*** Spoilers for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice throughout. Though you shouldn’t care because this film is terrible***
For the first time I have been moved to write a movie review. It’s a big movie, you may well have seen it already, and it has received a very poor critical reception so far. Its enormous marketing campaign will ensure it makes enough money to succeed, fans of the characters will still buy its merchandise, but it is still and will remain an abject artistic failure. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has problems far deeper than a poor script, inept direction and awful CGI and I’m still trying to figure out how it went so badly wrong. I shall try to break this review in to sections to better organise my thoughts and stay on topic but it’s probably inevitable that I will digress in to infuriated rants and call for Zack Snyder’s head on a plate, I apologise in advance.
The Good Stuff.
As with all Zack Snyder helmed projects there are flashes of brilliance. Ben Affleck is believable as Batman, for instance, portraying a more psychologically unstable version of the character than Christian Bale’s suave ninja. He is a muscular presence in every sense of the word, occasionally filling the screen with barely contained fury.
Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is… fine. I suppose.
Henry Cavill’s Superman is also fine, though he is certainly not given enough to do by either the writers or the director.
Gal Gadot was very promising and gave me some hope for the upcoming Wonder Woman film.
There was a jump scare during one of the many poorly signposted dream sequences, it worked. I know a lot of people find jump scares cheap and irritating but I enjoy them, they’re a perfectly acceptable film making tool.
The Bad Stuff.
This film needs an editor. That editor needs to be legally allowed to simply guillotine Zack Snyder and send me his head on a plate if he makes any kind of fuss. The middle third or so of Batman V Superman: Blades of Glory was a meandering, meaningless mess which served no purpose and should have been left on the cutting room floor.
On top of that there were a number of confusing dream sequences. They are very, very poorly signposted, though I suspect this may have been the result of Zack Snyder’s misguided attempts to employ subtlety rather than simple incompetence.
The greater problem with the dream sequences is that they told the audience nothing and did not advance the plot or illuminate the motivations of the characters in any way. At their worst they were effectively adverts for upcoming films in the series and meant nothing to non comics readers. Why would someone unfamiliar with Darkseid and the New Gods react with awe at the sight of an enormous omega symbol burned in to ground? The answer is that they would not, nor would they care or be intrigued by it in any way.
STOP DESATURATING THE COLOURS IN ALL YOUR FILMS, ZACK. I like a bit of darkness in my movies as much as the next Goth but if you don’t have anything to compare it to because everything’s dark then it loses all impact. When Batman and Superman are squaring off against one another while wearing, due to your extreme colour desaturation and decision to shoot in 3D (which makes the resulting film considerably darker) the same grey cape and grey jumpsuit combination while standing on the grey batmobile in a grey landscape under a grey sky then something has gone wrong, hasn’t it? Was anyone on hand to tell you when you’d made a blindingly obvious mistake? When watching Batman v Superman: Tower of Pisa I get the feeling that you were surrounded by yes men, it is the same feeling I had when watching the Star Wars prequel trilogy.
Just to make clear how bad the desaturation was; like about 5% of people in the world I am colourblind. I find red and green hard to distinguish and I also have more than my fair share of difficulty with blue and yellow, though as long as the shades are different enough I don’t have much of a problem. Zack Snyder decided to have a man spray paint a slogan on to a statue, a statue which, due to the extreme desaturation effect, was a kind of grey/green colour. The man in the film used a can of red paint. I could not see the slogan he painted at all, and this is the first time in any film that this has been a genuine problem.
The Naked Product Placement.
Lex Luthor eats some sweets. We get a nice close up of the bowl and see that it contains a number of snickers sweets. The close up lingers for long enough for us to read the logo several times. Lex Luthor is wealthy and has Jesse Eisenberg’s hair. You could be wealthy and have Jesse Eisenberg’s hair if you act like him. Go and buy some snickers.
I wanted to call this section ‘The effects’ but I honestly don’t think there were any practical effects in this whole mess. Batman v Superman: House of Pancakes makes no visual sense during action scenes and those are the sequences in which you, as a member of the audience, need the most visual clarity. Snyder spent his time with the FX team telling them to add more clutter to his film instead of going to a nearby guillotine and chopping his own head off after instructing his PA to send it to me on a plate once he was dead. Nothing has any weight in this mess; buildings collapse, everything explodes at the drop of a hat, lightning arcs through the sky and all of it looks bad. When there are no practical effects in a film then objects and people obey the demands of the director rather than the laws of physics and your subconscious mind knows that what you are watching is not real. Contrast this mess of a film (which you will, statistically speaking, go and see even if you haven’t already) with last year’s Mad Max: Fury Road; the action sequences in that were bone crunching, astonishing sights made to feel all the more real because the director insisted on stunt work wherever possible and used digital effects only to enhance what was already present.
Now, granted, some directors fall in to the trap of realising how much of a powerful tool modern computer driven effects are and start trying to use them for everything in every instance because it, genuinely, seems like a good idea (I’m looking at you Peter Jackson) but I don’t think that’s the case here. I honestly believe, from looking at his past work and extrapolating what I can about his personality from interviews, that Zack Snyder is simply too bloody lazy to do it right. Practical effects mean directing sequences with stuntmen, pyrotechnicians, health and safety officials, choreographers and a dozen other people over the course of a long, complex working day. It would surprise me if a man as bone idle about film making as Zack “Sucker Punch” Snyder didn’t look at all that and decide he’d be far happier sat about in an office somewhere occasionally yelling at an animator.
