I live less than two minutes from Warner Bros., and to get anywhere, I have to drive by the studio, and every single poster spot on the side of the studio, normally occupied by four different movies and four different TV shows, is currently taken by Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice. From my living room window, I can see the water tower at the center of the lot, which currently features the shield-and-cowl combination logo for Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice. In fact, it is impossible to look anywhere in that general direction or be in my car or be outside my house in Los Angeles without feeling like I”m being bludgeoned by the oh-so-urgent existence of Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice.
Speaking as a fan of Man Of Steel and of Zack Snyder”s work in general, I am baffled by what I saw tonight. In one regard, it certainly feels like they delivered on the promise of that incredibly awkward and franchise-minded title. But I”m not sure how a filmmaker whose work normally speaks to me as clearly as Snyder”s does could deliver something that feels this confused, this impersonal, and this corporate. It is a confounding mess of a movie, and while there are individual sequences that I enjoyed as isolated moments, it is almost breathtakingly incoherent storytelling. Characters do what they do because the movie requires them to do it, not because they are behaving like characters at all. There”s no sense of voice to the film. I have no idea what I should think about Batman or Superman or Wonder Woman based on what I see here. They are all apparently blanks who simply exist to react without thought or purpose to whatever stimuli is presented to them. Structurally, there”s something fundamentally broken about the way this thing”s been built, and I have a feeling it”s going to take some time to really pull apart all of the mistakes that were made.
One thing”s clear: I don”t want the Justice League this movie promises.
Simply put, I don”t care. I don”t have any reason to care about what”s being promised here. This is the least compelling franchise come-on since The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and as the closing credits concluded, I was relieved to see there was no post-credits scene. The entire movie feels like a closing credits scene already, winking and elbowing us to let us know we”ve got so many more movies coming. It”s hard to call something an Easter Egg when the movie stops cold to spotlight it, so it feels more appropriate to call these digressions outright previews. As previews go, though, they left me less interested than ever in what they”re selling, so I guess I”d have to call this a failure.
Here”s the thing: I didn”t hate the movie while I was watching it. More than anything, I was indifferent to it. I found myself looking at it more as an exercise than as a movie, and that”s a problem. At no point did I get drawn into it as a movie. If anything, I”d love to hear someone who has no history with comics try to describe the story of this film after they watch it, because I”m going to guess they would be absolutely baffled by it. I can tell you that as someone who is intimately familiar with all of the source material they”re drawing on here, I am still baffled, but at least I can tell you what they”re doing. I can”t tell you why they”re doing it at any given point, and that”s a major problem. Or rather, I can, but it”s not because of anything that you see onscreen. This is, more than any movie I”ve ever seen, a response to the responses to the film that came before it, and in answering his critics, Snyder has undone everything genuine about Man Of Steel, selling out his characters and undermining the point of that movie. Before I went to the press screening tonight, I revisited Man Of Steel, and I walked into Batman v Superman with that film”s tone fresh in my head. Maybe that”s why I”m so confused by what I saw. It felt like the work of two radically different filmmakers, and it felt like the second filmmaker didn”t like the work of the first filmmaker at all. It”s like Batman Begins was followed up by Batman and Robin.
Beyond that, this movie feels like the work of someone who doesn”t particularly like either Batman or Superman very much. If you were upset because Superman broke General Zod”s neck in Man Of Steel, you will most likely burst a blood vessel when you see Batman, Serial Murderer as he gleefully destroys criminals in this film, often with high caliber firearms. One of the sequences in which he guns down a batch of people is a dream… maybe… but there”s another where there”s a huge body count that he is directly overtly responsible for, and by the time it ended, I was really confused about what I was watching. This is supposedly a film in which the two greatest heroes of the DC universe end up fighting, but I don”t see how either Batman or Superman is meant to be the hero of this film. Snyder”s Batman is already burnt out and cynical, heartbroken by what we have to presume was the death of Robin at some point. He”s graduated from just capturing bad guys to branding them so that people in prison know they”re supposed to kill them. Seriously.
Meanwhile, things do not seem to have improved at all for Superman since the ending of Man of Steel, which we see again here from Bruce Wayne”s point of view, making Superman seem like a horrifying public menace. In an early scene, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) ends up in the middle of a bad situation while interviewing a terrorist in Africa, and Superman swoops in to save her, which somehow triggers an international situation for reasons that are unclear. Superman mopes a bit. He takes some PR hits on television. He finally gets bullied into showing up for a Congressional hearing, and then things get even worse, so he disappears for a while.
By the time Batman and Superman finally get around to the title fight, they both seem to be menaces driven entirely by reactionary emotional impulse. It”s never clear why Superman thinks he has any particular leg up on Batman, morally speaking, and the same is true of Batman”s rage towards Superman. Sure, we are shown that final Metropolis fight from a perspective that makes it clear that it”s meant to be 9/11, but Batman”s behavior in the film is childlike in the sort of unwavering and single-minded anger he feels towards Superman. This isn”t someone who has spent 20 years battling evil in all its forms in Gotham City; this is a petulant six-year-old who wants what he wants when he wants it.