Words by: Jack Dawson
One of the most prevalent themes in Superhero fiction is Duality. Light and Dark, Silly and Serious, Marvel and DC. Wherever there’s a hero, there has to be a villain. For every hero who maintains the status quo, an antihero who defies ‘the man’ at every opportunity. For every Idealist Hero, a Nihilistic villain to tear them down and ‘prove’ how wretched the world is.
And for every multimedia franchise that carefully and deftly builds a sprawling continuity with likeable characters and a keen understanding of what makes Superheroes so watchable, there’s Warner Bros’ DC Extended Universe.
Let’s dive right in, shall we?
It’s been 18 Months since Superman levelled half of Metropolis in his fight with General Zod in Man of Steel. Even now, the eternally dour Superman attracts controversy and fosters division in America, and has earned more than a few enemies in the process. One of those enemies is Bruce Wayne, who after two decades of fighting crime in Gotham, now kills people indiscriminately and has a chip the size of Mars on his shoulder.
And unfortunately for both of these men, Lex Luthor is plotting a series of especially dastardly schemes in order to… I have no idea. I’m sorry, but I have no goddamn idea why Lex Luthor does what he does in this movie. I don’t know why Batman does what he does. I’m pretty sure I know why Superman does what he does, but only because his demeanour and outlook are roughly the same as Eeyore’s.
The basic plot: Superman and Batman fight, then team up to fight a bigger threat.
I could write a thesis on the myriad ways in which this movie fails on almost every level, but I’ll keep things short and sweet for now. Batman v Superman has one of the worst scripts I’ve ever seen. I trashed God’s of Egypt for inconsistent characterisation, but Batman v Superman far outpaces it in terms of inconsistency. The motivations of all the characters change from scene to scene, not helped by the fact that we’re only told these motivations through obtuse pontificating about mythology and Fallen Gods.
Lex Luthor probably suffers the most from this, as his motivation changes from Daddy issues, to inferiority complex, to spite, usually within a single scene. And speaking of obtuse Pontificating, someone might want to let Zack Snyder know that if you pose a question, you should probably go someway to answering it. Characters talk about Superheroes being the New Gods, the corruptive influence of power, and the importance of legacy, without ever really returning to these themes or even examining them in a way that Superhero media hasn’t time and time before.
It doesn’t help that Batman v Superman’s idea of world-building is to show us clips of the future Justice League members, without actually expanding on their characters or how they affect the world around them. Anyone excited to see Wonder Woman should be aware that she appears in only a handful of scenes and is given next to no characterisation (it’s to Gadot’s credit that she remains watchable at all, much like Anne Hathaway as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises).
Even after the film tries its best to address the impact of Superhero’s on modern society, we still have no frame of reference or idea of Metropolis and Gotham work, or how the world’s Oceans are affected by an Atlantean King swimming about, or how many people know about these incredibly obvious caped crusaders.
And just so we’re clear, it’s probably a better idea to establish and build up some material on your shared universe before trying to disrupt the status quo as Batman V Superman does at the end. I won’t spoil what happens, but if you watched any of the trailers which more or less fed you the plot of this film, you’ll be able to guess pretty quickly.
It’s even more underwhelming than you’d think.
And finally, I’d like to take a moment to address the depiction of some of Pop-Culture’s most recognised and beloved figures.
I came into this movie expecting to despise the dour and cynical representation of Superman most of all, reasoning that after two franchises, film-makers should have a pretty good handle on Batman.
I was wrong.
Superman is still a joyless and miserable jerkass, an appalling concession to ‘realism’ born from a perception that optimistic Superheroes aren’t cool or effective, but at least he still broadly resembles Superman. Batman kills people. Batman kills people with bullets, fired out of guns. Batman refers to criminals as weeds.
This is the worst depiction of Batman that I have ever seen, a gross caricature born of the grim and gritty 90’s aesthetic that DC has been drawing on for some time now. Ben Affleck actually performs well considering the material he has to work with, but this film does him no favours.
The other odd note in the production is Jessie Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. Eisenberg makes a terrible Luthor, the constant joking and campiness doesn’t really suit the calculating and charismatic megalomaniac of the comics. But Eisenberg is a lot of fun, and I found it tremendously hard to dislike him.
Popular Culture remembers the trend of grim and faux-mature comics of the 1980s-1990s as the Dark Age, and I wonder if DC should think about why it received that name. The Legacy of the Dark Age was a shattered comics industry, the branding of Superhero comics as niche products, and some of the worst Art and storylines ever seen. But ever since the New 52 line of comics and Man of Steel, Warner Bros and DC have been trying to return to this maligned era, to evoke the endless pouches and uber-serious gun-toting Antiheroes that symbolized everything wrong with Superhero comics.
But even if you are a fan of those comics, that aesthetic, that adolescent notion that Heroism isn’t effective, you deserve a better movie than Batman v Superman. The best works of the Dark Age used the dark tones of their contemporaries to tell daring stories that were politically and emotionally charged.
This isn’t one of them.
IF you really want to do Superhero movies a favour, and especially if you want to see a decent depiction of Batman and Superman, don’t see this movie. It will probably earn back the requisite amount of money that DC needs to keep making miserable wastes of time, but it would be nice to think that after a strong opening weekend, this film would tank.
I opened up by comparing DC’s efforts at a shared universe to Marvel’s, and it really is remarkable how different they are.
Marvel’s films are not without their flaws, but they are still, on balance, faithful depictions of their comics that thrill and wow audiences everywhere. Batman v Superman is like a gross parody of The Avengers, a crossover movie that fails to introduce us to any of the characters effectively or make us care about them. 5 years ago it seemed that The Avengers might fail, and Batman v Superman reads like an itemised list of every one of those potential failures.
Bottom line, don’t go see it, DC doesn’t need the encouragement.