Movie Review: Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice presents the gladiator match of the century between the Man of Steel and the Bat of Gotham, complete with explosions, corporate espionage, rippling muscles, and damsels both in distress and armor.

But is it a good movie?

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I went into the theater today with a hope that stood against reason.

I hoped that Batman V Superman would not be as bad as I knew it would be.

I hoped that the 30% rating it got on Rotten Tomatoes wasn’t deserved.

I hoped that I would walk out of the movie theater with a renewed faith in the heroes of my childhood and the company behind them.

My hope was misplaced.

Batman V Superman is a movie that is truly just a combination of scenes with a plot so thin running through it that you begin to doubt that it is actually there. Each scene is so disparate and the characters so poorly written that the movie quickly becomes just a slide show of photos of people you recognize in different venues and (occasionally) times.

My grievances with this movie could most easily divided into two categories: my problems with the movie as a comic book fan and my problems with the movie as an intelligent movie goer. I’m going to talk about my grievances as a comic book fan before I get to the technical issues with the movie. If you couldn’t care less about comics or think the movie represented the characters well enough, go ahead and skip the “fluff” and get to the “crunch.”

Why did no one tell us this movie would be awful?!

Why did no one tell us this movie would be awful?!

Who They Said They Were V Who They Actually Were

The characters in Batman V Superman are terribly different from the comic book versions they are based on. Most say, whatever, I don’t know the comics and this was a cool action movie with cool action and cool heroes, so whatever. But my reasoning is, these characters have years of development and canon and fan-favorite stories behind them. You have to honor that. You are not just making a movie, you are making a movie about established characters. If you wanted to make a movie about original characters, then you need to make a movie about original characters.

Jesse Eisenburg’s Lex Luthor reminded me more of the Joker or Arcade. Lex Luthor is meant to be cold and calculating. This movie’s Lex was frenetic and spastic.

Wonder Woman is a warrior woman. She is not some dainty, sexy, bikini model. I’m sure Gal Gadot is a fine actress, but, God bless her, she is tiny. Wonder Woman needs to be THICK!

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Bottom line is, if you are going to make a movie about established characters, you have to honor the canon. Give the fans some fan service rather than completely ignoring what the fans of these heroes want or expect.

Dark Superman V Darker Batman

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A terrible mistake that DC has made both with this movie and with its comics is making Superman a character with borderline morals. Superman is inherently good. The question of whether or not Superman will do good should never come up, because we know that in the end Superman will always do good. That is the beauty in his character: he is the pinnacle of heroism.

In Batman V Superman, Superman is a dark, brooding character that has become disconnected with the world. His first time on screen, he kills a man. Straight. Up. Kills him. That’s not Superman. Superman should never kill.

The most compelling Superman stories are not those where Superman struggles with the choice of doing good. The greatest Superman stories are where he explores his relationship with imperfect people. Superman does good and expects others to do so, so he is baffled when he meets someone so opposed to these ideals. Seeing Superman show compassion to a villain who has again and again done evil is what makes Superman great.

images (1)Not every hero can be Batman, but because Batman is so popular, DC has tried to make every hero under their banner darker and edgier and thereby more profitable (in their minds). But by making every hero Batman, you take away from Batman’s uniqueness. He is THE Dark Knight. That’s his thing. His shtick.

When you make Superman (the paragon of heroic virtue and goodness) dark, you must, in turn, make Batman even darker. In Batman V Superman, Batman is borderline villainous and plays out more like the Punisher than the Dark Knight. He shoots people, he stabs a guy in the heart, he blows up vehicles with people still inside, and he watches a man burn to death that he himself set on fire. Not to mention the fact that his whole motivation throughout the movie is to kill Superman. Not defeat. Not prove that a man can defeat a god like was his motivation in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, but to legitimately kill a man just because he doesn’t like what he represents. That doesn’t sound like a hero to me.

Competent Lois Lane V Damsel-in-Distress Lois Lane

Oh, Lois. For years, Lois’ sole purpose was to be the damsel in distress that Superman always shows up to save. Its a trope that has been around for years.

However, in recent years, Lois has become a more competent character, becoming both bold and vivacious instead of ditsy and in constant distress. Of course, Superman will always show up to save the day because it’s his movie and it’s what he does, but Lois Lane is not just the pretty-faced damsel she was forty years ago.

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This movie decided to undo years of character development and relegates Lois once again to a damsel in distress. Her only role in the movie was to scream and have Superman swoop in and save her. Like many characters in this film, you could have removed Lois’ part from the movie entirely and the plot would not have changed.

Now on to the crunch!

Character Recognition V Audience Investment

Probably the biggest mistake that Batman V Superman makes is this notion that just because the main characters of the movie are wildly popular that automatically means that the audience will care for them. That’s not how a movie works. A movie works by introducing a compelling character that the audience can connect to, throwing a problem in said character’s way, and then connecting even further with this character as they try to solve this problem. You can’t just put Batman and Wonder Woman on the screen and demand we love them just because. No. You have to create characters the audience can connect with and feel.

