*Massive Spoilers Below*
The almost three year wait for the release of Batman v Superman is finally over. I’m more relieved about its arrival than anything else, to be honest. With its arrival, the launch of DC’s larger cinematic universe has really begun. It’s reception? Well, to say this movie is divisive is an understatement. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie divide fans and critics as much as Batman v Superman, except maybe its predecessor, Man of Steel, coincidentally. Professional critics are ripping this movie apart with a low 30s rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a mediocre score on Metacritic. General audience goers, on the other hand, have been much kinder with a 74% audience approval score on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.5 IMBD score. Those aren’t universal acclaim numbers, but they are miles apart from the establishment critics. Combined with the really high box office numbers, around $170 million in its opening weekend domestically and $425 million worldwide, I think there will be an interesting story to tell as to why the “experts” differ so vastly in their opinion of this film from the average viewer.
As for the movie itself, there are a few general consensus things about this film that even the most negative reviewers have about this film. For starters, it is a beautifully shot film. The cinematography was phenomenal. I’d say Oscar-worthy. When you go to see this movie, I highly recommend seeing it on the largest screen possible to have the fullest experience. It’s that good. On a performance level, there are two characters that stand out: Ben Affleck’s Batman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman.
A major thing I was worried about when they first announced Ben Affleck as the new Batman all the way up to the release of this film was would I be able to see Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman or would I just see only Ben Affleck on screen and all the baggage that comes with him. I’m ecstatic to report my fears were completely unfounded. Affleck knocks his depiction of the Dark Knight out of the park. Personally, I enjoyed him more as Bruce Wayne in this film than I did as Batman, but I thoroughly loved both. Affleck stunned me with how he was able to convey Batman’s raw anger, bitterness, and even helplessness as an older, grizzled, and wounded warrior with such poise that I’m really looking forward to a solo Batman film. I hope Affleck gets the opportunity to direct it as well as a fan of his work shooting Argo. The fight scene you see in the trailer, in which you see him completely dominate a room of a dozen armed goons, came disappointingly late in the film, but it was a thing of beauty. I wish they had more moments like that one.
Throughout the movie, Bruce Wayne is plagued by nightmares mostly revolving around the death of his parents, fears of an unchecked Superman, and the helplessness he felt when he saw Zod and Superman tear Metropolis apart with their fight. There’s one particular sequence, seen in trailers and in released stills prior to the release, which takes place in the desert in what looks like a post-apocalyptic Gotham or Metropolis with Darkseid’s Omega symbol carved into the sand. I’ll come back to Darkseid later since he has a very strong, albeit unseen, presence in this film. It’s a wonderful scene from a visual standpoint, but it can leave the casual viewer confused as to what’s happening. Adding to the confusion is that the dream seems to be a dream within a dream, Inception-style. It is also our first Justice League member cameo appearance in the form of Ezra Miller’s Flash. Bruce is woken up from the desert nightmare to what looks like the Flash struggling through a time portal with a cryptic warning to Bruce. The Flash mentions something about, “Lois Lane being the key,” and, “you were right about him.” Afterwards, the Flash, who utters, “I’m too early,” is pulled back by the whirlwind of the portal before he’s able to give Bruce the complete warning and Bruce wakes up shaken. It’s a very cool sequence to watch, but probably left many, including myself at first, scratching their heads as to what on Earth just happened.
One interesting element to Affleck’s Batman that seems to have gotten drowned or at least pushed to the side because of all the hoopla surrounding the film’s critical reception is that this new Batman’s portrayal, I think, is quite controversial. This Batman is not afraid to kill people and even occasionally uses guns to do it. Dream or nightmare sequences aside, this Batman killed, directly and indirectly, I’d estimate at least a dozen people. All bad guys of course, but, nonetheless, it marks a turning point in the cinematic portrayal of Batman from Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Or a return to form if you want to go all the way back to Burton’s Batman. He’s not apologetic about it either. A car full of gunmen in his way shooting at him? Blows it up. A henchman pulling the pin from a grenade to toss at Batman? Throw a batarang at it causing the henchman to drop the grenade, killing the group around him. Big boss with a flamethrower pointed at an innocent? Shoot the canister causing it to explode. As was repeatedly emphasized to death in the marketing for this film, this version of Batman was heavily influenced by Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns” Batman, and, in this way, it comes across blatantly.