Don’t get me wrong, computer driven special effects are amazing, but the best way to use them will always be to enhance what’s already there or to create something that is otherwise completely impossible.
The Miniature Trailers for Upcoming DC Comics Films.
Wonder Woman, in one sequence, sits at her computer and watches some video files. Each of them showcases a new superhero. Each of these superheroes has an upcoming film. Zack Snyder, unable to think of a good way to hint towards them in any other way, has Wonder Woman sit down and watch video files of them on her computer. This is the laziest, most artistically bankrupt sequence in the movie, to the extent that I suspect even Snyder is a bit embarrassed about it.
I was going to write a long rant in this section. I was going to get really, really cross about his relentless awfulness but I just don’t have the energy now that I come to it. I’ve had too many people try to tell me that there are no politics in a Zack Snyder movie, that I’m gazing too deeply in to a shallow pool. I’m saving my rage for the next part. All you really need to know about Zack Snyder and his infantile politics, especially if you somehow believe he hasn’t got any, is that he has recently expressed a desire to make one of Ayn Rand’s books in to a film.
True to Snyder’s predictable form; it has been a film before. It would be a remake.
The film opens with the iconic sequence. We all know how it goes; mother, father and child step in to an alley, a figure with a gun emerges from the shadows. The mother moves forward to shield her child with her body while the father tries to hand over his wallet and calm the situation. Something goes wrong, a flash of light or a backfiring car startles the mugger. As he panics two bullets make Bruce Wayne an orphan.
Snyder does not understand this story.
In Batman v Superman: Out of Ideas the story goes slightly differently. Mother, father and child step in to an alley. A figure with a gun emerges from the shadows. The mother moves forward to shield her child with her body while the father gets really angry and, like, totally hulks out brah and tries to punch a man holding his family at gunpoint even thought that’s an incredibly stupid move cuz he’s totally badass. The mugger arguably acts in self defence and kills the obviously psychotic and instinctually violent Thomas Wayne, presumably causing his family to sigh with relief. Then he kills Martha Wayne but she’s not a complete moron like her husband and she’s, you know, a girl so she doesn’t really fight. The mugger kills her anyway because the origin story of Batman demands it and for no other reason.
Similarly; Superman does not kill. Many times, in many comics, Lois Lane has been held at gunpoint by some sort of villainous man. In order to deal with this problem Superman has a number of abilities that he can deploy. He can use his heat vision to make the gun hot, forcing the hostage taker to drop it. He can use his freezing breath to encase the weapon in ice. He could, while the gunman blinks, simply snatch the weapon from his hand or deploy his super strength to crush the barrel and render the firearm unusable.
The Superman of Batman v Superman: Horn of Plenty is a bloodthirsty monster.
The first thing he does in the entire film is clearly and brutally murder a guy. In a sequence clearly modeled on Benghazi, because Zack Snyder, Lois Lane is taken hostage. Superman arrives. He has the options outlined above but instead he opts to fly at just under superluminal velocity and smashes the hostage taker through two brick walls. The hostage taker is human and possessed of no special abilities. That man is dead now, there can be no doubt about it.
Zack Snyder does not understand that heroism and violence are not the same thing.
Zack Snyder on Killing.
When Zack Snyder was asked about the fan reaction to the massive collateral damage caused directly by Superman his response was thus:
‘I went, really? And I said, well, what about Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens? In Star Wars they destroy five planets with billions of people on them. That’s gotta be one of the highest death toll movies in history, the new Star Wars movie, if you just do the math.’
Zack Snyder thinks this makes sense. Either Zack Snyder thinks the civilisation destroying villains in Star Wars are the good guys or he thinks it’s acceptable for Superman to destroy civilisations on a whim or… what do you mean Zack? Do you even know? He doesn’t know. Zack Snyder is the end product of a Hollywood that happily bankrolls Michael Bay. He is the bastard love child of Renny Harlin and Battle-of-Five-Armies-era Peter Jackson.
On My Own Obvious Fanboyism.
Yes, I am a comics enthusiast. Stop sniggering.
At his best Superman is an immigrant story, or a sun God, or a benign philosopher, and he is always a beacon of pacifism in a complex world. At his best Batman is a saviour and protector, a believer in redemption and mercy who delivers his mentally ill adversaries to a secure mental health unit where they can receive treatment for their afflictions.
These are not optional aspects of the characters. Superman is a hero because of, not in spite of, his pacifism. Can you imagine if such a being existed in reality and he was not a pacifist? Someone who could fly at light speed and annihilate whoever he pleased with a glance? He could not be anything other than a terrifying monster. By the same token Batman, at his best, is a billionaire with mental health problems who has channeled his illness to a constructive purpose. He wishes to make the streets safe for the people of Gotham, to ensure that no child has to go through the trauma he once suffered. If he kills criminals, or allows them to die by his own inaction, then he is a serial killer.
Saviours, heroes, are complex. Their struggles are morality tales, their victories are pyrrhic, their kindness is bottomless and they will sacrifice themselves for you without hesitation. Their actions are not driven by guilt but by compassion for compassion’s sake. Having a punching competition with a green CGI lightning monster does not make for a compelling story. Zack Snyder likes the idea of heroism, but he doesn’t understand it.