Martha, Martha, Martha! — Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

Batman and Superman go toe to toe in an epic match-up that Marvel wished they had the property rights to.

Superman — the all-American superhero who stands for truth, justice, and the American way. The adopted son from Krypton, raised in Kansas, working under the alias of Clark Kent for the fourth estate. So noble.

So super.

And the Bat of Gotham — years removed from his best days. Down a sidekick and more cruel than his butler Alfred could even imagine, the Bat has lost a step because he can only manage to hide awkwardly in corners instead of disappear abruptly in the middle of conversations whenever someone turns their back. When he’s not torturing and branding criminals with a bat symbol that’s a death sentence to those who enter prison, Batman chains cars to his Batmobile and goes cruising.

I’ve wrestled with doing a review all day, and I only now could get myself to do one now that I have finally admitted to myself that Batman v Superman is a flawed movie. A terribly flawed movie.

First, the movie is a direct sequel to Man of Steel. Don’t let anyone fool you — the massive destruction caused in Metropolis is the basis for Bruce Wayne’s planned takedown of the “alien that could burn the whole place down.”

After a quick recounting of the Batman origin story, we see Wayne landing via chopper in Metropolis during that fateful day when General Zod started up his world engines and obliterated various areas around the world. Wayne is on a mission to evacuate his employees out of his Wayne Financial skyscraper before the inevitable collapse, but he fails to save one of his key employees.

I’m actually glad the filmmakers moved to address a point of contention many had with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel movie — the issue of collateral damage. People will say it didn’t make sense that Superman would allow so many lives to be lost or let so much damage come to his home city. I beg to differ — you don’t simply contain a set of threats by moving them into a cornfield, especially if the big bad is a war-hardened general whose genetic engineering makes him better than you at everything except for all of the powers he just received.

Acknowledging the fallout and consequences in Batman v Superman ups the urgency, giving Bruce a very good reason to fear the new power that exists across the bay in Metropolis, which turns the plot into something akin to Moby Dick. After years of losing sidekicks, allies, and hope, Batman has turned him into a very angry, sadistic killing machine who’s not above using the guns he’s been known to abhor. And now he’s got his sights on a very big blue whale.

Before we get to the rest of the movie, I just have to say that I had an incredibly difficult time swallowing the premise of a murderous Batman.

And it’s not so much just the killing — it’s how he kills in this movie. It’s one thing to see Batman hurtle himself into harm’s way, only to end up pushing one man to death while saving a boy, like he did in The Dark Knight. It’s another to see him destroy an entire chemical factory filled with baddies (Batman ’89) or flying through the skies in a machine gun shaped as a Batwing (Batman v Superman). Say what you will about the circumstances surrounding each vigilante kill — but any version of the Dark Knight who has given up all hope by surrendering to his darkest desires is a superhero who has lost.

So basically, in this movie, Batman is a villain.

I know this is a point of contention, but I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. It’s true that Batman’s earliest appearances had him carrying a gun, and several comics have shown Batman killing bad guys — whether through accidental means or very much on purpose. While some of them have been retconned or deleted through multiverse reboots, the true essence of the character which has been solidified in the comics portrays him as a vigilante who toes the line but never crosses it. Batman does not use guns or kill, though the temptation is strong. It’s a conflict that rages inside of him, and the appetite for vengeance becomes that much stronger every time a villain like the Joker kills or disables one of his allies.

So while we often see Batman get pushed to the edge — he occasionally maims and sometimes he does so with glee — he is always deliberate and precise. I’m not trying to justify or condone his behavior — Batman is very much an anti-hero whose efforts, while they may be appreciated by the Gotham City Police Department, still make him a criminal.

But in Batman v Superman, he’s gone so far past the point, he wouldn’t escape the electric chair if he was ever caught. He’s an unrepentant killer of crooks and killers with a mad-genius level of sadism. “I’m just going to test everyone’s Batman insurance,” he seemingly tells himself, justifying all the damage he does to his beloved city. Bruce Wayne is the mad king of Gotham, not realizing his presence in the city is actually making everything worse.

