The biggest revelation found in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has nothing to do with the Justice League, Lex Luthor’s motivations, or why Batman and Superman would even want to fight each other in the first place. No, what Batman v Superman makes abundantly clear is that Zack Snyder is a vastly-overrated filmmaker who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near DC Comics properties if he’s going to continue to make such disjointed and uninteresting adaptations.
That may sound harsh, but Snyder has had two chances now to get this right and has come up far short of expectations on both occasions. And this is coming from someone who actually enjoyed Man of Steel in spite of its many faults. Going into Batman v Superman, I was willing to give Snyder and screenwriters David Goyer and Chris Terrio (who was brought in to help Snyder do script rewrites) the benefit of the doubt. Man of Steel had some great ideas but suffered from poor execution in parts, so surely Batman v Superman would address some of these criticisms and make some improvements. And to be fair, Batman v Superman does tackle some of those Man of Steel complaints head on, with a fantastic opening that retroactively makes the latter film better. Unfortunately, once Batman v Superman leaves its predecessor behind and starts to forge its own path, it quickly goes off the rails and only seems to get worse over the course of its too-long run time.
The plot of this film is all over the place, with a variety of poorly-sequenced scenes that feel haphazardly stitched together. The film jumps around between many different characters and locations at an alarming rate and as a result, we don’t get to spend enough time with any character or plot point long enough to get truly invested. This is a film that drowns under the weight of its own importance, as it not only has to spend a large amount of time setting up the central conflict between its titular heroes (that still somehow feels woefully inadequate), but also has to lay the groundwork for about five different films in the newly-established DC cinematic universe. Snyder has claimed that the director’s cut will clock in around the three hour mark and it honestly feels like the film could use every minute of that time, the theatrical cuts being so over-edited and hacked up as it is.
While Batman v Superman transitions from its boring, disjointed first half to almost exclusively action and spectacle in the second, it doesn’t get any less incoherent. The main conflict between Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill) is far too short for ostensibly being the film’s central conflict, and the actual reasons behind the fight borders on laughable. This is hardly the “greatest gladiator match in the history of the world” as Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor describes it; it’s a largely-pointless battle that just makes you feel bad for Superman.
Speaking of which, can we talk about Superman for a minute and why Zack Snyder and David Goyer seem to hate him so much? Despite the best efforts of Cavill, who does the best with what he is given, Batman v Superman confirms that Snyder and co. do not understand the character on a fundamental level. Rather than the aspirational figure that fans have loved for over 75 years now in the comics, Snyder’s Superman is mopey and dark, to the point where he feels almost identical to Batman in terms of characterization, which absolutely misses the point of Superman. Somehow, Superman feels like even less of a hero here than he did in Man of Steel, and at least that film had the crutch of the character still trying to figure things out to lean on. Batman v Superman has no such excuse and is hands down one of the worst portrayals of the character.
That being said, Superman’s issues are relatively minor compared to the massive misstep that is Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. Eisenberg is absolutely terrible in this role, delivering a performance that is a cross between The Joker and his portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg from The Social Network, and character motivations that seem to change at the drop of a hat. This version of Lex Luthor is frankly an embarrassment and Eisenberg’s performance is so cringe-worthy that I actually started to feel uncomfortable in my seat every time he was on screen. If Eisenberg was trying to make his version of Lex Luthor so campy that he’d feel out of place in the 1960s Batman TV series, he undoubtedly accomplished this feat. This time next year, he could very well have a Razzie with his name on it for his contributions here. Oh, and Doomsday amounts to little more than a CGI punching bag for the film’s heroes to beat up on in the final act. The fight is okay, I guess. At least it gives Wonder Woman something to do.
Although Batman v Superman is unquestionably a trainwreck of epic proportions, it does have some redeeming qualities that make me excited about certain parts of DC’s upcoming film slate. Ben Affleck is a great Batman and Bruce Wayne, balancing the two sides of the character better than Christian Bale was ever able to do. Despite some extremely questionable decisions with this Batman’s characterization (namely, the fact that he is a killer), it’s hard not to get excited about the prospect of a new Batman solo film with Affleck at the helm. And though he’s relegated largely to being a voice in Batman’s ear for most of his screen time, Jeremy Irons doesn’t miss a beat portraying Alfred, to the point where you’ll hardly miss Michael Caine in the role (which is really saying something considering how likable Caine was).
Batman v Superman‘s most commendable achievement though is arguably Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, who defies all the naysayers who said she wasn’t right for the role by absolutely stealing the show. Yes, it’s unfortunate that she gets so little screen time and next to no character development, but right now, Wonder Woman is the most exciting component of the DC movieverse and I can’t wait to see what Patty Jenkins does with the character in next year’s solo film.
Batman v Superman‘s few bright spots are heavily outweighed by its many, many problems. Its many sins include but are not limited to: every major female character except for Wonder Woman is relegated to being either a damsel in distress or simply killed, Batman doesn’t mind killing people for some reason, and the universe-building for future DC films is so heavy-handed (particularly the “Knightmare” dream sequence that should have just been cut altogether) that it will likely go over the heads of all but the most avid DC Comics fan.
Honestly, I envy anyone who enjoys Batman v Superman because it is no fun to see characters you love turned into abominations such as they’re presented here. There’s nothing wrong with superhero films trying to go into darker storytelling territory (for the most part, Christopher Nolan did a great job with this with his Dark Knight trilogy) but Batman v Superman is so committed to its grim depiction of DC heroes to the point of not being any fun to watch. This film’s problems aren’t enough to write off future DC films entirely (thankfully, it’s impossible for Snyder to be involved in all of them), but right now the prospect of more films set in the overly grim and depressing world presented by Batman v Superman feels more like a threat than something to look forward to.
Batman v Superman is a flaming garbage pile of a superhero movie with few redeemable qualities. Wonder Woman is cool, at least.