by Andrew Moshos
dir: Zack Snyder
It’s… it’s not good.
That’s not to say it’s completely terrible, but, it’s not a good movie.
I could go so far as to say that it’s a bad movie with some good bits in it.
I had hoped that the scathing reviews were just a bit of superhero movie burnout, or the punishment of high expectations, but it turns out that everything one could fear about a flick directed by Snyder with a script that David S. Goyer had a hand in easily came to pass.
The list of stuff the flick gets “wrong” about Batman and Superman is far longer than what it gets right. I put wrong in quotes because I’m not going to pretend like my opinion is definitive or expert or anything. No one likes listening to a Comic Book Guy spouting nonsense like they themselves invented Batman back in the late 1930s.
I do have an opinion, though, and it’s as valid as any other persons, with the possible exception of Professor Stephen Hawking or Sir David Attenborough, or Ginger Spice, because my opinion is pure shit compared to what those titans of thought could come up with.
I’ve read a fair bit of Batman comics, even as far back as the first ones in the 40s. I’ve seen a few Batman films. Watched lots of the cartoons, and even the glorious Adam West high camp series. I’ve read a few books about Batman. I feel like I have a bit of an idea of what the character is like. I’ve seen him at his grimmest, and at his goofiest, and everything in between.
The one thing I can definitively say about the character is that he can range from being portrayed as a violent psychopath who barely keeps his grip on sanity while taking out his childhood trauma on the crims of Gotham (constantly fighting the urge to kill some of them) to a more understanding, caring chap who’s still deeply traumatised but who tries to do his best for the innocents of the city and generally succeeds. And yes, always, always, that childhood trauma of violently losing his parents underpins everything.
What doesn’t work and what can never work with Batman is that he ever be portrayed as a murderous vigilante who kills. A Batman who kills isn’t Batman – he’s the Punisher or any other number of jerks who kill. That ain’t the Bat. He’s obsessed with crime and justice – the second he starts killing, well, might as well hang that cape up, because that ain’t justice.
Even as I’m mindful that some of the very first The Bat Man stories did have the character killing crims, and did have him using guns, and while I understand that having a hero character never kill was a necessity after the Hays Code was introduced in the States, it’s deeply informed the character for seventy years, so I think it’s safe to say it’s a feature, not a bug.
I’m not sure that Zack Snyder gets that. I know people have said to him, especially in relation to his first foray with Superman in Man of Steel, that these iconic heroes can’t really be killers and be true to what makes them distinctive and archetypal, but I don’t think he really acknowledges the argument. When someone recently put the question to him, he mumbled something like “Why do I keep getting shit for all those deaths at the end of Man of Steel? Didn’t you see the last Star Wars film? How many people did they kill there? Billions? Trillions?” Apart from being an astoundingly wrongheaded argument, he does grasp that it was the baddies doing that, not the heroes, right? Right? I have to ask, because even when things are bleeding obvious, sometimes they turn out not to be.
Other than the end of Man of Steel having a Superman who does kill someone, there were also swathes of destruction that Supes seemed blithely unconcerned with (as exemplified by that ‘hot’ first kiss he shares with Lois Lane standing in the dust of thousands of former living people who’ve been dead for like minutes). This didn’t ring true with a lot of people, but at the time it didn’t really bug me that much. I had to accept that while we’ve all got a version of Superman in our heads, that doesn’t mean each new time out of the gate that it has to conform to that. Also, I figured, this, being a version of Superman, is one which is still trying to figure out his morality, his motivations and such.
All that destruction at the end of the flick that rankled viewers, it seemed like Snyder took that criticism on board, because it’s incorporated into the beginning of this flick. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is in Metropolis at the time that Superman and Zod are having their showdown, and he sees the destruction firsthand, and sees one of his own Wayne Enterprises skyscrapers come down with lots of his employees dying horribly inside. It’s enough to piss a guy off, even when he’s being an audience surrogate.
Inexplicably, to the viewer perhaps, Metropolis honours Supes for destroying half the city with massive statues and parades and probably a non-stop flow of hookers and such, but Wayne nurses a serious grudge against the alien. In Supes Wayne sees the potential destruction of the entire planet, because he does not see there being any limits on his actions. With no limitations, with no reason to always be good, inevitably, Supes will go bad.
