Clash of the Titans

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice overcame terrible reviews to crush the box office over the weekend. If you believe the critics, it’s pretty much the worst movie of all time and if you like it in any capacity then you are a stupid pathetic excuse for a human being.

As usual, I feel that the critics have vastly overstated the movie’s badness. Batman V Superman is not a terrible movie, unfortunately, it is also not a particularly good one.

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Batman V Superman joins the ranks of Spider-Man 3, Iron Man 2, and Avengers: Age of Ultron as a vastly overcrowded superhero movie. It is the kind of movie that has so many things it needs to accomplish that it threatens to collapse under the weight of its many parts. It’s a sequel to 2013’s Man of Steel, it introduces several iconic DC comics characters, it sets up future sequels and spin-offs, and on top of all that it still has to attempt to tell its own story.

As a result, it sometimes feels like the movie is going through the motions, checking off items on the list of things it needs to accomplish. This is really too bad, since this movie had so much potential, but the end result is a little disappointing.

I didn’t leave the theater feeling like my spirits were completely crushed. Instead I was left feeling vaguely unsatisfied, which is not a good thing given the movie’s two-and-a-half-hour running time.

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But at the same time, there were things about the movie that I liked. The opening scene, for example, is terrific. It presents the climactic city-levelling battle from Man of Steel from the perspective of the people on the ground, as Bruce Wayne rushes through the city, dodging falling debris as he attempts to reach one of his Wayne enterprises buildings. It conjures images of 9/11, and gives the movie a sense of real-world relevancy.

Unfortunately, this feeling doesn’t last for the entire movie, since it goes overboard by the end. This is exemplary of much of the rest of the movie: it has good ideas but doesn’t know what to do them, and ends up feeling like it’s going through that superhero-movie checklist.

For example, a lot of people on the Internet complained that the final battle in Man of Steel caused far too much collateral damage, and that Superman was irresponsible for allowing so much destruction to happen. The new movie runs with this idea, and presents some intriguing questions about what could happen if Superman’s godlike powers went unchecked. This does lead to a very bizarre dream sequence, where Bruce Wayne has this crazy nightmare of the end of the world that could happen if Superman turned evil, which involves black-clad Stormtroopers with Superman S-logos on their shoulders and weird winged creatures of some kind.

Wait, what? Yeah, it’s a weird scene. As soon as it started I knew it had to be a dream sequence of some kind, since there was no way that it could actually be happening. The scene contains some cool imagery but feels cheap, since you know from the start that it can’t be real, and it isn’t.

The movie was directed by Zack Snyder, who is a fantastic visual stylist but struggles with making the stories in his films as compelling as the visuals.

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Take Lex Luthor. Theoretically the main villain of the movie, I honestly could not figure out what his motivation was. Seriously, what was his deal? Why did he do anything that he did? Is he just a power-hungry, absurdly rich megalomaniac? Does he just like screwing with people? I dunno. He’s basically an evil Mark Zuckerberg.

And Jesse Eisenberg’s performance didn’t really help. I like Eisenberg, but I feel he was miscast in this role. Snyder’s direction to him must have been “be as quirky as possible,” because Eisenberg spends the entire movie trying to out-quirk both Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey. Eisenberg’s is a truly odd performance, full of so many strange little tics that you’re never sure what this dude is thinking. Normally I would be okay with that, I don’t mind a little ambiguity but in this case the weirdness of Eisenberg’s performance leaves the movie’s central villain feeling like an enigma.

Not every performance in the movie is quite so frustrating, however. Amy Adams is perfect as Lois Lane, Henry Cavill makes an appealing Superman, Laurence Fishburne is fun as Perry White (Clark and Lois’ boss at the Daily Planet) and Diane Lane as Superman’s earth-mom Martha Kent gives the movie some much needed warmth.

But we’ve seen these actors play these characters before. Let’s talk about the real elephant in the room: how is Ben Affleck as Batman? The internet exploded when his casting was announced, does he totally butcher it like stupid people on the internet said he would?

