First things first, it’s not nearly as bad as the critical consensus would have you believe. Second, it’s not exactly a great film either. And third, there will be heavy spoilers in this review/discussion.
The film is epic in scope, attempting to address issues present in Man of Steel, while using those issues as a bridge for this story. It also becomes a prelude to the events in Justice League, setting the stage for what’s to come in the next few films. But even in a movie that takes 2 and a half hours to run its course, it all falls under the weight of Zack Snyder’s vision. There are about 3 subplots and 10 characters too many, and a number of unfulfilled or improperly explained sequences, scenes, and/or logical leaps. But despite this there is plenty of good to be had in the film.
Batman, as played by Ben Affleck, is a damaged character. We get an early scene of him trying to save the lives of his coworkers in one of the Wayne Enterprise buildings in Metropolis 18 months prior, when Superman is fighting Zod up above. (Why Bruce didn’t just suit up and save lives, instead of simply arriving on a helicopter, goes unexplained). This cements his hatred and xenophobia for the Man of Steel, as many die – some close to home. We also learn right off the bat (haha) that Robin is presumably dead. This has led the vigilante hero to torturing his victims by way of branding, even going so far as to excuse himself by telling Alfred that they were “always criminals.”
Affleck fills out the costume far better than any previous actor portraying the role, and he nails the character. That’s not to say there weren’t odd choices taken by Batman. Like, say, why he was getting nightmares that would foreshadow Darkseid’s arrival in a future Justice League film. He, who has no special powers, abilities, or reason to receive these omens, did so in ways that actually disrupted the storytelling. In one nightmare scene there is a long panning shot that is slightly poorly choreographed, as you can see Affleck going through the motions, waiting for the next punch, counting each step. It would have been far more believable if Wonder Woman were to have had these nightmares, because that would have prompted her to get involved in the lives of men again, after a 100 year absense.
Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot, was beautiful, charming, and awesome all at the same time. But beyond attempting a similar plan to steal information from Luthor, it isn’t clear why she’s all of a sudden stepping back into the world of men. It can be assumed that her love with Steve Trevor came to an inglorious and abrupt end during the First World War in which she took part in, which prompted her exit from mankind. But she really kicks some butt when she finally suits up and aids our heroes. Her arrival in the midst of battle was the only time people actively cheered in the film. I just wish this scene hadn’t been spoiled to me in the trailers, because it wasn’t nearly as impactful as it should have been.
And then there’s Superman. While I admit I was more sold on this version of the character than I was in Man of Steel, Zack Snyder clearly doesn’t understand him. He does have several excellent scenes, one of my favorites being when he stopped a punch from Doomsday meant for Lex Luthor. However, these scenes (some very visually stunning) don’t make up for the rest of his character, sad to say. It’s as if Snyder wanted to announce right away that this isn’t the character you know and love, immediately having him kill a terrorist in his first scene. It felt as though Snyder was actually prodding the audience to see if they would have as big a fit as the did when he killed General Zod in the first film. Well, now that we’re accustomed to a Superman who’s willing to go as far as killing another sentient being, this isn’t as shocking as it should be. It just wasn’t necessary.
This terrorist group in Africa is the beginning of a long, convoluted plot concocted by Luthor to bring the Man of Steel down in the long run. This event branches into about 3 different subplots that are so forgettable they aren’t worth mentioning.
The notion of a Superman who is dealing with the natural backlash of humanity being worried about his power is a strong one. This eventually leads to another step in Luthor’s plot to bring him down, blowing up a government building with him inside as well as a number of innocent individuals. That scene, in and of itself, is incoherently comprised of several plot threads devised by Luthor to destroy Superman’s reputation further, and cause the mass populace to turn on him (including tying in one of Bruce Wayne’s old employees to, assumedly, draw out Batman in a fight with Superman – although the film never explicitly tells us if Lex knows who Batman is).
Anywho, long story short, any other iteration of Superman would have seriously beat himself up over the fact that he should have been able to do more. He would have grieved. He would have self-deprecated himself to a point where he would have almost given up. We only get hints at this happening with Henry Cavill’s Superman, but even when channeling emotions he still feels so rigid and alien-like that it’s hard to believe in his humanity.
Han Zimmer’s Man of Steel theme does more for the character than the actual performance does. The piano melody is solemn, lonely, but hints at an abundance of hope. Although not the bombastic and powerful ballad given to us by John Williams, it does tease the old theme throughout the soundtrack, and the newer theme is a strong piece that makes up for some of the character’s flaws to create a feeling of greater depth.
Actually, Han Zimmer and Junkie XL did a great job with the soundtrack. With Batman’s Suite we hear hints of Danny Elfman’s take on the character. Some of the music is drowned out in the mix early on in the film, but some songs come through quite powerfully. Namely ‘Is She with You?’ the Wonder Woman Theme, which is an onslaught of heavy war drums and gritty guitar riffs. Well done.
Other tracks are more operatic, perhaps more in line with the great opera Zack Snyder attempted presenting us with. The Lex Luthor theme is whimsical and maniacal all at once, much like the character portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg.
I did not like his portrayal of Lex Luthor. He made no sense half the time. I would have preferred if he merely channeled Mark Zuckerberg again. Instead he was more akin to the Riddler than Lex Luthor. His plots were all over the place. And how was the computer in the Kryptonian ship so easily manipulated by him? It’s as if it simply didn’t want to argue with him, so when Lex made a good enough point about creating the Doomsday creature, it was suddenly totally on board, despite telling him no 20 seconds prior.
