Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - Spoiler-free movie review
Back on April 8, 2015, I posted a status update about the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice teaser trailer, and my impression at the time was, "Batman v. Superman sure looks... dreary."
Monday night (admittedly, at an 11:15PM showing) I saw BvS in at the ArcLight theater in Sherman Oaks. This was in one of their biggest theaters, in an ATMOS-equipped room, and less than a week after the film opened.
So even though it was a pretty late showing, and on a week night, you'd expect some kind of a crowd for an epic blockbuster-in-the-making that's been hyped for the past three years. At the very least, a modest smattering of people. Remember how Star Wars: The Force Awakens was completely sold out in some theaters for weeks?
Yeah. Not so much here.
I think there might have been 8 of us there. Hard to tell... only one person was seated in front of me.
Can't say I'm surprised. The Rotten Tomatoes score for the film has been spiraling downward faster than the debris from a collapsing building in Metropolis. It's fascinating to watch and wonder where it will bottom out. It's around 28% now. I think it started in the mid-50's.
I wasn't a big fan of Man of Steel, and thought the last Batman film was terrible. And actually, in hindsight, I would score them both considerably lower now. I tend to score films too high when I review them, because I'm coming from a theatrical experience - fresh off of seeing a new spectacle for the first time on a big screen. So my opinions tend to be colored by the immediacy of the visceral impact of the event - rather than being tempered by time and repeat viewings. The fact is, I wouldn't give either movie above a 3/10, now.
All of that said - I went to see BvS, willing to give it a chance. If nothing else, it promised that aforementioned spectacle.
Now, there were two big problems with the film:
The first, was the second trailer. This basically gave away the plot of the movie. Spoilers galore.
The second, was that the first problem really didn't matter.
The movie so heavy-handedly spoils everything that's going to happen anyway, spoilers wouldn't have really made any difference. It takes forever to get going, spends an agonizingly long time setting everything up, then the payoffs fall far short of delivering on the movie's promises.
Just from the title, you'd expect the big, epic battle between Bats and Supes to take up a really significant part of the film, wouldn't you? It was sure hyped that way in the trailers. But that part of the film was actually pretty short, and the resolution of it was completely unsatisfying. Cheap. Even silly. And then there's a second big fight, but again, as with the first, it's something of a disappointment, and the ending of it is so ham-fistedly telegraphed, it shouldn't catch anyone but the most utterly clueless off-guard.
It also doesn't help that a bunch of material is lifted from Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns". If you've read that (and if you're a Batman fan, you have), you're going to see a lot of stuff coming before it happens. I spent a lot of the film waiting. Waiting for the setups to pay off. Waiting for the inevitable to happen. Waiting for something, anything to happen that I wasn't expecting - that either wasn't spoiled in the trailers, or by the movie itself.
Now, maybe all of that wouldn't have been a problem, if the film had been any fun. But apart from a few cool action sequences, it just wasn't. It was, as I mentioned before, dreary.
I watched the film. But I wasn't into it. I would look at it thinking, "Okay, Ben Affleck is doing a pretty good job here", or "Gal Gadot was a good choice for Wonder Woman - can't wait to see her movie instead", or "Well, I can see where this is going next, can we please get this over with and move onto the next scene", or "Why are some of these shots so grainy", or even, "I bet they handle this a lot better in Captain America: Civil War."
And so on. Rarely did I ever care about the people on screen, or what was going to happen to them. Metropolis is in danger again? So what else is new? Anyone still stupid enough to live in skyscrapers in that city should know better by now. And if Gotham City is plagued by crime, and it's just across the river from Metropolis... why didn't Superman go over there and bust some criminals once in awhile? Seems to me he could make some time for that. It's hard to care about a movie full of stupid people. And grumpy, stupid people, at that.
I suppose then, the biggest single problem with this film is that I just didn't like the characters. They're all brooding, moody, mopey, self-absorbed, miserable nihilists.
Now... doesn't that sound suspiciously like some other superhero movie? Oh, right... The Watchmen. But those movie characters were all spot-on adaptations from the comic book. They were all brooding, moody, mopey, self-absorbed, miserable nihilists. And they were all thoroughly unlikeable (except perhaps Rorschach - who at least had integrity). BvS is effectively a mirror of The Watchmen: Superman is Dr. Manhattan - the emotionless, disaffected, feared, hated, godlike being; Batman is a mix of Rorschach's paranoid, obsessive hatred of criminals and the Comedian's wanton disregard for life
Oh that's right... Zack Snyder directed both films. And Man of Steel. So if you've seen The Watchmen and Man of Steel - mix those two together, and you have Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Everyone in this film, pretty much all the time, seems miserable. Even Superman. He's just one unhappy dude. And there's no sense of fun to Batman at all. He's just permanently mad, and so psychologically damaged it's amazing he can even function. Everyone else is upset or angry at someone or something all of the time too. And as for Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor... his motivations for being so completely hateful of Superman are never really explained. There's a backstory missing, somewhere. And Eisenberg plays him as such a completely unhinged nut-case, that it's hard to take him seriously (yes - his character is a danger by his actions, but it's hard to take him personally serious as a threat).
