Ignoring all negative reviews of Batman v Superman, this weekend I raced to the movies to see the new superhero movie from Zack Snyder. I wanted to form an opinion of my own, and to do that, I had to see this film for myself.
First off, my history with Zack Snyder movies is kind of love-hate. Up to seeing Batman v Superman, I’d seen Watchmen, 300, Sucker Punch, and Man of Steel. I’d probably rate my opinion of them in that order. (In fact, I rewatched Watchmen the other night and liked it even more than I remember. Man of Steel, on the other hand, somehow makes a superhero action movie one of the most boring experiences of my life.) Sometimes his movies are a little dark for me — both the settings and the themes. I also have a hard time with Sucker Punch for how the women find “empowerment” in their world. But on the plus side, I love that Snyder’s films are daring and action-heavy, letting you really zoom in on every slice of the blade or punch of the fist. There’s nothing like his movie’s fight scenes.
Going into Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I hoped the movie would at least be entertaining, and I was right. The whole thing felt like fanfiction to me — and I say that as someone who really enjoys fanfiction. It’s a little cliche and melodramatic, just like the best fanfiction is. There are cheesy one-liners about making Superman bleed and over-the-top flashbacks that make Batman see the light. There’s a scene of Lois Lane in the bathtub and Clark diving in with her, fully clothed, as the type of romance scene I would love to read about my favorite BioWare characters or something. Even Jesse Eisenberg playing Lex Luthor is just such a weird casting choice, and he’s so fast-talking and awkward the whole time, it’s like fanfiction casting. It’s all so fun — it’s just not that good, whether it were fanfiction or the blockbuster movie it’s supposed to be.
Here’s what I loved and hated about the movie. Spoilers all over the place, proceed with caution!
First, the Good…
Amazing Action Scenes
While I’m not always a fan of the way Zack Snyder chooses to tell stories, I love the stylistic choices he makes. This is especially true of the action sequences. Batman v Superman has two spectacular action scenes (with a couple of duds as well), and the final battle is beautiful. Wonder Woman zooms in for an appearance and steals the show here. Things go high speed for a few seconds, then slam into slow motion so you can catch every cut. It’s awesome.
Those Opening Credits
Another thing I love? You get a traditional Zack Snyder opening in this movie, with the backstory shown in wordless, slow motion scenes. The way they’re filmed is completely over-the-top, but that’s what makes them so memorable. (I am a big fan of the opening of Watchmen, also by Zack Snyder, which has a similar slow motion style and Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a Changin’” playing.) There are some gorgeous shots, such as a criminal gun pulling at a woman’s pearl necklace, shown from the woman’s POV. I just love these opening credit scenes that I now associate with this director.
Gal Gadot plays a fantastic Wonder Woman. She’s only shown in a few short scenes before her big action sequence toward the end — twice at posh parties, wearing impossibly beautiful dresses that make her look like a Bond girl. Batman associates with her, first because she catches his eye, but later because she steals — well, borrows — a drive he is trying to steal.
Overall, I enjoyed the way she was revealed to be Wonder Woman. This drive shows surveillance videos of her, as well as an old black-and-white photograph of her in her Wonder Woman suit. Batman is shocked at the discovery. It feels like a mystery he’s unraveling, and the drive also reveals a few other “meta-humans” (namely the Flash and Aquaman, that I recall). Clearly DC is setting up its universe to bombard us with more superhero movies going forward, but nevertheless, I liked how Batman discovers Wonder Woman this way.
Gadot has an amazing combination of sophistication and toughness. I don’t doubt that she’s older than what she looks. She plays a little mysterious, but it’s not the cliche mystery-woman-in-red-dress situation we get in some movies (James Bond, Mission Impossible, etc.). When she talks with Bruce Wayne, she’s obviously spirited and clever, but she doesn’t flirt with him. There’s also a great moment toward the end of the movie, when she shares a glance with Lois Lane just as Lois realizes something has happened to Superman. It reveals Wonder Woman’s understanding and even highlights that she is a woman. I loved that part, fleeting as it was.
The film is also smart enough to show Wonder Woman on her own, which helps her feel like a real character. You get a scene where she’s alone at home, looking at the contents of the drive; and another where she’s in an airplane, but leaves before takeoff when she sees that Superman and Batman are facing a beast from another world (something she’s experienced with, she tells them later).
