Late in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Anderson Cooper, in one of the film’s countless celebrity cameos, says, “It’s not clear what just happened.” I think Anderson speaks for all of us, as this film, pitting two of the most iconic American figures against each other, is pretty much incoherent. However, it is not the disaster that some are calling it. It’s a great idea in the wrong hands.
Those hands are Zack Snyder, perhaps the worst high-profile director in Hollywood today (that’s a high bar, considering Michael Bay and Brett Ratner still walk the Earth). But he makes the studio money, and though Batman v. Superman was ripped by critics, it still set box office records. For all those people who saw the movie this weekend, it’s a shame that this wasn’t properly handled.
For one thing, I liked Ben Affleck as Batman. There, I said it. His Bruce Wayne is a little older, thicker in the middle (but still buff) and angry. Wayne Manor is a ruin (I suppose why will be addressed in a future film) and lives instead in a modern house with floor-to-ceiling windows (but where is the Batcave?). Alfred, played with gruff authority by Jeremy Irons, tinkers underground, while Affleck is having casual sex (he also, I believe, utters the first curse word in the character’s history, a softly muttered “Oh, shit”). After years of battling criminals, he’s pissed off at the arrival of Superman from the sky, who is being treated like a god even after destroying most of Metropolis in his fight with General Zod.
The film starts off on the wrong foot with once again showing the murder of Batman’s parents. By my count we’ve seen this in three films–enough already. Then we get the young Bruce Wayne falling in a hole and being surrounded by bats. Instead of being afraid of them, as Christopher Nolan’s Batman was, Affleck is levitated by them, literally. This was included, I suppose, as both characters are mama’s boys, with the crucial fact being that there mother’s names are Martha.
I won’t try to summarize the whole movie because it has enough in there for several movies, with many beginnings and endings. Suffice it to say that the tiff between superheroes is egged on by Lex Luthor, this time played by a twitchy Jesse Eisenberg. He’s a rich dude who is troubled by Superman being treated like a god, and there’s some good dialogue in there, rife with Nietzschian overtones, if only we could listen to it and not want to punch Eisenberg in the face. He wants to get his hands on Kryptonite so Superman can be defeated (when you create a superhero with only one weakness, it kind of limits plot possibilities).
So when these two stand off against each other, with Superman’s overwhelming strength matched by Batman’s cunning, I had to admit I was kind of stirred. Their fight scene, like the rest of the action, has too many concrete walls being broken, but I found this to be the best part of the movie, despite Batman’s ridiculous body armor. I also thought there were other good ideas raised. Early in the film, Superman rescues Lois Lane from African terrorists. How would Superman deal with ISIS, or Boko Haram, or Hamas? One of the uncomfortable things about reckoning with superheroes is that they can’t exist in the real world. Superman sees a girl trapped in a burning building in Juarez. Seconds later he’s there, rescuing her. What a world like that be?
The film also lays out the future D.C. Universe films (there are ten films with release dates so far). Most prominently we get Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. She slinks through the film like a sexy panther, catching Affleck’s eye, but doesn’t do battle until the end of the film. Next year she will get her first film, and I’m hopeful, as long as Snyder has nothing to do with it.
So watching Batman v. Superman is a draining and mostly depressing experience. It’s kind of like being bludgeoned, as Snyder has no ability at subtly. He uses one of his favorite things–a bullet in slow motion–over and over again, and a movie at two and a half hours does not need slow motion footage. The atmosphere is mostly dark and brooding, and it made me long for the light touch of Marvel in films like Guardians of the the Galaxy and The Avengers. For whatever their weaknesses are, at least they are fun. Batman v. Superman is like a funeral (which the film ends with, but I’m not telling you whose).
There is hope, though. Before the film a trailer for The Lego Batman Movie ran. I am sure that will be a much better film.