In Batman Vs. Superman (to be referred to as BvS from here on out), Zack Snyder’s grandiose epic, we’re introduced to Batman first–or, rather, to Bruce Wayne, where we once more witness the gunning down of Thomas and Martha Wayne outside of that frigging movie theater. As a life-long Batman fan I’ve had to put up with watching this scene over and over in various films and TV shows, which makes me appreciate the 1989 Batman film all the more for how director Tim Burton instead hints at the tragedy.
But as we see in BvS, Snyder is more of a blunt force director. While he’s a good visual stylist in his own right, he’s never been big on subtlety. So we have no choice but to watch Martha Wayne (played by Lauren Cohan, Maggie from The Walking Dead, in a blink and you’ll miss her scene) get shot in the face, which haunts Bruce Wayne (a superb Ben Affleck) to begin his crime fighting career as the Batman. Snyder’s take on Batman is that the Dark Knight is a twenty year veteran of the superhero game who is absolutely brutal on criminals; he brands special cases, like sexual deviants, with a bat-symbol, signaling them out in prison for further rough treatment by the general population. It’s a harsh take on the Dark Knight, who at least is decked out in a marvelous new costume.
Wayne has lost a building filled with his employees during the free for all battle that erupted between Superman and General Zod (Michael Shannon) in Metropolis at the end of Man of Steel. Two years later Wayne’s still simmering with rage at Superman (once more well played by Henry Cavill). Along comes Lex Luthor (a hyper-active Jesse Eisenberg), who takes advantage of Wayne’s anger at the Man of Steel to manipulate him into fighting Superman in the rumble of the century.
While I enjoyed this movie a lot more than I thought I would have, there are problems galore, such as how self-righteous Batman is at Superman slaughtering untold innocents when the Dark Knight becomes a one man wrecking crew in his pursuit of criminals, carelessly causing all sorts of destruction with his Batmobile (which is not the most inspired design; it looks like a giant grey pancake on wheels), not giving much thought to injuring any innocents in his single-minded rampage for justice. The always good Holly Hunter is largely wasted in the role of a senator who tries to reel in Superman. And a bomb goes off with Superman right in the room, killing hundreds, yet the Man of Steel never notices the device until its too late. Just like in Man of Steel Superman seems to be dropping the ball by letting innocents die literally all around him.
It’s because in BvS, as well as in Man of Steel, it’s clear that Zack Snyder really doesn’t know what to do with Superman. He’s treated like an all-powerful god who’s above the cares of mere mortals, and yet whenever Snyder tries to humanize Superman, like when he makes love to Lois Lane in a bath tub, it falls flat. And come to think of it, much of the movie feels this way. As spectacular as the imagery looks, there’s rarely any sincere feeling or emotion behind it. And the whole film, which is designed to set up a cinematic Justice League series, feels unfinished. It’s also unrelentingly grim and solemn to the point that during the rare moment when someone actually cracks a joke it comes off as being more of a shock than being genuinely funny.
There are bright spots here, one of them being Gail Godot as Wonder Woman, who infuses her character with so much vitality that I wished she was in the film a lot more. I’m really looking forward to seeing her standalone Wonder Woman film, now. Another bright spot is Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, whose frantic performance makes sense when you view it within the context of the story: he is the herald for a far greater evil that will threaten earth. Perhaps being in the presence of such a monstrous threat, or even just knowing that it exists, would be enough to make anybody a wild-eyed maniac.
While far from being the perfect film (Snyder seems hell bent on pissing off DC comics fans at every turn, which is annoying) BvS is still fascinating to watch, largely for the big battle at the end, and the promise of an even more epic story to come that has a truly frightening villain at its core. Here’s hoping the Justice League movies, which is something I’ve wanted to see since I was a boy, are handled correctly. With Snyder at the helm, I have my doubts that it will be done right, but time will tell. –SF