Well…no. No, he doesn’t. He’s fine. Not fantastic, but fine. He won’t make you forget Christian Bale any time soon, but he does solid work as the Dark Knight. Much of the inspiration for the film’s interpretation of Batman comes from Frank Miller’s 1986 graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, which is a personal favorite of mine. The Batsuit Batman wears and the armored Batsuit he uses to fight Superman look pretty much exactly the same as they do in that book, and there are a couple scenes from the book that are directly referenced in the film, which is cool to see as a comics nerd.

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Sadly, the movie muddles the Batman mythology. We see the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, and young Bruce falling into the Batcave, and that’s about all we get for Batman’s origin. This is fine, since the movie has so much other stuff to get through and there’s a good chance many viewers will be familiar with Batman’s origin if they’ve seen any of the previous Batman films.

But that’s not where the problems come in. The movie presents Batman as a grizzled crimefighting veteran, multiple references are made to how he’s been fighting crime for 20 years. But this doesn’t jibe for me. I can’t make it work with how everyone seems to view Batman in the movie: he still seems like a complete mystery to the inhabitants of both Gotham and Metropolis. If he’s been around for 20 years, how come nobody seems to know anything about him? Even the cops don’t seem to know what to make of him, and there’s no Commissioner Gordon in the movie to tell them otherwise.

I don’t know, maybe this is something that would become clearer to me on subsequent viewings. But on my first viewing, it seemed jumbled. I certainly didn’t hate the movie’s version of Batman, Affleck was pretty good and I also liked the various bat-vehicles on display. But trying to condense so much of the character’s history (there are also Joker and Robin references) into a fairly limited amount of screentime can’t help but feel rushed. I’m not saying the movie would have been better without Batman (blasphemy!) but it’s a movie that would not have suffered by getting rid of a subplot or two.

One thing the film does deliver on is the action. The centerpiece title fight between Bats and Supes delivers the awesomeness. It’s a satisfyingly brutal battle that delivers on the promise of the trailers, and it is undeniably thrilling to see these two iconic characters on screen together. Zack Snyder may be uneven as a director, but one area he really excels in is the action scenes. He is a very good action director, staging fast-paced and brutal fights that are easy to follow and exciting to watch. I absolutely loved the scene where Batman busts into a heavily-guarded warehouse and lays down some serious whuppins on about 20 henchmen. That scene alone is probably the best Batman fight scene ever put on film. As a hardcore Bat-fan, it was just about the best thing ever.

The movie climaxes with a rather silly battle against an ugly monster called Doomsday. If you are a comics fan you know what Doomsday is most famous for in the comics, but this film handles him poorly. Most of the time I like big monster fights, but in this case I thought the monster was just kind of…stupid. Doomsday is a big, ugly, stupid brute with no personality. The only reason he exists is so that Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman can have something to fight against that is stronger than they are individually, so they have to team up to defeat it. I understand that, but this movie doesn’t handle that idea nearly as well as the Avengers movies did.

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Part of what made the first Avengers movie so good was that it felt like a payoff. It had five movies of buildup leading up to it, so when it finally happened, it felt like a big deal. It felt like its own movie, and didn’t seem too concerned with setting up more sequels. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is a clunky name for a clunky movie. It had all the necessary ingredients to be great, but instead has to settle for being merely okay. I didn’t hate it as many other people seem to, but I didn’t love it either.

And I forgot to even talk about Wonder Woman. She’s played by Israeli actress Gal Gadot from the Fast and Furious movies, who I thought was pretty good in the role. She shows up intermittently throughout the movie in her civilian guise and makes her actual appearance as Wonder Woman during the climactic battle. I liked Gadot but Wonder Woman’s inclusion in the movie felt like more sequel-baiting (she’s getting her own movie next year).

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It also bothers me that Batman kills people in this movie. He blows up several truckloads of henchmen and brands criminals with a bat symbol, and there is never any discussion about whether or not he is taking things too far. Alfred is in the movie, played by Jeremy Irons, but he is relegated more to tech support and his usual role as Batman’s moral compass is largely if not entirely absent.

Was I disappointed by this movie? Overall, yeah, I was. For me it’s not that it was completely terrible, it’s more that there was so much potential that the movie didn’t live up to, it can’t help but feel like a bit of a letdown.

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