I can’t get my mind to shut up about the uneasy feelings Batman v Superman left me with, so I’m typing some of them out here. You can call it a review, I guess; I at least tried to organize my thoughts. I did my best to be impartial.
TL;DR version: I liked it, but I also didn’t. It’s a ?/10 for me.
Heavy spoilers being discussed here, though, so read after you’ve watched the movie. Also, this ended up being a super long post, so read when you’ve got time.
On the Idea of Batman vs. the Idea of Superman
I think the DC cinematic universe is trying to tell a great story. In fact, I think its overarching arc (wow that sounds redundant when you write it that way) is deeper and more ambitious than Marvel’s. It’s an examination of heroism and humanity’s need for it. It tries to present a realistic view on how our society would react to the presence of these extraordinary beings. In a way, it’s trying to ask some of the same questions as Alan Moore’s Miracleman/Marvelman, particularly on the superbeing-as-God front. I fucking loved Miracleman.
I think – and I’ve thought about this a lot over the past few days – one of the problems with Man of Steel and Batman v Superman is that compared to Moore, David Goyer (and whoever else is in charge of the scripts) has the storytelling skill of a drunken teen. That, and the studios are trying to make a very adult story something they can market to a G-rated audience.
Batman v Superman’s central conflict – to me, anyway – is the contrast between Batman’s and Superman’s ideas of justice; in the movie, Clark Kent openly questions the vigilante’s actions and their consequences. It’s very, very true to the comics in that sense. Because of poor writing and/or studio interference, however, this conflict is presented in a very lackluster, half-baked way.
Superman, for instance, is supposed to represent the idea of benevolent justice. It’s the reason why we’ve gotten such heavy-handed Christ references in both of Snyder’s films; Superman is an uncompromising force of good. What we get on screen, however, is a Superman whose greatest moments are simply reactionary.
Unlike Moore’s Miracleman, Snyder’s (or Goyer’s, or WB’s) Superman isn’t out to bring beneficial change to the world. He isn’t trying to fix the ills of society, nor is he trying to represent the best of us. His main motivation (at least in the way Batman v Superman portrays it) is saving his loved ones. We get clips of him saving the lives of people around the world, but of these incidents, the ones that are most developed are when he 1) Saves Lois, and 2) Saves his mother. When he saves the lives of others, the film makes it a point to show people questioning his motivations.
What we’re told, essentially, is that you are safer from the world if your sense of heroism is limited to your immediate vicinity. What we’re shown, in the form of explosions and citywide destruction, is that being a hero outside of that circle results in death.
We’re supposed to get the flipside from Batman, who is correctly assumed to be the antithesis to Superman, though equally heroic. Ben Affleck’s Batman is brutal and unflinching, branding the criminals he roughs up so that they get their final sanction in prison. He is violent and merciless, but he gets results. Heck, he even uses guns in this movie (a lot of them). He is the perfect conceptual foil to Superman’s brand of justice.
But because our Superman’s heroism is often called into question, the contrast the filmmakers attempted to build between them falls flat. Batman is very clearly an extreme on the justice scale, but Superman himself is middling.
I understand that we’re meant to see Superman as the outsider, the alien god who is careful about what he brings to the world, but we can get that without compromising his inherent goodness. Why couldn’t he try to reason with Batman before Luthor threatened his mother? It started well enough when Clark confronts Bruce about Batman at Luthor’s party, but that was never explored any further. The next time the two interact, it’s when Superman tells Batman to retire. There is no intent to reason with him. There is no attempt from either character to philosophize, when the movie so clearly wants its audience to do so.
Therein lies my problem with this particular version of Superman – he doesn’t seem to value people outside of Lois and Martha. When we are reintroduced to the character in Batman v Superman, he enters a violent situation to save Lois, and only Lois. A firefight breaks out, good guys and bad guys die, and Superman only flies in when Lois’ life is threatened. He was very clearly watching – otherwise he wouldn’t have known that Lois was about to die – but he doesn’t move into action when the deaths start. Worse, he flies away with Lois in his arms, ignoring the fact that the killers remain free and subsequently attack a nearby village, taking the lives of more innocents.
When you are given a hero whose idea of heroism is selective, you cannot create a contrast between him and a Batman who kills, no matter how hard you try. That is poor writing.
On the other hand, they could have actually gotten away with this if they painted Batman out to be a villain at first, but let’s be real – there is no chance in hell that WB would allow kids to see Batman that way. (Maybe Snyder’s hands were tied by that. Maybe the director’s cut will do better. Let’s see.)
It irks me that Batman v Superman is praised for having such a strong female character in Lois Lane, when in both this film and in Man of Steel, Martha Kent exists solely to be the damsel in distress that leads Superman to his final, greatest action. Seriously. Martha Kent is threatened by Zod? I guess it’s finally time to take Zod out. Martha is kidnapped by Luthor? I guess it’s time to try getting Batman on my side.
In neither film did Martha’s supposed role of being a moral compass for Superman result in motivated action, and I have a serious problem with that kind of writing because that forces the protagonist into a role with very little agency.
Superman makes no effort to address the deaths that were incurred when he saved Lois in the scene I described earlier until he is called to court for it. Superman makes no attempt to get Batman on his side until his mother’s life is in danger.
Superman, the extraterrestrial who is made out by some to be the paragon of humanity, has no motivation.
Batman? He sees a threat and he wants to take it out. He’s witnessed people die from Superman’s action/inaction. He honestly believes that Superman creates bad situations around him and wants to rectify that. That’s motivation.
