Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice Review: The Shame Runs Deep

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is an awful movie.

I could just leave it at that, without any context or explanation, and maybe you’d get an idea of the issues in Batman V Superman. Almost 80-years of history is disregarded to instead tell a more modern story, and without the benefit of decades of storytelling by some veritable masters of comic book writing, the lack of context and characterization serves as a shameful insult to long time fans, and a lackluster entry to new fans.

The major premise of Zack Snyder’s follow up to Man of Steel is the battle between the iconic titans of DC Comics, Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill), and the addition of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) for the first time since Lynda Carter wore the bracelets and lasso, and the supposed beginning of the Justice League. Unfortunately, the set up, the motivations, the subplots, and the god-awful third act literally sink the film into levels not seen since Josh Trank tried to make a Fantastic Four film.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

The plot of the film centers around the aftermath of the events of Man of Steel and the destruction of Metropolis. Superman is a hero to some, and a villain to others. Bruce Wayne, having seen the destruction first hand, has spent the 18 months since Zod’s attack preparing himself to take out Superman, who he sees as a threat. When Lois is explicably put into danger by doing her job as a reporter, Superman saves her at the loss of more lives, and the U.S government steps in to question if we need a god watching over us. But there is more than meets the eye going on, and the two heroes are being pushed into a fight with one another by a hidden set of hands.

Much has been written about the decision to cast Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman, and at the end of the day, it’s not the worst choice. You can’t blame the actor for the words given to him, and in Batman V Superman, the script is the true villain. The screenplay by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer is equal parts weak where it should be strong, and utterly nonsensical. Characters have no motivation and there is very little exposition to frame even one of the big scenes — and this is a movie designed to hinge on those big scenes.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

Time and space have no rules in Batman V Superman. Characters can be in one place in one scene, and in another in the next with no change in time. Near the end of the film, Bruce Wayne is in Kansas, taking to Wonder Woman, and the next scene, Batman is confronting Luthor, and the scene after that, we’re back in Kansas as Wonder Woman is talking to Lois Lane as if moments had passed. Most screenwriting programs have a feature that allows the screenwriter to set timelines to ensure that their story follows a structured timeline, and this all but proves that Goyer and Terrio must use cheap software. Hell, this script was probably written on a collection of damp cocktail napkins for all I know. At least that would make some sense to the problems here. And who knew that all this time, Metropolis and Gotham were not stand-ins for versions of New York City, but were, in actuality, Minneapolis and St. Paul, two cities separated by a river?

The supporting cast of the titular titans don’t fare any better in this horrible script. Poor Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is simply relegated to furniture — unless the script calls for her to A) be in danger, or B) suddenly be somewhere to retrieve an item, as she has some kind of magical powers to understand that the item might be important. There’s no context given to why she would know this, she just happens to have this knowledge. She may be the most powerful person in this movie, and since there is no explanation given in the film, my assumptions here have to be taken as true.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

And then there’s Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. This Luthor has his hand in every nefarious thing that happens in BvS, but it is never explained why. The film teases that he may be insane, and that would be his only motivation for eradicating Superman. There’s no backstory of growing up in Kansas, or jealousy towards Clark Kent/Superman, or even xenophobia. Heck, he’s only bald because he shaves his head at the end of the film. And Eisenberg plays him as if he would be better suited taking on Adam West’s Batman in 1967. He’s theatrically flamboyant and silly, and when he tries to be “evil” he literally foams at the mouth, chants nonsense, and goes all crazy-eyed. That’s Lex Luthor here; this is the “evil mastermind” of the DC Movie Universe. A spoiled rich kid genius who has weird tics and talks faster than most people think.

But perhaps the biggest failure here is that Zack Snyder has no idea who or what these characters are and what they mean. There is almost 80 years of history here, and he literally shits on it for a gimmick fight and for the shock value of the messy, CGI-filled third act, which half of the comic-loving audience I saw it with felt was coming, and then collectively moaned when it happened. Snyder has been accused of going for spectacle over substance in all his movies, and in Batman V Superman, I could imagine him sitting down at his desk with a huge set of LEGO buildings, some action figures, and his pants around his ankles as he just smashes and smashes those tiny blocks all over the room with the glee of a mentally-disabled 6-year-old.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

Man of Steel featured some of the worst destruction of life and property ever in a movie — comic book or otherwise — and I defended it. Then and now. Hell, I really enjoyed Man of Steel, which punctuates my disgust at what Snyder has done here. Batman fights Superman because he “might” be a danger. Bruce Wayne is the smartest man in the DCU in the comics and for most of his cinematic history, and here he is a common thug. More Frank Castle/Punisher than a detective who honed his mind and body to take on the criminals of his city for the past 20 years (so we’re told, but the characters all act as if it’s a new thing — this “bat vigilante” in Gotham).

This Batman uses guns with real bullets on the Batmobile and Batwing. This Batman talks of destroying a life as if it is second nature and the best way to stop a crime from happening. This isn’t Batman, mine or yours. This is solely Snyder’s and Goyer’s best guess at what Batman should be in this new DC Extended Universe, as they are now calling it, and they have guessed wrong. The mere fact that there is an R-rated cut of Batman V Superman coming to DVD and Blu-ray all but proves the point that all involved have no idea who or what these characters are and what they mean to fans.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

And Superman? He’s still the Christ-figure that Snyder created in MoS. He’s loved and hated, feared and worshipped, and even his motivations circle entirely around Lois Lane, or his mother, Martha Kent (Diane Lane). Earth be damned, if one of his girls are in trouble Superman will save the da — er — women he loves. And that includes fighting Batman. In fact, the whole theme of “god vs. man” is used to bludgeon the audience to death. Subtlety be damned.

If there is one bright spot in this dank, dark, dilapidated outhouse of a film, it is Gadot’s Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. Batman V Superman could be argued as a set up for Wonder Woman’s solo film more than anything else, as she’s the only character who gets some backstory — “some” being the operative word here (but when “some” is compared to “none,” some wins). There are scenes involving other members of the supposed Justice League, but that’s it.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

The whole subtitle of “Dawn of Justice” is a misnomer, presumably dreamed up by the marketing department at Warner Bros. so they could sell toys, T-shirts, and coffee mugs. Just look at store shelves to find Aquaman figures warming pegs and various versions of both Superman and Batman with gaudy, colorful armor sets and accessories. This whole endeavor feels like one big cash grab by Warner Bros., and they are as much to blame for the terrible product as Snyder and Goyer and Terrio. Batman V Superman will predictably make good money opening weekend, and will then drop fast.

I cannot remember a time when a film has left me so angry after viewing it. I was physically shaking as the credits rolled, showing me the names of the perpetrators who ruined DC’s “most important” entrance into the cinematic universe. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is an abomination of a film, and it serves as the example going forward on how not to make a comic book movie. The lack of exposition and context, zero motivation and characterization, and the silly gimmick of a fight between titans that sets up a CGI-riddled third act that serves as the perfect punctuation to this awful film, and the audience are the ones made to suffer. Zack Snyder should be ashamed. Warner Bros. should be ashamed. And DC Comics — as a publisher — should be ashamed. Fans, both new and old, deserve better than this. And if Batman V Superman is any indication on where the DC film universe is going, then we will all be better off waiting for Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four sequel. And that should say it all.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is rated PG-13 and is in theaters on March 25.

out of 5

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