And I don’t think changing him… you know, people are always like, “You changed Superman,” and I’m like, if you’re a comic book fan, you know I didn’t change Superman. If you know the true canon, you know that I didn’t change Superman. – Zack Snyder
Batman v Superman had everything going for it. A great cast, decades of content to draw from, and hundreds of millions of dollars should have laid a successful foundation for a great superhero film. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. While the film had enjoyable moments, its flaws far outweighed its positive qualities. There have been hundreds of articles published about how Zack Snyder didn’t “get” the characters in this movie. I have decided to focus on the flaws in directing and film making that lead to this film’s downfall, instead of analyzing his interpretations of the Justice League as characters… except with Wonder Woman. (You knew that was coming…)
Superman is easily the least likable character in the entire film. This is an impressive feat of crappy directing considering the Man of Steel is played by Henry Cavill, who I have adored since The Tudors. I haven’t seen a talented actor given such bland direction and such terrible dialogue since the Star Wars prequels. We are introduced to Superman through the eyes of the citizens of Metropolis during his fight with General Zod from Man of Steel. He is a small figure flying above them as buildings crumble and people die. The level of destruction is unforgivable, especially to an audience that lives in a post 9/11 world, and afterwards Superman NEVER MENTIONS IT OR EVEN SEEMS REMORSEFUL. The people of Metropolis build a huge statue of him as part of their memorial, but no time is given to redeeming Superman in the audiences’ eyes. We get a handful of shots of Superman being a hero (while looking depressed and unhappy), but Snyder doesn’t spend any time building him up as a hero in our eyes. Most of Cavill’s dialogue is focused on how dangerous Batman is, which after the opening scenes of Metropolis being leveled seems forced and incredibly hypocritical. The script never provides any depth of character, endearing moments, or proper motivation for his thoughts or actions. The lame attempts to humanize him via bathtub sex with Lois Lane or weird dream sequences about Jonathan Kent stacking rocks fail. I found myself agreeing with the characters who thought Superman was dangerous and wanted to stop him. Snyder slacked on character building because he thought we’d support anyone wearing the “S”, and he was very wrong.
The Lex from Batman v Superman is actually more like Lex, Jr. from the comics. He didn’t build Lex Corp, and is lacking the serious businessman attitude that we are used to seeing in more traditional renditions of this infamous villain. Oh, and he has hair. The character actually works as a young, socially awkward tech-billionaire, but Snyder sacrifices the genius that makes the comic book character worthy of being Superman’s nemesis in favor of more CGI and slo-mo. NOTHING ABOUT LEX’S PLANS MAKE SENSE! He is king of the plot holes. He kills a Senator because she is going to block the importation of Kryptonite, but his secret ship with the rock is already docked so it wouldn’t have impacted his plans at all. He blows up a hearing that was going to impose sanctions AGAINST Superman (wouldn’t Lex want that?) because Snyder thought it would be cool to watch a room of innocent people burn up around Superman. Finally, we get to the big master plan: trick Batman into killing Superman. Considering nobody has actually tested Kryptonite against Superman yet, this seems like a really bad plan. Plan B is even worse because Lex turns General Zod’s body into one of the cave trolls from Lord of the Rings to kill Superman, just in case Batman fails. WHAT IF BATMAN HAD WON?? We’d have a mindless cave troll, sorry, DOOMSDAY on the loose and Superman would already be dead. Or what if Doomsday had succeeded in killing Superman and then was unstoppable and destroyed everything? Bad plan, Lex.
More annoying than the lame Wile E. Coyote level plots was Lex’s complete lack of motivation. His goal is obviously to beat Superman, but we never know why. He makes some comments about devils coming from above, that absolute power and innocence are incompatible, and references his father’s physical abuse, but we are never told the reason for his hate. Is he jealous of Superman’s power? Afraid for mankind? Maybe someone he cared about was killed in Metropolis? In true Snyder fashion we get some cool shots of Lex Corp and some weird dialogue instead of real character development or backstory.
(AKA the other billionaire in the movie trying to kill Superman) Bruce Wayne/Batman is the most developed character in the movie and is the only one whose motivation we actually know. We saw him trying to save lives in the streets of Metropolis as Superman and Zod tore it apart. He clearly states that he wants vengeance for the thousands killed that day and is terrified by Superman’s unlimited power. That’s really where the good stuff ends. This Batman brands people for no logical reason, other than Snyder needs a plot device that gives Superman a reason to hate him. I really love (read: think it’s stupid) that it’s the branding that pisses Superman off and not the FLAT OUT MURDER of bad guys with the Batmobile’s machine guns. Most troubling is the fact that we are given absolutely no history of this Batman’s crime fighting. Has he always been a murderous vigilante? Did he start out as a hero and then start killing after losing hope? Did the death of a friend break him? Was he pushed to this extreme after the appearance of Superman and the realization of his own limitations? The cops seem to hate him, but there is still a Batsignal? No relevant background information is given to the audience to put Batman’s actions in the larger context of his time in the cowl. But good thing we spent time showing Bruce’s parents being murdered… again.
