience feeling disconnected from the characters as the story hops from Superman to Batman to Lex Luthor at seemingly arbitrary moments. Snyder creates a few real enjoyable moments, most often when the Trinity is together, but he fails to ever create a sense of urgency or momentum. The movie lurches along in a way that suggests the rewrites never quite coalesced as they should. The plot twists are predictable and dull, and only two scenes managed to really catch me by surprise and stir real interest in the proceedings. The Hans Zimmer/Junkie XL score is as self-important as the rest of the film, adding another layer of bombast that makes scenes harder to take seriously. Snyder also manages to double-down on disaster imagery, invoking not only 9/11 this time, but also Hurricane Katrina and the Challenger explosion. None of this feels earned, because Superman himself seems to be sleepwalking through his heroism as though each good deed is equivalent to having a tooth pulled. Despite saving astronauts, he’s crushed by guilt that also feels unearned, going through the motions of brooding until the plot calls him back to the frontlines again. Superman essentially exists, but he never has a distinct point of view.

Snyder also manages to double-down on disaster imagery, invoking not only 9/11 this time, but also Hurricane Katrina and the Challenger explosion. None of this feels earned, because Superman himself seems to be sleepwalking through his heroism as though each good deed is equivalent to having a tooth pulled.

There are some sly Easter eggs and hints to the expanded cinematic universe to come, but all they did was make me wish I was watching those movies instead, because surely Wonder Woman won’t possibly take itself as seriously as this film does (let’s cross our fingers). Every monologue about unchecked power that tries to create thematic coherence is left in an unsatisfying mash, as though there was once a message to this story but it was lost in poor editing and uninspired writing. The film felt freshest when it was just an extended car chase or smash-em-up battle scene — characters were allowed to trade quips and breathe a little when driving through increasingly improbable obstacles or when facing an insurmountable Level Boss, and while none of the stunts are particularly innovative, at least they’re fun (which, incidentally, makes them feel out-of-place in the movie). Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman especially shines in combat — she gives a feral grin after being knocked down that is simultaneously more rousing and more menacing than any of the lines Affleck growls out in his Batvoice (the line, “Do you bleed?” from the trailer, unsurprisingly, does not play any less ridiculously in context). The worst part of these little glimmers of interest is the knowledge that if Snyder would just cut loose and go huge, maybe even sidle up to embracing a tiny bit of over-the-topness, the movie could have gotten over itself at some point and been something exciting. The problem isn’t that he chooses to make the film dark — it’s that that darkness has no suspense or life to it, except when the tone shifts to accept comic book level violence and destruction. Otherwise, the film is just inert, even the flirting between Bats and Wondy feeling flat and sexless. The relationship between Superman and Batman is so anemic that even a thousand Twitter jokes couldn’t summon an ounce of subtext or chemistry to it.

On the villain side, Jesse Eisenberg plays Lex Luthor as an effete eccentric genius, but there’s no real sense of what’s driving him. He plays Luthor as a collection of twitches, tics, and menace, but it never quite reaches the full potential. It’s also quite a strange take on Luthor, especially in a movie that all but exudes machismo; the dichotomy of Luthor’s limp wrists as he speaks and Clark’s crushing handshake would be questionable in a better movie but definitely made me pause during this one. However, at least Eisenberg seems to be having fun with his role, and he gives Luthor a manic energy amidst a cast that barely sparks at all, even if his actions aren’t particularly grounded in logical consistency. The Final Boss of the film holds no emotional resonance, but at least gives the Trinity a big fight scene where they at least look like they enjoy each other’s company. It’s the part of the film that seems the most stripped of pretensions, and while the fight is nothing we haven’t seen before, I was fully engaged in it.

However, at least Eisenberg seems to be having fun with his role, and he gives Luthor a manic energy amidst a cast that barely sparks at all, even if his actions aren’t particularly grounded in logical consistency.

The actors all seem to be doing the best they can with what they’ve been given; I know Cavill is capable of being charming so I want to attribute his underwhelming presence to a screenplay that doesn’t know what to do with him, or Superman. Beyond characterization issues, there are story beats that were so bizarre they pulled me right out of the film — my notes are riddled with ‘???’ around various spoilery events in the film that made me honestly wonder how they made it past the draft stage. Characters just move along, compelled by nothing the audience can see, until there’s another car chase to be had (and believe me, I welcomed these car chases).

