“We know better now, Devils don’t come from the hell beneath us, they come from the sky.”
It’s been nearly two years since Superman’s (Henry Cavill) colossal battle with Zod (Michael Shannon) devastated the city of Metropolis. The loss of life and collateral damage left many feeling angry and helpless, including crime-fighting billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck). Convinced that Superman is now a threat to humanity, Batman embarks on a personal vendetta to end his reign on Earth, while the conniving Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) launches his own crusade against the Man of Steel.
Conceptually, conflicting ideology breeds great storytelling. The greatest conflicts in history are born from battling views. The revolutionary War was founded on the conflicting principle surrounding taxation. The crusades were waged on conflicting spiritual beliefs. To this day we wage war based on differences. Differences in culture, religion, politics, economic structure, and the list goes on. In a year where the superhero genre has turned to inner conflict in storytelling, Batman v Superman takes aim on the most high profile of stages, and swings for the fences with all it’s might, only to see the ball woosh past it in agonizing defeat. A defeat made all the more real, as it comes on the heels of a property that utilizes its inner turmoil with deft precision and grace in Netflix’s Daredevil. Batman v Superman misleads its audience with the promise of a conflicting ideology the scale of god vs man, but fails to deliver on that promise, all while providing us with something less profound, but still profoundly entertaining.
As we enter into the bold new universe in which both Batman and Superman dually reside for the first time in live action cinematic history, we are met with many questions. Perhaps most prevalent is the conversation on why these two titans are at odds. If we venture into the past, revisiting 2013’s Man of Steel, we recall in the final third of the film, Superman has to make a difficult decision when forced to face off with the last remaining Kryptonians. The battle waged, left a city in ashes, thousands dead, and left us with a jaded and controversial ending that saw Superman commit the one act we have never seen of him. The murdering of Zod for the greater good, while wildly unpopular amongst purists, was indeed the right move for this story and wholly indicative of the world that Zack Snyder was creating. This is a darker, grittier, and more violent universe and it is as steeped in realism as a film about an alien with superpowers could possibly be. Moving forward into Batman v Superman, the film opens with Bruce Wayne venturing into the concrete jungle of Metropolis as the world is seemingly ending as a result of the bickering of super beings from distant galaxies. Wayne rushes to the aid of a dear friend only to be caught in the fury as buildings fall. It is here we receive the motivation, the driving force behind Wayne’s blood feud against the alien that has invaded his planet, with the power to burn it all to the ground. The story resonates due to it’s relevance in present culture. It is a reasonable fear to have, watching your home destroyed by aliens, only to have one emerge victorious and to have no choice but to place faith in him and the hope that he won’t have the urge to rule over or indeed destroy humanity. It is this fear that plagues the film’s lead character, and make no mistake, this is Batman’s movie, first and foremost.
Batman v Superman is rooted in xenophobic fear. It is a bombastic metaphor of cynicism in modern society. In the film Superman enters a new world, where academia is writing books of his arrival, his every move is catalogued, and even Nancy Grace makes a cameo to reflect the fact that this is now a part of the constantly recycling 24 hour news circus plaguing America with a negative onslaught of click bait journalistic fervor, lacking integrity. The debate rages as it would in the world we live in. Is Superman friend or foe? Is he a deity to be worshipped, or a demon to dealt with? This conversation is the baseline for the entire film, and is the driving force for the conflict. The issue we run into, is this will only take the story so far, and becomes tiresome as it drags the film in critical moments. The basic principle in any event that features a version of “versus” in it’s billing is that there needs to be a believable conflict driven by realistic and fleshed out motivations. This is where Batman v Superman is derailed. This becomes very much a one way fight with the scales turned completely on Batman’s side. Superman seems to have no reasonable incentive to fight, and when that becomes apparent, Snyder and the writers shoehorn some manufactured inducement a just to juice up some action in the final third of the film. So the movie that promised us a battle of the century becomes farce, and we are met with a sloppily developed tiff, that wears thin, and ends before it began.
