August 29, 2016


You would think that a premise like this wouldn't be easy to mess up, but somehow, Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice is one of the messiest, most frustrating movies released this year.

Sad thing is, beneath it all, there are some underlying ideas that would make Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice a truly great movie. 

Note: I saw the "regular" version and not the Expanded 3 Hour Version. It's what the Chicago Public Library had available, and I wasn't going to complain. Plus, I argue that it's not the length, but the entire structure of the film that's flawed. 

Critics will point to Zack Snyder as being the main cause of the problem, but I'm going to delay finger pointing in that direction and turn my attention to the most basic element: the script, co-written by Chris Terrio and David Goyer.

It's easy to see why Terrio was brought in to collaborate with Goyer: Argo had a clever mixture of pop-culture knowingness with a smart take on the classic heist/caper formula. But Goyer....give his scripts a good director (like Blade, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Returns, and you have films where visual inventiveness trumps some of the more overt plot holes. With a less talented and/or more tired director, you end up with Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Or The Dark Knight Rises (trust me, it's not as good as many people think).

And Batman V. Superman has a very bloated script, as if under executive order to include as much continuity as possible. Things the movie could - and should - have rethought (and I'm spoiling away):
  • Removing the obligatory "origin" footage from the initial prelude - and inserting it closer to "that" scene - would give it more emotional resonance
  • Second scene - most professional photographers use either digital or hybrid cameras. Just sayin'.
  • Kevin Costner's cameo as Jonathan Kent - should have been a flashback, not a near-hallucination.
  • Lois Lane should never be used as a plot device. She should be a person.
  • I should not be surprised when I started thinking, "I've watched episodes of Smallville that were more plausible"
  • That whole third act with Doomsday - get rid of Doomsday. Seriously? Must you indulge Snyder's comic fetish?
I'll say it before and I'll say it again - Zack Snyder is a poor director. He's good at creating small moments and action sequences (especially if they're direct riffs from comics, like Watchmen and 300), but his narrative abilities seem more like a ten-year-old bashing action figures together and filming it with his iPhone while downing bottles of Mountain Dew: Code Red. Rather than fill in the cracks, Snyder's lack of narrative ability make the script's flaws even more overt.

And there's a great idea within the script - the world's (self-perceived) smartest man tricks a human champion and an alien newcomer to battle. Light vs. dark, God vs. man, human vs. alien - there is so much that Batman V. Superman could have done well. But unfortunately, in a mad dash to be an intro to an entire cinematic universe, the filmmakers forgot the one key ingredient for box office success: a good story.

The other key ingredient - which Batman V. Superman sorely lacks - is strong acting. Calling Henry Cavill "wooden" would be a compliment, and unlike Man of Steel, Kevin Costner gives the movie the performance that it deserves. Unlike other comic fans, Ben Affleck is not my ideal Batman - too pouty, like the middle schooler who suddenly discovers their older sibling's Cure records. And I wonder if Jesse Eisenberg and Jared Leto decided to switch acting notes - although he has played the "I'm-aware-I'm-the-smartest-one-in-the-room" schemer, Eisenberg chooses to go manic (while Leto in Suicide Squad seems somewhat restrained in his performance).

OK, I'll admit - I enjoyed Gal Gadot's performance as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, and really enjoyed the action sequence at the end. Unfortunately - and I know I'm in the minority - I felt like Snyder treated her more like a "hawt babe in leather" than "a character in her own right". She redeems the movie...but only after two hours and fifteen minutes of a great mess.

By now, you've probably already seen Batman V. Superman and have an opinion. However, given the current fan climate around movies - the idea that movies must be "made" specifically for our tastes; that not liking this version is somehow irrelevant; and that we have "ownership" of media properties - there is a distinct lack of critical thinking. In short, having an informed opinion seems less important than having "the feels."

Batman V. Superman gives me the "feels"...but mostly due to how this could have been a great movie...but ego, ineptitude, and a lack of clear vision messed it up.

Given the potential reaction to this point....don't be surprised if I never review the new Ghostbusters.

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