Batman vs. Superman

Batman vs Superman(File this under the “better late than never” category.)

Hollywood is comic book movies. Comic book movies are Hollywood. The fit seems both natural and perverse. Every film is about the suspension of disbelief. Graphic novels are visual representations that transition simply to the screen now that computer and traditional effects are strong enough to depict them. But, if we are honest, few comic book films strive to be cinematic art. For me, an excellent film has to provoke thought. It has to transport the viewer, not just visually, but intellectually and emotionally. There are only one or two comic book films that come close. Most of them don’t even attempt to move beyond the visual spectacle. To its credit, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice makes an effort to transcend the type.

The film starts with a minimal origin story, but quickly moves to Batman/Bruce Wayne’s (Ben Affleck) perception of the events at the end of the Man of Steel. A Wayne Enterprises office and some of its employees join the ruins and the lost souls in Metropolis. The carnage convinces Wayne, and eventually the government, that Superman (Henry Cavill) could be a threat instead of a savior. Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) tries to manipulate the “god” and the “man” into a confrontation. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) lurks around the periphery and her alter ego, Wonder Woman, eventually plays a supportive, but important, role. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is present but does little.

Ultimately, Batman vs. Superman demonstrates an interesting suspicion of power. Bruce Wayne is convinced that Superman is too strong and could become a threat to the planet he has sworn to protect. Clark Kent believes Batman is a lawless vigilante that is indeed a dark and un-shining knight. The conflict is built on misunderstanding as opposed to well found truths. Luthor uses the mist surrounding the heroes to construct the battle between them, while Wonder Woman eventually works to defuse it.

Batman vs. Superman‘s reach exceeds its grasp. An air of artificiality pervades the conflict, which is not developed well enough to feel genuine. Batman, as we find him in this universe, disentangled from Christopher Nolan’s superior trilogy, is thinly drawn and morose. Batman should be dour, but with cause. Instead of a realized character, we have vague impressions and not meaningful motivations. Yet another Batman origin story does little to anchor Affleck’s performance, which in itself is not bad, but limited by the material. Cavill’s Superman looks the part, but seems stunted. As seen in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Cavill oozes charm and sophistication in the right role. Perhaps Superman’s sometimes oppressive earnestness does not mesh well with his skills, or maybe the script left him too little. Either way, neither of our leads shine.

The supporting players are a mixed bag. Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is a spastic amalgam. He fails to radiate brilliance or venom, but only an awkward energy that smacks of an introvert hopped up on Red Bull attempting to appeal to a prom date. Gal Godot is more successful as Wonder Woman. She looks the part of a powerful princess and her fight scenes more than hint at her lethal dexterity. She has more than a cameo, but too little screen time to be a character.

In the end, Batman vs. Superman is an awkward bridge between Man of Steel and upcoming films revolving around Wonder Woman and the Justice League. Maybe we will look back at it as a successful launching pad, but as a stand alone film, it struggles to satisfy. The DC Universe is trying to cut too many corners. This film, building on top of single films that more fully developed both Affleck’s Batman and Gadot’s Wonder Woman, could have leaned on known commodities so that the conflict between Batman and Superman might have resonated. Instead, too much is shoehorned into this narrative.

Grade: 1/3 Eggheads

7 thoughts on “Batman vs. Superman”

  1. They are just trying to catch up with Marvel instead of making their own universe. It is really unfortunate because the imagery and themes in this movie had an opportunity to be very interesting and very deep. The original story involved Superman working for the US Government and Batman being told to hang up his cape. Bruce was forced into a corner and ended up taking down superman. This was designed to be a statement about government overstepping their bounds and using Superman as a one man army to enforce peace. In this new movie Batman came off as a paranoid killer who didn’t like superman for whatever reason. Poor plot and poor development of the story. No one’s motives were clear and the whole thing felt like a director fitting 10 unrelated scenes into a movie. It was very disjointed and compelling. I will say Mr. Affleck was one of the better incarnations of the caped crusader, but the script he was working with limited his ceiling. This piece was supposed to be a deep story based on the political statements made by Frank Miller. Instead we got a convoluted movie designed to let them make more movies and sell toys.

