“Who Will Win?”
Directed by Zach Snyder
Starring Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg and Gal Gadot
Bruce Wayne (Affleck) loses his family, then years later loses an office block and some bloke named Jack in the battle between Superman (Cavill) and Zod. 18 months later, Superman is framed for killing a bunch of terrorists to rescue Lois Lane (Adams), and both Wayne – alias the Gotham Bat – and rival industrialist Lex Luthor (Eisenberg) begin gunning for the Man of Steel and fighting for control of a rare material with the ability to harm Kryptonians.
At the same time, Clark Kent is looking into the Bat and Wayne is investigating Luthor, and a mystery woman who keeps showing up like a producer’s girlfriend (Gadot, playing an all-but unnamed Wonder Woman.) Luthor blows up the Capitol building and goads Wayne into calling out Supes, then kidnaps Lane and Martha Kent to force the Man of Steel to answer the challenge.
Fortunately, Clark and Wayne bond over having mothers with the same name before Supes can get a Kryptonite spear through the heart. Wayne rescues Martha Kent and Superman confronts Luthr, who has created an ‘ancient Kryptonian abomination’ from his own DNA and Zod’s, the malevolent, night-invulnerable colossus Doomsday.
Fight fight, punch stab explosions MEN!
What’s wrong with it?
Snyder decided that the film didn’t need to retread Batman’s origins, so the first five minutes is an accelerated retread of Batman’s origins, including a messianic ascent in a cloud of bats which suggests that Bats’ beef with the Man of Steel is a serious case of envy.
The film then declines to provide any details of the formative periods of Batman’s career, much as Man of Steel glossed over the most interesting bits of Superman’s backstory in favour of Maximus Decimus Jor-elus gadding about on Krypton, and expects the audience to be familiar not just with Batman’s origin, but with the events of A Death in the Family.
Also, Robin’s staff has fucking spikes all over it. Apparently the Boy Wonder was really bringing the pain in his day.
Who the fuck is this Jack character whose death so affects Bruce?
Lex tries to frame Superman for murdering terrorists. Even given that this is not an action liable to alienate the American people, the plan relies on people accepting that Supes apparently showed up with a bunch of guns with various ballistic profiles, shooting a load of folks, and then putting one dude through a wall (totally killing that guy, by the way.) In fact, accepting that Superman did this:
Having said that, Superman at Earth’s End‘s ‘I am a man!’ catchphrase would fit in well here. Most of the script could be replaced with people snarling ‘Man!’ ‘God!’ or ‘The Devil!’ at each other.
Oh, and when Lois is uncovering the truth, there’s a whole lot of flashbacks to what happened literally an hour ago, in case we forgot.
As noted, Superman totally kills someone (either that or they don’t make walls like they used to.) So does Batman – just acknowledging the elephant in the room – but since at least Time Burton it’s been accepted that Batman doesn’t kill people unless he’s in a car or it’s a railing kill and if the bullet came from someone else’s gun it doesn’t count. On the other hand, this Batman is a shitty detective, leaving 90% of the cerebral heavy lifting to the help. Apparently those middle years we skipped were the adventures of Alfred Pennyworth, master detective, and his self-guided blunt instrument of a sidekick. In addition, he has none of the lightness as Bruce Wayne to counterpoint the Batmanity. Similarly, there is little folksy charm to Clark Kent. To complete the trifecta, Lex Luthor is technically brilliant, but tactically weak and bereft of charisma.
There’s a time travel plot where the Flash tries to warn Batman about a future Supocracy resulting from the death of Lois Lane which is basically way more interesting than the main event, but is pure set up for future movies. It also ties in with a larger trend of gratuitous bat dreams which make about as much sense as the Nazi ghoul sequence in An American Werewolf in London. All well and good in their way, but at two and half hours, this sucker doesn’t need more material.
Oh, and that main event? It’s all just marking time until the Doomsday fight, which is basically when the movie – after two hours – finally finds real traction.
Oh, yeah; the script is obsessed with Gods and Men, although I’m pretty sure that outside of Lex Luthor comparing hostages and a brief exchange at a party, it barely uses the word ‘woman’ at all.
