Release Date: March 25, 2016
Running Time: 151 Minutes
Just as it looked like Superman would finally get a proper film franchise, one that would draw more villains and storylines from the comics instead of descending into comedic camp like the 80s’ series, Warner Brothers decided to fulfill one of the greatest dreams of comic book fans: a cinematic, on-screen Batman and Superman crossover, particularly one that would show them in a fight against each other. Superman would have to share his movie with Batman, who has really thrived on both the big and small screens as of late. However, upon its release it has met with severe critical backlash, though it will probably still make a killing at the box office (I and about fifty other people had to wait in line while the theater was emptied of the previous screening’s moviegoers). But are the poor reviews just the byproduct of snobby critics, or is this movie really a train wreck?
Sadly, it’s a case of the latter. Besides, critics have embraced plenty of superhero and other comic-based films in the past fifteen years. Batman vs. Superman is shockingly slow and needlessly dark. It throws in too many elements, as DC is trying to get a quick start to their own cinematic universe. It also seems to derive more from DC’s New 52 reboot, in which almost all of the 52 weekly comic book series are full of frowning, miserable superheroes in violent, depressing storylines. This works for Batman, but we don’t need to see Superman failing to crack one smile through an entire six-issue story arc or the Teen Titans being stuck in a contest where children kill each other.
One of the greatest flaws of Zack Snyder’s film, perhaps the worst aspect, is Superman himself. Henry Cavill is a fine actor, but his Superman is just not the shining beacon of hope that Superman should be. If you thought he spent too much time brooding in Man of Steel, wait till you see him frown his way through a two and a half hour movie, looking depressed. There’s even a montage of him doing heroic deeds, but Hans Zimmer’s score for the scene is dour and brooding, while Superman looks like he’s slowly dying from the strain of saving people. Another problem is that Batman himself is a pessimistic character. One of the things that makes his interactions with Superman and DC’s other more light-hearted heroes interesting is how his mistrust plays off against their idealistic optimism. Here they’re both frowning, scowling figures, so it looks like two mean-spirited jerks having a pissing contest instead of a clash of ideologies.
Superman is not even a main character. I felt no emotional development from him at all, aside from him being depressed about people not liking him. He disappears for long chunks of screentime while other characters talk about how horrible and dangerous he is. Superman’s supporting characters don’t fare much better. Jimmy Olsen finally gets introduced, only to have maybe one minute of screentime. Amy Adams’ Lois Lane has her own subplot about investigating an incident near the film’s beginning, but this proves unnecessary. Otherwise she’s just there to listen to the other characters monologue. Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) was actually fairly funny and got to do a little more than he did in Man of Steel, so that’s something.
One of the most controversial casting choices was five foot nine Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. For some reason none of the movies have been able to capture the essence of comic book Lex Luthor. In the Christopher Reeves films he wasn’t a mad scientist, but a criminal obsessed with real estate. In Superman Returns Bryan Singer was so taken in by nostalgia that he used this version of the character, who once again was out to create real estate. Eisenberg’s version is based off of the evil businessman Luthor, one of the greatest villains in comic books history, but for some reason he’s goofy and squirrelly, more akin to Jim Carrey’s Riddler. He doesn’t even have the benefit of a clear motivation. Does he genuinely want to protect the world from the potentially dangerous Superman and other metahumans, does he want to rule the world himself, or does he actually want to increase metahuman activity? By the film’s end, after spending over two hours lecturing on the dangers of Superman, he’s bragging about how he has sent a signal to alien invaders, quite the contradiction.
But there is a bright spot among the characters and that is Ben Affleck’s Batman. His Batman is an older, jaded figure, having operated as a costumed vigilante for twenty years. There’s even evidence of battles with the Joker and Riddler as easter eggs. Batman, aka Bruce Wayne, opens the film witnessing Superman’s needlessly destructive battle with Zod, addressing the Man of Steel complaints of fans and critics. Naturally, he thinks the collateral damage of Superman is too great, and also that if he ever turns against humanity there’s little hope of stopping him. He thus has the clearest motivation and most development, perhaps the only development, of any of the characters. He’s the one that felt like an actual main character.
Most of the Batman scenes are quite good. He does actual detective work, something that Christian Bale’s version would have other characters do for him, and he has an amazing fight scene that looks like it came straight out of the Arkham video game series. His methods are shockingly violent when taking his comic book’s ‘no-kill” rule into account. He flat out machine guns and wrecks the cars he’s chasing and brands criminals with the bat logo. But at least he never claims that he won’t kill anyone. In Batman Begins, Christian Bale’s version vows he will never become an executioner and then ends up blowing up a palace full on ninjas. I really look forward to a solo outing starring Ben Affleck’s Caped Crusader. I also thought Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and butler Alfred Pennyworth (Jeremy Irons) were pretty cool. Wonder Woman doesn’t have much screentime, usually showing up to have a little verbal spar with Bruce Wayne. I’m definitely excited for her movie. Iron’s Alfred is a little more sarcastic than previous interpretations, but alongside Perry White he provides most of the genuine humor in the movie.
One last thing to address is the fight scenes. This time around there’s still a lot of destruction, but it’s much more contained. The only questionable scene in this regard is the location of the final battle, an industrial area which is closed down for the night, meaning no civilians are around. Knowing people who work these kinds of jobs and having a little experience myself, I can tell you in real life they would be running many of those places 24/7.
There’s surprisingly little action, so little that the film’s first half can drag at points, not what you want for something titled Batman vs. Superman. Things do pick up in the last hour. The one that audiences were looking forward to was the actual fight between Batman and Superman. I have to say it’s not bad, but it’s nowhere near as good as the one in Dark Knight Returns, the main inspiration for this movie really. Batman struggles to face Superman’s power for the first couple minutes. Once he throws kryptonite at him, however, it turns into a really average slugfest with a questionable conclusion. The final battle is not exactly flawless, but it’s more interesting. This is kind of a spoiler, but the trailers themselves already did that. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, DC’s Trinity, faces off against Doomsday. Doomsday himself is unfortunately based off of the New 52 version, meaning he absorbs all energy directed at him and is constantly mutating, rather than being the pummeling terror he debuted as. He starts off looking like a cave troll from Lord of the Rings and despite gaining the spikes from the comic book version he still looks kind of stupid.
Overall, Batman vs. Superman is a shockingly poor movie. It’s overstuffed, convoluted, and imbued with a dark, depressing aura. DC shows that its desperate to catch up with Marvel’s cinematic universe, cramming in too much buildup for future movies. Snyder and the other creators take too much inspiration from the New 52, DC’s current crop of comics that think it’s edgy to be dark and broody. If you have a large interest in DC’s characters, this is worth seeing once. Ben Affleck’s Batman is great, Wonder Woman is neat for when she’s there, and some of the action is cool, but overall this is one big mess. I’m concerned for the DC Cinematic Universe. I’m sure at least a couple of the movies will be good at least, but if they insist on following the grimdark style moviegoers are eventually going to be fed up. Marvel’s fun, light-hearted fare with clear-cut heroes is succeeding for a reason.