Motivation, or lack thereof becomes the key component at the center of this film. In the first third of the movie we are provided with an ingenious set up that plays like a diary entry of an event that Bruce Wayne was at the epicenter of. We are provided with his motivation. The film then jumps forward and the problems unfold. The clear cut concerns the public carried with them have seemingly washed away, and the attack Metropolis becomes little more than a footnote in the film, that becomes scarcely explored the rest of the way. The script issues with Batman v Superman are many, and are the root of all it’s troubles. The story is full with inconsistencies and plot holes, and the audience is left with the responsibility to fill in the gaps on their own. The introductions of several key characters are botched, and the emotional impact that Man of Steel produced seems to have just dissipated and is replaced with stoicism, and soulless action. The emotional investment is absent making for the events in the film to fall flat. The movie lacks legitimacy, and makes no attempt to patch the holes it creates out of lazy writing.
The editing of the film is more than problematic. Aside from the issues the script creates, the film appears to be hacked together with superglue and duct tape. It can be described as lumbering, and that is because it is at times. The movie feels like a rush job, which ends scenes and shots abruptly and unjustly, and allows others to labor on. The film makes strange transitions from scene to scene, feeling choppy. The tone becomes increasingly uneven and the flow is constantly interrupted. This feels like a movie that needs to be 3 hours long but had to be cut down, and the cuts were made in all the wrong places and then the film is pieced together in such a way that eliminates context, and makes the viewers do detective work to uncover plot points that make the movie whole. It is this editing, and this script that ruins the character of Lex Luthor, who becomes a cackly mustache twirling looney toon, that has no clear motivation. Luthor is a one dimensional as a character can get, and as a result, every scene in which he appears becomes a distracting sideshow from the main arc. The worst part is the wasted performance of Eisenberg, who was as convincing as one could be in a role that leaves no room for an actor to create a reasonable persona. Instead Luthor spews awful monologues filled with enigmatic and confusing metaphors that lack the needed exposition for them to have meaning.
Batman v Superman finds solace in its performances. The casting is inspired, with Affleck leading the way and creating a more violent iteration of the dark knight. While Bale’s batman is certainly impeccable, Affleck elects to be less brooding and a much more indignant version of the character that asserts himself into the pantheon of greats. Mercilessly tearing through criminals with a vengeful disdain, Batman is cruel and dark and out for blood, resonating with audiences, and becoming much more relatable. With a searing stare and clenched jaw, Affleck amplifies the emotional impact, making for the most three dimensional character in the film. Henry Cavill’s second run at Superman builds upon his performance from Man of Steel. His performance transcends the hokey dialogue, and he delivers his lines with such conviction, that he embodies the monument of a hero that Superman has become. The chemistry between him and Amy Adams Lois Lane was the one element that was superior to Man of Steel. The relationship builds with an air of believability, and amounts to the emotional centerpiece that allows Superman to be humanized. While Lex Luthor was poorly written, Eisenberg delivers an impressive if not grating act, despite being anchored by terrible dialogue and vague motives. The rest of the cast is on par, and as a whole, makes up for the poorly constructed script.
Batman v Superman is a disjointed mess. The conflict between Batman and Superman becomes inconsequential as the film progresses and the turn comes with an abruptness that would cause whiplash. The film jolts from high octane action to poorly constructed dialogue without reason, expressing cynicism but also invoking it as well. The bickering of the two leads plays more as a side plot, as the interaction is few and far between. The inconsistencies take centerstage in this larger than life epic tale of man vs alien. The film promises to deliver a war the likes of which we’ve never seen before, but it’s more like a minor misunderstanding. The philosophical differences are not overt enough to rally any real conflict, and thus the film falls a little flat and does not produce what it set out. The visuals are unparalleled, and Zack Snyder has proven that he is a visionary director with grand ideas, but is not adept at building a coherent narrative. The film’s editing is jarring, with sudden shifts in tone and leaps into the action that lack context. It feels emotionless in some of the moments that needed a splash of sentiment.
For all it’s faults, the performances in this film are unimpeachable. The title characters rise above the script issues and elevate the film beyond the muck the writing and editing sunk it into to begin with. What this film does quite well, is building excitement for the cinematic universe moving forward. Wonder Woman is fantastic, and Gal Gadot is surprisingly subtle and overcomes multiple attempts at sexualization, using her femininity to firmly plant herself in the fray with the men. She displays strength and poise in every scene. Batman v Superman is a sporadic film of mountain top highs and chasm lows, but when it is high, it soars higher than any other superhero film has before it, and when it is low, it still looks beautiful. The issues are great and many, but somehow this movie is able to overcome it’s obvious flaws and produce a superbly acted and entertaining film, that helps keep fans invested in the universe and excited for what is to come.
3.2/5 Not Bad Bro