The set up for the showdown between Batman and Superman can get muddled and confusing at times. This is where I recommend going to see the movie a second time because a lot of the elements I found confusing or seemingly random actually made a lot more sense. This is one area where I believe Zack Snyder will need help with when he takes the helm of the Justice League movies that start shooting in a month. He needs either someone to co-direct with him or someone to help him with the editing process. The pieces for a great epic are all there, they just get a little jumbled at times, which is where I think Snyder lost many of the critics. I think with a bit of re-editing in the first act, this movie would’ve achieved universal acclaim. Unfortunately for Snyder, most people won’t go back to see the movie a second time. There’s just so much thrown at you, it takes a while to digest it. Once I was able to digest it and go back to see it again, it was very easy to follow and more of the plot points clicked into place.
The lynchpin for the clash of DC titans was Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. From the get go, it’s plain to the viewer Luthor is the one driving Batman and Superman to fight. Luthor’s motivations for hating Superman and wanting him to fight Batman are a bit rushed, but otherwise they are solid enough. Motivated in part by fear of another Kryptonian attack, but mostly not wanting an all-powerful being interfering with his megalomaniacal interests, Luthor manipulates geopolitics and the criminal element to tarnish Superman’s reputation further and fuel Batman’s anger at the Man of Steel. There’s another, I believe, hidden motive behind Luthor’s actions, but I’ll come to that at the end.
As for Eisenberg’s performance, it was…interesting. I won’t say good or bad because I honestly haven’t made up my mind. On the one hand, he can be very menacing. On the other hand, he can be cringingly cartoonish. I’ve had many friends tell me they either loved or hated Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor. Coincidentally, among my friends, there seems to be a positive correlation between the opinion of Jesse Eisenberg’s interpretation of Luthor and the opinion of the film as a whole. I don’t think correlation equals causation in this case, but I wonder if there’s something to that connection. My favorite moment for Eisenberg’s Luthor occurs when he’s not even on the screen. It’s the Senate hearing where he leaves a jar in front of Holly Hunter’s Senator June Finch, alluding to a conversation those two had earlier where Senator Finch blocked Luthor’s path to import Kryptonite to potentially use as a deterrent against Superman. He lets her know she’s about to die right before the Senate room explodes killing all, including his assistant Mercy Graves. Well all, except Superman, who gets partially blamed for the attack. Without that sequence, I probably would’ve leaned more towards the negative, but I don’t feel strongly one way or the other. I think his portrayal works just fine in the context of this film.
The actual fight is both amazing and disappointing at the same time. While it was an excellent action sequence with Batman’s fabled prep-time coming into play with force, it was relatively brief. I wasn’t expecting Revenge of the Sith Obi-Wan and Anakin on Mustafar length fight, but I was hoping for something more than what amounted to a one-side skirmish. I say one-sided because Batman utterly kicked Superman’s ass. It wasn’t even a competition. That’s what Kryptonite will do I guess. At the end, Batman has his armored boot on Superman’s neck prepared to finish him off with a Kryptonite spear before Superman manages to break through Batman’s judgment-clouding anger with help from a last minute rescue by Lois Lane. It was actually one of the few tear-jerking, touching moments of the film. When Superman utters, “you’re letting him kill Martha,” it very visibly rattles Batman. Superman explains he was compelled to fight Batman because Luthor has kidnapped his mother, who shares a first name with Batman’s mother. I noticed there were a lot of complaints as to why we need to see Bruce Wayne’s parents killed on-screen again, but I thought Snyder did a brilliant job of tying it into this moment. In their first act as a team, Batman offers to rescue Martha Kent for Superman, so that Superman can deal with Luthor. The epic Batman fight sequence I alluded to earlier is him rescuing Martha Kent, which he successfully does. Never come between Batman and a mother named Martha it seems.
