There’s a scene in Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, after one of Lex Luthor’s evil schemes has gone exactly as planned and made the public hate Superman for the third or fourth time already, when Superman, a preposterously handsome god-man played by preposterously handsome god-man Henry Cavill, turns to Lois Lane and says, “Superman was never real. He was just a dream of a farmer from Kansas.”
Never real? Bro, we just spent the last 30 minutes watching you fly, shoot laser beams from your eyes, and survive a massive explosion. What are you even talking about? Why does Superman’s dialogue sound like a Jaden Smith tweet?
It’s a perfect microcosm of the rest of this mopey, dopey movie, where the superheroes respond to every bad guy plot by wondering what it all means, maaan. As if we’re watching Waking Life and not a movie with “V” in the title. They talk and talk and talk, giving existential buffoon speeches until self-defeating monologues become self-defeating fight sequences, and almost every moment feels like if someone with an ounce of common sense could just parachute into the scene, we could resolve the plot conflict in two seconds. Aren’t heroes into brevity anymore?
It feels like Batman V Superman‘s characters have been infected with the kind of faux-profound doublespeak virus that strikes actors on press tours. In addition to the “Superman was never real” travesty, we get Batman saying “And if we believe there’s even a one percent chance he is our enemy, we have to take it as an absolute certainty that we have to destroy him.”
I didn’t know what the hell that meant when Dick Cheney said it, and I don’t know what it means when Batman says it. I kind of like the idea of Batman as a juiced-up, proto-fascist antihero who quotes neocon hawks like scripture while reading Soldier of Fortune magazine on his surveillance toilet. It would be an interesting reflection on Trump-mania, at least. But Batman V Superman has no follow through. One minute Batman’s talking about security, the next he’s onto daddy issues. He thinks Superman is so optimistic about human nature because he had a father. Or something. Batman is about everything and about nothing, both literal and a metaphor, and if you’re confused about the levels of meaning, don’t worry, he’ll tell you.
At one point, Batman is looking through some stolen computer files, and he has an extended daydream about fighting Superman in the desert. Now, why you need a dream sequence in a movie about a God-man who can shoot lasers from his eyes is beyond me. Did this story seem too grounded before that? Was the existential threat of Superman really not obvious enough that it had to be explained through the subconscious? Did we need Freudian analysis to explain why a proto-fascist is scared of a demigod? Then Batman wakes up, and The Flash jumps through the screen he’s watching with a warning. Which also turns out to be a dream! A dream within a dream! Oy, at least Sucker Punch‘s double dreams had robot samurais.
Meanwhile, Lex Luthor, who I thought was supposed to be a slimy smooth talker, is depicted here as a grating, millennial tycoon type (the “Evil Zuckerberg” vibe goes way beyond Lex being played by the guy who previously played Zuckerberg, though it’s also precisely that on the nose), who doesn’t make a single coherent statement for the entire film. This is partly a criticism, partly just a choice the film made. I actually felt bad for Jesse Eisenberg, because it looks like Zack Snyder directed him to go with all his most irritating character instincts, but never got around to figuring out how it would serve this story. Lex is just this maniacal chihuahua that won’t stop yapping. A couple of Lex gems: “But in the dark, among the stars, the bell cannot be unrung. Ding ding ding. Ding ding ding.”
And, “Even when I was a kid I knew that God couldn’t be good and all powerful. If he was all-powerful then he couldn’t be good, and if he was good, then he couldn’t be all powerful.”
Gee, Lex, that’s a whole lot of words to say “I want to kill Superman.” You know what other words would’ve sufficed? “Hi, I’m Lex Luthor.”
It would’ve made a perfect contrast pitting obnoxious, babbling Lex vs. a couple of terse men of action, but Batman and Superman are just as full of it. The trouble is, Batman V Superman is actually a much simpler movie than it thinks it is. Batman is scared of Superman, Lex wants to profit off them fighting. Communicating this does not require a double dream sequence, ten flashbacks, a Senate hearing (starring a senator played by Holly Hunter, whose allegiances switch from scene to scene, tiresomely), a wounded veteran of the last movie, and umpteen monologues about the power of Superman and Batman’s respective symbology. Save it for the press tour, guys! It’s like the storyteller is guilty of the same kind of bloated circular reasoning as the characters.
When Batman and Superman finally do square off in their big fight, it’s hard to enjoy the eye candy of it (and there are a couple of cool moments) because the story has us rooting against the fight. Which seems like it could be resolved with two words from Superman anyway. Instead, it goes on for ten minutes, and then gets resolved in two words. These are the kinds of story elements that make you yell at the screen, and not in a good way.
By the time they got around to introducing Wonder Woman, I just wanted it to stop. And I liked Man of Steel (aside from the last act). Even after all the bloviating that came before it, BvS still manages to squeeze in the “Earth is threatened, let’s blow everything up” final act, which is even more anti-climactic this time around. I don’t get it, will studios not greenlight these without this kind of scene at the end?
After we see a The Shining-style historical photograph of Wonder Woman near the end, she says something to the effect of “I gave up on mankind 100 years ago. A century of horrors.” Jesus Christ, I just met this new hero, and she’s already moping?
Do me a favor — save humanity, destroy humanity, do super stuff for personal financial gain or punt babies into the sun just to get your rocks off. You do you, superhero! But whatever you choose, don’t spend 10 minutes whining about it first.
Vince Mancini is a writer, comedian, and podcaster. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.