Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice should be one of the most exciting superhero movies ever made. It not only features two of the most popular characters in comic book history together for the first time in live action, but is also the opening salvo in the DC movie universe, which is looking to compete directly with Marvel’s enormously successful slate of features for the next decade and beyond. While the film has been successful enough from a financial standpoint to justify future films in the franchise, as a film, Batman v Superman is a real heartbreaker. It’s definitely not Fantastic Four bad, but it’s is easily one of the worst superhero films of the last decade and makes us hesitant to want to go see future films in the franchise. Really, this list could be doubled in size and still not cover all the problems with this film, but for brevity’s sake, here are the main reasons why Batman v Superman utterly disappoints.
Warning: Full SPOILERS for Batman v Superman are discussed in this post.
10. Batman’s Kill Policy
One of Batman v Superman’s few pleasures is Ben Affleck’s portrayal of Batman, which if nothing else inspires confidence in the actor’s ability to carry his own solo movie. Unfortunately, while Affleck’s performance is worthy of praise, the film’s characterization of Batman borders on offensive. For some unfathomable reason (other than it being a lazy way of establishing the character’s grimness) Zack Snyder and his screenwriters made this version of Batman a seemingly remorseless killer. Batman kills at least a dozen people in this film, which wouldn’t be such a problem if the film did a better job justifying it. Yes, Alfred (Jeremy Irons) pays a bit of lip service to Batman’s escalating level of violence but even with that brief speech, it’s difficult to accept Batman as a killer.
While contrarian comic readers (you know: the TRUE fans) will tell you that Batman is a killer, this isn’t an overriding trait of the character most of us know. Batman goes out of his way to avoid killing because it’s the one thing that separates him from the criminals he hunts. There’s a reason one of the central conflicts of The Dark Knight — still the best Batman film ever made — revolves around Batman’s refusal to kill. In Batman v Superman, all this is stripped away, to the point where Batman often comes off as a thug rather than a hero.
9. Terrible Pacing
A live action film that pairs Batman and Superman together for the first time should be one of the most exciting movie events of the year, yet for huge stretches of its runtime, Batman v Superman is anything but. The first half of this film is filled with scene-after-scene that just stops the pacing dead in its tracks. This is because the editing is a mess, to the point where the film plays out like a collection of loosely-stitched together scenes with little connective tissue. You would think a scene where Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) directly references Clark Kent disappearing all the time back to Kansas would transition to a scene of Clark at home in Smallville because that’s how basic storytelling works. Not in Batman v Superman! Thankfully, things pick up a bit in the second half thanks to the film finally getting to the point and letting the conflicts its spent too much time setting up actually play out, but by that point, you’ll probably be so exhausted and bored by the terrible pacing to stay invested in what’s going on.
8. Poor Set-Up For Future Films
Batman v Superman is a very impatient film. There’s no rule that says Warner Bros. had to copy Marvel’s model of universe-building, but given that the latter studio has proven time and again that their model is working, it may not have been the worst idea. Instead of featuring some post-credit teases, Batman v Superman’s set-up for future DC universe films feel like intrusive commercial breaks that register as annoying rather than exciting. Characters such as The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg are reduced to scenes that look like poorly-made Youtube videos … and then there are the dream sequences, which may very well be the worst moments in the entire film.
Hardcore comic fans will tell you that the “Knightmare” dream sequence is the coolest scene in the film, as it hints at future events that could come to pass in the DC cinematic universe. It’s admirable that the writers wanted to include a scene that would excite DC Comics buffs, but in terms of execution, this is one giant misfire. If you’re going to feature a scene that will baffle 99% of the audience, maybe wait to show it until after the credits instead of dropping it like a bomb in the middle of the film. This whole sequence could have been cut and it wouldn’t have changed a thing … other than not putting audiences to sleep, that is.
7. Heavy-Handed Religious Themes
DC heroes are often referred to as “Gods,” so it makes sense that Batman v Superman pays lip service to this theme. The problem is that it just doesn’t shut up about it. Characters (mostly Lex Luthor) drone on and on about how Superman is a God, a demon, an angel — to the point where it feels like every religious allegory you can think of is discussed in this film — although oddly enough, Jesus is never mentioned by name, even though Superman is definitely portrayed as a Christ figure. It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with making reference to superheros and their religious symbolism — in fact, it’s a compelling thematic concern when done properly — it’s just that Batman v Superman hammers the point home so frequently that it’s robbed of any thematic weight. We get it: Superman is like a god/devil on Earth; now try and show us this point without just saying it every five minutes.
6. Ridiculously Convoluted Plot
Almost nothing is straightforward when it comes to Batman v Superman’s plot. So many scenes in this film play out like pointless busy work, which makes sense when you realize that every plot beat has far too many steps involved. For instance, Lex Luthor’s various ploys to incite public disdain for Superman are largely unnecessary and make little logical sense. Why would Superman be blamed for the African massacre when guns were used to carry it out? It’s not like he needs to use a gun. That’s just one example of the many ways that this film takes a basic plot that’s actually pretty good and makes it needlessly obtuse and convoluted. If Warner Bros. hadn’t tried to cram in so many different plot beats in service of future films in the franchise and instead had just let the film be about the conflict between Batman and Superman, there might have been a pretty good movie here. Instead, Batman v Superman is totally unfocused and is more concerned with looking ahead to the next half dozen DC films than just being a good movie in its own right.