Maybe the grudge seems logical to you. I wouldn’t argue that it’s unreasonable. If they jokingly or seriously refer to Supes as a god, then, well, it’s understandable that many may fear him. Because, hell, I might not believe in God, but I definitely fear Them in all Their many armed and many eyed glory, just in case.
It is an interesting notion, one that’s been wrestled with in the comics for decades. At various times Supes is portrayed as the strongest being in the galaxy, and so there are times when he himself wonders about why he should have to listen to the mewlings of all these weak human meatbags. And all those bloody cats in trees that keep needing to be rescued: jeez, can’t someone else do it? Generally, if not always, the fundamental decency of Supes’s character is attributed not to his alien nature as a son of Krypton, but to the upbringing he had at the hands of Ma and Pa Kent here on Earth in Smallville, USA. Truth, justice and the American Way.
This Superman? Well, his dad (Kevin Costner, worst superhero’s dad ever) in the last flick told him it would have been better had Supes let a busload of children die rather than reveal his powers to the world, so, make of that what you will.
All this Superman seems to care about is Lois Lane (Amy Adams). He can hear her wherever she is in the world, whenever she’s in trouble, he can be there instantly to save her, who cares whatever else may happen. Does this Superman struggle with his place in this world? It doesn’t really seem like it bothers him that much, any more than he struggles with “Am I too handsome for this world?”
That chin is amazing. Anyway, as a journalist, Supes starts hearing about some of the out-of-the-blue psychopathic stuff Batman has been doing in Gotham, like, branding criminals with his symbol, for some reason, which leads to the crims being murdered when they’re put in general population in jail.
Well boo bloody hoo. Jerks in jail can have all sorts of nazi tattoos, and no-one bats an eyelid. Brand one scumbag and they treat you like you’re the one who killed him with a sharpened toothbrush.
Anyway, it’s meant to imply that both Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent, and their alter egos have serious beef with each other. It is stuff that could be cleared up with a few minutes of conversation, but then that wouldn’t result in an almighty dustup where Batman and Superman throw down in the most brutal fashion they can muster. We have to be convinced that Batman absolutely is convinced that he must kill Superman for the good of humanity, and Superman has to have good reason to want to kill Batman too.
Hence the machinations of the villain of the piece, Alex Luthor (let’s just say it’s Zuckerberg), who is a tittering, hyper-manic chap whose motivations for anything are at the very least murky, other than the bizarre out of nowhere statement about daddy doing terrible things to him when he was a little boy.
Holy shit. What the fuck were the writers thinking as they came up with that? I need to kill Superman because I was molested as a child, and I’m going to create some Kryptonian abomination I can’t control to kill everyone in the world as well just because?
Well, I guess they are given ample motivation by the script, but, good goddamn does the entire film deflate even before that point. I can’t really talk about the next bit without it being spoilery, but as the Bat and the blue Boy Scout battle it out, the Bat comes within inches of killing Supes. Like, he’s right there. He’s incredibly angry at him, as in, hates him so much he’s about to kill him. About to kill Superman.
Something interrupts him, and I won’t say what, but within the span of another few moments, Batman is elsewhere, saving a dear old lady, saying to her “I’m a friend of your son’s”.
Um, no, Batman, mere seconds ago you were going to kill her adoptive son like really dead. Like, you were totally trying to completely murderise him. When exactly did you and he bond and form what you could even loosely term a friendship?
That’s not even the worst moment in this highly uneven flick, but it’s one of many that stood out so proudly and inanely, like the proud dog’s balls of a particularly dumb dog. My next favourite lowlight is all about Amy Adam’s Lois Lane character, and the shit she does with a goddamn spear. You heard right, a goddamn spear, one that Bats was going to use to kill her precious boyfriend. Stuff happens, stuff happens, and we are shown Lois dithering about what to do with the spear. Should I stash it over here? What about over here? Maybe in the first place that I originally thought of?
More time passes, where a lot of carnage unfolds, new heroes come into it, a new enemy is revealed (which is just terrible, I have to say. It looked like a slightly angrier cave troll from Lord of the Rings, and was about as scary), and then it cuts back to Lois, having decided where to stash the spear, for no earthly reason, deciding she has to go back to get the spear, even though there’s no way she knows what’s been going on outside of the, I dunno, bathhouse? Swimming pool? where Bats had intended to kill her boyfriend. She goes to get the spear again, and runs into trouble.
