-This action-fest doubles down on its superhero story-lines, but everybody loses.

We’ve waited for this movie for years, and I think that might even be an understatement. Between the polarized casting decisions and the release date delay, we’ve worried, and worried, and worried about whether or not the quality of this ambitious production led by Man of Steel director Zack Snyder would be worth kick-starting an entire ‘Justice League Universe.’ One thing’s for certain, however, it’s not.

Sure, some of the casting is already problematic, and that doesn’t change from Man of Steel to this movie. Henry Cavill lacks the charm and sophisticated idealism of the Reeve-era Superman, while simultaneously struggling to even be likable or worth a rooting interest, and the Jesse Eisenberg casting as Lex Luther is as dangerously absurd, campy and awful as it seems in the trailers, even if he has a few scenes of relative clarity. Then, once you’ve seen the big trailer, you really have seen the whole movie. Surprises, like laughs or warm-hearted enjoyment, are few and far between in this dark, bloated universe.

Our Batman/Bruce Wayne is Ben Affleck, in his early 40s, about a year removed from witnessing the destruction of Metropolis in Superman’s throw-down with General Zod in the previous film. The fight resulted in a destroyed Wayne Enterprises building and hundreds of dead employees, even friends, for Wayne. When Superman does not have to answer for the thousands dead in the scuffle, or even other people he has killed when intervening in tough situations, Batman realizes that there needs to be a check on power for the Man of Steel. Knowing this, he begins tracking Luther in order to get his hands on the Kryptonite pieces that Luther had been collecting for his own plan. Luther attempts to befriend local Senator Finch (Holly Hunter), but realizes that the government’s idea in a check on Superman involves just trying to bring him in for a hearing to answer questions, rather than destroying or wounding him. Luther, who has his own issues with a God complex, begins prepping for a destruction of Superman.

While Batman’s and Luther’s plans intersect (it all gets a tiny bit confusing), Superman’s journalist alter-ego in Clark Kent begins learning more about the ‘Bat Vigilante’ in Gotham who brands his targets with the Bat symbol and may violate their personal rights in the process of bringing them down. It’s ironic that he doesn’t like Batman’s methods when Superman himself consistently kills people, but that’s only one of the many narrative problems that this movie has.

The idea of Superman as a God figure, and the baggage that brings for mortal beings is an interesting story to tell, and there definitely is a good movie buried within this muddled mess. There are moments when Superman is in the process of saving someone, and the people around him touch or bow to him like he’s a God. That imagery is actually pretty powerful, and knowing how cocky and assured in himself Superman is, we really get behind Batman bringing him down a peg in an ultimate fight. The concept of a seasoned, post death-in-the-family Bruce Wayne letting his anger out on a Superman he doesn’t trust is really captivating, and during the moments leading up to/and during the fight, we respect the hell out of a human being going up against Superman. The issue is that, at least in my mind, the movie doesn’t really have you rooting for Superman at all. The lines aren’t really that blurred. We’re afraid of what Superman will do next, as he’s willing to kill to save Lois Lane (a miscast Amy Adams) or talk trash to Batman during one of the movie’s early scenes. For him then to chastise Batman for branding his criminal subjects, after being involved in the killing of innocent civilians and refusing to answer to the government in any way, leads us to want Batman to kill him. When the fight happens, we are rooting whole-heartedly for a Batman victory, so after the fight is over and Doomsday joins in, the big Superman sacrifice doesn’t matter: Cavill’s Superman is just so unlikable.

There was a time where Superman stood for justice and integrity, and even if he overstepped his bounds, you never doubted where his heart and intentions were during the Reeve era. The reason that 1978’s Superman is better than Cavill’s is not because Reeve did it first, it’s because Reeve did it with more charisma and likability. The counter-argument to my not liking him or liking him in Man of Steel in 2013 is not based on the self-seriousness of this narrative. There are very serious, dark themes here that I really, really like, and the Nolan-verse for Batman are three of my favorite films of all time. So, when it comes to the dour tone, that’s fine. The issue is that they haven’t crafted a hero who is worth relating to. We get ten minutes of Affleck’s concerned, angry Bruce Wayne, and we’re already roped into his side in a movie where we know the characters will instantly have to reconcile and fight a larger threat because of poor universe building. When Batman says “I’m a friend of Superman’s,” when talking to someone, it feels like fucking bullshit. They aren’t friends, Batman was ready to kill him ten minutes prior in the film, and I can’t even say these are spoilers because if you’ve seen the big trailer, the timeline of this movie is already revealed to you.

When we had a self-serious franchise from Christopher Nolan, the Bale Batman worked hard at winning you over. Even when he made the wrong decision, or acted a big aggressively or intimidating, we rode with him because we knew enough about his heart to still be invested. The films were dark, but we cared so much about his life and the outcome that the tone didn’t matter. Movies with dark themes can still be amazing, so when critics tell you that the problem is that it takes itself too seriously, it’s not. The problem is that it’s poorly written.