Leave it to Luthor to have one more ace up his sleeve or I guess a doomsday plan in this case. Yes, the giant, hulking creature from the third trailer is Doomsday. Using the body of General Zod, the genesis chamber in the crashed Kryptonian ship quarantined since the events of Man of Steel, and his own blood, Luthor is able to unleash Doomsday just as Superman and Batman believe they have the upper hand on him. Superman tries to save Metropolis by pushing Doomsday into space until the military launches a nuke at both of them, which only temporarily disables Superman and Doomsday. Batman lures Doomsday back to the abandoned port of Gotham, where he fought Superman, in order to retrieve the Kryptonite spear in the hopes it can kill the Kryptonian-based Doomsday. Unfortunately for Batman, Doomsday knocks his Batwing out of the sky and is prepared to blast him to dust, which is where you see the line from the trailer of Batman uttering, “Ah shit!” However, in what was my absolute favorite moment from the film, Wonder Woman leaps in front of the blast to deflect it with her bracelets. When the camera panned out on Gal Gadot in her complete Wonder Woman attire with her heart-pumping theme playing in the background, the audience at the theater I was in cheered loudly. Her arrival at that moment was a culmination of events that I believe was executed flawlessly by Snyder.
Throughout the film, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, as her alter-ego Diana Prince, has her own shadowy agenda that has her crossing paths with both Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent. Gadot and Affleck, in particular, have great on-screen chemistry. She is trying to get back a photograph of her that proves she isn’t a normal person, but rather a seemingly-immortal meta-human. Diana is very much the doorway to the Justice League set-up. Bruce Wayne discovers the photo in LexCorp’s archives along with a set of files on three other meta-humans: Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. He sends those files to Diana. In the files are captured footage of the three future Justice League members in some form. The Flash uses his speed out of costume to stop an armed robbery; Aquaman, fierce glowing eyes and all, destroys an underwater surveillance drone with his trident; and Doctor Silas Stone, using what appears to be a Mother Box, Darkseid technology, repairs his son’s body turning his son, Victor, into Cyborg. See what I mean about Darkseid looming over this film? Finally, as Diana is about to leave Metropolis she sees Doomsday’s arrival on the news. She decides she can’t let innocents die just to keep knowledge of her existence from coming out. She easily could’ve walked away from man’s world again, which is what she apparently did 100 years ago, but she chooses to stay and fight. Let me tell you, she can fight.
The Doomsday fight with Batman, Wonder Woman, and a yellow-sun rejuvenated Superman was a spectacle to behold. It was quite amusing to watch Batman just try to dodge all of Doomsday’s attacks while Wonder Woman was getting solid cuts in with her sword. Between all the visuals, sound effects, and energy blasts, the fight reminded me of something I might see in a live-action Dragonball Z fight. It even included Frieza-esque mid-battle evolutions by Doomsday, who, despite all the vicious Superman punches and Wonder Woman cuts, kept getting more powerful and spikier as the fight progressed. The fight concluded when Superman impaled Doomsday with the Kryptonite spear while Wonder Woman used her lasso to hold Doomsday down after Batman weakened him with a Kryptonite gas grenade. However, Doomsday used his spiked limb, originally a hand cut off by Wonder Woman before it regenerated into a deadly weapon, to impale Superman, killing him. Yes, similar to the “Death of Superman” issue that marked Doomsday’s first arrival in comics, Doomsday and Superman end up killing each other. It’s a very ballsy move on Warner Bros. part to kill one of the DC trinity right before a Justice League movie. Clark Kent and Superman get dueling funerals in a beautiful sequence. The nation mourns an empty casket in Washington while family and friends, Martha Kent, Lois Lane, Bruce Wayne, and Diana Prince primarily, have a private memorial in Smallville. After the service, Bruce tells Diana that he won’t fail Superman in death as he did in life. He asks her help to track down the other meta-humans because, as Bruce says, he’ll need their help to stop an upcoming threat. That threat, as mentioned earlier, is strongly hinted at being Darkseid. This is further solidified in a conversation between Batman and a recently imprisoned and head-shaven Lex Luthor. Lex rambles, “he’s coming,” and that the, “bell can’t be unrung.” The implication that Darkseid is on his way to Earth. Most likely, he learned about Darkseid from the Kryptonian genesis chamber along with the knowledge to create Doomsday. Why? