Author’s Note: This review was originally written back in 2016, not long after Batman v Superman originally came out. While my ultimate thoughts on the movie haven’t really changed all that much, a few details are probably a touch out of date (particularly my speculation on the then-unreleased Justice League movie), or received some acknowledge in the extended edition.
I’ll try and include notes correcting my mistakes and/or predictions, but do try to keep that original writing date in mind.
Oh my God this movie… Just… I can’t even…
Okay, let’s take this from the top. Anyone who knows me particularly well knows that I hate Man of Steel. Hate it with a passion. It was one of my most anticipated movies of 2013 and ended up being one of my most disliked superhero movies of all time. Certainly, on a technical/moviemaking/’almost everything’ level it’s not nearly as incompetent as Fan4stic or Superman IV: Quest for Peace, but it managed to get under my skin in a way that few other movies could. Especially since I adore Superman and it fucked up every core tenet of that character possible. Hell, it fucked up every core tenet of basic character writing. It was a mess.
As such, I was not particularly expecting this movie to be good. And there were a lot of warning signs in the marketing and trailers to support that. But, deep down, I so badly wanted this movie to be great. So so badly. Because like I mentioned, I love Superman. And, as overrated as he is, I love Batman too. And love the idea of the conflict between them, two incompatible ideals, both on the side of good but unable to coexist. There’s so many fascinating ideas that could be explored with this. And even Snyder couldn’t fuck it up quite that badly, right?
Then I saw the movie. And I had to admit I was impressed. I genuinely didn’t think anyone could make a superhero movie I hated as much as Man of Steel, but Snyder tried. Oh how he tried.
Seriously, I went into this with no expectations and still came out disappointed. There was so much bad. Bad characters, bad plotting, bad conflict, bad bad bad with only a few bright spots inbetween. And honestly, I decided that only going over the big points wasn’t going to do it for this review. I decided I was going to take it apart scene by scene in gulp. Then I wrote about 2500 words and realised I had yet to even get out of Act 1. That’s how fucking dense this movie is. So, to give Dawn of Justice the ‘Justice’ it deserves, I’m going to have to make this a multi-part review.
So instead, enjoy Part 1 of BvSvMe. Because this movie is just that bad.
Spoiler Warning (Obviously)
Okay, so we start with what must be the 500th on-screen adaptation of the Wayne family murders. Because god knows we needed to see that again. It’s crosscut with scenes of young Bruce at the funeral, running away, discovering the Batcave and becoming Bat Jesus as a swarm of bats lift him into the air in a crucifix pose. All of this is overlaid with the most pretentious faux-deep narration which means nothing and you will almost immediately forget. The only line I actually remembered was one which was something like ‘But those who fall… *long pause* …are fallen”. And I only remembered that because it was hilariously redundant. Hell, this entire scene was hilariously redundant. You could cut it and nothing of value would be lost.
(That’s going to be a running theme through this movie, by the way. I’m tempted to start a counter.)
But I think the worst thing about that opening scene (aside from it being pointless) is that the next scene works just as well as the beginning and is actually really good. Like really good. It’s the kind of scene that actually got my hopes up that I might’ve been wrong about this movie. It’s Bruce Wayne arriving in Metropolis during the climax of MoS and desperately driving across the city to reach his office building while the entire place falls apart around him. It’s tense, well-shot and really gets across the atmosphere of being helpless in the midst of a major disaster. It’s better than any scene in the climax of MoS. And it had actual emotional stakes as well. Upon landing in Metropolis, Bruce shares a brief phone call with an elderly friend in said building named Jack. And credit to both of those actors, with only a few lines of dialogue, I actually ended up caring about Jack. It helps that he seemed like a genuinely nice guy, urging the other employees to evacuate the building and apparently staying behind to make sure they all got out (which kinda makes him more heroic than anyone else in this movie). So for that, I’ll even forgive him being the second instant of heavy handed Jesus imagery in this movie as he prays while the building is torn apart by heat vision only to die when it collapses. (2018 edit: Turns out I’m the only one who felt that way about Jack. Everyone else just thought he was an idiot for not getting out sooner. Which y’know, fair enough.)