Although despite that, and the fact that she is given no name at all except for a ‘Ms Prince’ shouted at her by a flight attendant, Lex’s file on the metahuman we will for the sake of argument call Wonder Woman has a WW logo. In fact, all his files are headed by the characters’ comics logos; Easter egg or taking the piss? You decide.
Horses. What is it with the horses? The film is riddles with symbolic equines.
Why does the Kryptonian computer have an ‘oh fuck it’ protocol? “Oh, it’s totally illegal to create these abominations, but the people who programmed me with that prohibition are dead, so fuck it.”
What is up with the bloody Kents and their moral vacuity. “You don’t owe this world anything,” Martha tells Clark. Superman’s heroism, the best part of him, has always been supposed to be the human part, but in this version his Earth parents raised him to keep his head down and work a regular job.
Just for a laugh, Lex Luthor’s insanity is basically blamed on an abused childhood, tormented by his father’s ‘fist or abomination’, which left him with no faith in an all-good, all-powerful god.
The film is loaded with messianic imagery, almost to the point of parody. And so much slo-mo.
What’s right with it?
Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is undeniably a thoroughly professional piece of film making, with good cinematography and less vomit-inducing shaky cam than Man of Steel.
Batman is a little too gun-happy and Superman a lot too grim, but Wonder Woman is actually pretty awesome. I’m kind of interested to see more of Aquaman, Flash and Cyborg as well, although damnit, I want Martian Manhunter.
Doomsday is pretty awesome, if occasionally overwhelming with his solar flaring and things asploding.
The hints of the time travel plot are… well, way more interesting than the doomed-to-a-draw main plot.
How bad is it really?
It’s just so… I don’t know if worthy is the word, but it takes itself so damned seriously. I think I see now that it’s not that Snyder doesn’t get the characters; it’s that the versions he gets aren’t the ones I love. (You could make a case that the versions he gets, being heavily influenced by Frank Miller, are those created by someone who doesn’t get the characters in the first place, but that could get dangerously meta.
God! The Devil! MEN!!!
Ahem. Sorry; I don’t know what came over me there.
Best bit (if such there is)?
Once Oedipal compulsion overcomes implacable hate, the Bat tracks down… Okay, Alfred tracks down Martha Kent and the Bat goes in to rescue her. The resulting battle has all the brutal grace of the Arkham games, and none of the pyrotechnic overload of most of the other action scenes.
What’s up with…?
- What is the use of pushing the poisonous spear right the way through? The point is surely to get the Kryptonite in and keep it there.
- Has the Daily Planet so given up on print media that it’s lost all sense of grammar? ‘Night of Terror Morning of Sorrow’ needs a comma, White!
- Amazing Grace on the bagpipes, an almost Amish horse cart and hat…? What the hell is Smallville’s religious tradition rooted in?
- God! The Devil! MEN!!!
- The very specific prohibition against creating an abomination abhorent to science and the fuck it protocol which allows it to be ignored?
- The jar of piss? How does Superman not spot that, even if the bomb is lead shielded? Why does the Senator try to blank it as if it’s going to, I don’t know, go away?
Production values – Despite an overabundance of explosions, the film is well made and even improves on Man of Steel in some areas. The soundtrack is not one of them, with an lot of gratuitous rock music. 4
Dialogue and performances – The actors are all perfectly good, but a lot of the dialogue is functional and overall the lead performances are too one note to distinguish between hero and civilian identity; small wonder everyone seems to know who the Bat is after a few hours. 11
Plot and execution – The plot is overfilled and the central conceit basically a sideshow for the Death of Superman plot, with the set up for the Justice League movie a subplot too far. 9
Randomness – Batman’s dreams? The whole time travel plot? The logo filing system? Granny’s peach tea? MEN!!! 10
Waste of potential – It’s actually not as bad as I was expecting, but my benchmarks for this sort of thing are Avengers and the old DCAU. Batman vs. Superman makes less use of its ensemble than the former and falls way short of the latter. More damningly, it’s less fun and less coherent than the TV Arrowverse. 12