By Will Ferrer
Zack Snyder’s “Batman v. Superman” is a divisive movie to say the least. And though I hold no strong opinions on the cinematic output of the suits over at DC Comics, I’ve decided it’s about time I developed my take on Superhero Slugfest 2016. After sacrificing two and a half hours of my precious time to watch Ben Affleck (Batman) and Henry Cavill (Superman) punch and shoot things, I’ve emerged from the darkness of Snyder’s psyche, both confused and inspired. You see, I hate “Batman v. Superman,” but I also kind of love it.
Of course ambivalence is frowned upon in my line of work (“like masturbating on an airplane”), and in an effort to sort through my mixed feelings, I’ve composed the following breakdown of the record-breaking blockbuster. Bear with me, folks.
“Batman v. Superman” is ambitious.
“Batman v. Superman” is probably the first movie to nuke the fridge (see: “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) with such speed and commitment. First, a horse wanders through a 9/11 allegory for no apparent reason. Second, Batman dreams that a black ooze-seeping bat-monster has taken up residence in his mother’s grave. Third, Batman imagines a future overrun by Superman’s henchman and, correct me if I’m wrong, more bat-monsters? Then, Batman encounters a time-traveling Flash (Ezra Miller) who mutters something about Lois Lane (Amy Adams). And, finally, Lex Luthor births a rock monster named Doomsday from General Zod’s corpse and his own blood.
“Batman v. Superman” is insane, and its insanity is often highly entertaining. Marvel has been playing it safe for far too long (“Ant-Man” could have been good had Edgar Wright stuck around; “Avengers: Age of Ultron” was the biggest let-down in the history of let-downs), and it’s riveting to watch Snyder flip the bird to structure, coherence and logic. Sure this strategy sometimes fails (the Flash’s brief visit from the future is cringeworthy at best), but every now and again, the craziness sticks: When Superman fights Doomsday in space and they both get nuked by the U.S. government, I clapped because why the fuck not. “Batman v. Superman” is a series of not-so-calculated risks and Snyder’s willingness to makes mistakes renders the narrative unpredictable.
“Batman v. Superman” is too ambitious.
In an effort to produce the biggest, loudest blockbuster known to mankind, Snyder fails to recognize his limitations as a filmmaker. A dash of crazy can be exciting, but a non-stop desire to entertain can be exhausting. Bursting at the seams with references to future installments, arbitrary sub-plots and an ever-growing cast of characters, “Batman v. Superman” foregoes explanation in favor of More (more fights, more CGI, more narrative complexity).
Why does Lex Luthor blow up the Capitol? What purpose does this serve if no one blames Superman? How does Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) know that Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) has an incriminating photo of her? Batman only makes a copy of Luthor’s files, so why does Wonder Woman steal the drive if she can’t delete the image? What does Lex Luthor want? Why does Wallace Keefe (Scoot McNairy) get to testify before Congress when presumably thousands of people lost family members in the battle with Zod? Are we supposed to believe that the Kryptonian ship told Luthor that he could use Zod’s body to make an indestructible monster? Do people realize Clark Kent is Superman when he testifies? What determines how long Superman stays dead? Do certain injuries knock him out for longer periods? Why doesn’t Superman explain himself before he fights Batman? The plot of “Batman v. Superman” makes no sense. The movie’s not ambitious, it’s hubristic.
Wonder Woman is flawless.
Clad in chic bronze armor (patriotism, it would seem, is out of fashion in Metropolis), Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is a gleefully revisionist take on the most spectacular of superheroines. Though allusions to her origins promise no major changes in Patty Jenkins’ forthcoming standalone feature, everything about the Wonder Woman of “Batman v. Superman” feels modern. Hitting a home-run with the depiction of her “meta-human” abilities, Snyder’s Wonder Woman transcends fetishization while kicking major Kryptonian ass (a feat rarely accomplished in an industry monopolized by men). Her determination is dogged; her pragmatism, electrifying. Gadget’s Wonder Woman is everything fangirls (read: me) had hoped for and more.
Wonder Woman is flawless. Too bad she’s barely in it.
Wonder Woman is a solid counterbalance to the boys and toys of the DC cinematic universe, but in “Batman v. Superman,” she is woefully underused. Clocking in at 150 minutes, Snyder’s opus never quite figures out what to do with DC’s greatest asset. For the first two hours, Wonder Woman is reduced to making fashionable appearances in trendy dresses and golden collars (an appreciated nod to previous iterations of the character, I’ll admit), while remaining absent from the action.
Existing in the ether around Batman and Superman, she very nearly becomes re-fetishized. Like “Catwoman” in “The Dark Knight Rises,” Wonder Woman is made into an “other” in Synder’s hands: a question-mark rendered exotic by her refusal to submit to Batman’s machismo.
The titular fight is exhilarating.
Beating “Captain America: Civil War” to theaters by a smidge, “Batman v. Superman” is the first tentpole of the current comic renaissance to pit caped crusaders against each other without manipulation by unfortunate biology and/or nefarious nemeses (see: Hawkeye in “The Avengers,” and “Hulk” in “The Avengers” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron”).
