I want to start on something of a positive note before I get into Batman v Superman. So here it goes. There has been a lot of talk about the state of modern cinema in the era of all these inter connected mega franchises. We’ve had endless waves of sequels, the sequels have become prequels, the prequels have become remakes and straight up reboots. The middle ground between the small independent films and the huge $100M movies is quickly vanishing. With that said, when it comes to actual films, I feel cinema has never been stronger. More than ever, there are a huge variety of films being made all offering something different from the big movies. In many ways there is no better time to be into films. I’m serious! There is a lot to be positive about.
It’s the state of movies I’m slightly concerned about. Remember movies? That magic two hour period in which you sat in a darkened room and just escaped the pangs of real life. That church like experience in which you were taken on a rollercoaster ride encompassing comedy, tragedy and spectacle. That feeling of complete elation that comes after first experiencing a truly good movie that imprints itself into your day to day life. Fucking movies man, remember them?
We live in the age of the movie franchise – the age of the colon. We have been living here for quite some time to be perfectly honest. We’ve just all gotten used to the smell. You see, you can’t just number your sequels any more, not when they exist as part of an extensive interconnected ‘cinematic universe’. These monolithic multi million dollar franchises upon which rests the hopes of the big corporate studios who are gravely watching the numbers of cinema attendance slowly decline. To number your sequels is lazy and cynical. As if unconsciously communicating to your audience “yes, we made another one – it’s not as good as the first”. The colon opens up new and exciting possibilities from which you can start defining the tone of your sequel and marketing your movie to a more ‘switched on’ audience. Simply tie your existing movie title with words like Resurgence or Allegiant or other sexy sexy latin words and convey instantly the sense that you aren’t making just another sequel. There is something happening in this movie. An actual theme, a vision, a unity of effect. A promise of bigger things! More movies like the one that came before!
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is just the latest in terribly constipated film titles. Standing as the sequel to 2013’s divisive Superman reboot Man of Steel, it is also stands as the launchpad for DC’s bigger cinematic universe. I’m not sure if you’ve seen DC’s slate of movies for the next decade but it is dizzying and seemingly without end, but presumably a financially sound investment to compete with the great successes of the Marvel cinematic universe. The old rivalry Marvel vs DC is about to reignite. Exciting times if you spent your formative years buried into all the superhero comics.
I myself, was always into the Beano. Where’s my Dennis the Menace/Rodger the Dodger/Bash Street Kids crossover god damn it? Taron Egerton would make a great Dennis the Menace. How about Miles Teller as Walter the Softy? I’m talking about legendary cinematic career defining stuff.
I’m getting off topic…
With Batman and Superman, you have the two biggest superheroes of them all. Perhaps the two most iconic superheroes of modern culture. They’re going to fight each other. They’re staring each other in the face, braying for a fight. Batman versus Superman! That sounds like a spectacle worthy of the price of admission. What could possibly go wrong?
Quite a lot as it seems. Here’s the bloody trailer. In lego form. Because fuck this movie!
Batman v Superman opens quite strongly. To the point it lulls you into a sense of false security. We witness the scenes of colossal mind numbing destruction that occurred at the end of Man of Steel, but this time we’re seeing it from the perspective of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) on the ground. In a futile attempt at heroism, we follow Wayne as he desperately attempts to save the lives of his employees, as Superman battles with General Zod taking down the entire city with him. We see Bruce Wayne in a place we haven’t really seen him before, in that post 9/11 styled state of pure powerless. It closes with Wayne comforting yet another orphan, as he stares up at the sky simmering with rage as the son of Krypton flies above. We understand why Batman may be so inclined to take down Superman.
The stage is set!
The movie then goes to reveal Superman’s (Henry Cavil) side of the story. After the events of Man of Steel and an early scene in which Superman becomes involved in a messy state of foreign affairs, he is effectively put upon the world stage. Whilst some see him as a Christ like saviour, others see him as an alien of unchecked power. The movie then goes to introduce Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) who has his own shady plans to stop Superman having discovered a supply of kryptonite that may just be the key to arming humanity with a deterrent against the man of steel should he ever fall to the dark side.
