Being a huge Batman fan, I put off seeing this until recently. I had heard it wasn’t great But nothing could have prepared me. It is possibly one of the worst affronts to both Batman and Superman and is very definitely a messy movie.
Directed by Zack Snyder, there should have been hope. He was able to faithfully recreate the world of 300 and Watchmen to great effect. In fact, his adaptation of Watchmen failed at the box office due to how faithful he was to the source material. With this in mind, Batman vs Superman or DOJ from hereon should have been brilliant. It should have taken the elements given by The Dark Knight Returns and ran with them. He could have taken the elements of the rivalry between the superheroes and let it build into a believable conflict. Instead, we got something very different.
Before we delve into the horrors on screen we should mention some positives. Ben Affleck manages to portray a very realistic Batman. A Batman who has been fighting crime for two decades and is for all intents and purposes, an asshole. A grizzled, vengeful, sadistic Batman who will never get over the death of his parents. Affleck plays him as you should. He has clearly looked at the source material and gets the character. What he is then asked to do by Snyder is another matter.
One of the most controversial scenes in the film is a perfect example. Affleck plays a future Batman who is fighting as a rebel against a world ruled by Superman. He is trying to buy kryptonite from a weapons dealer but gets intercepted by Superman’s forces. Not being as big a Superman fan, I cannot reference the work this comes from, but it is the one sequence in the film that makes me wonder what could have been if Snyder had run with it more. It takes place in a well-lit desert, there is a genuine shock seeing Batman use a gun, but soon you realise this shows the desperate measures forced upon him. Unfortunately, Snyder uses this as a dream sequence, poorly dropped in and confusing to the viewer. It is only at the end when we see a brief appearance of The Flash, that we realise it was a dream or vision. If only this intrigue had been in the rest of the film.
Jesse Eisenberg also does a decent job of portraying a maniacal Lex Luthor. Unfortunately, his portrayal will always be placed against other villains in films, meaning he will come up against Heath Ledger’s Joker. Eisenberg’s story arc against Senator Finch is another more interesting aside, with a huge payoff. Unfortunately again it is treated very much as a secondary story as we are pummelled into submission by the main plot. And what a pummelling we get.
Snyder seems unable to have any scenes in his movies with natural light. The amount of filter and horribly out of place CGI even in outdoor scenes is depressing. In 300, the hyper-realism fitted perfectly. Watchmen, to a certain extent, began to suffer from Snydervision. The first Snyder Superman film and this one, are completely ruined by unrealistic visions. Superman is a man who wears a blue suit and a red cape emblazoned by a large yellow and red S. Yet in Snyders world it looks like a horrible grey. Superman is a beacon of light and hope in a world and his look should reflect this. Superman has no colour at all. It has been filtered beyond belief to a horribly depressing darkness. This isn’t Batman. Superman operates in broad daylight. He is colourful as an alien from another planet. Thigs like looking gritty should not even enter his psyche. But then again Henry Cavill as Superman is not allowed to have a psyche. He is as much a blunt object as the abomination Doomsday he fights at the end.
Cavill looks the part. He even speaks with the dumb other-worldly naivety that is needed. He should see the good in all people and be in a constant internal struggle to not use his powers in case he injures more people than he saves. The film starts very cleverly, referencing the destruction done to Metropolis by Superman’s fight with General Zod. It allows the audience through the eyes of Batman to see the collateral damage done by Superman without thought. It is that lack of thought that should be addressed in this film but is not. It is cast aside in favour of huge battles with Doomsday that make a point of being on a deserted piece of Gotham. In reality, the huge nuclear explosions from this fight would also have killed millions. Cavill should be torn in many directions. He has to be constantly at odds with his immense power, his love for a mortal woman and his duty to try to save everyone at all times. It should be a job of constantly keeping all the plates spinning as Lex Luthor tries to covertly take over. Luthor should distract Superman so he can further his own ends. In this Luthor goes toe to toe with Superman by kidnapping his mother. So we are meant to believe Superman can hear Lois Lane wherever she calls from in the world, yet he is completely in shock when his mother is taken. Really? I mean Really?
Then we get to Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Gadot is a capable actress. I very much enjoyed her part in the Fast and Furious series and she again looks the part of a tall amazonian superhero. Yet she is handled so poorly here that is is impossible not to think of her as eye candy. She should be a hero for women all over the world. There should be flashbacks to the deeds she has done in the past, rather than a poorly explained photo from 100 years ago. Her costume also suffers from the Snydervision effect. All the colour and shiny metal are gone replaced by the dullness and dirt that sums up these films. He first introduction is handled as poorly as the introduction of a Bond girl in the 70’s and she never regains credibility. Dumped into the film that does not need her she dresses as if clearly from a different plane and her powers make her Superman’s equal in the final battle. Why did she not lend a hand in the first film?
This is clearly a precursor to a Justice League film, yet it abandons all that is needed for a modern superhero film. The final scenes are a complete role reversal from the comic that it should have drawn so heavily from. This has been done to great effect in the reboot of Star Trek, but here like everything else, it seems dirty and layered with grime. If the same visual style permeates through the rest of the Justice league films then the only one that has a chance is an Affleck led Batman. Presumably to keep in the story arc it will have to focus on the beginning of Frank Miller’s seminal work. It is the only thing dark enough to suit these filters.
While Marvel goes from strength to strength. DC has taken a huge step backward since Chris Nolan’s trilogy. Gone is the real world basis which kept it apart from the Marvel films, gone is the time taken to develop any characters or emotions and ultimately, gone is any audience investment in the film. Affleck’s asshole Batman has potential but the empty vessels around him make this a horror show.
See for yourself with the DVD release