Wonder Woman? She’s infiltrating Lex Luthor’s parties because the latter has information that could expose her secret identity to the world. She joins the fight against Doomsday because it’s been established that she’s been fighting off similar threats since at least 1918, which would imply that it’s her life mission to rid the world of monsters. She enjoys fighting monsters, and ends up being the most fun part of the movie as a result (and it was an absolute thrill to see DC’s Trinity on the big screen). She has motivations.
This Superman, it seems, doesn’t.
Neither does Lex Luthor; at least not apparently. In Batman v Superman, it feels like Luthor’s only role is to get rid of Superman. I am sure that he has reasons for this, but the theatrical release of the film makes no mention of them. We are told he has daddy issues, and… that’s it. The rest is about Luthor trying to create weapons (kryptonite and later Doomsday) to kill Superman. To what end? We don’t know. We understand that he thought Batman actually had a chance to kill Superman for him, but it wasn’t established why he wanted this in the first place.
To be fair: Superman’s and Luthor’s motivations might have been explained in the prequel comics released to hype up the movie, but I haven’t read them. The movie should be able to stand without them, anyway.
On Plot Holes
The movie left me with a lot of questions; more than I think the filmmakers were aiming for.
For instance, how did Luthor figure out Batman was Bruce Wayne and Superman was Clark Kent? How did Clark figure out Batman’s secret identity?
How did Lois suddenly figure out they needed the kryptonite spear minutes after she threw it away, without ever talking to any of the heroes?
Why couldn’t we get a better reason than “I wasn’t looking” to explain why Superman didn’t see the bomb in Scoot McNairy’s wheelchair? If Luthor was smart enough to figure out Superman’s secret identity, he probably would’ve been smart enough to figure out that his x-ray vision wouldn’t work through lead. Was it too much to ask to even hint that Luthor made it impossible for Superman to see the bomb?
What was the point of Luthor’s men using experimental bullets aside from leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for Lois Lane to follow?
If Superman cared so much about his mother, why didn’t he join Batman in saving her? Why did he choose to gloat to Luthor first? It would’ve made more sense if he had to fight off Doomsday while Batman was off finding her, but the movie didn’t play it that way. Doomsday was only released after Martha was saved, which means Superman had time to rescue her. (Let’s be fair, he probably wouldn’t have found her without Batman’s help; the latter’s detective skills were utilized, albeit rather minimally, in this respect.)
If Luthor was keeping track of all known metahumans (the “why” for this is a permissible question, since it’s meant to be a tease for future films), why wasn’t there a file on Superman himself? Does Luthor differentiate aliens from metahumans? Why would he do that in the first place? And even if he did keep them in separate categories, shouldn’t there have been a file on Superman, anyway? I mean, how else would he have figured out Superman was Clark Kent?
Was Jonathan Kent’s appearance a vision or a dream? If it was a vision, how did Superman get to that point? If it was a dream, why wasn’t the movie consistent in showing Superman waking up from it, as it did with Batman’s dream sequences?
If the Flash’s cameo was a callback to Crisis on Infinite Earths, wherein the Flash travels back in time to warn Batman of a catastrophe, why would he travel to a dream in his Batman’s past? Can you even time travel to a dream?
Is Batman psychic? Does he have the ability to see the future? If not, why would he be having dreams about parademons and Darkseid’s omega symbol? It’s too specific for it to be just a manifestation of his fears and insecurities.
Why would Batman place a tracker on a truck, and then almost immediately attack the guys he’s trying to track, putting the aforementioned device at risk? Was it really that necessary to have a chase scene in this movie, to remove all sense of sober thought from an otherwise excellent detective in Batman?
I don’t know how many of the answers to these questions landed on the cutting room floor, but any unanswered ones are definitely due to poor writing (yes, I am very affected by the quality of writing in comic book movies).
Despite all my criticisms/nitpicks, it’s very possible to have fun with Batman v Superman. Zack Snyder knows how to put together a spectacle, and if you’ve read my review of Sucker Punch, I actually give him a lot more credit than most people do.
The world-building is good, and I will stand by my assessment that the overarching storyline of this mega-franchise is excellent – even better than Marvel’s Infinity Stones storyline. I can’t wait to see how the bigger plot plays out, to be honest. I like that things are presented in shades of gray. I love the depth and ambition.
I just can’t find the same depth in how the story is told, however.
I don’t know if that’s the fault of the director, the scriptwriters, or the editing. The movie, for all its merits, feels clunky if you watch it on a level outside of “popcorn movie” – the higher level being what the filmmakers are aiming for. Perhaps it’s a fault of being a “set-up” film like Iron Man 2 was, but then again, they could’ve chosen to rein some of that set-up in. It’s strange that it feels more like a movie about Superman rather than one starring him, but I can live with that.
I also still need to make my peace with how the movie is presenting its characters, and this is probably the main reason why I can’t completely enjoy it despite badly wanting to. It is the filmmaker’s call on how to present their heroes, and I can’t fault them for that. I can’t help but feel a yearning for how I want to see my heroes, though.
I want my heroes to see the value in every human life. I want them to be better than me, to rehabilitate criminals rather than kill them. I want to feel like I can follow their example in prioritizing goodness over vengeance and self-satisfaction, in choosing the right way over the easy way.
I want to see their flaws, but I also want to see them rise above them, so I can believe I can rise above my own. I want them to question my morality, but I also want them to have conviction in theirs so that I can learn from them.
I know that this series of films probably won’t show me the heroes I want. In today’s increasingly violent, intolerant world, though, I’m pretty sure that they aren’t the heroes we need.
Here’s hoping that as time goes on, and more movies get released, that last sentence I wrote will be edited with a “yet.”