Since I disliked Snyder’s city-murdering Superman I was really hoping that Batman would be a hero. He isn’t. I get that this is an older, darker Batman, but he never does any real detective work or uses his brain. In Snyder’s attempt to put at much mindless testosterone in the movie as possible, his ONE big scene with the Bat Computer is interspersed with shots of Bruce doing Crossfit in the Bat Cave. Batman’s intelligence is what makes him so powerful in the DC universe, however we see no evidence of it in this movie.
Maybe it’s the Gotham City in me, but it just seems like another example of the script taking a back seat to the visuals of the movie.
I am pretty pleased with Wonder Woman’s appearance in Batman v Superman. She looks great and wasn’t in it enough for Snyder to ruin. We don’t really get any character development or backstory for her, but I’m thrilled that they are leaving that to the Wonder Woman movie and Patty Jenkins. It seems that some important elements of her traditional comic book persona are intact. She goes by the name Diana Prince and is immortal (or at least doesn’t age) since we see pictures of her from World War I. We see her kick some serious ass in the fight with Doomsday, and it seems her bracelets deflect even the most powerful of blows, and SHE HAS A GLOWING GOLD LASSO that she uses effectively in battle. Considering how little Batman does in the fight, and how much time Superman spent talking to Lois Lane, I think it’s safe to say that Wonder Woman was the MVP of that beat down.
Wonder Woman spends most of the movie at fancy parties. Her role in the movie seems out of place, which is unsurprising since they added Wonder Woman to the story long after the project was developed. She is trying to track down a picture that Lex Luthor has of her from World War I and serves as proof that she is superhuman. Unfortunately, it seems that Diana doesn’t understand how digital files work and that Lex probably has back up copies somewhere, but it does lead to her meeting Bruce Wayne. There were some golden moments through, despite her brief appearances and few lines. One of my favorites is when Lex references Greek mythology in a lame speech as a party, and the camera cuts to Diana rolling her eyes. (Yes, I was the only person in the theatre that laughed at that point.) The shot of her from WWI is intriguing and combined with her lines about pulling away from the world makes me WANT to know more about her history. WWI is an underrepresented war in motion pictures and I can’t wait to see how they tie in my favorite Amazon. Finally, there is the now infamous smile during her fight with Doomsday which shows that Gal gets some of what Diana is about.
The feisty reporter serves the same role in this movie as she did in her early appearances in the comics, a damsel in distress for Superman to save… repeatedly. She spends most of the movie tracking a mystery bullet that ends up being meaningless to the plot and a huge waste of screen time. Nothing she learns gives the “good guys” any advantage, or gives the audience any more information than they already had. Mostly she is there as a plot device to put Superman in danger.
The Justice League
“Shoehorned” doesn’t quite cover how forced and clunky the addition of other Justice League characters was in Batman v Superman. Batman emails Wonder Woman the files of super-humans that he stole from Lex Luthor’s files. We then cut to shots of Wonder Woman READING that email line by line (what??) and then opening each file. I’d like to point out that each file is labeled with the logo of its corresponding Justice League member. (I guess Lex designed their logos? Did he design their costumes too?) She opens each file and views footage worthy of any made for Syfy movie. Seriously. The scene of Cyborg’s creation looks like a badly made TV show, not like laboratory footage like they intended. Aquaman’s debut was awkward for the audience and the actor alike. He looked so uncomfortable underwater that it made us feel uncomfortable to watch him. Seriously pathetic. Flash’s security camera footage wasn’t too bad, but his crazy time-travel appearance in Batman’s dream-within-a-dream (screw you Snyder) confused everyone and had NOTHING TO DO WITH ANY PLOT POINTS. He warns Batman to save Lois Lane but there are no points where this warning seems to matter after that. I guess maybe they are hinting at Batman being able to tell the future? No clue. Even with decades of comic book knowledge at my disposal I found this confusing.
Zack Snyder is the master of cool visual effects and slow motion. He is also the king of badly developed characters, plot holes and wasted screen time. I think that it’s ok for DC’s movies to have a gritty, real-world feel. They don’t need to copy Marvel’s light-hearted formula, but they do need to make sense! I’m fine with seeing Batman and Superman deal with the consequences of vigilantism politically and in their personal lives, but we have to care about the characters for any of that to matter. The audience has to see more than bad ass CGI action to become involved in the story emotionally, and this is where Snyder has failed. He tried to stuff too much into this movie, which made it all meaningless because there wasn’t enough time spent on anything for us to become invested.
Zack Snyder is a bad movie maker. He took two of the most emotionally complex stories in the DC universe, combined them, and managed to make them incredibly generic. Warner Bros. shares the blame. In their desperation to catch up to Marvel they have not taken the necessary time to build up their universe. Combine that rush with a director who already cuts corners in his storytelling and you have a recipe for disaster. We told them we were unhappy after Man of Steel and there have been red flags about Batman v Superman since the project started. WB didn’t listen. Hopefully, the 69% drop in revenue from opening weekend will finally catch their attention. We aren’t going to love something just because it has the Bat-logo on it. MAKE A GOOD MOVIE!
Wake up, WB! Keep Snyder in charge the visuals, because it’s the only thing he is good at, and get someone with the chops to create a real cinematic universe for DC! A universe with depth and characters that we actually see as heroes.