Meanwhile, Superman is loved by many and hated by many. When he’s not catching large objects out of the air and saving the day, he’s getting framed for murders he didn’t commit, which forces junior Senator Finch’s (Holly Hunter) hand to get to the bottom of it all and place blame where it’s due.

Enter Lex Luthor Jr. (Jesse Eisenberg), a young scientist who’s got a bone to pick with just about everyone. Yelping at every other word, the nervous Eisenberg plays the character as best as he can, but the problem is the character itself. This isn’t your dad’s Lex, or anyone else’s Lex. This is Mark Zuckerberg if he had a personal vendetta against God. Junior’s inherited a massive fortune from his immigrant father, and he’s into big science projects. His latest plan is to bring a found cache of kryptonite to the United States as a precautionary measure against Superman going crazy, but Finch — one of the few actual heroes of the film — knows an assassination attempt when she sees one and denies him cargo rights.

Scenes fly by. Characters meet. Snappy dialogue sometimes happens. People argue. People feel pain. Batman snarls, Superman winces, and Luthor claps his hands. This basically repeats for two hours. Plot points include: Bruce Wayne wants to find the kryptonite. Mysterious woman steals his hard drive. Mysterious woman was alive during World War I. Several commercial for Justice League. Lex boards the Krypton ship and learns to hack dead Krypton corpses. Batman steals kryptonite. Lex kidnaps Martha Kent and Lois Lane. Lex tells Superman to kill Batman or lose his family.

And then, when the Bat is ready to stabby-stab Superman with a homemade kryptonite spear — because Batman can’t settle on just shooting Superman with k-bullets — Superman screams out his mother’s name for no other reason than it coincidentally being the name of Bruce’s deceased mother. Suddenly, Batman snaps out of his haze and remembers how he used to help people.

Come. On.

Wish Superman had led with that.

As a political thriller, Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s script might have been better served in more experienced hands. Terrio was responsible for the amazing Argo film, which this movie could have been. But instead, BvS (can I call it BvS now?) in Zack Snyder’s hands is an exercise in scene chewing and stalling for effect leading from one terrible scene to another until a very satisfying end that only serves to make the rest of the movie look even worse. The lack of a strong cohesive narrative, due in part to the chopping away of critical scenes, and barely there characters with no action to carry the excitement gives way to a glorified commercial for a later Justice League movie that, while I’m sure it will have at least one epic fight sequence, might not be the movie my favorite superheroes need or deserve.

If the movie had only been 30-minutes long and featured the last 20 minutes of the movie, I would have given it a million stars. The Trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman taking on Luthor’s doomsday creation felt like a sight for sore eyes. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is the movie’s best thing — she is the brightest star of the three, fighting to save the world while the boys figure themselves out. And she smiles while doing it! Love that spark!

And just as things get good, everything snaps back into an awful mess — and I can finally see why people absolutely hated Man of Steel (which I loved). It’s one thing to charge at the big bad, hoping for a best-case scenario. It’s another to completely give yourself up to the idea that letting something kill you will make everyone else love you.

It’s forced. It lacks imagination. It lacks subtext. It actually doesn’t even make much sense. Superman flies at the doomsday creature with the kryptonite spear on a suicide mission that didn’t have to be. And what follows is one of the most overwrought endings that will leave you scratching your head and wondering how you became bald all of a sudden. There’s a posed shot of the main cast around Superman’s body, and poor Gadot looks like someone’s told her to do five different and opposing things all at the same time. It’s trying too hard to look cool, but it’s just tedious and unnecessary. 

It’s hard to mourn the loss of the world’s greatest superhero when the movie’s blatantly going for style over substance.

Why? Why couldn’t this movie have been better?

For every strange vision and jarring plot point pulled out of the Speed Force — for every cameo and sleight of hand trick that’s basically the coin behind your ear maneuver over and over — Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a movie that barely lives up to its title and to its own detriment. The kids need to understand the importance of having Batman and Superman on the same screen, but a few more movies like this, and Marvel can claim it created the superhero genre without a worthy voice to challenge it.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Screenplay by: Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Tao Okamoto, and Lauren Cohan

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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