Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) by Zack Snyder
Review by Zach Dennis
My initial thought upon leaving Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was that the movie felt like what an eight-year-old would come up with while playing with a set of action figures. After thinking about it, I retract the statement because it is insulting to the eight-year-old, who would probably be able to come up with something more coherent and focused than whatever director Zack Snyder and his screenwriting team concocted in their heads.
Its not shocking that Snyder — who throughout his career has grappled with omnipresent characters — would paint Superman (Henry Cavill) as this God-like figure in both this movie and his previous one, Man of Steel. This complex is again on display in Batman v Superman (and even more heightened) with Snyder, much like the eight-year-old, playing puppet master to a set of toys bequeathed to him by Warner Bros. and DC Comics.
It becomes apparent rather quickly that not only is Snyder incorrect for the job of creating a set of movies with these characters, but that the infrastructure in place is so weak that it begs the question of going forward from here.
Batman v Superman picks up following the events of the previous movie, Man of Steel, with Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) arriving at Metropolis during the climactic battle between Superman and General Zod (Michael Shannon). In what can only be seen as some of the most overt 9/11 imagery used yet in a superhero movie, Bruce Wayne makes his way through the city in an attempt to save members of his company at Wayne Enterprise’s Metropolis branch, which is in the cross hairs of the battle. The carnage weighs on Wayne as he sees a new threat not only to Metropolis or Gotham City (his home), but also to the safety of the world.
18 months later and Metropolis is being rebuilt with eccentric billionaire Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) looking to harness some of the technology leftover from the battle. Superman has gained popularity from the skirmish, but is seen as a superhuman terrorist in the eyes of Senator Finch (Holly Hunter), who is looking for the hero to face his most recent actions where he took down a group of extremists who captured Lois Lane (Amy Adams). With Superman gaining in favor with the public and disdain in the government, Batman begins to build an arsenal against the hero.
The first apparent issues with the movie is its convoluted plot. Screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer attempt to pack every “necessary” detail into the film’s two hour and 30 minute run time in an effort to give weight to the clash between iconic figures, but instead, created a labyrinth that after an hour, no one wants to explore any longer. Court battles, high-class parties, and graveyard visits have to make up an hour of the movie’s time and amount to nothing more than useless filler.
Maybe the writers thought these “plot points” would bring gravitas to this obnoxious disagreement, but it does not make any sense. Mix that all together with a heaping of theological questioning and the story becomes a hodgepodge of misunderstood ideals. It is unclear whether these writers just did not understand the themes they were playing with or just thought by adding in theological elements to a story, it would seem more intelligent. Instead, it makes them look more ignorant.
What is the root cause for this battle between Batman and Superman? Batman is upset with how Superman cavorts himself around and wants to see an end to it? Superman finds Batman to be dated and unnecessary so he looks for a way to eradicate the Caped Crusader from the equation?
Why does this plot have to be so complicated when the reasons are so simple. Following his own lead with Man of Steel, Snyder seems overly interested in bringing in multiple elements and playing with the ideas of what makes a hero and when their duty is not needed anymore. While these are questions that could be dissected with tact and intelligence, he instead leans on the weight of Terrio and Goyer’s overwrought story and gives us one of the most incomprehensible first hour of blockbuster filmmaking I have seen in some time.
We want this movie to be a grandiose struggle between two titans in the Greek sense that pits wit and brawn against each other in a clash for the ages, but this movie takes too long and makes too many detours to really add anything substantial to this moment. When we finally get to the battle between the two characters, it seems as if it is a forced scene due to the movie’s title rather than an organic progression of character or story.
A lack of story is not something that only DC struggles with. Last year, I wrote about Marvels’ Avengers: Age of Ultron and how it seemed more interested on what was coming next rather than what was right in front of it. Batman v Superman suffers the same fate, even going as far as to muddle the plot even more than Ultron, and forgets that this is supposed to be a stepping stone or introduction for the future of the universe rather than the first act.
Because of this misunderstanding, this movie never feels like its own thing and becomes a collection of weird plots that don’t line-up, only to lead us to the battle that is supposed to usher us into the future of Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, etc.
The spectacle of superhero movies is nice, but the most successful action movies show us that we need a story, set of characters, and drive to keep us engaged. Batman v Superman lacks all of that and should take a long look at what they really want to do with this perceived universe before progressing any further with their proposed future.