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Who is this Darkseid? He is the ruler of the planet Apokolips, a harsh, fiery world in the DC universe. Darkseid is bent on controlling the nature of life itself and is probably the most dangerous of all of Superman’s and the Justice League’s villains. He’s highly intelligent, ruthless, merciless, incredibly strong, commands a powerful army of Parademons, the winged creatures from the “Knightmare” desert dream sequence, and has this ability called Omega beams, which are similar to Superman’s laser beams except Darkseid’s are much more powerful and will continue to seek a target until they hit it making them almost inescapable. Darkseid was the inspiration behind the creation of Marvel’s Thanos. Marvel had a tendency to copy many elements of DC characters, this being one of them. He also has the ability to influence and corrupt those around him, which might explain the “Knightmare” Bruce Wayne has depicting an army of Superman cultists and Parademons led by a vengeful, murderous Man of Steel. Perhaps, what Bruce Wayne is seeing is not a dream, but rather a vision or maybe even a memory of an alternative universe. The Flash appearance could’ve been a warning from the future in order to change the past to prevent that reality from happening. Needless to say, in order to fight Darkseid, Batman and Wonder Woman are going to need all the help they can get to defeat him, especially with Superman dead. Well, maybe not. The final shot of the film is a big cliffhanger that leaves in question whether or not Superman is really dead. I guess we’ll see in the Justice League film next year. My guess is they might be going with elements of Injustice: Gods Among Us or Flashpoint, particularly with that Flash cameo near the beginning, but the stage is set for a superhero team-up no matter what direction they decide to go in. It’s an interesting coincidence that Superman decides to make the ultimate sacrifice for humanity most-likely leading to his resurrection in a film released Easter weekend.
Despite fears that there would be too many characters weighing down the plot, particularly the Justice League introductions, the supporting cast held up. Lois Lane injected much-needed humanity into Superman when she and Superman had some heart-to-heart moments. I really felt her grief at Superman’s death in that final shot of her crying over Superman’s body while Batman and Wonder Woman sullenly look on. Perry White was pretty much non-stop sarcasm and wit. If you had a comic relief element to the film it was Lawrence Fishburne’s Perry White. Diane Lane’s Martha Kent had some strong moments too, including a nice humorous moment between her and Batman. I’m certainly interested in seeing this R-rated three-hour ultimate cut. I wonder if some of the pacing issues happened because it’s written as a three-hour movie that couldn’t cleanly be cut down to two and a half hours for cinematic and ticket sales purposes.
Batman v Superman has made fans excited, at the very least, for Wonder Woman, a hopefully soon-to-be-announced solo Batman flick, as well as the upcoming Suicide Squad movie this August. Warner Bros. and DC have built a beautiful, serious, and engaging cinematic world. I hope they don’t get skittish and overreact to these negative reviews. They aren’t series-crushing by any stretch, but I do think there are a few elements they can learn and alter to make them more broadly appealing. I just hope they don’t destroy the core of what makes them good in the process. Chances are this film will still make $1 billion at the worldwide box office, assuming audience reviews remain consistently above average as they are, so there’s no need to panic on Warner Bros. part. It’s the story critics hated not the characters, so tell an even better story with these great characters. The raw materials are there. Overall, I’d say most of the problems of this film occurred in the post-production phase, which I’m confident Warner Bros. will make sure they have someone looking over Snyder’s shoulder so as to have a much smoother ride for the Justice League films. Despite that, the film was still very enjoyable, and I plan on seeing a third time but in IMAX. I loved it that much.
- A bold ending with a solid Justice League set-up
- Superb new Batman and Wonder Woman; a humanized and heroic Superman with great on-screen chemistry among the whole cast
- Well choreographed fight scenes including Batman/Superman and Doomsday
- Post-production editing
- Over-reliance on dream sequences
- Can be confusing to non-DC Comics fans at times