Right after the release of Man of Steel, and after its success, it was announced that a new Superman movie was in the works; this time with Batman as co-protagonist. The working title was Batman v Superman, and even though very little was known at the time about its production, what the title implied is that these two massive comic book icons, who had never shared the big screen would, at some point in the movie, have some kind of moral or physical confrontation.
Call me old fashioned, if you will, but the idea of Superman and Batman coming to blows, when they are so physically unmatched, wasn’t something that I found all that enticing. Plus, I wasn’t particularly thrilled about Ben Affleck being cast as Batman at the time, due mostly to the fact that I didn’t think that he had the physical attributes, and especially the acting chops to pull it off, after Christian Bale had being so successful playing the character in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. More on that later.
When the first trailers started coming out, and being as I am, a massive Superman fan, I found them intriguing to say the least, but couldn’t help but notice that there was an awful lot more attention on Affleck’s Batman than on Henry Cavill’s Superman. The placing of Batman’s name first on the title should have given me an indication as to where the movie was headed. And that is both a good and a bad thing. Let me explain.
The Batman conundrum
I mentioned earlier my misgivings about Affleck’s casting as Batman and, as I’d seen from the trailers that most of the attention was focused on Batman’s dramatic arc rather than Superman’s, I had cause for concern. Concern that, once I’d seen the movie, was unfounded, as Affleck’s portrayal of Batman turned out to be the best thing in the movie. His character was far better developed than Cavill’s and, in many ways, this felt more like a Batman-centered movie than a Superman one. Supes gets basically kicked to the curb in favour of a script that focuses more on politics and a highly convoluted plot that revolves around the schemes of Lex Luthor (an outrageously bad Jesse Eisenberg) to turn the public opinion against Superman. In the centre of all of this we have Batman. But he is not your run-of-the-mill, never-kill-policy, Batman. He’s a burned out, hopeless, shoot-first, ask-questions-later, hard-edged, tough as nails crime fighter, who’s been a bane for Gotham’s criminal Underworld for the better part of 20 years, and who’s also lost friends and a good chunk of his soul along the way. Whatever qualms you may have with the movie, I’ll say this; Batman had never before been portrayed this way on the big screen. He’s an older and bitter character, who’s tired of fighting criminals, as he points out in one scene of the movie:
– Criminals are like weeds, Alfred. You pull one out, another one takes its place.
-So, twenty years of fighting criminals amount to nothing?-asks Alfred.
Affleck’s facial expression says it all. And that’s the brilliance of his performance. For the first time since the sixties with Adam West, we get to see a Batman who’s flat out run out of reasons to keep on fighting, but whom once he sees the kind of power that Superman can unleash on Humanity, if left unchecked, takes it upon himself to do whatever he can to find a way to destroy the Man of Steel, thus finding a new reason to keep on going.
He does a very good job as both Bruce Wayne and his alter ego Batman. His Batman is more of a brawler, a street fighter, extremely effective and brutal in his fighting style. All of this comes to the fore in the brilliantly choreographed and shot Warehouse fight sequence in which Batman takes out all of Lex Luthor’s minions in very short order before rescuing Martha Kent. His face-off against Superman is also notable in the way he plans and executes his booby traps against him. It’s a very well shot action set piece, in which Batman resorts to his wits to gain the upper hand on Supes and get him on his knees, with the help of a fair amount of Kryptonite, I may add. And this is where Snyder’s hugely stylised filming comes to the fore. He’s a great visualist and very good at directing the action set pieces, as he’s proved countless times throughout his career. His fast-hitting action scenes were one of the highlights of Man of Steel. There’s no denying that. It’s with the storytelling part that he needs help with. For that you need a good script or at least a competent screenwriter to tell a story in a coherent manner. Unfortunately, that’s not the case here.
Incoherent story and editing mess
One of the main issues I have with this movie, but ultimately not the biggest one, is how incoherent and badly put together the movie is. And it’s not because they had to heavily trim down the running time; we’re talking about a two-and-a-half-hour running time movie. The movie gets unnecessarily bogged down with all of its political subtext and side plots (the dream-time travel-ish scene in which we witness an alternate future in which Superman has become evil and is some kind of Earth Overlord with an army of Parademons at his beg and call, with Batman at the head of a future Resistance Movement opposing him, comes to mind), that take the movie nowhere. These side plots, especially the aforementioned dream-time travel sequence that, it’s so jarring and so out of place that doesn’t serve any purpose other than to show off some cool imagery for the sake of it, and the whole scene set at the Lex Luthor Library benefit with the introduction of Wonder Woman, just to shoehorn her into the plot, are just some of the sequences that grind the pace of the movie to a halt and don’t expand, further develop or explain the plot. This all stems from an unfocused and poorly developed script that clearly needed more work on before shooting started. Fortunately, when the movie came out on Bluray, an additional Extended Cut was released that added 30 more minutes worth of footage that really helped clear some of the cobwebs from the messy Theatrical Cut, and gave us a clearer understanding of what was going on during, at least, the first two acts of the movie. It didn’t fix all of its problems, but it definitely made it less of an incoherent and convoluted mess. Ultimately, the movie suffers from the efforts on the filmmaker’s part to cram in to much information into one movie, and to use it as a launchpad for the upcoming Justice League movie that would serve as the cornerstone onto which Warner wanted to build their entire DCEU franchise. But you cannot start building the house from the roof. You have to start from the ground up and go from there, like Marvel did, over the course of several stand-alone movies that serve as introductions to the main characters, and work your way up till you get to your main event or, in this case, Assemble movie, i.e; Justice League. Alas, Warner wanted to play catch-up with Marvel Studios and chose to go with Spectacle over story coherence.
