Taking a deeper look at how a sure-fire blockbuster ended up a critical dud.
Matthew C. Malis
By now the latest superhero movie has become one of the most critically controversial movies that we have seen since Ironman hit the screens and made this genre of film a yearly go-to money maker. In only a few other instances can we point to a superhero film and say that is a bad movie. So where did this movie go wrong that we can’t usher it into the halls of the greats? Why can we say Batman Vs Superman is worth our money but something like the latest Fantastic Four installment can’t get the time of day? What makes this movie a Hero, but not Super?
Size, editing, and overall directing are the core failings of this film. It is what keeps this movie from flying. We have a monster of a story that spans The Trinity of DC comics; Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Of which only one of the three, to date, has been given their own movie to express the length of their character. This means that Batman Vs Superman has to catch everyone up on the trials and tribulations of Gotham’s Dark Knight outside of the Nolan films. Which is fine and proper; this is a different cinematic universe and as such if we are to do any justice to the narrative we have to give time for Ben Affleck to spread his wings. However, with Superman in the mix as a larger-than-life christ figure and a mysterious woman that orbits around Bruce Wayne we have a very full movie. Oh, and not to mention we have the new Lex…I mean Alexander Luthor, played by the talented Jesse Eisenberg, slathering his own personal melodrama all over the the screen. This movie is huge, and while the individual scenes are well established you have an issue with the transition and order. There is this constant game of catch-up with the audience, but that doesn’t mean things are going by fast. Just the opposite, this movie likes to take an operatic tone with it’s melodramatic slow motion shots that are suppose to force the audience to gaze up in wonder. However, this just ends up giving the audience whiplash has they have to put the pieces together in between the panels of action, all the while seeing past the dark lighting and oppressive score.
To state that Zack Snyder is the sole person to blame for the failing of this film is to not do justice by him. Movies are massive undertakings that take many months to complete and even more moving parts to fit together. However, as the Director he must take the brunt of any criticism as his position makes him the captain of the ship and must go down with it, if it should sink. As we have seen with his films in the past, Zack Synder has a particular feel to his films, a sort of full body water-color that seeps into every movement of a scene. Even the still moments feel like their are moving. This style is fantastic for action movies and over-top-melodramas, which comic books stories are, but his execution doesn’t sit well here because he is not submerged in fantasy, but rather a pseudo-reality of senators, businessmen, and modern skyscrapers. In many respects, Snyder is constrained and that tightness around his neck, likely brought on by both DC and Warner Brothers, keeps him from embracing his core instincts. I’ll admit it, Watchmen is a better movie that this film. The character and action are more faithful to the source material than Batman Vs Superman, as well as the overall tone. Though that maybe to the fact that Watchmen is an inherently darker and more mature story than the typical romp of Superman or Batman, and thus allows Snyder to following his own natural predilections. However, that is no excuse for having the movie aspects fall short of what they could have been.
While the film maybe a mess, the core story and character work should not be maligned. Oh yes, I know some people may think that this film does not do justice to the characters of our heroes and I would state that is not the case. Just because a story sets our character in tonely different framework doesn’t mean these characters are not our characters. In fact, there are a dozen examples that shows the Last Son of Krypton and the Bat of Gotham in situations where they must fall into ever grayer moral waters. When a character is used in such a way we need to take a moment and ask why the writer decided to put these particular character in this particular story. In Batman’s case, who could be argued is our MAIN character, is the veteran to the game of superheroics. He has had to rise and fall from the grace of his vigilante career just to be forced back into it with the advent of superhuman capabilities. Bruce is scarred in this movie, even though the film does a poor job of showing it. It is this scar that allows Alexander Luthor to manipulate him to attack the Man of Steel, and it is in the aftermath of that attack and sacrifice of the younger hero (Superman) that Batman is able to be reminded that while he may be mired in darkness, he must not be darkness. The end of the film does a better job than the beginning bringing Affleck’s character to the moment where we see Batman for how modern culture sees Batman, and I think this is important to answering the question to Why use this character? Zack Snyder and his writers wanted to show the slow crawl of bringing Batman back into the light of heroes rather than the monster than the criminals think he is. Thus allowing him to be the voice of caution and experience in the youthful pantheon of the Justice League.
The character work for Superman is not as good and more heavy handed than Batman’s, but is not less useful to the story. Off the clash with Zoid, even two years later, the world has not forgotten about the man-who-could-be-a-god. Here Clark is still trying to find his place in the public eye of the world. He is unsure of himself, not in his capabilities nor even in his function, but rather doubts that even if he does something good that it won’t lead to greater turmoil. In this story, Superman is the young hero still learning what it means to be a hero and because of the nature of his powers, as Batman rightly points out, Clark has to learn to what it means to be brave; to be a hero. That is not to say that Superman did not learn this in fight with Zoid, but there is a difference when you put yourself on the line, and when your actions will put others on the line, and that is a hard choice to make. A number of times throughout the movie Lois, and then later Martha Kent, are put in danger because of their connection to Clark. Presenting real danger to supposedly invulnerable man. In the end, Superman has to make the choice of confronting the greater danger and hope that others are able to save what is most precious to him. A key distinction in being a hero is making the hard choices and accepting other people’s help, thus allowing Batman to save Martha. That, and along with the personal self sacrifice at the hands of Doomsday at the end of the film, is what galvanized Clark into the Superman of Earth.
Now I have not mentioned much about Wonder Woman and there is a good reason for it. She in the movie about as much as she is in this article. She is an enigma to be solved and a tease to what is come, setting the stage for the Justice League movie. Now what we do get of her in the movie is very promising and I look forward to Gal Gadot reprising her role in the solo World War I film next year.
To close out Batman Vs Superman is bold, but unwieldy. It is trying to do a lot with a franchise of characters near and dear to our hearts. I would say that expectations of the audience are exceedingly high and Snyder’s less than stellar performance at the helm of this film keeps the movie from taking off and ushering us into the next generation of superhero films.
I don’t wish to leave on a down note so let me leave you with this thought. I am surprised of how eager I am to see Wonder Woman, Justice league, and the yet unnamed Ben Affleck Batman solo film. While Batman Vs. Superman might have left a bitter taste in our mouths I think there is plenty of room to come back from these failings and give the audience the movies they desire.