The hardest ploy of Luthor’s for me to comprehend was when he took Martha Kent and Lois Lane, and had Doomsday at the ready. Let me explain. Batman was pivotal to that plan because Lex wanted him and Superman to duke it out, killing one or both of them. He knew Batman had the kryptonite, but how did he know that Batman would show up at that most opportune time to call Superman with the bat signal? How did Lex plan that? And if Batman didn’t show up? Would Lex have told Superman to find him within the hour that was alotted? We don’t know for a certainty if Lex knew Batman’s identity, and we don’t know if he knew Clark knew it. So if that part of the plan didn’t pan out with Batman, what would be Lex’s plan with Martha Kent? Would he have simply unleashed Doomsday at that point, his conveniently timed plan now foiled?
Actually, let’s take a step back and look at this from another angle. Did Clark actually have to fight Batman? Say he told Lex he was going to the bat signal to fight him. Lex had no eyes on the fight. Clark could have easily just flown there, turned around, and searched the city to find where they were keeping his mother. And then he could have done the same thing that Batman did, only much quicker. Let’s look at this strange plan from yet another angle. Why did Batman, who had no idea about Luthor’s ploy, think that Supes would have shown up just because he turned the bat signal on? Previously in the film Superman told him to stop heeding the bat signal, that his work was essentially finished and past tense. Why would Superman now heed the signal? This, to me anyway, is all very confusing and, seemingly, coincidental.
Let’s talk about their fight. Batman fighting Superman was probably the best fight scene I’ve seen in a superhero movie, period. It was a believable way for the Dark Knight to disarm Superman (who, up to that point, doesn’t know Kryptonite exists) and ultimately win. But overall it was so well done that it was hard not to sit on the edge of my seat. I just wish it went on longer. Also, it would have been more engaging had they both wished to fight. Superman was playing the pacifist, whereas Batman was playing to kill. Had they just played on the contrasting mentalities of the two characters, like many expected they would, instead of relying on Luthor to pit them against each other, the stakes would have actually felt higher. If that were to have happened it would have been two characters finding more within themselves, instead of simply just Batman realizing he had become the villain in a last minute epiphanic moment.
And seeing the trinity on screen. That put a smile on my face. Despite the high-speed, blurry, and often very jarring action sequences in the fight with Doomsday, seeing the three in action together for the first time in a live action film was beyond words. Wonder Woman kicks butt.
Doomsday himself was perhaps too much for this film, though they needed a character for the three of them to face off against. It was nice seeing his final transformation look like it did in the comics, namely in the Death of Superman story. Which, I’m sorry, was super poorly done in this film, and I’m a bit upset they even tried to do it this early on in their universe. There was no soul in the death. No emotion. Had that been the sole storyline they intended to get across it would have been fine, but the story was so congested and poorly edited, it was hard for me to feel anything but numbness when the character died. I’ve said it before on this blog, but here it is again: Superman is my favorite hero, period. He is the original. He is the moral compass other heroes can only dream of becoming. And in his singular loneliness in the universe he proves more human than anyone else. It is depressing for me to have to live with the fact that we haven’t figured out how to portray the character on a movie that cost Warner Bros. over $400m, and that this is what I have to look forward to in this universe.
There was never any doubt the character would come back. What’s a Justice League without Superman? Well, who cares – we havent even seen him in the Justice League yet, so the ramifications of such a notion are truly meaningless. Had they done the Death of Superman storyline after a Justice League film, to cement the characters importance and necessity, it would be so much more impactful. And then we actually see Superman wake up, the dirt on his coffin floating, just like the dirt around him does when he gets ready to fly off. It just negates the cliffhanger.
Alright, Superman rant done. Sorry. Got away from myself there. The other cameos were shoehorned in pretty oddly. Somehow Lex Luthor had files on metahumans such as Wonder Woman, Cyborg, the Flash, and Aquaman, (but not Superman for whatever reason) and Bruce Wayne accidentally stumbles upon them. First things first, who created those logos? Is Lex Luthor their biggest fan or something? Seriously, he created a notable, color-coded, minimalist logo for each of them. I was expecting bigger cameos than this from the main players. The Flash showed up, interestingly, after one of Bruce’s nightmares. He actually showed up in an armored suit briefly, breaking time with the Speed Force, and hinting about how “Lois is the key.” This will certainly have to do with a future event, like the parademons seen in his nightmare. These cameos feel added in at the last minute, mostly, as if by studio request.
Some of the more theoretical life lessons the characters learn about others and about themselves by the end of the film – such as Superman claiming that “this is my world,” and he needs to save it, or Batman’s “men are still good,” – fall flat as they arent given any greater depth or meaning. Though it seems like they should have some deeper meaning, they end up being ambiguous and empty.
Overall, the movie is hard to follow, as there’s simply way too much going on. But it does have its moments. As a fan I was mostly happy. As a film critic, I was less so. It is very, very dark. The film is purposely desaturated to have a grim feel. It’s not a film for kids. But it can be fun at the same time. I think, after mulling over everything and digressing in this review, a second viewing is necessary. I have a feeling I’ll appreciate it more, now that I’ve figured out what I like and don’t like. And there is plenty to like, truly.
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