The wreaking of a Legacy.
And we finally come to my main gripe with this movie; the mistreatment of Superman. Never, in the history of Cinema, had Superman been given such a gloomy and hopeless outlook, not to say outright psychopathic. His poor decision making throughout the film, and his dubious and sometimes even violent behavior, make him very unsympathetic and out of character. In this case, even more than in Man of Steel, the character comes across as a potential Weapon of Mass Destruction, completely unreliable, hapless and unsure of his role in the World. Being Superman should be a joyous affair. This is not the case here. There’s no levity, no humour, his relationship with Lois Lane is still totally unconvincing; there’s just no spark between the two leading actors. Both Henry Cavill and Amy Adams try their darnest, but to no avail. He hardly has any dialogue scenes, but at least this time, especially on the Extended Cut, we get to see him more in his Clark Kent persona, as a journalist, conducting an investigation into the activities of the Caped Crusader in Gotham City and his new found ” Brand of Justice”.
The main culprit in this case is, as was the case in Man of Steel, the direction into which Snyder decided to take the character. The whole plot in which Luthor tries to set him up to make him look like a threat to the World, partly succeeds because of the way Superman decides to handle the situation by not giving to the public any explanation or even trying to seem remorseful about some of the decisions he has made in the past that ended up having dire consequences in the present day. The repercussions from the events in Man of Steel are still being felt, and there’s a general sense of unrest and mistrust from the public concerning his powers and origin, that in neither of the cuts, and in spite of the ending, are never satisfactorily resolved.
He decides, instead of resolving his issues, to take it out on Batman, to try and end what he thinks is a reign of terror that the Caped Crusader is running in Gotham. Little do both of them know that the whole time they’re being manipulated by Lex Luthor in an attempt to pit them against each other and get rid of them both.
The dream-time travel sequence, mid-way through the movie, doesn’t help Superman’s case as he is portrayed as a psychopathic nut bag, who fries two of his captives with his Heat Vision before Batman’s eyes, right before, by all intents and purposes, ripping Batman’s heart right out of his chest. This dream-time travel sequence, in which The Flash comes back from the Future to warn Bruce against Superman, I think, is only there to reinforce Bruce’s belief that Superman is a threat and must be destroyed at all costs.
The Justice League
Another point of contention in the movie is the rather forced introduction of the future members of the Justice League. Everything about this feels unnaturally worked into the plot, and something that could have been saved for the next movie. But both the producers and Snyder were so determined to cram as much as they could into this movie, that the rest of the story, what they should be focusing on, doesn’t have room to breathe. All that being said, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is a sight to behold, an unusual but wise choice that would later be confirmed in her solo outing, Wonder Woman (2017). From the rest we only get snippets of information, mainly obtained through recorded footage, that display some of their superpowers.
As much as the Extended Cut fixes most of the problems with the first two thirds of the movie, it doesn’t prevent the third act from being a hot mess with the introduction of none other than Doomsday? into the fray. Even though I think is quite debatable whether this version of Doomsday is the character from the comic book. His introduction in the movie so early on in the DCEU, being such a pivotal character in the Superman lore, and what we fans of the comic book character know what this ultimately means for Superman, turn him into a head-scratching choice from Zack Snyder’s part that, as with all things Batman and Superman, only serves to be there as fan service and nothing more. What ensues after his appearance is unavoidable, but didn’t need to happen in only the second appearance of Superman in this new DCEU.
All in all, this movie is an outright mess. Snyder’s understanding of the character of Superman is nought, the Cinematography is bleak and desaturated, giving the whole movie a mournful look, the performances are mostly solid with one exception, even though I still think that there’s no chemistry between Amy Adams and Henry Cavill as Lois and Clark, the political and messy side plots bog the movie down, the Hans Zimmer, XL Junkie score is droned out and repetitive, even though I like some of the cues like Batman and Wonder Woman’s theme and some of the Superman themes from Man of Steel, the script is poorly developed, the editing is atrocious (it fares better in the Extended Cut), the final showdown between Doomsday and Superman and co, is too long, bloated and over the top, and the overall tone of the movie is somber and depressing.
And we get one of the worst performances from a leading actor as Lex Luthor; that of Jesse Eisenberg. God, that was awful!!. If he wasn’t nominated for the Razzie Awards that year, he surely should have been. Easily the worst Lex Luthor ever to grace, or disgrace, the big screen in both TV and Cinema.
On the bright side, we have some kick-ass action set pieces (the first appearance of the Batmovil and the attack on the Docks, the Warehouse rescue sequence, the confrontation between Batman and Superman) and a Ben Affleck performance that comes out on top of all this mess as the best thing from the movie. Who knew?. Small pickings.
Thanks for reading.