And the Bad…
I’ve Never Hated Batman So Much
To pit Batman against Superman, the filmmakers decided to turn Batman into a bully who wants to destroy Superman in case there is “even a one percent chance” that Superman is against them. Batman really says that at one point. Because Superman is nearly invincible, Batman fears he could wipe out humanity.
Sure, the film does attempt to build this up, but mainly just with the opening scene, which shows the aftermath of Superman’s fight with Zod — namely, Metropolis getting torn up. Bruce Wayne sees his business building destroyed and tries to save people in the rubble.
I guess I get it — Superman is certainly dangerous — but the script could have done a much better job of making Batman’s point of view feel realistic. Instead, his character does a 180 from what we’re used to seeing. He’s not being tough on criminals, he’s being tough on another hero. And he kills people. Producer Charles Roven explains (to Cinema Blend) that he does this because being Batman for a little too long has made him jaded, but come on! That’s not the Batman I know, like, or admire.
This is a movie that’s all about bullying Superman. Really, that is exactly what the story is. While Superman is off doing hero-y things, people like Lex Luthor Jr., Batman, and the United States government are worried that he could bring about the destruction of the world. After all, the people he’s saved are treating him like a god, and he seems unkillable. This brings up questions like, “Is all power political?” And do Superman’s powers mean that he doesn’t need to abide by the laws of the governments of mankind?
The themes are interesting, that’s for sure. But I just didn’t see enough of Superman being reckless to believe he was that dangerous. Sure, he does drop everything to save his girlfriend from being kidnapped, which gets people killed in the process — that’s the leading scene that sets this up. It just wasn’t enough for me. It’s very clear that Superman has no hatred or anger in him, and he’s trying to do good. His mother even tells him at one point that he doesn’t owe the world anything — yet he still gets back out there and does good, time after time. It’s his choice to try to save people.
And yet the whole movie is about bullying this poor, invincible guy. I just wish there had been more nuanced emotions and motivations going on here, instead of, “Superman is dangerous, so let’s kill him!” Not only that but Lex Luthor doesn’t just want to kill Superman with the one thing he is vulnerable to — he actually wants to bait Superman into doing something wrong so that they have an excuse to kill him. That’s just messed up.
This brings me to the story, which is just plain weak. Besides the poor motivations mentioned above, there’s also a lack of invention. Lex Luthor, power-hungry and dying to bring about Superman’s demise, creates a super-monster in some sort of Kryptonian necromancy ritual to fight Superman. Then he kidnaps Lois Lane to get Superman’s attention. (Superman saves her, of course.) Then, to get Superman to turn “bad” (I guess), he kidnaps Superman’s mother and says the only way she’ll live is if Superman runs off and kills Batman in a staged battle that Batman is totally cool with, since he has the kryptonite.
We obviously have to give Batman credit here: As soon as he learns that Superman’s mom has been kidnapped for all this, he switches sides. Just like that. There’s a rather melodramatic moment when Superman, gasping underneath Batman’s boot crushing his throat, says his mother’s name — Martha — and Batman experiences crazy flashbacks to his own parents’ death, because his mother’s name was Martha too. What?! That is one wild coincidence.
Despite its many flaws, I’m glad I saw Batman v Superman. In fact, many of my opinions of the movie developed in the half hour or so after leaving the theater — because in those first moments, when the credits start rolling, I had more of a shrugging, “It was pretty good” mentality.
See it for the cool suits, dark settings, and over-the-top action scenes. Don’t worry if you giggle when Superman is trying to say his mother’s name while almost choking to death. Don’t worry that Batman looks like he weighs about 1,000 pounds in his Batsuit, or that his eyes glow for some weird reason. When Superman unleashes his laser vision, just go with it. Compare the super-monster at the end to a darkspawn from Dragon Age, which is what I did. (Gives Superman’s big move to destroy the beast a whole new Grey Warden twist!) Treat it like fanfiction, and the movie is actually pretty okay. There’s a lot of fun to be had with it.
I’d recommend renting it, though. And considering how Gal Gadot steals the show, I’m way more excited for a Wonder Woman movie in the future… :)