Strange games they would play then, no death for the perfect men… Batman v Superman review

What was the worst episode of Smallville?  Probably the vampire episode.  Batman v Superman was worse than that.  It’s not even enjoyably bad.  It’s just a mess.  It’s a mess for so many stupid reasons.

I went into this movie with very low expectations.  Man of Steel was an utter disaster:

This is a horrible film with horrible dialogue, a horrible plot, and a horrible message.  It’s ugly both visually, philosophically, and culturally.  It’s mopey and miserable.  This is a film for people who are blind and deaf.

My low expectations were not low enough.

Writing a movie based on a comic book ought to be fairly easy.  Just about every plot has been played out about five different ways, and you get to choose which variation worked best.  Batman and Superman have punched on so many times for so many different reasons.  Perhaps the most famous of these was Dark Knight Returns back in 1986 by Frank Miller.  Batman comes out of retirement and back into vigilante justice.  The President calls in Superman to help bring Batman back within the legal framework.  The debate was about the nature of justice and punishment.

Batman v Superman doesn’t follow this path.  Instead, it tries to attach every possible meaning on to the Superman v Batman conflict without settling on any, and without decisively telling us why they are in conflict.

Perhaps the conflict is pseudo-religious.  Man (Batman) rejects the authority of God (Superman).  Perhaps the conflict is about the nature of justice.  Real Politic (Batman) rejects the transcendental Justice (Superman).  Perhaps the conflict is about asymmetrical power.  When superpowers collide (Superman and Zod), it’s smaller countries which suffer and have to find ways to fight back through dodgy arms dealers (Batman).

Lex Luthor is continually banging on about the pseudo-religious aspect, but why?  At no point in the film do we get to understand why it’s in Luthor’s interest to provoke a fight between Batman and Superman.

And Batman is constantly moping about how Superman caused a whole lot of property damage which had high amounts of collateral damage.  But his hatred of Superman seems wildly irrational and disproportionate.

The film is desperately trying to set up a DC film universe to rival Marvel’s.  Cameo appearances are made by members of the sausage-fest known as the Justice League.  Jason Momoa looked especially ridiculous as Aquaman.  Because that is the ultimate target of the film (to be a prequel to bigger films), the core story of Batman v Superman is neglected.  There’s no intellectual contest between the main characters.  We don’t know why they’re fighting.

The first half an hour is a confusing mess, ending in a cameo appearance by Neil de Grasse Tyson.  Dude spoils milk just by talking.  And half an hour later we have Batman engaged in pointless dream sequences.

Batman has no distinguishing Batman features.  He is less detective and more torturer of Gotham’s underclasses.  He’s taken to branding those people he’s punishing, and the people he saves are so terrified of him that they want to stay in basement dungeons.  Because Batman’s motivations in the film are so thin, it makes any resolution of the plot difficult to understand.  The thing that unites Batman and Superman is that their mothers share the same name.  That’s it.  The Dark Knight is wailing on Supes and then they find their shared interests (maternal figures named Martha) and then they’re friends.

There are a few parts that this film gets right.  The first is Wonder Woman.  In the middle of a pointless fight between Superman, Batman, and Lex Luthor, at least there’s one character intelligent enough to realise that this is a fragile masculinity play.  I wish the film had been from her perspective as she schools the others.  Because the film isn’t from her perspective, we miss out on seeing her being able to get closure on some issues.  Lex has stolen information about her and she is trying to recover the data.  Because she’s the plus-one in the film, we never get to see her confront Luthor.  Instead, she is a slightly distant goddess figure who operates as a dea ex machina to sort out the fighting lads.

The second part that the film gets right is Jeremy Irons.  Every scene with him is a joy.  Every absurd line he utters is a delight.  I’m yet to see a film where he is the problem.  He just makes the most of everything he’s given.

The third part that the film gets right is the depiction of the cycle of violence.  This is something that Dark Knight Rises screwed up.  By the time that Batman has punched his way to victory over Heath Ledger’s Joker, we have left Gotham in a world where people are rising up to confront Batman.  I was hoping that this would be the theme of the third film: what happens when Batman begins inspiring criminals?  Instead, Dark Knight Rises shat the bed.

Batman v Superman starts us down the path of that inquiry.  When Superman and Zod trash Metropolis, people started rising up to restrain Superman.  In this mix are apparently Batman and Luthor.  But the idea is never developed due to this being a mess of a film.  Even Kevin Costner comes back to tell some horseshit story about flooding his neighbour’s farm.  It’s sooooo bad.

DC is struggling to put together a movie franchise.  Until it puts ideas at the heart of the comic book drama, the films are always going to be lacklustre and forgettable.

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Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based blogger and policy wonk who writes about conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

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