Batman v Superman: A Comic Book Mash-Up
“Delusional is a strong word,” my comics cohort Sean Corbin says to me as we exit the theater after a screening of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, “I guess I would say that I honestly believe that Zack Snyder believes this film has something to say. And I believe that he believes that he thought stitching together so many ideas from so many comics was smart. And I believe that he believes that he made something great.”
Sean surprises me with his verbal elegance. My response is less graceful: “I’ll tell you one thing: this is the X-Men Origins: Wolverine of DC. Hell, both of them even have needlessly long, unruly titles.”
But perhaps the best, most succinct response came from a man sitting behind me as we all stood to leave: “that movie was not good.”
This much-anticipated and overly hyped sequel to 2013’s Man of Steel pits the last son of Krypton against the caped crusader in a whirlwind of disconnected plot points and vague (not to mention incredibly inaccurate) allusions to a handful of comics. Similar to its predecessor, which seemed to consist of a series of small scenes only tangentially related at best with no real glue in between to keep them together, Batman v Superman is built up of visual anecdotes and excuses for big set-piece violence and havoc. I’m not going to talk about how dark and gritty this film was (it was, almost overwhelmingly so) because compared to the rest of the script, that’s the least of this film’s problems.
The films drops us into the narrative a year and a half after the events of Man of Steel, but don’t expect any catch up to fill you in on what’s happened since we last saw Clark Kent and his alter ego. And we’re not talking small bits of backstory here, like where Superman ate lunch after finishing off Zod. We’re talking huge, important details, like who he may or may not have revealed his secret identity to. Batman is equally enigmatic: the version we see is apathetic and nihilistic, but to a degree even the longest-reading Batman fan wouldn’t be able to recognize, and we can’t piece together why.
I appreciate the filmmakers and the scriptwriters not making us sit through another grueling origin story, but I think some background details on the characters and what they’ve done in between films would have made a world of different, especially because these characters seem to only resemble their comic book counterparts in name. Case in point: Batman kills dozens of people, uses every kind of gun he can get his hands on, and is relentlessly cruel, going so far as to brand the criminals who are unlucky enough to be captured. Superman, on the other hand, seems mentally and emotionally fragile enough that he is cast into the deepest depression this side of Smallville by the smallest of provocations.
What’s worse, the script weaves in and out of small, pointless subplots on its grand voyage to the climatic fight the rest of the movie was made for. We follow Lex Luthor as he extorts and corrupts for reasons unknown, we watch Superman on his quest to maintain romance, we see Batman chasing down a human trafficking ring. And what does it all have to do with one another? Not a lot. Are these subplots ever wrapped up and closed off? Nope. On top of that, we’re relentlessly beaten with resolutions to issues we didn’t even know existed until the very moment the solution was presented. Think that doesn’t make a lot of sense? It gets worse. Events seem to inexplicably occur between scenes: specific characters already know everything about everyone somehow without really doing any detective work or even asking any questions, arguments occur and/or are resolved, and people go missing or are suddenly found. It almost seems like half of this movie is missing, and considering it’s already two and a half hours, that’s positively insane!
Batman v Superman very liberally borrows pages, panels, dialog, and plot lines from a handful of comics (Batman: Year One, Superman: Red Son, The Dark Knight Returns, just to name a few), but no care is taken whatsoever to make sure these elements mesh with the rest of the film. Watching Batman v Superman is almost like seeing random pages ripped from a dozen different comics and slapped together blindly. This wouldn’t matter so much if the rest of the film bothered to make any sense. Imagine this scenario, for instance: a group of businessmen sit in the cubicles at their desks, diligently working. Then, their boss receives a phone call. “Get out of the building,” the voice on the other end shouts. The businessmen all turn to see a spaceship hovering above the next street over, blowing up the entire block. Then, they decide to leave, because the boss says so. Sound ridiculous? I wish I could say that was the scene from a Scary Movie style superhero parody, but I’m afraid it’s from Batman v Superman.
Zack Snyder must be afraid for his soul after committing all of these atrocities, because there’s a lot of Christian imagery and forced themes oozing out of this film. Superman himself is turned into a poor man’s Christ figure not once, not twice, but thrice. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor waxes poetic during his entire role in the film about gods, mortals, and monsters, nonstop shouting religious and philosophic platitudes (nearly every one of his lines is some kind of paradoxical moral riddle) while pointing at a painting in his study of angels ascending from hell to do combat with a troupe of angels. We were beat over the head with this during the first go, and we’d be foolish to think that Batman v Superman would be any different.
It’s a shame the script and the plot in Batman v Superman is literally falling apart, because the film did get at least two things right. Compared to Man of Steel and many of Snyder’s other films, the green screens and digital effects work are a lot cleaner. Visually speaking, this film is downright astounding. Whereas the settings and locales in the last film seemed to be little more than dull drapery, every setting in this film proves to be more interesting than the stale and predictable dialog being dribbled out by the actors. And the fight scenes are intensely choreographed dances of violence and turbulence.
The cast themselves are at least able to leverage their buoyancy to stay afloat in the messy flood of words claiming to be a script. Ben Affleck hits it out of the park as Bruce Wayne, whereas his Batman isn’t given much room or space to really do much at all. Jesse Eisenberg plays an alarmingly good Lex Luthor in his first scene, before he amps up the insane-o-meter to the red danger zone in no time at all. Henry Cavil, on the other hand, blurts out his lines almost as if he can’t remember why he accepted the role in the first place. The real star of the movie, though, is Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, who spectacularly steals the show in every scene she’s featured in.
Now, I have to address this one last issue. Contrary to popular belief, no one is ever more excited about comic book movies than comic book readers. With this, though, comes a certain degree of understanding. Comic book fans know that liberties will be taken with the properties they have been reading for decades. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but no one walks into a theater expecting to love a comic book movie more than these fans. On the other hand, the people making these films understand that if their movie is going to work, their portrayals have to, at least in some degree, resemble these characters that have been built up over the course of seventy years or more. Unfortunately, though, Zack Snyder neither understands nor respects the source material, and other than branding, these characters do not resemble their comic book counterparts. He directs this films with all the airs of a man who read a single Superman comic, nodded, and said to himself, I can do better. The fact of the matter is, he could not, and he certainly did not.