Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice doesn't give the audience much credit, and that's where the main problem lies. The "aha" moments are there and they are good, but as we've worked them out, they are laid out for us. And in case we missed it, everything is spelled out for us again. Obvious music signals Something Very Important is happening, which is then repeated, slow motion, shown from a different angle, another flashback -- there, do you get it? Do you get it yet?
Yeah, we got it -- can you stop now? I want to like your movie.
Image: Roadshow Films
Batman V Superman is at its core a Superman movie, and setting up the characters to be evenly balanced presented an emotional back-and-forth throughout the film. Not just in a physical sense, but in terms of who the audience was rooting for. I conducted a quick survey in my cinema before the film started, and an overwhelming majority were there for Bats. The Supes fans were minimal. Making this audience care about Clark’s adventures was always going to be an uphill battle once you've thrown Bruce into the mix.
Setting The Themes
The first few scenes of the film see us switch from destruction in Metropolis to a dusty desert in Africa. This is where we have our first meeting with Lois Lane, who asserts "I’m not a lady, I’m a journalist" as though the two are mutually exclusive.
From this encounter we start to see the (what could have been) subtle themes impregnate themselves throughout the film. "Ignorance is not the same as innocence" is thrown at Lois here, and later at Superman, as the discussion of innocence and cruelty and gods and devils reaches and then runs away with its potential, leaving the audience in mourning for its return.
Although he only ever wants to help people, we know this because everyone around him says so. He never really gets a chance to speak for himself on the matter. Superman is learning you can't please everyone as we start to hear from people who have been directly negatively affected by his actions. "The world has been so wrapped up in what Superman can do, no one stopped to think about what he should do," is the point raised and debated in all forms of the media, while Clark watches on. He just wants to do the right thing, doesn't want anyone to get hurt, but someone always seems to, somehow. You feel for him here, you get it. He’s touted as a god, a false god, a man above the law -- for how do you rule the gods?
As Batman is battling his own demons, he and Superman are eventually woven together into a distractingly CGI-heavy battle as the discussions of devils and gods ring in their ears and they attempt to wreck minimal havoc on civilians.
Batman V Superman opens with what is the strongest part of the film -- Batman. The origin story of The Bat is one that has been told and retold for the last 75-plus years. It's unavoidable when introducing the character, and is an opportunity to set the tone for Bruce Wayne and his alter ego. Recognising the audience is likely to be familiar with the tragedy of Thomas, Martha and the trauma it inflicts on young Bruce, the choice to utilise an opening credits scene as a refresher was a less tiresome option, and beautifully done.
The next time we see Bruce is during a 9/11-esque scene of destruction in Metropolis that has him dodging the dust and rubble to save Wayne Enterprises employees and random civilians from the havoc on the ground. Looking up to the sky, we see the cause -- Superman. Bruce is firmly established in this one moment as being resentful of having to clean up after Superman's mess.
May I just say, without a hint of irony, that Ben Affleck's jaw plays a spectacular Bruce Wayne. It’s like something lifted straight out of the pages of a comic book. Glorious. And his posture? Superb. The man is built. He walks like Bruce, talks like Bruce, and his interactions with Alfred are perfection. #TeamBatfleck
With Wayne Manor abandoned and derelict, he lives in the house from Ex-Machina (well, it looks like it), downs a glass of wine from the night before for breakfast, yet can still hit a truck tyre with a sledgehammer (which is obviously an impressive thing or we wouldn't have a workout montage including it, right?) Said workout montage also included chin-ups with giant weight chained to his legs. It aims to drive home that Bruce wasn't gifted with anything. He's worked for his skills.
Bruce's alter ego seems to be going through some tough times. It’s not clear what has happened to the Batman, but he's gone full rogue. His introduction is something out of a horror film. He is not only literally branding people (which causes them to be beat up -- or killed -- in prison) but he is also straight up killing them himself. His body count in this film is unprecedented for the character. The weary and jaded Alfred -- played beautifully by Jeremy Irons -- attempts to address this with a link between Superman's presence and how the questioning of that "turns good men cruel".