There is, however, an exception to the misery. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. She is the lone bright spark in an otherwise dismal world. There's a sly playfulness about her when she's Diana Prince, and when she gets involved in the big fight scene - she's the only one who looks like she's having fun. Hey DC - it's okay to have fun in a comic book movie! Just because you're trying to deal with a serious theme, doesn't mean everyone has to be completely miserable all of the time! Even though her screen time is severely limited, I'm looking forward to seeing her film. I wasn't before, but I am now. (She already even has her own theme song in the movie. Sadly... it's not this one.)
I can't say I'm looking forward to Justice League* though. That's Snyder's next superhero depression-fest on the docket. The teases in BvS did nothing to pique my interest. We caught some glimpses of the other future JL members, but the problem was - everyone already knew that was going to happen. That was widely announced months ago, with photos of Aquaman. There were no surprises here. And some of the glimpses went on far too long. They should be quick and mysterious, but as another review noted, they felt more like extras for a video release - as if Snyder was saying, "Hey look everyone - you've found our Easter Egg!" It grinds the movie to a halt. More is not always better.
Is it unfair to judge Justice League when it hasn't even been shot yet? Well, the CEO of Warner Bros. said, "...the worlds of DC are very different... they're steeped in realism, and they're a little bit edgier than Marvel's movies." (I'm guessing he didn't actually see Green Lantern.) "Edgier" doesn't necessarily equate to being "good", and in the case of BvS, it doesn't equate to "fun" either. Hopefully, DC can figure out a balance. They don't have to be Marvel (and shouldn't). Even Marvel isn't always Marvel, as Fox has its own distinct feel for the X-Men movies. And DC seems to be "getting it" on TV (admittedly, I haven't watched any of their stuff, but the reviews have certainly been better than BvS). Maybe they should give a few more notes to Zack this time. If the scathing reviews for BvS keep pouring in, they probably will. Still, the movie's already made back its production budget, and as long as it doesn't totally tank, it should still turn a profit (after all of the marketing gets paid for).
Box office notwithstanding, in the end, BvS just wasn't... fun. Superman was a mopey loser; Batman was a grumpy, violent sociopath; Lex Luthor was a babbling crackpot; and even the usually buoyant Amy Adams was wasted as Lois Lane was thrown back into being the old stereotypical nosey reporter who always gets in trouble. The film took forever to get going, spent way too long setting things up that never paid off or weren't important, had massive gaps in logic (even for a superhero film), and was way, way, way too long. They could have easily cut a half hour out of this movie. And they never knew when to end it either. It was like listening to someone who never knows when to stop talking even after they've completely run out of things to say (or like reading this blog, probably). And some things which should have had more time spent on them (Lex's hatred), were completely glossed over.
Was it all bad?
No. As I mentioned, Gal Gadot was a bright spot. I'm glad they didn't spend much time with her backstory either, because there's a whole movie's worth of origin story that needs to be told.
Also, despite the morose version of the character he was saddled with by Snyder, I think Ben Affleck is the best Batman/Bruce Wayne since Adam West. (And yes - Adam West was a great Batman, because his version of Batman/Bruce Wayne was always true to the character within the milieu of that show and its world.) One of the highlights and true standout moments of BvS is a brawl where Batman takes out an entire room full of henchmen. In fact, you can see a better edit of that scene in this trailer, than what ended up in the final film. That is pretty-much the highlight of the movie. Watch it twice. There... I just saved you fourteen bucks.
So is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice a truly bad film?
Well, it's certainly true to its vision. At times it lives up to being a visual spectacle. It's (generally) well-crafted, apart from CG creature effects that would have been right at home in 2008 (checks watch... nope, it's 2016). But even the spectacle value of it is mostly ground that's already been covered: we spend some of the movie re-watching Man of Steel. Batman's origin is re-told again. There are a lot key ideas taken straight from the comics, and much of the rest of it seems all-too-familiar. It's also too long, too self-absorbed, too dreary, too wordy, and unrelenting in its lack of fun. It may not be bad like Good Dinosaur is bad, or some other really awful superhero films are bad, but it's certainly not what it could have been. In a way, it's more like how Tomorrowland was bad, in that it doesn't live up to its own promises. Worse yet, it doesn't live up to the mythos of its characters, and treats them with disrespect, if not outright contempt. The handful of cool action scenes can't save it. Wonder Woman couldn't even save it. Save your money. Wait for it to show up on TV. You won't be missing anything.
Batman v Superman: Yawn of Justice gets a 4/10.
And at some point, I'll probably wish I'd scored this one lower, too.
*(I am, however looking forward both to Lego Batman, and the How It Should Have Ended episode for BvS.)