It’s really nice to see a live action version of the conflict between two classic and iconic superheroes. One dresses in red and is known for truth and justice. The other dresses in black and is a vigilante who takes down street level criminals. One has powers. The other relies on his own particular set of skills and weapons. Each has a very clear code they live by. Each is a fully developed three dimensional character both in the comics and on screen. Their conflict is obvious, inevitable, and amazing to watch. I am of course talking about Season 2 of Daredevil and Daredevil’s battle with the Punisher.
In Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice almost none of that is true. Superman played by Henry Cavill stands around posing and acting as if he gets paid less every time he says a word. Batman played by Ben Affleck is clearly doing his absolute best with what little he has to work with. Both characters look as amazing as their characters are hollow. BvS is a very beautiful movie. Many shots look like they should be posters. Zack Snyder clearly has an eye for iconic imagery. He simply fails to understand what icons are or what they represent.
BvS begins the way Man of Steel ended. It revisits the final fight between Superman and Zod in which thousands of people are killed. It turns out that one of the dozens of destroyed buildings in Metropolis belongs to Bruce Wayne and that someone named Jack was in the building when it was destroyed. Jack clearly means something to Bruce, but it’s hard to say who he was to Bruce or what he means because Zack Snyder never gives us any context to know that.
We also get to see a flashback to Bruce Wayne’s parents being murdered. Again. This is a scene I have personally seen on the big screen three times now in three different movies. This was the least dynamic and least interesting version of it. Not only because it added nothing that wasn’t scene in 1989 in Batman or 2005 in Batman Begins, but because it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the Batman in this movie. Ben Affleck’s Batman seemingly has no problem with killing or with guns. Whatever problems he may have had with these things in the past he is clearly over them.
There is also an extended dream-within-a-dream sequence that has nothing to do with anything that happens in the rest of the entire movie. It’s clearly there as a ham-fisted building block for the DC Cinematic Universe. It has a bunch of stuff that looks really cool but makes no sense. And I get that this is supposed to be intriguing and make us ask questions, but the first question I thought to ask was, “Is the digital file they’re using corrupt or something because this scene seems like it’s come out of nowhere?”
Batman wants to take down Superman because he’s an alien who helped destroy most of a city. Superman wants to take down Batman because he’s a vigilante who brands people or something. Later on it seems the screenwriters realized this was a weak reason and decided to have Lex Luthor blackmail Superman into fighting Batman. Lex happens to do this on the same night that Batman chooses to openly challenge Superman to a fight though Lex and Batman aren’t working together it’s just a fantastic coincidence.
Lex, by the way is played by Jesse Eisenberg who seems to be playing Lex like a cross between his Mark Zuckerberg character from The Social Network and Tweek from South Park. He apparently has some sort of beef with God, but since he can’t kill God, he’s going out of his way to find a way to kill Superman.
Have you noticed how each paragraph of this review makes sense on its own and fits with a movie review of Batman Vs. Superman but none of it seems to flow together very well? That’s pretty much how Batman Vs. Superman is constructed. It’s a series of scenes that try to tell a story but doesn’t do it very well and at times it’s jarring. I think there is a very simple reason for this: Zack Snyder doesn’t know how to tell a story well.
In a well written story the characters have clear motivations, clear goals, and clear obstacles to those goals. Through the process of overcoming these obstacles and trying to attain these goals the characters change and we learn who they are. To explain this further I will use the example of the movie Lethal Weapon.
In Lethal Weapon, Martin Riggs is a suicidal cop who misses his wife who was recently killed. Murtaugh is a 50-year-old cop who feels he’s getting too old for the street. In the course of the movie Riggs learns to connect with someone by becoming friends and partners with Murtaugh. And Murtaugh learns that he’s still got what it takes to work the street. Through that first movie we get a clear idea of who each of our main characters are and though they start out with a lot of animosity towards one another, the story propels them through changes that make them friends for life.
When you have a story with three dimensional characters the plot is dictated by who they are. What happens between the characters is inevitable given the circumstances that they are in. Riggs puts himself in harm’s way over and over again in the beginning of the movie because he does not care if he lives or dies. It’s not until the end of the movie that he realizes that someone cares for him. He gives his partner the bullet he was going to use to kill himself to symbolize this change in him and it tells us everything we need to know about his character.
In Batman Vs. Superman I couldn’t tell you much about any of the characters. Both Batman and Superman kill people in this movie, but neither of them kill Lex Luthor. Lex Luthor seems to want Superman dead but is only keeping tabs on people like Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Aqua Man. Zod is reanimated by Lex as Doomsday but is basically a less articulate version of the Hulk with no motivation beyond being a monster. Lois Lane spends most of the movie being a damsel in distress though at one point she takes a Kryptonite spear and throws it into a pool of water for no apparently reason other than it needs to be there later for another scene. Superman will always save Lois Lane and it’s clear that they have a relationship but the lack of chemistry between the two actors along with a screenplay that barely touches on what their relationship is makes things less clear. Batman has endured more loss than any on screen Batman before him, but whether that loss changed him or not is anyone’s guess since we never see him before those tragedies.
In a couple of months Captain America: Civil War is coming out. The trailers show that this movie will pit Captain America against Iron Man. What’s the difference between this and Batman Vs. Superman? Marvel has spent seven movies with Iron Man and Captain America. We know these characters because we’ve spent time with them working together and separately. We know what each of these characters stand for and what they’re willing to do for what they feel is right. We’ve seen the escalating tension since their very first meeting in Avengers. They have built this conflict in an organic and character-driven way that is completely missing from the DC Cinematic Universe. Zack Snyder is essentially asking us to care about characters because they are named after iconic characters but he never lets us get to know them and so it’s impossible to care unless you imbue them with thoughts and feelings you already have for them. If the only way I can care about your characters is to relate them to characters they are supposedly based on from another medium, you have failed as a filmmaker.
You can call Batman Vs. Superman a lot of things, but you cannot in any real way call it a well told story and without a good story, you cannot have a good movie.
– Jack Cameron