With the release of Man of Steel, the DCU made its statement. These films aren’t like your Marvel movies. Our movies are real, our movies are deep, our movies are going to make you think. Don’t get me wrong, I love the concept, but Batman Versus Superman lost me during its failure of an execution. In one film, Batman Versus Superman attempts to do what Marvel has spent the last eight years of films building: setting up a cinematic universe.
It’s not uncommon for Batman and Superman to find themselves on opposite sides of a conflict. Given their specific ideologies the two of them tend to disagree on things more often than not, sometimes even taking it far enough to divide everyone down the middle. Yet, we all know, at the end of the day the two of them will see past their differences and decide on who the real bad guy they should be punching is.
Affleck’s performance shows a lot of promise. He’s able to embody both sides of Batman and Bruce Wayne. When we’re introduced Batman, we are told that he’s been doing this crime fighting gig for twenty years. Twenty years of punching villains in the face is going to leave it’s mark on a guy’s psyche. And that’s what he’s been doing, a lot of punching. There is no subtly in this Batman. He’s disenchanted with mankind and fully embodies the dark in the dark knight. he brands his victims, he runs over cars, he explodes things. He also suffers from nightmares and horrifying visions which are meant to be franchise bait, but stop the movie dead in its tracks.
Superman spends the majority of the film not allowed to be Superman. The biggest boy scout is going through the motions, wondering whether he’s living up to his full potential, having identity crises, scowling and writing the least important articles for the Daily Planet. Yet his story is more interesting than Batman’s. Superman feels more human, he’s trying to find a balance between who he is and who the world sees him as. One of the main themes of Batman Versus Superman is what it means to be a God, because at the end of the day Superman is a God among mortals. And to quote another superhero movie, with great power comes great responsibility. yet, how responsible should he be? He can’t be everywhere at once and this weighs on his conscious. Henry Cavill does a good job of portraying Superman’s internal struggle and his need to do right by his adopted home.
The other major player in the film is Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, who stole every single scene he was in with a hypnotic over the top performance. In a better film Eisenberg’s campy-millennial-wanna-be-google-mogul would have come across as ridiculously out of place. In this film he’s the only entertaining character. Where everyone else is too busy brooding Lex Luthor is trying to have some fun, even if it’s at the expense of his credibility. Luthor lacks any clear motivation other than a child who likes to mash his two favourite action figures together to make them “fight”. I understand the angle that this film is going for, they took a character and tried to make him fit in the contemporary world stage. A well put together business man is transformed into a manic young tech startup guy. It doesn’t exactly work, but I’ll go more into that at a later date. Eisenberg’s character doesn’t feel like Luthor as we know him but he is a decent antagonist for the film. If they had dropped the Lex Luthor name and the decades of character baggage they would have managed to dodge a lot of backlash.
Wonder Woman also makes an appearance in this film as a lead in for her eventual (and well deserved) solo film set to release is 2017. Out of the big three, I liked Wonder Woman’s performance the most. To my surprise, her lack of dialogue worked in her favour. Instead of being bogged down by the stilted grand proclamations that everyone else is throwing at one another, Wonder Woman is given the most straight forward motivation and goal. There is a giant monster and someone has to kill it, might as well be her. She then proceeds to run laps around her two counterparts, proving that she is a warrior that you should respect. So good on them for getting that across.
There was a lot of time devoted to the side characters and they were all surprisingly three dimensional. Laurence Fishburne as Perry White was given a lot of fun lines and I liked his relationship with his employees, particularly his inability to say no to Lois. I found myself liking Amy Adam’s performance as Lois Lane a lot more than in Man of Steel. This time around her dedication to her work and respect of the truth shone through. Her relationship with Clark Kent was cute and I respect the decision made in Man of Steel to have her in on the knowing his secret identity. But really, has no one realized that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person based on Lois’s relationship with both of them? The best side character had to be Jeremy Irons as Alfred. He has some strong chemistry with Affleck’s Batman and isn’t afraid to speak his mind.
After watching Batman Versus Superman twice the question that stands out in my mind the most is who is this film for? Batman versus Superman can’t decide whether it should rely on its audiences knowledge of superhero mythos or if it should take time spelling things out for them. What it chooses to show us and what it chooses to assume we know is a little mind boggling. The film starts with a rehash of Batman’s origin story, something we’ve seen multiple times. The film doesn’t try and do anything different with it (think Tim Burton’s Batman introducing the Joker as the murderous thief) and plays the scene pretty straight. As the film progresses many of the jokes rely on the knowledge that you know that Clark Kent is Superman and Bruce Wayne is Batman. When they first meet, Luthor cheekily tells Wayne “not to pick a fight with this guy.” At this point in the film Luthor doesn’t know that Wayne is Batman and Kent is Superman, the joke is there as a nudge to the audience. Everyone knows that that’s exactly what’s going to happen, that’s why you’re here slogging through this three hour movie. You want to see Batman and Superman pound each other into a pulp. Stop with the talking, get on with the fighting.
But why exactly are we fighting? No one has a clear motivation. Batman sees Superman during his city crushing battle with Zod and decides to blame Superman for everything. He then spends the next 18 months planning to kill him. Superman sees Batman as a thug who needs to be stopped. Lex Luthor decides that he’s going to pit Batman and Superman against one another because why? He also creates Doomsday because he’s bored? What was his plan?
If Superman killed Batman like Luthor ordered him too, who is going to be around to deal with Doomsday? What would Luthor do with a bored murderous Doomsday? Would Doomsday even listen to him? How did Lex Luthor know that today was the day that Batman would finally crack and fight Superman? How did Lex Luthor even know that Batman hated Superman? So many little questions that when you start asking them the plot begins to unravel. The film follows comic book logic, that would work for a comic but don’t translate well to the big screen. Which leads to the comic references.
These references abound in the film. Some of them make sense, like Batman’s mecha suit for his final show down with Superman. It’s a reference (like this entire fight) to The Dark Knight Returns. An old Robin suit covered in a message from the Joker alludes to the death of Robin (possibly Death in the Family and Jason Todd). It helps set the tone for a Batman who lacks hope. Others though, exist completely to force build a franchise. Batman’s vision of the future within a dream with the Flash warning him he was right all along within another dream? To a hardcore comic fan these one offs make sense, referencing certain story lines (albeit confusingly) but to someone who’s knowledge of Batman is minimal, these moments are off putting. The movie grazes over them with a calm: “don’t think about it too hard, it’ll make sense in a few movies. We promise.”
In some ways Batman Versus Superman is a step up from Man of Steel. The film relied less on the shaky cam of it’s successor making the fight scenes easier to watch. Batman’s fighting style was brutal, but very reminiscent to the Arkham Games which was fun to see on the big screen.Yet those few things can’t save this film from itself. Even though the film looked nice and the cinematography was visually appealing it does nothing that we haven’t seen in Snyder’s previous films. The character’s lack of clear character motivation; the slow build to a fight that only lasts a few minutes with a stupidly contrived solution; the fluctuating tone that takes itself too seriously and the constant promise that this is leading up to something makes Batman Versus Superman hard to watch.
Batman Versus Superman exists as a counter argument to Marvel’s domination of the film market, yet it does none of the things that Marvel does right. I’m all for a more serious look at the super hero genre, but there has to be some semblance of balance, some light at the end of the tunnel, a reason worth fighting for. Only time will tell if Batman Versus Superman manages to achieve what it set out to do. Maybe some day we’ll look back at these first two films in the DC cinematic universe as a bumpy start to what has become a great franchise.
But, before that can happen Superman and Batman probably should learn how to smile.