He has so many Batsuits in this film, and he'll be dammed if he won’t have a different fighting style for each of them. In the bigger armoured suits his movements are powerful, slow, deliberate -- juggernaut-like, with the camera panning slowly to catch every moment. In the lighter, close fitting more flexible suits he takes on faster, striking, swift movements and our view of the action takes on the same tone. His moves are borrowed from the Arkham games, and it works so well.
If this movie was nothing but Batfleck in different batsuits in a continual montage of fight scenes, I’d be happy. I even don’t mind his signature drumming music.
The Babyfaced Villan
Then we get to Alexander "Lex" Luthor, a caricature of a youthful Silicon Valley success story. You'll know when he’s around by the shrieking violin music. On the surface, he seems to be a classic, outdated "Hello I am on the autism spectrum also super intelligent LOOK AT HOW ECCENTRIC I AM" trope.
Looking a little deeper, I think I saw glimpses of a genuine struggle. Someone really, really trying to be a good villain whilst forever living in his father’s shadow. Whether that was Lex himself or Jesse Eisenberg playing him, I am yet to work out.
Let's Talk About Wonder Woman
I’m just going to come out and say this. The idea that Diana Prince could walk into a room full of socialites in a glittering backless gown and blend in is flat out ludicrous, yet that is exactly what happens in Batman V Superman. "Pretty girl" is the first thing said of her by Bruce, after the pair had a few moments of borderline-sultry eye contact. I’m sorry, what? No. Wonder Woman is not a girl. Wonder Woman is a powerhouse. The woman is an Amazon. Depending on her origin story, she’s a demi-god. This may have been an attempt to establish Bruce’s character, but in doing so dismissed the absolute presence Diana brings to a room.
And what is she doing now? Is she a spy? Is she a secret agent? Does she just rock up to parties to get what she needs, then go back home to snuggle in her cardigan in front of her laptop? It's great that we have met her but we really needed more to go on here.
I think the biggest disappointment with Diana came from her lack of true character. When we think about the character traits you associate with Wonder Woman -- strength, compassion, empathy, generosity, always seeing the good in people -- it does appear this film chose to focus on the first to the detriment of the rest. She was played as mysterious, alluring, flirtatious, even selfish -- and I was left confused. Diana Prince is not a femme fatale. Diana Prince is a woman with a heart of gold and a need to do good in the world. And Diana Prince would never compare herself to other women in a disparaging way, Amazonian or not.
She kicks some serious butt in battle. That is the bare minimum we needed from Wonder Woman in this film, and we got it. Her appearance on screen, accompanied by her signature 80's glam rock guitar riff (who okayed that?), elicited genuine cheers from the audience, and gave me actual goosebumps.
This is the first time we have had Wonder Woman on the big screen, and there's a lot riding on how she is portrayed. This may be causing me to be harsher than I'd like to be, but I think these points are worth bringing up.
There is one moment in the midst of a fight where she falls to the ground. The audience is treated to a crotch shot, splayed legs, and a cheeky smirk on her face and she revs back up to get in there and fight some more, because this is the extent of her persona in battle. Later when Diana explains her absence by saying she gave up on the world of men, while Bruce assures her there is good in the world. For me, these two moments are pretty big clues pointing towards a complete lack of understanding within this film as to what Wonder Woman is all about.
What gives me hope is that Patty Jenkins (the director of the standalone Wonder Woman film) seems to have a much better grasp on who Diana is, based on interviews she has given.
In short, Batman V Superman is a Superman movie that should have been a Batman movie and needed a brutal hand in the edit suite -- one that flows well instead of the jumpy nonsensical mess we have been left with. Giving the majority of the pivotal scenes a good edit -- they were all about 30 seconds too long -- would have given them a very different outcome to this film. They had every opportunity to be effective, but were held back by a lack of complete subtlety. There are the frustrations that come with being a mega-fan of something that hasn't been executed perfectly, but the film is inherently watchable. There are laugh out loud moments and some great action scenes.
I wanted to be blown away by this film. But I can’t help but feel we could have skipped this whole thing and just gone straight into The Justice League.