Come On, Zack
Batman v Superman is the most recent trailer for the DC Cinematic Universe. It stars Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, and Jesse Eisenberg. Unfortunately due to scheduling conflicts, Henry Cavill was unable to reprise his role as Superman, but the Henry Cavill cardboard cutout replacement filled the void in the film well enough. With a runtime and two and a half weeks, helmer Zack Snyder has proven that he, nor anyone else at Warner Brothers, really know what their doing.
Batman v Superman‘s biggest problem is that it isn’t as smart as it thinks it is. It’s clear that Snyder and co. had a lot of ideas kicking around when writing the story, but due to the four hundred and ninety-two subplots in the film, felt the need to spell out these ideas. For example, Snyder wanted to convey the idea that Superman, heralded as a hero, is not respected by a small, but passionate, minority. What we needed was a small, emotional scene from a few characters, looking at the spoils of his legacy with disdain. That’s what we got. What we didn’t need were the words “FALSE GOD” literally written across the statue’s chest in red paint. But we got that, too. It’s a classic case of assuming your audience is dumber than it is, and there are several instances of this throughout the film. Some of them involve spoilers, so I won’t go into too much detail, but let’s just say the spray paint shows up more than once.
The secondary sin committed by the film is the transfer of knowledge among characters. We learn things throughout the film as we watch it…locations of characters, purposes of weapons, origins of secrets. However, just because we know that piece of information, doesn’t mean all the characters do. Superman learns a key piece of information, but somehow in the next scene Batman and Wonder Woman both know it. We know that quite a bit of footage was left on the cutting room floor, so it does beg the question of just how much of that was crucial to this plot and it makes you wonder if it was given the boot to make way for more Justice League setup.
And oh my God is there Justice League. Between elaborate dream sequences and super-powered email exchanges, clips of Cyborg, Aquaman, the Flash, and Darkseid are all shoehorned into this film and, much like Thor’s sidequest in Age of Ultron, it kills the momentum of the moment. In fact, the pacing of this film may be one of the most off-putting features of this film. There are really two halves to this film, the setup and the action. Save for one car chase early on, the first half of this film is pretty much all exposition. This exposition is as ham-fisted as it is scatterbrained. There are good ideas buried somewhere in this film, but the story is so caught up in itself that none of these ideas materialize into anything noteworthy.
BvS‘s biggest flaw is that it tries to wear too many hats. It’s on-the-nose delivery, a haphazard story that doesn’t hold up under scrutiny, and unfocused direction all contribute to a film that doesn’t work to form a cohesive narrative. So the substance falls flat, how does the style hold? Well, that’s a more nebulous criticism. I’ll go on record as saying that, no, I don’t like Zack Snyder’s direction. I don’t think Superman should be a dark, bleak figure. I don’t think Batman should murder people…er, sorry, “manslaughter.” Snyder, of course, cites one Miller panel to justify having Batman shoot and kill people, ignoring another panel in the same run. And this is really a thesis for much of Snyder’s work.
Now I don’t want to say that Zack Snyder is a big, dumb, megalomaniacal, violent, sociopath who lives out his hyper-masculine power fantasies through his films, but there is trend of Snyder seemingly…missing the point of the works he adapts. Even if the visuals can mirror those of the comics, it feels like the heart of the story is sometimes lost. At the end of the day, style is much harder to critique than substance because, well, there are no rules for tone other than it must be consistent throughout itself. Things can be dark, and that’s okay, and things can be lighthearted, and that’s okay. One is not better than the other, one is not more adult than the other, and one does not imply any sort of superiority over the other.
But at the end of the day, substance is weak, and when the style can’t make up that difference, you get Batman v Superman. A big, loud, scatterbrained mess. And it’s really not a good foundation for a cinematic universe.
Alex Russo is not a DC hater, just a “this film” hater. You can tell him otherwise on Twitter.