How’s does the peach tea taste, Mr. Wayne?
Let’s start with the obvious: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the worst title for a superhero movie since Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. And yet, it’s so appropriate for a movie like this. The title is on-the-nose, hokey, ridiculous, and clearly unfocused, just like the movie itself is.
Taking place a few years after the events of Man of Steel, Batman v…. screw it, I’m not going to repeatedly spell out a bad title. BvS: DOJ picks up in the aftermath of the disaster that struck Metropolis during the battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) and the Kryptonian army. The city is dismantled. Hundreds of casualties have been named. A memorial that evokes the tragedy of 9/11 sits in the heart of the city, right next to a monument dedicated to the superhero that saved everyone. It is a tense time for Metropolis as they’re trying to rebuild, and everyone has one question on their minds: Is Superman doing more harm than good?
Enter billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who unequivocally sees Superman as mankind’s enemy. During the day of the attack, Superman fought inside of one of Wayne’s corporate buildings, which had many of his employees still inside when it fell. Wayne took the hit very hard. He’s too familiar with losing a family, and here he lost his second one. Now, he once again adopts his criminal-fighting personality of Batman with one focus: to kill the Superman.
Let me start with the positives. First of all, Ben Affleck was incredible as Bruce Wayne and Batman. That genuinely surprises me, because A) Christian Bale’s Batman is still fresh on my mind, and B) Ben Affleck isn’t normally a great actor, minus the movies that he’s written or directed. This movie is a game changer for him. He’s playing Batman with a more grim facade; an older, meaner, more coarse attitude that is even more distrusting of people than The Dark Knight’s Batman was. This is not the same Batman that you’re familiar with. His psychological trauma and torture tactics have intensified, and he isn’t above killing criminals. This might be maddening for some comic purists out there, but I found it to be a refreshing take on the caped crusader. After all, in a DC Universe where you’re fighting for your life against space aliens and Frankenstein monsters, I think it’s reasonable to say that the stakes have been raised on all fronts.
And the Batman/Superman dynamic was equally amazing. The thing I liked most about this movie, and what I think most fans were looking forward to, was the contrasting nature between Batman and Superman. I’m not talking about the fight itself, although the buildup and the payoff to that sequence definitely did not disappoint. I’m talking about the real conflicting ideals of Batman versus Superman. Batman is a mortal who has faced cuts, bruises, and bloodshed all his life. Superman is an indestructible alien from outer space. Batman believes torture and intimidation are effective tactics for fighting crime. Superman finds those things to be disturbing and unnecessary. Batman sees a Kyryptonian alien as mankind’s greatest threat. Superman sees it as a vigilante that answers to no one. I was expecting their ideals to clash in this movie, but I wasn’t expecting to be rooting for them both when the film built to its climactic titular fight. The fact that we’re engaged in a superhero beatdown between our two protagonists and we can understand where both are coming from is the evidence of strong, smart writing, and Affleck and Cavill alike do very well in bouncing their personalities off of each other to make a strong, rivalrous relationship between the two.
Unfortunately, as far as positives for the movie goes, it ends there. Where do I start with the mistakes of Batman v Superman? First of all, its editor David Brenner needed to be fired. Either him or director Zack Snyder, depending on which one decided this movie needed to be two hours and 30 minutes long. There were so many unecessary scenes in the movie, so many sequences that added nothing and truly took away from the larger conflict between Batman, Superman, and our mischievous third player Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). Don’t worry, we’ll get to him in a bit.
Look at the first act as an example of the film’s poor editing. If Brenner knew what he was doing, he would open the film right on the destruction going on in Metropolis, with Bruce frantically driving and running around in a quickly collapsing city trying to save as many people as he can. That was a great scene that showed Bruce’s vulnerability, and even more rarely, his fear. We didn’t start with that though. We start with the same sequence we’ve seen in every Batman movie now, which is the death of Bruce’s parents. Why? Why do we need to see this again? Haven’t we seen it enough in Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies? What is the purpose in showing this again? And also, when a younger Bruce falls into the cavern and becomes enveloped in bats, is there any reason to show him as a levitating Bat messiah floating to the top of the cave?
I’m blaming Brenner because he didn’t cut the sequence out, but the truth is it is just as much Snyder’s fault as it is Brenner’s. Why did he choose to even film these scenes in the first place? Didn’t either of them see that these scenes weren’t necessary? That the dream and hallucination sequences added nothing to the plot, that the easter eggs to the DC Universe did nothing to develop the story, or that the epilogue of the film was sappy and dragged out? There were so many stupid scenes in this movie that made no sense and formed no coherency with the greater ideas of the film. You could have cut 30 minutes from the film, make it shorter than The Dark Knight, and have a better movie.
And then we get to Eisenberg. Ugh. Remind me again why he is Lex Luthor? I get that he’s a great actor and that he was enthusiastic for the role. That doesn’t make him right for it, and he’s definitely not right for it.
I’ll give Eisenberg this: he tried. But he tried too hard. We’re not seeing Lex Luthor here as much as we are seeing a B-grade Joker or Riddler. He’s not the smart, calculated supervillain you remember. He’s ecstatic, chaotic, and impulsive, which makes him a good villain archetype, but not a good Lex Luthor. Eisenberg throws himself into the role and succeeds in portraying it, but it’s not his portrayal that’s the problem. It’s the way him and Snyder envision the character, as a psychotic messenger of doom rather than the intelligent, well-crafted, yet connivingly evil gentlemen that he’s supposed to be. If Batman was my favorite part of the movie, Lex Luthor was my least favorite. He’s that far off of the map from what Superman’s arch-nemesis is supposed to be.
What we end up having then, is an out-of-focus movie that does a lot of things right, and then equally does a lot of things wrong. That’s the most disappointing thing about this movie, is seeing its potential and how wasted it is by stupid editing and even stupider characters. And this is the movie that’s supposed to set up the Justice League films. Pray that those movies display smarter storytelling and editing. And a better title.