Anyway, as you’ve probably seen in the trailer, Bruce runs into the dust of the collapsing Wayne Enterprises building and dazedly makes his way through the dust. Then, for some reason, a horse wanders by. Which genuinely kinda threw me to be honest. What the hell was that horse doing there? Were there horses randomly wandering through the rubble of 9/11? Anyway, Bruce helps an employee whose legs have been crushed and saves a little girl whose mom was killed and generally does more to help the suffering citizens of Metropolis than Supes does in MoS. Then, upon spotting Supes and Zod flying through the sky, he gives that death glare from the trailers which is just spot on acting by Affleck and the perfect topper to this entire fantastic scene. Unfortunately, the movie decided not to just end there and now we have over 2 hours of whatever goodwill I felt from that scene being pissed down the gutter.
“Just putting this here for later.”
We then move to the present to a group of kids fishing up a big rock with Kryptonite in it and selling it to a guy. This scene is entirely pointless and could easily have been told simply through exposition (and actually is later on) but, no, Snyder just had to have that shot because it was just so key to the entire movie. In fact, you know what, I think I’m actually going to start that Pointless Scene Counter after all. I get the feeling I’m going to need it.
Pointless Scene Count: 2
Meanwhile, Lois Lane is up to journalism hijinks in Africa, interviewing some terrorists. Unfortunately, her cameraman is found to be a CIA mole by Generic Sinister Henchman (who I think played one of Frank Grillo’s men in Captain America: Winter Soldier? However, despite not being a background character here, he has about as much personality as one). The cameraman tells the terrorists that Lois had nothing to do with the whole thing and pleads for her life, making him, for me, the second genuinely heroic character in the movie. (2018 edit: Also was apparently Jimmy Olson. How ’bout that.) Unfortunately, like Jack, he doesn’t last the scene and is immediately shot in the head. However, while Lois and the terrorist leader are in another room, Generic Sinister Henchman (yes, I know he’s technically KGBeast, but he doesn’t have enough personality here to deserve a name) and his men turn on the terrorists and shoot them before motorbiking off. Then Superman turns up and casually smashes the terrorist leader through several walls, probably killing him. Really learnt that lesson about respecting the sanctity of human life from MoS, didn’t you Clark?
Anyway, I didn’t entirely recognize it at the time, but this is the very beginning of one of the most convoluted, nonsensical evil schemes I’ve ever seen. Apparently, Snyder saw Bane and Talia’s stupid plan in TDKR (one of the few low points of that movie) and thought that was the key to Nolan’s success. So he’d go and do it times 1000. Basically, the idea is that GSH is working for Luthor to get people killed so Supes would be blamed for the damage when he showed up and that a government hearing would be held on him as a result. Except there are a number of problems with that scheme. First of all, I think people will notice that the terrorists were shot, rather than burned/crushed/neck snapped. However, if the plan was that Superman’s presence was supposed to have set off the terrorists, that still makes no sense because all that would indicated was that Superman’s presence caused the terrorists to shoot each other. And why would the people of the world get in such a fuss about terrorists being killed? It makes no sense! And this is STEP FUCKING ONE people! It’s only going to get stupider from here.
“I assume this was the original draft of the plan.”
Now, the next few scenes are probably going to be a bit out of order. Not so I can make any point about them but because they were so terrible placed and so painfully unrelated to each other that I genuinely can’t remember the actual order they went in, so I’m largely guessing. Which I suppose is kind of its own point about the terrible editing/story, but I digress.
Anyway, next (presumably) we go to Gotham to see Batman apprehend a sex trafficker. It’s a decent scene and works as an introduction to Batman. Unfortunately, it’s also where we get the first indication of how Batman’s going to be written in this movie. Specifically, like a 13yo boy’s crappy ‘edgy’ fanfiction. “See my Batman is so cool and awesome that people mistake him for the devil and he dodges shotgun blasts and brands this evil guy with a bat so other criminals will kill them in prison. But that’s okay, because he’s not directly killing them. Also, he gets these awesome gritty future visions as well, but I’ll get to that later, please subscribe.” Honestly, I wouldn’t even be that pissed at Batman killing if it was made clear that this was a sign he’d genuinely gone over the edge after Supes’s appearance/the death of Robin. But no. He just gets some mild scolding from Alfred and that’s it. Besides, that would require this movie picking a character arc/theme and actually sticking to it. Which, as you will learn, is not something this movie is capable of.