Unsurprisingly, the movie has some race and gender issues, the most glaring one being its treatment of Asian women as sexualized props. Tao Okamoto is given literally nothing to do as Mercy Graves, and other Asian women in the film are victims only given voice in subtitles. Asian men appear as nameless, violent henchmen, there to be thrown around by Batman. Lois Lane is on shakier ground here than Man of Steel, and Martha Kent is given exceptionally poor treatment. People of color fill the ranks of nameless extras being saved, nameless extras crying next to destroyed property, and nameless extras lifting up their white Khaleesi, Superman, in a scene that made me wonder if perhaps Zack Snyder and David S. Goyer are really and truly unaware of the ground they can’t stop retreading.

For another example, Batman v. Superman literally opens with Batman’s origin story. It’s a bad, derivative start to a wider franchise, one I was really expecting would be better than this. I hope these three characters are given something — anything — more interesting to do in the future, but the current Dawn of Justice (League) is bleak.

Kat Overland

Kat Overland

Small press editor Kat Overland is a displaced Texan now living in Washington, DC, where she is perpetually behind on reading her pull list. She's a millennial, Latina, exhausted, and can often be spotted casually cosplaying America Chavez and complaining.

12 thoughts on “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Whatever [No Spoilers]

  1. I finally watched MoS (on cable, I had no desire to pay to see it), and was highly disappointed in Snyder’s vision. I know it’s not “fair” to compare Cavill’s portrayal to Christopher Reeves’, but… that is not my Superman. That utterly joyless, morose, hero-by-default portrayal is depressing. Knowing that Snyder is an Ayn Rand fan explains a lot, doesn’t it? I think WB/DC is making some significant errors by going continuously in this dark and gritty direction. When Superman was created, it was when America needed a hero, when we needed something, someone, HOPE. Well, that time has come again, so what is DC doing? They’re making their movies and some of their books dark, depressing and violent. If I want that, I’ll watch the frickin’ news.

    I’ll probably watch this… on cable… because it’s a comic book movie and it’s better than reruns, but even with the lure of Wonder Woman, I don’t plan on lining Snyder’s pockets any more than they already are. I did buy the WW action figure though, my self-restraint only goes so far. >_> (She’s a pretty good likeness, btw, looks badass.)

    1. Her action figures and statues etc have been really good. They didn’t cheap out on them, thankfully. I only have the Funko figure now, but I’m tempted by others.

  2. I read an amusing theory that Man of Steel and now this turkey are actually Lexcorp produced propaganda movies, designed to make us hate and fear Superman.

    Hence things like, why Lexcorp symbols are the only well lit objects. And why we never get any hint of Supermans motivations, he’s just this monstrous asshole from space.

    … I think this instills it with far more intelligence than it present. But it’s a good theory for a terrible pair of movies.

    1. That would mesh with my thought that this film is based on Lex Luthor: Man of Steel. That’s very much what the book was about, and Lex got Bruce on his side with similar thinking.

  3. “Superman himself seems to be sleepwalking through his heroism” was a large part of my problem with MoS, too. He seemed so reluctant to go out of his way to do anything at all, good or otherwise.

    Henry Cavill, for me, has always just been a void onscreen. I’m not convinced he has the presence to pull off this role, even if he looks like he should. But I’m happy Wondie was good!

    1. Agreed. What makes Superman such a great contrast is that he wants to do good for good’s sake and is very proactive. Batman uses doing good as a (very bad) form of therapy for a trauma he experienced. A sleepwalking giant is not great for this iconic hero!

    2. Wasn’t that what Earth Robin Dad taught him? Conceal don’t feel. Also, don’t save people because it would reveal your power, though Clark seemed to really want to save people? I’m confused by the lack of follow up on that at all, unless they’ve decided that the follow up is that he’s revealed himself to save the world like Space Robin Dad suggested, but is totally jaded by Earth Robin Dad’s conditioning.

      1. Well, this IS a non-spoiler review but: the dad shit does come up again. It is not well articulated at all though.

Comments are closed.