It was structured and pulled off so awkwardly that I cringed as I was watching it, and I felt bad for Adams, as she’s a wonderful actor, and she’s been nominated multiple times for Oscars. Then I remember how much money she probably made for being in this, and then I don’t feel so bad for her.
There are all these machinations of Luthor’s in the background that apparently govern the entirety of the story, but, from what I remember from the comics and the cartoons, Luthor wasn’t generally depicted as a complete knuckleheaded dunderpate like he is here. His manipulations of certain government officials and even senators (Holly Hunter, why are you in this flick?) aren’t really believable beyond the extent that the plot requires them to be furthered along.
But there’s no real reason for them. The central conflict between Batman and Superman starts off because both of them have, at least in their own minds, legitimate gripes against the other, and they have to do with the idea of justice and how it is meted out that both of them hold. Having Luthor manipulate them into fighting to the death just lets whatever ideas they might have had completely fall by the wayside, and them say the equivalent of “now we are allies, because how else is a Justice League movie going to come along?” because it’s convenient, not because the story has justified it in any way.
I’m not the first and I won’t be the last to say that this flick exists only to set up future movies. Why DC feels an obligation to go the way of Marvel, in this bandwagonesque attempt to set up a franchise, is a mystery to me. Other than an egotistical “Well, we’re JUST as important as they are!” poorly thought out business strategy, it doesn’t make sense to me. You have to actually have characters people want to watch team up with other characters they might enjoy (and recognize, more importantly) for it to work. Marvel went to the trouble of establishing their individual characters before they mashed them together in The Avengers.
Who really thinks audiences are going to flock to the cinemas to watch an Aquaman movie? Really? What about a Flash or Cyborg movie, both of which are kinda teased here? No, the only thinking is “a me-too copy of the Avengers will make as much money as the Avengers, fer sure”.
Don't they remember what happened with The Green Lantern? That flick was total donkey vomit, and no-one's going to want to see that character again, with or without a team of superfriends sweetening the deal.
The only character that actually gets any characterization set-up here is Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot looks to be a good approach for the character, and I genuinely hope her film goes gangbusters, because I love the character), but this flick was meant to be something different other than an advertisement for Avengers DC-style.
Affleck is, surprisingly, all right for this version of the Batman. It’s meant to be an older, more cynical, more Big Picture Batman who isn’t thinking about bagsnatchers and mob bosses and killer clowns: he’s thinking about global threats to humanity. And, apparently, he’s been let down by other heroes too many times before, so he’s jaded and paranoid enough to contemplate killing the best of the best (just to stay on top). The problem isn’t really with him or how he’s characterised or acted.
The less said about Supes the better. The flick doesn’t really make him seem like anything more than a hologram, a hollow symbol of a hollow property that they aren’t really sure how to humanise. Just loving Lois to the detriment of humanity doesn't do the trick.
All I hope is that they do right by Diana Prince in the next flick to come out. But I shouldn’t have to be thinking about future films while watching current films, should I?
The terribleness that sneaks into this flick, I’m fairly confident, can be mostly attributed to Snyder. The best exemplification of this is the terrible nightmare sequence Bruce has, which is meant to give him even more motivation to kill Supes. I had seen it before, months before watching the film, because it was used as a kind of teaser trailer for the flick. In it, in a post-apocalyptic looking scenario, gunmen kneel before Superman as he approaches a chained Batman and tears off the cowl. I realised only when watching it in this flick what felt so off about it. And then I realised – the whole inexplicable set up, with other literal bat men lingering around, and people wearing Superman’s logo like fascist symbols, all of this was exactly like one of the terrible sequences in Snyder’s earlier monstrosity of a flick called, you guessed it, Sucker Punch.
Plus, the scene ends up meaning nothing, except for an even more bizarre tease for future adventures where the Flash’s head immediately after the dream sequence pops out of nowhere warning Bruce that Lois Lane has to be kept alive at all costs. What the hell? Why not make a decent flick first before teasing the next one?
Jeez, this really wasn’t that good, was it? And it very nearly ends with Zuckerberg-Eisenberg in a prison cell, saying “Ting ting ting” repeatedly. Ting ting ting? Ting ting ting. The bell cannot be unrung, apparently.
Ting ting ting indeed.
5 times I wish Wonder Woman had killed both of them out of 10