“The inspiration for so many a bad Batman fanfic. And this movie.”
Anyway, moving on to Lois taking a bath. Because sexy times, I guess. Apparently Lois and Clark are living together/dating, having gotten together at the end of MoS despite there being absolutely no build-up, logic or chemistry between the actors in that movie. Same goes for here. And it adds nothing to this film that them merely being good friends wouldn’t add. Anyway, Lois brings up the fallout of the Africa incident and how the government want him to answer for it and Clark’s response (and one of the first words out of his mouth in this movie) is ‘I don’t care’. Really showing that fucking heroism and love and respect for the common man there Clark. But then again, if I picked out every moment in this movie where Superman acts distinctly un-Supemanly, this review would be twice as long as it already is. But I will be coming back to that ‘I don’t care’ line later. Because I’m not done with it yet. Anyway, more sexytimez in the bath. Also, this entire scene was also largely pointless. Maybe I might’ve given it credit for building up the relationship between Lois and Clark or humanising the two characters if it had actually done a good job of doing any of those things. As it is, it’s going on the counter.
Pointless Scene Count: 3
Meanwhile, over in a LexCorp facility, we’re about to get an introduction to our main villain, Lex Luthor himself. Technically. In actuality, it’s more like, before the movie, the Joker secretly murdered the real Lex Luthor and is currently wearing his face. Although that might actually be fun to watch because the Joker is intentionally amusing and unsettling. This guy is not. Seriously, I had doubts about Jessie Eisenberg when I heard he was taken the role, but that was because I thought he’d struggle to be intimidating. I was right that he made a bad Luthor, but for entirely the wrong reasons. He is completely fucking insane. There is none of the recognisable Luthor charm or charisma that make the character work as a popular villainous parallel to Superman. This Luthor has all the charm and charisma of a wet plastic bag suffocating a child. I’ve complained that MoS turned Supes into a low-rent Batman character-wise, but this movie turned Luthor into a low-rent Joker. Even his hatred for Superman is less about his own feelings of inferiority and more… some gibberish about Gods and his father beating him and who even knows.
“This guy would’ve made a more appropriate Lex Luthor.”
Anyway, Luthor is meeting with Senator Finch to talk about having a shipment of Kryptonite sent over so he can create anti-Supes weapons with it. Finch bans him from doing so because she disagrees with his idea of having a deterrent against Superman (despite the fact that she’s the one holding a hearing questioning his existence). However, the random old guy with her, who I don’t think ever gets a name or explanation as to who he is, has other ideas. Now, you’ve probably already heard stories about this movie’s bad editing, but this scene is a particular standout for me. Effectively, after meeting with Finch, the scene cuts away to another scene (I don’t precisely remember what). Then, several scenes later, it comes back to Luthor and random old guy, in the exact same place, stepping away from Finch and talking privately. Random old guy says that maybe he can help Luthor get what he wants in exchange for favours (what ‘favours’ he wants are never brought up, so I’m just going to assume sexual ones). He asks Luthor what he wants. Luthor says he wants access to the crashed Kryptonian ship. And we immediately cut to him entering the building with it in. That’s it. That was the scene, beginning to end. I was genuinely taken back in the cinema when I saw that. It was just so pointless. Eventually, it turns out that they were planning to do one of those cut-back-and-forth things as we briefly jump back to the same scene as Luthor then says he wants Zod’s body, and then we jump to him receiving it, but it was so poorly handled and edited it’s just jarring. The scenes in between are just too long that it breaks the flow of the back-and-forth. Then it finishes with Lex feeding the guy a cherry sweetie. (Yup. Definitely sexual.) Also, it’s really nothing that couldn’t have been tacked on to the scene of Lex meeting Senator Finch. It didn’t need to be two separate scenes. Which means it’s time yet again to add to the counter.
Pointless Scene Count: 4 (I was tempted to count it as three separate scenes but I’m not that cruel. Yet.)
