“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”
2 hours, 31 minutes
Leaving “Batman v Superman” is kind of like walking away from a car wreck. You’re sore. You’re confused. And all you can think is “What just happened?”
I am fully aware that there are plenty of critics and film journalists who’ve had it in for this film from the beginning. They complained about the “Man of Steel.” They complained about the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman. They said Jesse Eisenberg was a terrible choice to play Lex Luthor. They said Zack Snyder was too dark and didn’t understand the characters.
But not me, boy. I am an optimist. I liked “Man of Steel” quite a bit on first viewing, although time and repeated viewings have cooled that somewhat. I was convinced that, despite all evidence to the contrary, I was going to enjoy this new film, no matter what all the other critics said. Oh how wrong I was, and oh how right they were.
Though it is somewhat beside the point, the plot goes thusly. Outraged by the pure 9/11-ness of the events at the end of “Man of Steel” (Metropolis gets leveled by Superman fighting Zod) Batman goes on a crusade to discover Superman’s weakness and to destroy him as retribution. Superman, on the other had, has just become aware of the cruel tactics of the Gotham-based crime fighter, and decides to end his reign of terror. Lex Luthor gets all mixed in, and eventually the heroes fight. They are abruptly joined by Wonder Woman.
Spoilers aside, that’s mostly it. The first part — the part where Bruce Wayne witnesses the destruction of Metropolis and becomes incensed and obsessed, was kind of interesting. It’s interesting on a couple of levels. One, the entire first half of the movie is an indictment of the end of “Man of Steel.” The wanton destruction and obvious loss of life that occurred becomes one of the driving forces for the story.
What’s funny about this is that I would be willing to bet that whole plot line is a result of angry fans. I honestly think Snyder had super-people knocking down buildings at the end of that movie because he liked the visuals. I don’t think the moral considerations even occurred to him. But then, after audiences (Superman lovers) complained that their beloved hero wouldn’t have put the lives of the people in Metropolis at risk, the studio sat up and took notice. And so, Snyder has various characters take Superman to task over his actions. Senate investigations, girlfriend troubles, a man dressed as a bat.
It all boils down to this: Superman was wrong and should only behave selflessly when he has the OK from the U.S. government. Or at least, that’s what it seemed like. The film then spends the next hour and half negating itself by once again engaging in gigantic explody battle where lives are certainly lost, the only difference being is that Batman (Ben Affleck) is now complicit. There’s a lot of other stuff that doesn’t make sense — the writing is atrocious, but it’s Zack Snyder’s world-view I wanted to look at.
Zack Snyder has recently been revealed to be an objectivist follower of Ayn Rand, a woman who might generously be called a zealous Libertarian. Really she was just selfish and preached a doctrine of radical self-interest. This begins to shine light on these films. Superman is portrayed as a figure that everybody reveres or decries because of his great power. He doesn’t enjoy helping people — sees it as an incredible burden, and even a dangerous past-time.
In the last film, Kevin Costner, as Pa Kent, tells young Clark to hide his powers away, not to use them to help others. When I watched that first I thought it was interesting and clever to have Pa Kent give his son bad advice. That he so loves his son, he’d prefer to sacrifice everyone else, no matter the consequences.
But later viewings reveal that Pa Kent and Zack Snyder feel pretty similar. Whenever Superman does anything selfless, he pays the price for it. As a result, he’s glum, depressed, and feeling the burden of his hero status. Pa returns in a dream in this film to relay to Clark a helpful parable about a flood on the farm where they lived. The water was rising, but with hard work and determination, Pa worked all night to turn that water back where it came from. While he’s being celebrated as a hero, he learns that the Lang’s farm down the road has washed away as a result of the work they did in rerouting the water away from their own place. That’s a cheery moment.
As far as casting goes, Affleck didn’t bother me particularly. He’s a little dark, that’s for sure, but Affleck is able to bring something new to the role. Henry Cavill is fine, other than having nothing to do.
But for two classy actors, Amy Adam and Jesse Eisenberg, the outcome is not some rosy. Adams has little to do other than offer up terrible dialogue and provide an object for Superman to rescue. Eisenberg, oh the other hand is nigh on unwatchable. The film never bothers to give Lex Luthor any kind of motivations. It’s enough, I suppose, that he’s wicked and doesn’t seem to like Superman, so he goes on a murderous rampage. As one does. His character gets more and more manic as the show goes on, until he’s babbling like an idiot. What a waste.
And the action. Oh, the action. The battles in this film are dark, confusing, and fairly nonsensical. They steal from the final pages of “Man of Steel” and then double-down on the grim destruction. The final moments of the battle are so shattered that it appears as if the characters having pounded everything to dust.
I’ll tell you, that gets old pretty quick. I find it hard to believe how bad this film actually was. It makes me want to rewatch “Man of Steel” to see if that holds up or falls apart.
Ultimately, it comes down to a fundamental misunderstanding of the characters. Zack Snyder makes Superman a gloomy selfish jerk, Batman a vengeful sociopath ala The Punisher, and even manages to allow beloved side character Jimmy Olsen to be executed by terrorists at the film’s outset. These are characters with long histories and there are some things you just have to stick to. You can no more make Superman a misanthrope than you could change Popeye’s signature dish to carrots.
Of course, Snyder has the right to do whatever he wants with the characters under his watch, but Warner Brothers also has the right to fire him and replace him with someone who won’t make the “Justice League” movie a dark, gloomy, depressing trainwreck.
“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is rated PG-13 for slight language and a high body count. Fun fact: due to the success of “Deadpool” producers have announced that there will be an R-rated DVD release soon.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.