By introducing so many characters in one movie, you do not give the audience time to do so. Without giving your characters time to develop and grow, you create a cast full of one-dimensional characters that (despite their iconic memorabilia and symbols) are uncompelling and flat.

Batman V Motivation

Let’s pause for a moment to discuss why Batman wants to kill Superman so badly in Batman V Superman.

In the beginning of the movie, Bruce Wayne is racing through the streets of Metropolis parallel to the climatic events of Man of Steel (a movie I actually liked despite Dark Superman). He keeps calling some guy that the audience knows nothing about named Jake who is working in a Wayne Enterprise building near the center of Superman’s battle with the Zod. All we know about Jake is that he works for Bruce Wayne and is probably some sort of manager of his office in Metropolis or something. We don’t know.

Long story short, Wayne doesn’t get there in time to save Jake and Jake is killed in the destruction. Then, Bruce Wayne finds a girl and her mother also died in the building collapse. And then, Bruce Wayne silently vows to kill Superman.

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Why does Bruce Wayne even care? Why is this Jake guy so important to him that he makes it his mission to cross a line and kill Superman? I think his motivation would have been much more poignant if the character of Jake had been replaced by someone the audience would actually care about. Replace the character with Lucius Fox, or maybe Dick Grayson, or Selina Kyle, or Alfred, and then we could really understand Bruce Wayne’s vendetta. This is personal now!

But no. We got Jake. Jake died. Now Superman must die. #weakestmotivationever

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JAKE!!!

Action V Dialogue

This movie was marketed as this great, action-packed movie. Its title is Batman V Superman, and so you come into the movie thinking the entire movie will be Batman and Superman going at it and fighting each other, but in actuality, the “epic” battle is a itty, bitty scuffle that takes up only about 20 minutes of the movie…

So, in the absence of action, you would think there would be some really deep dialogue and exposition, but there isn’t. Character lines are as disjointed as the plot. Lex Luthor keeps whipping out these really epic one-liners, but they are nonsensical. It’s like listening to a movie trailer. All these cool lines, but they are all out of context. Except, they are supposed to be in context, because they are in a movie!

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So, then, if the action is relegated to a very small part of the movie and the dialogue is sparse and nonsensical, then what does this movie spend its two and a half hours of run time on?

Honestly, if anyone could tell me so I could put it in this review, that would be great, because I honestly don’t know.

Writers V Plot

This movie just had bad writing. It’s as simple as that. There are so many insignificant stories going on in the background that the meaning of the story and the story itself soon becomes lost. So much of what happened in this movie was unneeded.

At one point of the movie, the audience is whisked away with no warning to the future (but you aren’t told its the future, you kind of just have to figure it out once you get over the initial confusion). After a really confusing time with little explanation, it turns out that Batman can apparently see into the future and then Flash shows up and says some stuff about Lois and Superman is a villain and there are parademons and Batman wears a duster and then it’s over. (Of course, in typical keeping with the rest of the movie, the character of Flash is not named or given any exposition. He pops in and literally says “Am I early? I’m too early.” And then he disappears… Great introduction, guys. And can we talks about how Grant Gustin got straight up snubbed for the role of Flash on a cinematic scale? That’s a really jerk move on DC’s part. Anyways, back to the flash forward scene.) This scene really left me scratching my head since it was completely unrelated to the rest of the movie and served solely to set up the Justice League movie.

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It’s not unheard of to have a really well-written movie with multiple intertwining plot lines, but this movie was not well-written and the plot lines never came together to form a big picture. Apparently, Lex Luthor organized this elaborate game of cat and mouse to pit Superman and Batman against one another. But the reason of why is never explored. Does he want to kill Superman? Does he want to kill Batman? Does he have some vendetta against either? It’s not really explained. All the while, Lex is wanting to reanimate General Zod’s lifeless body as a Kryptonian abomination to… do…. things… I don’t know.

Luthor’s reason for making Doomsday is, again, not explained. But it turns out to be very fortuitous for him when everything backfires and he’s like “Oh. I have this Doomsday. So, you can fight it.” But it wasn’t like a Plan B situation or a “I knew this would happen, so I created something to kill you both!” No. He just created Doomsday for reasons unknown and now they’ll fight.

I'm here. So... That's cool, right?

I’m here. So… That’s cool, right?

The plot of this movie reads like a badly written fan fiction in which the plot’s only reason for existeing is to serve as an excuse for two heroes that normally wouldn’t fight one another to fight each other. The director’s reason for making this movie was obviously to put Batman in a Supermanbuster suit and have him fight Superman. Everything else is secondary, including plot and character development.

At the end of the movie there were these weak attempts at humor that were completely out of place. This has been an exceedingly dark movie and then you throw in random one-liner humor and it’s like… What is this? Where is this coming from?

Just another example of how disjointed this movie was.

Climax V Character Introduction

The plot of Batman V Superman moves along almost as sporadically as Lex Luthor’s dialogue. One glaring example of how lurchingly this plot plods along came at the moment of the climax.

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Still a better love story than Twilight.