Now, back to Clark who overhears on the radio about the Batman catching and branding the sex trafficker from before. Apparently the idea of branding bad guys is just too much for the man who tackles terrorists through several walls so he decides to do a story on Batman as Clark Kent, arguing that the guy is bad because he thinks he’s above the law. Which is funny, considering one of the first things Clark says in this movie is that ‘[He] doesn’t care’ about a government hearing called to discuss his own ‘above the law’ collateral damage! (I told you I’d come back to that). Seriously, any kind of point Clark was trying to make here about Batman is undermined by the fact that he’s doing the exact friggin’ same! Did the writers even read their own script?! Anyway, Clark’s ambitions to write about the Batman are squashed by Perry (one of the few genuinely funny characters in the movie) who wants him to do his freaking job and write about sports (as he was assigned to). Clark just ignores him and does his own thing making me wonder why the hell Perry doesn’t fire his ass. (Come to think about it, why did he hire him in the first place? Clark had no journalistic experience and- you know what, forget it, I don’t need to get into MoS’s troubles at this point.) At the same time, Lois wants to chase down a lead about a bullet she retrieved from the Africa incident. This, I should note, is not a pointless scene. No, this a pointless plot thread. It really goes nowhere except to tell Lois that Luthor is a badguy. Which quickly becomes very clear anyway.
Anyway, in the Batcave, Bruce is talking with Alfred (the other genuinely funny character in the movie). Apparently, Bruce has been tracking the activities of a mysterious figure related to the trafficker named ‘White Portugese’ (who is Luthor but Bats doesn’t know yet). Apparently, he was able to draw a connection between him and Generic Sinister Henchman (remember him? Back in Africa? Feels like an eternity since then, doesn’t it?). Anyway, he goes as Bruce Wayne to some sort of underground fight ring, helps a boxer win by whispering advice into his ear, shares a few words with GSH while distracting him so he can copy the files on his phone with some hacking tech stuff. The only useful information he gets from this entire thing is that Luthor is involved. And quite frankly, the writers could’ve just had him learn the information from the trafficker at the beginning and cut out the middleman. Making this, yet again, another pointless scene.
Pointless Scene Count: 5
Also Bruce learns that that employee he rescued from the collapsing building (whose lost his legs) has now vandalised the Superman statue in Metropolis with ‘False God’. He could’ve just written ‘Murderer’ or something more direct and affecting, but that wouldn’t have been nearly pretentious or heavy handed enough. Plus it wouldn’t have let Snyder make another Jesus metaphor.
Okay, now, I’m going to take a quick breather here for the sake of everyone’s sanity. But before I end Part 1, let’s play a fun little game. How many plot threads can you count in the movie so far? Here’s the ones I counted.
- Senator Finch holding a hearing on Superman’s actions
- Luthor framing Clark for the collateral in the Africa incident
- Luthor’s attempting to ship Kryptonite into the country
- Luthor’s plot to create Doomsday from Zod’s body
- Clark investigating the Batman
- Lois investigating the bullet from the fallout in Africa
- Batman investigating Lex
- Legless Employee vandalising shit
That’s 8 plot threads. Most of which have only a tenuous connection to each other. And we’re not even finished with Act 1 yet. Within said act, we’ve still got the Knightmare and Wonder Woman sequence to come. That’s 10. 10 Plot threads. In one movie. At once. Plus enough pointless scenes to actually create a counter.
And the most mind-numbing thing of all? Only one of those plots is related to the seemingly main conflict of ‘BATMAN V SUPERMAN’! Seriously, despite a fantastic opening scene showing more than enough reason for Bats to hate Supes, we haven’t seen Batman make a single move against him or barely even mention him at this point. Sure, later it’s revealed that part of the reason he was going after Luthor was because he knew about the Kryptonite and that he could use it against Supes but that doesn’t get revealed until much much later. For a movie called Batman v Superman, the film seems dedicated to setting up every plot thread except Batman v Superman.
Phew. Okay, Part 1 over. Next part, I’m going to be covering the Knightmare, the half-assed Wonder Woman set up and the continuation of 13yo fanfic Batman (this time with cars!) Pray for my soul people. Pray for it.