I guess my opinion on Batman v Superman was predictable. I was fully expecting it to be exactly like Man of Steel, a flawed, but okay-ish film, that could have been a modern classic. This was my view of Man of Steel, which wraps the Superman story in the cloth of planetary romance and classic 50’s science fiction but fails to actually deliver something better than the sum of its parts.
Regrettably, Batman v Superman is worse than that. You see I can actually watch Man of Steel and I actually enjoy it…enough, but I doubt I’ll be watching Batman v Superman another go (well, not the cinema edit anyway).
It’s undergone ridiculously efficient editing to the point it has a brevity that is damaging, it has way too much ‘this launches future films overload’, to the point many a scene won’t make sense to the audience, unless you assume the audience is only the comic book fan and then there is the Snyder effect. The big picture, idea guy, who just can’t deliver what he wants.
Now the longer version.
Warning: There are major spoilers beyond this point.
Let’s start with the good stuff, the majority of which make the rest the film even more painful as it’s wasted potential.
The key cast members are brilliant. I still think Henry Cavill could be the best Superman, and possibly still is, if he wasn’t held back by the films he’s finding himself in. I think he can deliver a good enough range to deliver the realistic aspects of the performance introduced in Man of Steel and if he was allowed to lighten up just a smidgeon I think that would work as well based on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. He also looks the part.
I always thought Ben Affleck was a good choice for Batman and this shows through in the role he’s allowed to deliver in the extremely efficient edit mired by dream sequences that have little explanations and inter-cut scenes with characters that only comic book fans (and even casual ones like me) risk not understanding. I liked his performance and I loved the physicality of his Batman which has resulted in probably the best Batman on screen. It’s telling that the best scene in the film is an action scene: the ‘straight from the Arkham Asylum video game’ fight sequence when Batman rescues Martha is the best scene in the film.
It’s worth noting this portrayal is probably not the only interpretation we’ll see of Batman. This is Affleck playing a broken Batman, who has essentially compromised his own principles, but I’ll come to that later.
Alfred is great, well, it might be best to call it promising, as he doesn’t get a vast amount to do. We get a younger, more capable Alfred. This isn’t the doddering old man doting over Bruce. This is a man that is old enough to be the father of Bruce, rather than more towards the grandfather end of the spectrum. I believe he’s also a military man, but I can’t remember if that was in the film or something I read somewhere that then never came out in the script. Either way, he’s more a sort of equal, flies the Batwing as a drone and all sorts of stuff. It’s a great dynamic, we need more of it.
Regrettably, Gal Gadot doesn’t get to do a vast amount as Wonder Woman, but what we do see has me looking forward to the solo film under a different director. She gets to be all sultry and clever, outwitting Bruce Wayne, and her bits of the overblown fight sequence are by and far the best bits. It may well be the weaknesses of the rest of the film that allows Wonder Woman to shine, but I’m really looking forward to the ‘through history’ approach to Wonder Woman that the solo film promises.
Basically, that’s the good bits, a thoroughly wasted cast. Now the negatives.
It’s trying to do too much. We have three major superheroes in this film and their alter egos, depending on how you measure things that’s at least 4.5 characters if you count there other selves as half a character. Then you have Lois Lane and Lex Luther making for 6.5 characters that should be more than utilitarian in the script. If you throw in the blink and you’ll miss them or confusing insertions of Aquaman and The Flash things start getting crazy. It’s no wonder there is a rumoured 4-hour edit. I’ll admit, I want to see this edit of Lord of the Rings extended edition proportions to see if it redeems what could be a great film. I doubt it, but the potential in the mess means I have to try.
It’s way too efficiently edited. Either through complete incompetence (quite possibly, as Man of Steel also suffered due to its edit, though nowhere near as bad) or because they just could not make a film of a sensible length (and it comes in at 2.5 hours!) the edit is just amazingly efficient. It creates a remarkable terse experience. I’ve heard it compared to The Wire in numerous places because the film doesn’t explain things. The Wire it ain’t. There is such a thing as an intelligent script like The Wire and the first series of True Detective which doesn’t ‘explain things to the audience unduly’, then there is the edit of Batman V Superman.
The two aren’t remotely the same.
This extreme brevity also makes the film boring. It just plays out. It never really has a chance to get to the meat of anything. It touches upon numerous things so briefly that it gives none of them the attention and time they deserve, meaning they don’t register to the extent they become interesting or they feel heavy handed.