  2. I am certainly no comic book expert, and perhaps don’t understand how “lame” the movie really was in comparison to either the overarching story line in books or other comic movies. However, as an ignorant layperson I thought Batman v. Superman brought up some interesting questions about civil theology and democracy. Lex Luthor was explicit in his questioning of the ability for a divine being to be simultaneously good and sovereign. We might ask why that question was put in the mouth of Luthor’s character, and how it was resolved by the end of the movie. In some sense, the movie gave us the ultimate extremes that Aristotle warns about: to try to be more than human, you end up either beast (Batman) or angel (Superman). There was also the explicit and guiding question of how a democratic regime can deal with those who are visibly un-equal, i.e. those who transcend humanness. The force of democratizing was particularly shown to be problematic in the opening scene when Superman is implicated in killing terrorists, but scalded once back in the democracy for unnecessary murder. Democracy has a difficult time recognizing that a civil theology is necessary, in part, to maintain order within a human community and I think this movie brought out some of those difficulties.

    1. Emily–interesting perspective. I agree the film would like to be a meditation on the limits of democracy, but I don’t think it exposed the questions well. The Dark Knight is superior on that front. Luthor did have some interesting theological and philosophical points–on the nature of evil and on the essential unity of all god claims–but those were not at all connected to him as a character. For it to work, we would need to see the germination of those ideas. Instead, they pop out as philosophizing tid bits and not natural extensions of his entire person.

      I think you give the film too much credit for these ideas, but I may be wrong on that.

      Still, very interesting. Thanks for commenting.

  3. I am in no way a comic book person, but I do appreciate superhero movies. I was less than impressed with Batman v Superman. I do not particularly love Henry Cavill as superman, although I did like Ben Affleck as batman, which I did not expect. Jessie Eisenberg is a great actor, but as Lex Luther it was just awkward. I like what you have to say regarding this movie, and sadly I have to agree.

  4. I thought this movie was an embarrassing attempt to cash in on the multi-superhero franchise technique of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Nothing shows this more than Warner Brothers hand-picking Zack Snyder to have control over the material, despite having never made a movie with any significant depth or intelligence. Unfortunately, Batman v. Superman’s absence of brain and story-telling is only highlighted by the fact that it follows the Nolan trilogy, which is arguably one of the best trilogies of all time, not just for comic book films. I could envision Nolan shaking his head while watching Batman and Superman upon seeing the two become friends since both their mothers were named “Martha”. Pathetic. While the MCU may not be the most realistic or dark franchise out there, Feige’s ability to give fans what they want is unparalleled. Hopefully this DC world is passed on to better hands so we can get the heroes we may not deserve, but the ones we need.

  5. That part of Batman vs. Superman that I most appreciated, was that it actually acknowledged and considered the consequences of actions. Many other superhero movies destroy entire cities. And the killing of the villains is something that is celebrated. I liked that BvS considered the implications of actions. It made me think more than most superhero movies that I have seen recently.

  6. “To its credit, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice makes an effort to transcend the type.”
    I disagree. Rather than having anything meaningful or thought-provoking, this movie simply throws all sorts of trite or shallow bits at you. Nothing is developed and everything feels very superficial and unrealistic. Beyond this, the movie lacks focus. I’m still not sure what I was watching. I waited hours in a theater to see Batman fight Superman. What I got was about 5 minutes of Batman chasing Superman as he refuses to fight. Then they throw in all these unnecessary characters without developing them or making you care about them at all. Finally, the few attempts at humor had no place with the tone that the movie had established. This movie was without a doubt, one of the worst mainstream movies I’ve seen in recent years.

    I will say, Ben Affleck as Batman was still pretty cool.

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