5. Mishandling of Female Characters
It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that a film featuring two muscle-bound, angry men as its leads would treat its female characters as second-class citizens, but the sheer depths of Batman v Superman’s mistreatment of women is actually baffling. Other than Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), every major female character in this film is either kidnapped or murdered. This film completely wastes the talents of Amy Adams; her Lois Lane plays a major role but is used more as a plot device than a three-dimensional character worthy of our emotional investment. She literally needs to be saved by Superman on three separate occasions, making one wonder if she really meant to call herself a victim in her ostensibly-empowering “I’m not a lady, I’m a journalist” line. The rest of the women fare even worse: Martha Kent (Diane Lane) is little more than a plot device to get Superman to fight Batman, Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) is threatened by a jar of urine before being blown up, and even Wonder Woman is barely given a personality beyond being a badass (which, to be fair, is perfectly acceptable given how overstuffed the cast is).
4. Title Fight Letdown
For a film that marketed itself as a colossal showdown between its two titular superheroes, it’s strange that Batman v Superman’s title fight is such a deflating experience. The film spends close to two hours painfully setting up a fight between Batman and Superman, only to have the whole thing last all of ten minutes. The fight itself has a few cool moments and is at least a bit more thematically-satisfying than the CGI slugfest that plays out later with Doomsday, but the main problem is that the film botches the build-up to what should be a showstopping event in almost every way.
A significant portion of the film is spent establishing why Batman believes he must destroy Superman and for the most part, his motivations make sense. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Superman, who is goaded into fighting Batman after Lex Luthor threatens to kill his mother if he doesn’t kill Batman. Naturally, Superman appeals to Batman’s humanity by explaining the situation to him … oh wait, he eventually does that after nearly being stabbed by Batman’s kryptonite spear. After all, Superman’s mom is named Martha, the same as Batman’s, so all is forgiven! As a result of this mismanagement, you end up just feeling sorry for Superman throughout the entire fight, which makes it almost unbearable to sit through when it should be thrilling.
3. Zack Snyder
Zack Snyder has proven himself to be an accomplished visual director and has made several excellent films including 300 and Watchmen. That being said, Batman v Superman proves that unless he’s doing a direct adaptation, Snyder doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing. Of course, it would be unreasonable to lay all the blame for the film’s many issues solely at Snyder’s feet, but as an auteur filmmaker whose decisions have resulted in two largely-mediocre superhero movies in a row, it’s hard to see things getting much better for Justice League, which Snyder is next attached to direct.
The main problem is that Snyder misinterprets these characters on a fundamental level; rather than the aspirational figures fans have admired for decades, Batman and Superman are presented here as two destructive personalities who occasionally save people, but are far more concerned with their own petty grievances. If Warner Bros. had any sense, they would replace Snyder on Justice League to try and steer the franchise away from the filmmaker’s overbearing style, but as that is unlikely to happen, we can only hope that he learns from some of Batman v Superman’s failings and addresses them accordingly going forward.
2. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor
There is so much wrong with Batman v Superman’s rendition of Lex Luthor it’s hard to even know where to begin. Setting aside that his motivations seem to change from scene-to-scene — first he wants to kill Superman because he just doesn’t like him, then he wants Superman to kill Batman instead, then he wants to play God because the film needs someone to create Doomsday — Luthor’s poor characterization may have been somewhat forgivable if Jesse Eisenberg wasn’t delivering the hammiest comic book villain performance this side of the 60s Batman TV series. Now, this is not an attack on Eisenberg as an actor, as he has delivered some fine performances in the past, but this is a case of miscasting on an epic scale. It only becomes more disheartening when you realize that Snyder had been actively looking at casting Bryan Cranston for the role before coming up with the “brilliant” idea of casting Eisenberg as a younger, maniacal turd version of the character. Yeah, thanks for that one Zack.
1. Superman Betrayed
Of all the characters in Batman v Superman, it’s Superman that arguably gets the worst deal. This film misinterprets the character on such a fundamental level that it’s almost insulting. Superman is supposed to inspire hope (hell, that’s the literal meaning of the “S” on his chest) but in this film, he just inspires fear and pity. The early scene that shows the destruction of Metropolis from Bruce Wayne’s level does a fine job of setting up Batman’s motivations for wanting to take Superman down, but unfortunately sets a precedent for the rest of the film where Superman comes off as a bad guy. He saves some people, yes, but none of it feels sincere. Nothing is organic about Superman’s heroism; when he saves someone, it feels more like the filmmakers saying “See! He’s a hero!” then something this version of Superman actually wants to do. Oh and then the film ends with Superman getting killed because that’s what has to happen when you put Doomsday in the same film, apparently. Yes, Batman v Superman kills Superman off and his death is largely meaningless because he’s barely established himself as a hero yet. This character deserves better.