This means Batman v Superman shows glimpses of being an awesome film just not delivered well. It is a case of Batman v Superman v Snyder.
What is this great film that you occasionally see glimpses of if you make a mental leap? Like Man of Steel, it’s a progression of a story about men influenced by their fathers. You have three in this case, all of them men heavily influenced either by the teachings and choices of their fathers or events in their father’s lives. This is quite clear in the case of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent, it’s pretty damned obscure in the case of Lex Luthor, only really coming out in one scene in a couple of lines (on the heli-pad with Superman).
It’s also about a great dynamic between Batman and Superman. Batman is broken. You get the sense Batman was once different, less brutal, less uncompromising, but his long career dealing with costumed freaks (and the death of Robin which probably didn’t get noticed by some of the audience) has made him bitter, brutal and on the edge of being a villain. He only gets away with it because he limits his actions to criminals.
While he might not put it that way, or consciously see it that way, he sees Superman becoming him and since the man is a veritable God, that scares him. I’d go as far to say, deep down, he’s transferring his experiences of the world onto Superman and believe he won’t be able to not become him.
Superman is essentially a man who belongs to a different age, while Man of Steel may have half failed to make that movie something akin to a grand 50’s science fiction film, the fact is Clark Kent is a character from those films. It’s not surprising this good man from Kansas has problems with Batman. At the same time he can save Batman, right? He can show him as he is a moral person, he’s not had the life experiences that broke Batman, his life choices are formed by a highly moral, human family life, something Bruce Wayne had until it was cut short.
This is why the whole fight sequence with Batman and Superman is such a disappointment.
Not only is the fight boring in terms of the fight itself. Not only does it sort of fail to show Batman’s brilliance, albeit it does show quite well the fact Superman’s weakness is he doesn’t really want to kill anyone. It also turns the pivotal moment in which Superman ‘saves’ Batman, allowing Batman to realise that this isn’t a God that needs to be ‘put down’, but a farmboy from Kansas who can potentially inspire him out of the dark path he is on.
You see, while the focus seemed to be put on the fact the two heroes have a mother with the same name, and the implementation of the scene has caused it to be ridiculed, If done differently the point of the whole damned conflict might have been clearer. They stopped fighting because at that point Batman realised he was fighting the good boy from Kansas, whose beliefs and choices are framed by human, moral parents, who was potentially more human than the criminals he encounters daily and thus he was prepared to save Superman’s mother so Superman didn’t become exactly what he’d become due to losing a parent.
As a result, he realised he wasn’t supposed to put Superman down, but save him from becoming him. The fallen angel was redeemed through taking action that stopped the actual angel from falling down to his personal hell. I believe this was the point of the whole film: Batman stopping Superman becoming him and bringing the world to ruin. I assume this was the point of the The Flash’s message from the future, though it turned out it was likely to be the death of his mother that turned Superman into a vengeful God rather than Lois Lane.
Does that all come across sufficiently for the audience to experience a complex, superhero conflict on an emotional, moral and physical level that was essentially a moment in history that was going to define the future of mankind? No. Simply because it really isn’t written or edited well enough to achieve it, but also because the average audience member doesn’t pull this sort of stuff that ephemerally exists from what they do see (and quite rightly).
Basically, the two heroes were also fighting a third combatant: Snyder.
As with Man of Steel, Snyder has weaved his usually magic to completely obscure a potentially, bloody awesome film. He really does remind me of George Lucas in many ways. The two are very different, but just like ephemeral glimpses of a great film about the failing of the Jedi, and Ob-Wan in particular, comes through in the prequels, the man himself can’t get it over the line.
A final good point, it may launch some good films! All this is disappointing, as it looks like Snyder is going to get to splatter his weaknesses all over The Justice League films as well. Films with even more characters! In my mind I’ve already discounted those films as films I don’t really want to see. I’m not looking forward to them in the slightest. All I’m taking away from from Batman v Superman is the potential for a Ben Affleck solo Batman film and Wonder Woman. If those two films really pull it off then the mess that is currently Batman v Superman may well have been worth it.
They really should drop Snyder as such a heavy influence on the DC films. It’s quite possible they won’t though, because the damned films keep making money. I suspect this is largely based on their potential rather than the actual quality, which is what the audience drop off shows, and this is also unfortunate. As it creates the phenomena of Homer Simspon repeatedly reaching for the electrified cheese and not learning his lesson.
I guess we all could learn from that.