I did not plan to see Batman v Superman last night but we were too late to see Zootopia so here I am, a day older, having seen Batman v Superman. I went in expecting to hate every minute of it and I didn’t. There were a number of minutes that I actually enjoyed! There was at least one minute where I would have stood up and cheered–if it weren’t for the rest of the movie surrounding it.
I’m going to start with a very controversial statement here: Ben Affleck deserved a better Batman movie. He’s the first non-Kevin-Conroy actor in ages to strike that perfect balance between Bruce and the Bat. Early on it seemed like the movie was trying to take a page from the classic animated series, showing a Bruce Wayne who cared about his employees and valued people as individuals. Alas, that could not continue. This is the movie’s central problem. Half the time Batman is the Batman we know and love, then Snyder suddenly remembers that Batman has to be a terrible enough person that Superman will want to fight him so he makes Batman do something wildly out-of-character. You can see poor Affleck fighting with the script – he knows who Bruce and Batman are supposed to be, but the movie doesn’t.
Henry Cavil’s Superman and Amy Adams’ Lois Lane have the opposite problem. They’re both very good actors, but the directing and soundtrack send them tumbling into melodrama more often than not. Instead of showing an anguished look pass over Superman’s face and moving on, the camera rotates slowly around his scowl, showing us every forehead line as the soundtrack reminds us that this is SAD and DIFFICULT STUFF, PEOPLE.
There are some real bright moments buried in the mud: every interaction between Bruce and Diana, Wonder Woman’s debut, and some rather inventive fight scenes that showcase iconic comic book moments. Pity that the first act drags, nobody has consistent characterization, and the scenes feel slow and imbalanced even when they’re less than 90 seconds long.
If your vision of Batman is like 60% Judge Dredd, if you think Superman is literally Jesus, or if you really like seeing people punched through walls, you’ll enjoy this movie. If you care about Batman’s traditional code and methods, this movie will leave you frustrated, tired, and ready to stay up all night arguing on the internet.
Part of that frustration stems from how close Batman v Superman comes to telling a good story. With a few choice rewrites, we’d have a pretty cool movie that captures some of the pair’s most iconic fights. It would just have to shift a few character motivations out of the murder zone, make Perry White less pointlessly obtuse, and give Lex Luthor’s plan actual narrative coherence.
Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are the most themselves during the third act’s big fight. The trinity’s individual strengths are elegantly showcased, and their reactions provide more emotional nuance than anyone has in the rest of the film. Odd flashy CGI choices aside, it felt like a scene from a movie that I would have actively enjoyed, a scene with characters I know and love.
But Zack Snyder evidently thinks that characters are less important than explosions. He went in knowing that people thought his Superman was bad, and it seems he was utterly determined to make Batman worse. That’s why this movie’s fundamental assumptions are rotten and the details are fuzzy – all the film’s energy went into explosions and heavily-armed Batmobiles.
It doesn’t even respect its source material, stealing liberally from the Dark Knight Returns but losing Batman’s motivations. A hint for the future: If you’re making a movie and the thought “Earth-31 is not gritty and cruel enough for me” passes through your head, maybe it’s time to reconfigure.
I’m a fan of Batman and character development, so this movie made me sad. My brother is a fan of Superman and seeing people get punched through walls, so this movie made him happy. If you’re comfortable with handwaving away weird character choices in service of a good punch-up you will likely have fun. If not you’ll smile at the few moments of genuine delight and spend the rest of the movie quietly fuming about what could have been.