After a ground level re-creation of the attack on Metropolis, Snyder slowly drives a wedge between Batman and Superman. What seals the deal, however, is Lex Luthor’s abduction of Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and his insistence that Clark fight Bruce to save her life. Though the differences between Batman and Superman are great, Snyder manages to level the playing field with convenient Kryptonite bombs and the resulting battle is a startling cinematic feat. So rare are weaknesses in Superman’s armor that it proves satisfying to see him tossed about like a sack of potatoes. Bonus points to Snyder for having the cosmic pissing contest stopped by Lois Lane.
The titular fight is pointless.
I get that this movie is called “Batman v. Superman,” but remind me again why these two buffoons have to fight each other in the first place? Maybe it makes sense in the comics, but here the explanation is shoddy at best, and Superman’s failure to mention Martha’s abduction pre-fight reeks of lazy screenwriting. It’s also never quite explained why Lex Luthor wants them to duel and I’m not sure why Batman chooses to forget his gripes with Superman upon realizing that their moms are both called Martha.
In addition, the whole exercise is greatly implausible and greatly taxing. Superman gets hit by a Batmobile doing upwards of 100 miles/hour and the car crashes, but, when he punches the crap out of Batman, Batman’s head doesn’t explode? Also, if Bruce’s suit is strong enough to withstand Superman’s fists of fury how does he move? A fight between Batman and Superman is a cool idea, but here it feels like a desperate effort by screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer to put both men in the same room.
Lex Luthor is great.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Jesse Eisenberg on crack.
Lex Luthor is the literal worst.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Jesse Eisenberg on crack.
Lois Lane takes two steps forward.
Amy Adams was never more than a damsel in distress in “Man of Steel,” demonstrating next-to-no chemistry with co-star Henry Cavill. In “Batman v. Superman,” however, Snyder ups her charisma and her significance, even toying with giving her something to do (beyond, of course, making googly eyes at Superman). During the grand showdown between Batman and Superman, Lois manages to make herself useful, arriving in time to explain Superman’s motivations to a very perturbed Batman. It’s one of the movie’s best moments: a machismo brawl, resolved through (*gasp*) communication.
… and three steps back.
Unfortunately, this is a Synder movie and Synder movies refuse to be anything but misogynistic, so Lois soon finds a way to be reduced to an offensive archetype. During the climatic battle, Lois attempts to bring Superman a Kryptonite spear only to be trapped under some highly unnecessary debris. Her frantic banging (from under said necessary debris) captures the attention of Superman who then rescues her for, like, the twelfth time. Christ, I can’t wait for “Wonder Woman.”
The movie sounds great.
Though Hans Zimmer was initially slated to tackle scoring duties himself, concerns over his involvement with previous (and unrelated) Batman installments prompted the legendary composer to reach out to “Mad Max: Fury Road” maestro, Junkie XL. And the resulting collaboration is a magnificent listen from first to final track. Combining Zimmer’s flare for operatic bombast and XL’s taste for electronic pulse-pounders, the soundtrack of “Batman v. Superman” rivals Zimmer’s work on 2014’s “Man of Steel.” Dominated by distinct theme songs for Superman, Batman, Lex Luthor and Wonder Woman, the whole endeavor is surprisingly cohesive and, more importantly, fitting. (Wonder Woman’s orgiastic guitar showcase is perhaps the best of the pack).
But Hans Zimmer needs to stop making music.
Just kidding. Hans Zimmer is flawless.
It’s cool to see the beginnings of the Justice League.
“Batman v. Superman” features the first team-up moment between Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman and it’s perfect. Wonder Woman uses her golden lasso of badass-ery, Batman fires his Kryptonite gun, and Superman flies a spear into Doomsday’s heart: Seeing these classic heroes together for the first time is every fangirl’s dream.
But people need to stop making team-up movies that aren’t able to stand on their own.
Like “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Batman v. Superman” serves a unique role: Coming hot on the heels of the controversial “Man of Steel” and pre-dating “Justice League” by about two years, “Batman v. Superman” is tasked with resolving questions left unanswered in previous installments and building a world suitable for future DC outings. It’s a difficult obstacle to overcome and one to which Snyder dedicates a great deal of his energies. Receiving none of his energies? The characters.
“Batman v. Superman” is almost entirely devoid of character development. Beyond a few cliché lines whispered by Lois Lane and some flashes of Batman being sad that he’s an orphan, “Batman v. Superman” doesn’t concern itself with multi-layered characters. Wonder Woman is barely a blip on the film’s radar, Lex Luthor is a caricature, Lois Lane is a damsel in distress, Batman is mad at Superman, and Superman doesn’t know if he’s “part of this world.” It’s all ridiculously simple, all ridiculously lame. Also, DC needs to stop trying to make Ezra Miller (The Flash) happen.
Contact Will Ferrer at wferrer ‘at’ stanford.edu.