The entire movie has been building to the final confrontation between Batman and Superman. The entire reason people have come to see this movie is to see these two fight. The moment we’ve waited for is finally at hand, Superman is flying off to fight Batman and the climax is right within our grasp, and then… it is taken away from us.

We cut to a scene where Wonder Woman is on her laptop (I know, right? Wonder Woman using a laptop? It fits her character really well. #sarcasm) and the flow of rising action is interrupted all so Wonder Woman can watch some videos introducing the Justice League.

Once again, this scene is unneeded. All it does it set up the next movie, the one you aren’t seeing yet, the one you didn’t pay money to see. DC is so impatient about executing their answer to Marvel’s The Avengers, that they cannot help but jam as many references to the Justice League as they can into this movie. Even at the expense of Batman V Superman’s quality. Instead of focusing on the next movie, maybe the writers should focus on this movie. In fact, this movie was basically just a two and a half hour commercial for Justice League.

(Not to mention the resolution of Batman and Superman’s conflict. You want to hear it? Superman and Batman realize their moms had the same first name. Then, they decided to be bros. I’m dead serious. That’s the film’s resolution.)

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Marvel V DC

If there was any doubt that DC is scared out of their minds by Marvel’s recent success both in comics and in movies, this movie will put that doubt to rest. Batman V Superman is a blatant attempt for DC to mimic Marvel Studios success with The Avengers movies (the first, no so much Age of Ultron). Marvel made a very risky move in making an Avengers movie and the risk proved to be exceedingly well worth it. DC wants that. In fact, it would appear that they are desperate for it.

However, rather than putting in the work that Marvel did in laying the groundwork before actually making the Avengers movie, DC wants to jump right to the end and reap the rewards.

The sad news for DC is that it does not work that way.

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Marvel went about making a super hero team movie in the right way. They gave each character their own movie. They allowed the characters to grow, to develop, and reveal to the audience just who they were. By the time they all gathered together in the Avengers, we knew who each character was because we had seen their movie. They were three-dimensional and fleshed out. Marvel put in years before realizing The Avengers and I bet that sometimes they doubted it would even work, but, because of their tenacity and hard work, it did.

DC is doing none of that. They literally threw all of the Justice League into the sequel of Superman’s movie. (Yes. Let’s not forget that this was a sequel to Man of Steel and was meant to be a Superman movie. I know, I know: the people making this movie obviously forgot that, but as an intelligent audience, we should not.) YOU CANNOT DEVELOP CHARACTERS LIKE THAT. By introducing so many characters in one movie, you give them no time to develop or grow. They become woefully one-dimensional and sadly unengaging (ie: Batman and Robin, Spider-Man 3.) You have to give us a reason to care for the characters besides their names alone.

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I could not have put this better myself.

The Acting

NEepMlDY4rLEif_1_b (1)A movie starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Lawrence Fishburne, Jesse Eisenburg, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Gal Gadot, and Holly Hunter. What a stellar cast! This movie cannot fail to be good!

But it did. Oh, it did.

But not for lack of good acting. Ben Affleck did a stellar job acting Batman, it’s just the movie suffered from mind-numbingly bad writing! Every actor got a minuscule amount of screen time. Jeremy Irons is an impeccable actor, so why in the world would he agree to be in a movie where he got crappy lines that were few and far between?

As loathe as I am to admit it, Jesse Eisenburg’s performance was the standout performance of the movie. I mean, the character he played was not Lex Luthor, but his sporadic delivery and twitches and nuances were so great. I would have loved to seen him as the Joker. I think he would have nailed the role.

The Music

Another film scored by the incomparable Hans Zimmer. This guy has scored films ranging from romantic comedies to blockbuster action movies and everything he touches is golden. This time around he is joined by Junkie XL, the up-and-coming composer noted for his recent accomplishments with Mad Max: Fury Road‘s soundtrack.

The pair work wonderfully together and the result is a soundtrack full of beautiful strings and cyberpunk instruments.

All I can say is: what a waste to have such a great soundtrack on such a horrible movie.

The Kids

Is Batman V Superman appropriate for kids?

As much as I want to say it’s not, it really is. There’s not a lot of cussing and as indiscriminately as Batman kills, there is very little blood shed. There is a scene with a Man-Bat creature that pops out and scares the audience that may be too frightening for younger children. There is some partial nudity with Amy Adams in a bathtub and General Zod’s lifeless, naked body, but nothing is shown, only hinted at.

I mean, I can convince you why it won’t be worth your time, but your kids may find the action-packed nonsense entertaining.

The Grade

Batman V Superman is a movie that could have been stellar. A conflict between two of the world’s most recognizable heroes at the forefront, a really accomplished director behind the camera, and a great cast of actors with real promise are horribly derailed by poor writing, underdeveloped characters, and a confusing and contrastingly simplistic plot.

I give Batman V Superman a grade of…

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I hate to say it as much as you do, folks, but them’s the breaks. I eagerly wait for the day when DC returns to what it once was and I can fall in love with my childhood heroes again, but that day is not today. Have you seen Batman V Superman? If not, save your money. If so, what are your thoughts on it? Let me know in the comments below.

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