We’ve already held a pre-discussion where we laid out our anxieties and expectations, formally reviewed the film and offered a second take. We complete our Batman v Superman lowdown with a final discussion of the WB tentpole. Warning: there will be spoilers.
James: Okay, so Batman v Superman finally arrived and premiered with some of the lousiest reviews for a big-budget spectacle in quite some time. I’ve already blathered on with my distaste for the movie but I turn it over to you. What did you think?
Erik: Well, first off, to show you where I’m coming from, I want it on record that I was someone who enjoyed Man of Steel and was generally curious about what director Zack Snyder would do with the new Superman universe he created. I was a bit wary of Batman v Superman, mainly because I thought it was too early to do a crossover movie before properly establishing both heroes’ franchises. However, I’ve liked Snyder’s work and had confidence in really just about everyone involved with the project. That said, this movie was bad. Not Fantastic Four bad, but pretty dang bad. I sat through the whole movie without a smile on my face and left it not wanting to see a follow up. As someone who loves superhero movies and wants to keep seeing them on the big screen until the end of time, that’s quite an accomplishment.
James: Snyder might a good launching point here. I go back and forth on my feelings about him as a filmmaker. I greatly admired his Dawn of the Dead remake and thought there was genuine artistry to his Watchmen. What’s fascinating, I think, about him is that while I’m unsure of his abilities as a storyteller, he can be a great visual stylist. That may be one of the most frustrating aspects of Batman v Superman (and Man of Steel, for that matter) in that these movies aren’t paint-by-numbers but visually and aurally ambitious.
Erik: One of the biggest criticisms I’ve seen aimed at Man of Steel was that there was too much of people talking about Superman and not enough time spent getting to know the character – I agree to some extent. But holy shit, Batman v Superman was that problem cranked up to eleven. Did you notice how few lines Superman actually has throughout the film? Seriously, most scenes he’s in consist of someone else talking to him and him not responding, or it looks like he’s about to respond and the scene cuts away. And when he does talk or project any kind of personality, what do we learn about him? He sucks at his job – he’s a reporter who apparently can’t be bothered to write the stories assigned to him. He only saves people because it’s what his dead daddy wanted him to do (I could go on about that ad nauseum). And occasionally he likes to fuck his girlfriend in the bathtub. There you have it, the world’s most iconic hero. You can see why he’s such an enduring symbol. One of the scenes that pissed me off the most was the part where Superman’s about to go before a court and basically explain who he is and what he stands for and before he can open his mouth an explosion goes off, ending the scene and saving the writers from the horrible task of having to give their protagonist a personality. Anything I missed?
James: You cracked the Superman problem to a tee. One of the movie’s most unfortunate failures is the indignity of his development of a character. Part of it reads, cynically, like a corrective for the criticism received for Man of Steel yet that doesn’t really hold much salt, at least to my eyes. I had problems with that movie and wasn’t overly happy about the Metropolis casualty count at the end of the film, but the filmmakers have a responsibility to own that as part of their “universe” whatever the critics and fanboys may have thought of it. Not only is Superman devoid of a personality but nearly lacking in any sort of compassion. (I recently re-watched the original with Christopher Reeve and he oozed soul and humanity and owned the inherent corniness of the character.) I can take a darker, grittier take on the character but Snyder and team do such a disservice here. I can’t really blame Henry Cavill too much but it’s ridiculous how weighted against him the film really is.
Erik: I don’t think you can blame the cast for any of the problems with this film. Now, I hated, hated, HATED, Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as the Joker, I mean the Riddler, I mean a terrible improv comic, I mean Lex Luthor; his character was so ungodly annoying, I just wanted him to leave, not be defeated by the heroes, not go to prison, not receive his just rewards for his terrible deeds, I wanted to not see him on screen anymore. But look at what he had to work with. Were any of Lex Luthor’s lines not a sad attempt at a one liner or a torrent of pseudo-philosophical ramblings? Plus, remember, an actor might give a whacked-out performance, but ultimately a director has to look at them and say, “yeah, good job, keep doing that” (which is why I blame Christopher Nolan and not Christian Bale for the silly growly Batman voice in the Dark Knight films). Did Snyder say to Eisenberg every take, “Now remember, Lex has just done about seven lines of cocaine before entering the scene?” A lot of people were wondering how Ben Affleck would do as Batman, and personally I don’t think it would’ve mattered who played him in this, because the character still would have been written as a paranoid douchebag.
James: I certainly don’t blame the actors. I do, however, kind of blame Christopher Nolan for setting the table for the gloomy superhero movie. I’m curious, since we’ve been going on and on about Batman v Superman’s deficiencies, was there anything you admired?
Erik: It’s funny, one pretty consistent criticism I’ve seen aimed at the film was in it’s final act where Doomsday (that’s the big Michael Shannon clone monster with a face like a deformed troll from The Lord of the Rings) comes out and all the heroes decide they don’t want to kill each other and ban together. Look, I realize Doomsday’s origin made no sense and he felt unnaturally shoved into the story, and as I mentioned before he looks like a deformed troll, but that was my favorite part of the film because it was just a big stupidly fun action scene. It’s the only time I felt anything resembling joy watching this piece of crap. Action scenes are Snyder’s forte; 90% of the reason I like Man of Steel is because it was the first time a Superman movie had action sequences that resembled ones from the comics. In my opinion, 300 and Watchmen are Snyder’s best films and the reason is because he was adapting material that was already well written. Snyder fails when he tries to make original stories (for no better proof see Sucker Punch – actually, please don’t) because he’s unfortunately not a good storyteller, and the sooner he admits that to himself the better he and movie goers will be. Also, the new Batsuit was pretty cool looking. That’s about it.
James: The entire Doomsday sequence came about just when I was all but ready to leave the theater and run for the hills, following the unintentional eye-roller when Batman and Superman make up upon learning both their mothers are named Martha. I’m not a fan of CGI globs and they don’t make very good screen villains (I could barely even stomach it in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a far superior piece of entertainment) but the only time anything resembling a smile took to my face was when Wonder Woman made her entrance. The shot itself was grimy and rather ugly, but the energy of the moment (coupled with the decades-in-the-making screen arrival of this beloved character) was kind of a sweet money shot. Even the score swelled in a way that was nearly infectious. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) barely registers as a character in Batman v Superman, but that was a sweet moment in an otherwise interminable slog of a movie.
Erik: You know the moment you’re talking about was a good moment, but you know where I think it worked best? The trailer. In fact, I’ve gone back and re-watched the Batman v Superman trailers. They’re good trailers. The part where Alfred (Jeremy Irons) says his spiel about blood and rage is powerful. I got chills the first time I heard “Do you bleed? You will.” But the thing about trailers is you can have these big moments without any build up or context to them. In the film itself these moments don’t get the proper build up. So, in conclusion, Zack Snyder must stop making movies and just make trailers for ideas he has for movies. That way, we can just imagine what these movies could be like and not get slapped in the face with reality. And no one can be mad that we’ve got at least two fucking Justice League movies with him at the helm to look forward to.