This causes inner conflict within Clark Kent who doesn’t seem to know where he fits within the grand scheme of things. In his day job at the Daily Planet he is tenaciously following a story about the bat vigilante of Gotham, another controversial figure in costume who is executing his own brand of unchecked justice on criminals. Meanwhile, a couple of incredibly melancholic slow motion scenes are the closest you get to Christopher Reeve era Superaman, as he saves the day in a number of different disasters both natural and man made. Superman is set up as somebody who is trying to do the best he can, but finds himself the subject of much conflict and controversy. Why should he help these people?
So far so good. The stage is set for the greatest gladiatorial fight of them all!
Things gradually begin to unravel unfortunately, with the reintroduction of Lex Luthor. As much as I have enjoyed Jesse Eisenberg in a number of films over the last decade, his version of Lex Luthor is a blunder. This version of Superman’s nemesis is worlds apart from the criminal mastermind portrayed by Gene Hackman in the Richard Donner films or even Kevin Spacey in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns. Luthor is instead given a more contemporary Mark Zuckerberg spin, a peculiar brand of sociopath with a weird Mickey Mouse voice and foppish long hair. At times it feels as if Eisenberg is attempting to channel Heath Ledger’s untouchable performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight. At points I was convinced that Eisenberg would have made a pretty good joker!
At other points, I had to wonder whether the joker was originally supposed to be in this movie. Along with everything else that ‘had to be’ in this picture however, Luthor and Joker had to be condensed into one character. There are so many moments that feel emblematic of the clown prince rather than that of Lex Luthor, the pragmatic narcissistic criminal mastermind of yore. It is scarcely believable how this version of Luthor could run a multi billion dollar company, let alone run for president! Scenes in which he inexplicably crosses his cursed blood with Kryptonian technology to create the film’s third act big bad feels like a joker curve ball. The way in which he brings Superman to his knees with polaroid after polaroid of his mother being tortured as she is held captive feels very distinctive of The Killing Joke.
Lex Luthor is usually the thinking man, whilst superman is the optimist who helps whenever he needs. Luthor is the puppet master, playing the long game. In this movie, I couldn’t even tell you what Luthor’s overall plan was. No amount of pseudo-philosophy about the nature of man and gods, sons and fathers, could sell the traditional cunning characteristics of the character. Instead, it just added to the film’s rather jarring lack of fun and it’s overly serious tone.
Things nosedive even further when you get into the first of several dream sequences. Batman dreams of a nightmare future in which superman has turned evil and has his own army. The sequence is rather obviously portending to future events in the DC movies that only the diehard comic book fans will be able to decipher. To me, this is when Batman versus Superman began to remind me of Zack Snyder’s Suckerpunch, another mish mash of ideas forming into a colossal mountain of excrement.
I can’t tell whether this is an attempt to secure the allegiances of the fanboys, promising them something of worth in the future – despite the crooning disappointment of the actual movie they are watching in the moment. Whilst Marvel do tease the next movie within fan baiting post credit sequences and small cameos, Batman v Superman has to take time out of its already ballooning duration to set up each member of the Justice League.
To be perfectly honest I quite liked the sound of an Aquaman movie. A story about a guy who lives underwater, talks to fishes and fights sea monsters with a trident. Sounds great! What we get instead however is an embarrassing proof of concept scene of Aquaman approaching a deep sea droid, in which he holds his trident out at the camera as if he has been told his sequence will run in 3D.
Needless to say, there are too many things happening in Batman v Superman and the film gets bloated and sails way off course from it’s initial premise. The handful of scenes in which Batman faces up against Superman feel stilted. A classic batmobile chase sequence is interrupted by the presence of Superman who warns Batman against being Batman. It all feels so serious and pandering. The dynamic of the chase is lost, only to be reconvened later in a laughable scene, where Batman’s mission goes completely unscreened.
