I have a confession to make: I ironically love Man of Steel. It should be the worst movie ever with the awkward writing, overuse of CG, and bad story, but because it fails it is great. It wanted to be a Superman story in the guise of Dark Knight Returns (DKR) and fell completely short because trying to make Clark Kent a Frank Miller character is a bad idea. It was a violent, horrifying movie about a morally compromised boy scout with a messiah complex and it was spectacular. People died in droves, the supermen fights caused mass destruction, and it was all done with this air of self-importance that was so tone-deaf I am baffled it was put into production. Michael Shannon’s performance stole the show and Faora quoting Nietzsche during the Smallville fight was icing on the cake. It was a perfect mess of fandom with the backing of a monolithic movie studio and I loved every second.
Now we have Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS). You know we are off to a good start when the title is both long and more stupid than Rise of the Tomb Raider. Here the Miller influences come to a head with Batman’s costume, the power armor, and the title match. I like director Zach Snyder just fine, but what him and Warner Brothers is trying to do with DC is tantamount to suicide. They are following in the footsteps of comics after DKR and Watchman where they went dark and edgy to the point of saturation. What they want is unsustainable and I take comfort in the prospect of BvS being as hilarious a train wreck as its predecessor. Did I have a good laugh or was the 150-minute runtime equal to that of torture?
After a terrorist attack in North Africa involving Superman, played by Henry Cavill, the US government begins to question if he is really good for humanity. At the same time Batman, played by Ben Affleck, returns to the streets of Gotham following the Kryptonian invasion in search of a weapon that could mean the end of Superman.
Simple enough, right? It is an easy to follow story that makes sense until it does not. Rather than focus solely on Batman and Superman, we track Lois Lane as she tries to uncover the truth behind the North Africa incident, and Lex Luthor who is behind it all. There is no sense of mystery and nothing is hidden, the nefarious plot on full display and out in the open. You are then forced to sit there and wait for all the good guys to catch on to the mystery.
I understand Lex will always be the bad guy, but his involvement and the extent of his reach should have been teased over time. Maybe Batman and Superman figure it out as they are fighting before turning on Lex, forcing him to unleash Doomsday. That is almost what happens, but because there was no mystery and the accumulated promotional materials spoiled more plot than a Capcom trailer, you saw it coming and the momentum you expect never happens.
Waiting for the characters to get with the program is made especially miserable by the fact there was no energy to how the events took place. Things just happened in a very clinical, droning fashion that was mentally and emotionally taxing. Even the fights (except for one) were boring with dull choreography and no creativity. There was no heart or gravitas to how the plot moved or in how the actors performed. Nobody gave a shit as they spoke in monotone, without charisma and the skill you expect. Affleck was Affleck, Cavil was deadpan, and Rachel McAdams was somehow worse than Natalie Portman, a feat I never thought possible. Jesse Eisenberg tried, but he was also annoyingly inconsistent in who he was trying to be.
If you need a visual representation of how I feel after the screening, watch this video.
Amazing Spider-Man 2 is very similar to BvS and while that ought to bring to mind Lovecraftian visions of insanity, the latter is at least focused on telling a consistent story instead of a disparate mess of subplots. What makes them similar is this is Warner Brothers’ attempt to build an expanded universe by establishing everything at once. They set-up a future timeline when Batman is visited by the Flash through a portal to implant a dream of Superman taking over the world as a servant of Darkseid, who Lex alludes to at the end. Then members of the Justice League are revealed before the characters decide to bring them together.
The thing is, all of this comes out of nowhere like it was shoved into the movie last minute. The Darkseid dream and the Flash visit happen maybe halfway through and Batman never follows up on it. He does not investigate what the Flash was trying to say and moves ahead with his “Murder Superman” plan. How Lex knows about Darkseid is also never explained and the Justice League characters are introduced with video clips that were made in post for one scene. If Warner Brothers copied Marvel and actually built their world, we would have discovered the other heroes naturally. In fact, their whole approach was destined to fail the moment they decided to make BvS.
I admit there were a few parts that were… enjoyable? Jeremy Irons was a fantastic Alfred with a ton of sass and whit that fit the character. Gal Godot’s limited inclusion as Wonder Woman shows promise for her solo movie. I still think she does not fit the role physically because she has zero muscle mass, but definitely has the attitude and screen presence. I also appreciated the proud overuse of Miller visuals. Zach Snyder obviously cares about the material, but he apparently forgot that an M60 needs ammo to work and in a scene taken directly from DKR, the M60 in question was empty.
While it is certainly not the worst superhero I have seen (Amazing Spider-Man 2 is trash even without Spider-Man), Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is a miserable experience that utterly sapped me of joy. It was not the actual content of the film, but the film itself, a hollow affair that did not care about telling a good story in its pursuit to beat the competition. I find my passion scarcely available and my desire to see Captain America: Civil War that of a starving wolf in the middle of winter. If any good can be salvaged it is that it makes me want to reread Dark Knight Returns, one of the most important comics ever made. I never thought I would say this, but Man of Steel is a goddamn masterpiece.