In a perfect world, we get a movie that expands on the themes of Man v God, and the themes of a powerful figure that should/shouldn’t answer to a government. We get a movie where we don’t know whether Batman’s anger is part of rational response to the fear of Superman, or whether it is him slowly losing his grip on the kind of good hero he used to be after Robin’s death. All of the added Justice League stuff, unnecessary dream sequences, and almost all of the plot involving Lex Luther and his Doomsday plan can be eliminated. Why would we deflate the tension of a movie for a fight with a CGI creature after working for two hours to tell another story? Plus, any involvement of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) in this story is completely reprehensible. She serves almost no purpose. If it’s really, really important to copy Marvel’s way of universe building, then have her human form of Ms. Prince be in the movie for a few scenes, hinting at a Wonder Woman future, and then put the stock footage of Flash, Cyborg, and Aqua-Man during an end credits sequence. Perhaps we could have Wayne take down Superman, and Kent realizes his mistakes as Superman, thus forming the Justice League as a system of checks and balances between heroes (while also being a pretty damn good global security system). The Doomsday/Luther stuff was never needed in this movie, and I can’t fault Zack Snyder for every flaw here, because I don’t know how much studio pressure he faced in the final cut. There may be a good movie buried into this, but it seems obvious that there were a lot of crazy editing decisions, especially in the first act.

The beginning of this movie has very little coherency or consistency. The editing is so choppy from scene to scene, with no transitions, that it has to be the case that a lot of developing scenes for the actual Batman v. Superman conflict were cut out. This didn’t help the already messy execution of the themes, and then when the Justice League subplot is introduced, it really falls off the rails. Outside of the Affleck scenes and the actual physical confrontation of Batman and Superman, there really isn’t much here to digest other than a very colorful CGI ending with lots of red lights and computer graphics, and a very choppy beginning that clearly got ruined in post-production. Why so many fans like this is beyond me. Maybe it really is hard for fans of the comics to denounce the new material, but if you love a character, you should be begging for it to be done correctly, not through some half-assed cash grab to set up future movies. As an audience, we should demand more out of our studios, so when we do get a much-too-early reboot of Batman, we force them to give us something at least close to the quality of The Dark Knight or The Dark Knight Rises.

This is not it, and in a weekend where I was able to re-watch the Nolan trilogy, there’s really no other way to say it: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice sucks.

2 stars

 

Disclaimers:

 

NEGATIVES:

I am not a Marvel Fanboy. I am not a DC hater.

I do not qualify my reviews on what universe or character it is, in fact, I tend to disagree even on the more positively reviewed ones.

For the sake of this film, THE COMIC BOOKS DO NOT MATTER

I love the Nolan-verse because of the film-making, not because it’s a superhero film.

I don’t care that some thought that “this was the Best Batman ever on screen because he looks like the Dark Knight Returns comic,” in reality, I don’t think the image was realistic enough.

I don’t care if the movie has a dour tone, I like violence, depression, and pessimism in my movies as much (if not more) than anyone.

I don’t care if Wonder Woman is “hot,” her fight scenes looked like shit.

I don’t even really care if superheroes kill people if the stories are fascinating, just don’t make them hypocrites.

Christian Bale is the best Batman because he actually provides depth to the character, Affleck is fine, but what chance did he have to eclipse the Nolan-verse?

Doomday’s CGI looked really bad. It’s actually a shame.

Actually, I take it back, I liked that they shoe-horned in three future characters by a group of email videos….haha…hahahaha…hahahahahaha

Zack Snyder is really not a good director; his material, even from a few years ago, has aged poorly.

Your mom’s name is Martha?…MY MOM’S NAME IS MARTHA!

Amy Adams looks more like Cavill’s Aunt than his girlfriend. Also the bathroom/tub/sex scene? Would Superman be worried about breaking her in the same way Edward is with Bella in Twilight? Maybe not, I don’t know.

Holly Hunter speaks like she has a mouth full of cotton candy.

I wonder if this movie will finally kill Jesse Eisenberg’s career. Did you know that Mark Zuckerberg likes Krytonite?

Cavill sure fell off the horse long before Reeve did.

The back-tracking here is amazing, “THIS ISN’T HAPPENING NEAR PEOPLE, NO ONE IS DYING, WE PROMISE!”

 

POSITIVES:

Man of Steel has a 56% on Rotten Tomatoes, boy does that feel high, BUT this movie is better than its predecessor. We have seen improvement.

I’m actually really excited for Affleck’s stand-alone. I think we could get a really good Batman movie.

Could we go back in time and see the Robin death?

Ezra Miller will be a great Flash.

Will Superman return to be evil in the sequel? That’d be a nice Justice League film.

“Men are brave…” cue chills.

Irons is a great Alfred, even if he isn’t old enough.

“No one cares about Clark Kent taking on the Batman.” Some of the Daily Planet stuff is actually interesting.

Batman’s fight choreography and Superman’s all-powerful nature before the Doomsday fight were both really strong. There were moments of Hero Bliss in this.

 

 

 

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