Then you have the big fight itself. The entire film is building up to the headlining fight between Batman and Superman, a fight that essentially is lifted straight out of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Unfortunately, the climactic bout gives way to an even bigger fight that replicates the dizzying scenes of colossal destruction of Man of Steel. It’s as if Zack Snyder learned nothing.
As the trailers have made objectively clear, Batman and Superman quickly put aside their differences to fight a hulking computer generated behemoth known as Domesday. Apparently he killed Superman in the comics once. He looks like the cave troll from Lord of the Rings. The fight also reveals Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), which admittedly is one of the film’s high points. Seeing her kick ass with Batman and Superman is a break in the monotony of the third act. However, this could have been easily saved for the actual Justice League movie, where all the DC superheroes will get together for the big brawl.
Needless to say within the film’s third act. There are nuclear explosions, huge electrical shockwaves, and people getting punched through buildings. As Wonder Woman and Superman lay down the smack, Batman is kind of left to just stand there and watch as a casual observer.
If there is one good thing to take away from Batman v Superman it is Ben Affleck, who makes a good Batman/Bruce Wayne. He takes the character in a direction in which we haven’t seen before. He looks great in the suit and I cannot deny that there is a delirious sense of childlike joy in seeing yet another batmobile chase sequence. As there is in seeing Batman clear a room of armed bad guys, even thought it is lifted straight out of the Arkham Asylum games.
We do get another rendition of the fateful night in which his parents are gunned down in cold blood, but this Batman is a world wearied version of the character who has apparently lost more battles than he has won. Superman represents a foe he doesn’t quite understand, somebody who makes him feel inferior and powerless, it is the kind of conflict that should test Batman to the absolute limits. Affleck is supported by Jeremy Irons playing Batman’s long suffering butler Alfred. Traditionally, Alfred is Wayne’s voice of consciousness and Irons plays him with a dry and savage wit, which goes hand in hand with this darker and angrier incarnation of Batman.
Looking forward, a solo Ben Affleck Batman film is probably the most interesting direction Warner Brothers can go in.
Ultimately, I suppose the inescapable truth is that over the last decade we have been spoiled by Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. These movies are essentially the Godfather trilogy for my generation at least and nothing will take that away from them. Batman will have more movies, as will Superman and the rest of the justice league. It is in the comic book character’s very nature recycled once every couple of years. In 100 years time, these characters will still be doing the rounds and Batman v Superman will probably be forgotten or appraised as a peculiar product of the early 21st century.
Perhaps in this regard it is the Batman and Superman movie we deserve right now. At the same time it is definitely a movie that none of us really need right now.
If Batman v Superman had dropped the Dawn of Justice tagline and focused solely on the conflict between it’s two headlining characters, this would have been a much more effective and ultimately satisfying movie. Unfortunately, too much is added to the mix and too many cooks spoil the broth. Dollops of gluttonous franchise building excess are shovelled on top of you, and you are forced to eat it all up within the movie’s two and a half hours duration. If DC are going to build a cinematic universe to contest Marvel, they need to learn how to walk before they can run. Despite its handful of good constituent parts, Batman v Superman is ultimately an incomprehensible mess that loses sight of its main objective and gets lost in the indulgent whirlwind of Zack Snyder’s trademark brand of gushing visual diarrhoea.
Recommended Viewing – VERSUS EDITION
Kramer Vs Kramer (1979)
Real people. Real problems.
Eagle Vs Shark 
“Let’s dance, put on your red shoes and do the blues.”
Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil 
Dayman vs Nightman
This week, I tried something new. I recorded a podcast with one of my good friends, Mr Lynch, in which we discuss Batman Versus Superman at great length. Too much length if you ask me. But it’s always fun to talk movies no matter how bad or good they turn out to be. Give it a whirl, it’s not like you have anything better to do at this point.