Batman v Superman: Versusing Harder
Why Batman v Superman is an utterly terrible movie.
Let’s start with my obvious bias here: I did not enjoy Man of Steel.
I was curious what would happen if you applied the Christopher Nolan formula to Superman, and it turns out that it would make it suck. The problem is that it’s his formula, and if you want a Christopher Nolan type movie, your best bet is to ask Christopher Nolan to make it. I imagine Nolan as executive producer is just him looking at footage and saying, “Yep, it looks dark and I hear a lot of loud Hans Zimmer music. Good to go.”
The only reason I ended up watching Clash of the Mopey Spandex Bros was that the Justice League trailer looked kind of interesting. It has the same dark cinematic look but with a bit more lightheartedness to it. Considering the negative feedback Dawn of Justice was getting, I figure Warner Brothers and DC might actually try to turn this franchise around. So to potentially enjoy Justice League later, I thought I’d give this one a try…
In the beginning, we’re treated to the obligatory ‘young Bruce Wayne losing his parents’ scene, which here has all the magic of a film student doing a senior thesis project on the previous Batman trilogy. The scene’s slowness and overly forced dramatic feel are matched only by its pointlessness since Nolan already did a better version of it several years ago. This was director Zack Snyder’s opportunity to do something new (or not at all) but for him, cinematic innovation is merely wordless slow motion covered by an Instagram filter. So that’s the first 5 minutes.
Then for next 90 minutes, a bunch of forgettable stuff happens including Clark Kent and Perry White debating the ethics of journalism for about 8 seconds. Also, Lex Luthor asks a senator if he should turn a painting in his house upside down BECAUSE OF SYMBOLISM. For much of this movie, subtlety is a 20-ton truck that Snyder smashes through each scene as if it were a coked up Batmobile.
After those 90 pointless minutes, we see Wonder Woman at a laptop watching what is basically a trailer for the Justice League movie. It’s a trailer for the franchise embedded in the franchise. It’s Inception. Thank you again, Christopher Nolan; your contributions are endless. Now please, go home.
And finally after that, we get the first half of the movie title: Batman v Superman. To jump forward a little — when the movie ended, my first thought was how unearned it all felt.
The whole thing is just a collection of dramatic moments. Evan Puschak expands on this in a great video.
Zack Snyder is a filmmaker who spends most of his time focusing on these moments and puts little to no effort into the story and character building scenes that should be connecting everything into a holistic movie.
Where this shortcoming truly reveals itself is in the title match. My frames of reference here are The Dark Knight Returns graphic novel (from which this movie poorly borrows) and the Captain America: Civil War movie. In both of those stories, the battle royale has a deeply meaningful impact because we first go through the scenes of their alliance and their long and enduring friendship (both in those stories and through the preceding comic lore and movies) before we get to their final adversarial moments.
We see their values evolve, align, and also clash with each others. And usually when their values do clash, we see them find resolution to overcome some greater evil. But then, eventually, the gap in their values is taken to the edge, at or beyond a violent breaking point. And when they fight, we don’t only see their primal urge to win but also their acknowledgment of what they’re each sacrificing should they survive the battle.
For Batman, Superman, Cap, and Iron Man in those stories, to win is also to lose. They don’t want to fight each other, but they find themselves in a set of circumstances that seem to force it. And we embrace those scenes because while we enjoy the spectacle of titans clashing, we don’t want them to fight each other either. To watch our hero defeat the villain is satisfying but watching our heroes defeat each other can be heartbreaking. And that’s the ultimate dramatic tension in these stories.
And none of that is in this fucking movie.
The fight between Batman and Superman is an empty, soulless, and psychopathically brutal affair that is unenjoyable to watch because it is completely meaningless. Batman is ironically driven by fear (Snyder lazily uses the wholesale destruction of Metropolis to bypass a deeper exploration of values, ethics, and the role of heroism) and Superman is driven by some dumb Lex Luthor scheme.
The fight ending because of the much-mocked detail that both Clark and Bruce’s mothers are named Martha proves that it never had any stakes at all. Everything that then follows is just a pointless parade to get to its ultimate ending, which will, of course, be undone in the next set of movies (it’s a spoiler, a stupid spoiler at that).
You might say I’m overthinking the whole thing, but I see it as the fundamental difference between a shitty movie and a solidly good one — it’s the name of the movie! And this stands as the difference between Marvel and the non-Nolan DC movies. Marvel takes its time to earn their character and plot movements while DC continues, in its hasty effort playing catch up, to take ill-conceived shortcuts to get to whatever the hell it’s trying to achieve. At least the TV shows (Flash, Supergirl, Green Arrow, etc.) are fun when they’re at their best.
Given Ben Affleck’s proven abilities as a director, I hope he’s keeping both Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan very far away from his solo Batman movie.