I went into Batman vs Superman with fairly low expectations. I never got around to seeing Man of Steel, because the reviews were enough to tell me it was not my kind of movie, and the trailers for BvS didn’t give me a lot of hope that it was going to appeal to me any more. But hey, who turns down a free IMAX screening? Not this girl.
Turns out, I’m really REALLY glad I didn’t pay money to see this film. Here’s why.
Let’s start out on a positive note. There were some things in this movie I legitimately enjoyed, like WONDER WOMAN! Give me all the Diana Prince kicking ass and taking names. Gal Gadot steals every moment in the very short amount of screen time she’s given, showing her Diana to be smart, cunning, and tough. She also has the best battle cry of the trio by far. She brings energy and pops of color into all her scenes, and the hints of her back story made me genuinely excited for 2018’s Wonder Woman solo film.
Jeremy Irons was excellent as Alfred, bringing some nice moments of levity in a film that desperately needed it. Again, he’s has a very limited amount of screen time, but his frequent dropping in comments about his desire for Wayne grandbabies made me laugh (and Bruce’s eyerolling reaction each time was perfect). He and Affleck had good chemistry and sold their relationship.
I thought Ben Affleck was strong overall, but he was undermined by the terrible material he was given to work with. With a better script, he could have proved himself as good Batman. The very smart choice to make the Bat voice via voice modulation solved the Bale growl nicely, and his fight sequences were solid (helped by a more flexible suit).
In a very important supporting role, Holly Hunter was magnificent. She was the only character whose motivations not only made sense, but were supported by her actions. Her subtle but powerful acting bolstered her section of the story and I truly enjoyed her refusal to be intimidated by Lex Luthor.
And then the plot showed up and ruined everything.
As for the look and feel of the movie, while the overall design felt drab and oppressive, the costume design stood out. Each character’s look felt carefully thought out and helped sell the characters. I especially liked Diana’s beautiful gowns with the mixture of architectural elements and softness, hinting at her original comics’ costume design.
Hoo boy. There was just so much that rubbed me the wrong way about this film. Let’s take it in chunks.
Boring. At what felt like an excruciatingly long 2 hours and 33 minutes, large sections of this movie just drag. Not helped by the drab, saturated tones Snyder loves so much, even the fight sequences blur into one long grey confusing mess that didn’t hold my attention for longer than a few seconds. Snyder could have saved 20 minutes by not including the “Wayne parents shot in slow mo/ baby Bruce running away from the funeral and discovering the bat cave” sequence, which is apparently mandatory for every film featuring Batman. When the trio finally comes together in the scene hinted at in the trailer, I was so relieved to finally have something I was excited about seeing that it seemed way more entertaining than it was. And then it lasted for another 30 minutes.
Terrible writing. The movie opens with a ponderous Batfleck voiceover, a device which never reoccurs. Characters speak in Philosophy 101 sound bites, or long rambling monologues on the nature of good and evil that never reach above high school maturity level. The only dialog that feels natural is Laurence Fishburne’s scenery-chewing berating of Clark Kent, which was especially enjoyable in the face of Clark’s hypocritical dislike of the Gotham Bat and his methods.
The writing ties in to the bad characterization, as previously noted with Affleck’s Batman. We barely get one scene with him actually doling out Bat justice before he goes into high alert of Superman revenge. Cavill’s Superman lost any charm he had previously, because they barely give us any scenes of the bumbling, sweet Clark to balance him. And Lex Luthor. I was already primed to dislike him, because I personally can’t stand Jesse Eisenberg, but his bizarre acting choices combined with a lack of motivation for his actions make him unbearable to watch.
Nonsensical plot. Apparently everyone and their brother contributed to rewrites on this thing, including Affleck. Between takes. While wearing the Batsuit. And boy, does it show. If they had stuck to the premise that after the events of MoS, Bruce is legitimately afraid of an unchecked Superman, and Clark doesn’t approve of Bruce’s vigilante methods, we could have had a tidy, interesting picture. But between setting up the Justice League characters, Jesse Eisenberg’s ridiculous Lex Luthor taking up a full third of the movie, and then throwing in some Doomsday as a boss battle, it was just way too much, and none of the separate pieces could be fully explored because of it.
The subtlety of a rock to the face. This movie had so many shots of Superman descending from the heavens, I had to stop counting. Superman = the Messiah. Yup, got it. And boy howdy, this movie doesn’t shy away from some truly problematic imagery. Superman saves a girl from a burning factory in Mexico, and as he slowly walks through the crowd to return her to her family, he is surrounded by a crowd of Mexicans in Day of the Dead outfits, kneeling around him, all reaching out to touch their perfect white savior. Yikes.
Most egregious though were the repeated callbacks to 9/11 and the aftermath thereof, including a recreation of the end of Man of Steel, but from Bruce Wayne’s point of view, desperately trying to get to his Wayne Financial building, which collapses and sends out a massive cloud of dust as he enters. It was truly hard to watch, especially since the morning of the day I saw the film was when the terrorist attacks in Brussels occurred. In all the action scenes following that, it was like they took the feedback from MoS‘s massive body count, and rather than NOT destroying giant swaths of city, they made sure to have characters note that it’s evening, so most of those buildings will be empty (aside from cleaning crews, but they aren’t important, right?) or that that particular island is uninhabited. Because that makes wholescale destruction acceptable, apparently.
But let’s talk about the thing that bothered me the most.
Women, or fridging thereof. Almost every female in this movie was reduced to a plot device. Take Lois Lane, the smart, trepid reporter first and love interest for Superman second. In this movie, her entire existence revolves around Superman. She spends most of her time investigating a specific event involving Superman, looking adoringly at Superman, running to save Superman, being saved BY Superman, stroking Superman’s face. She’s reduced to a damsel in distress, but worse, multiple times in the movie she does something incredibly stupid. Not because it makes sense for her character, but because the plot needs it to happen.
Poor Martha Kent is also reduced to a plot point, literally only there to be a source of vulnerability for Superman. But at least she gets some lines. Mercy Graves (and I had to look up her character’s name because I honestly don’t remember it even being said on screen) is mostly eye candy; a glamorous assistant, standing around waiting for Lex to give her orders. That she’s played by an Asian woman makes this feel even more problematic—in fact, the only other women of color we see are victims, the aforementioned Mexican factory workers and a group of Asian females about to be trafficked for sex work.
We do get a couple of actual strong female characters in Senator Finch and Wonder Woman, but Finch is undermined by what happens to her (hint: she becomes a plot point). Even Wonder Woman takes a hell of a long time to join the action, supposedly because of the backstory we’ll get in her solo film, but here it just seems odd, considering how involved in the case she seems to be through the majority of the film.
When the screening ended and my group started discussing what we had just seen, I found myself yelling “I just wanted them to have agency! Why did none of these women have agency! This movie is the patriarchy!!!” I was so wrung out by the sensory overload and frustrated by Lois WHY DIDN’T YOU PICK UP THE DAMN SPEAR AND USE IT GAWD, that was all I had left. My friend Jessie was worse off, almost in tears as she tried to explain how the movie made her feel.
There’s been a ton of discussion lately about the roles of women in superhero movies and there have been steps forward (Black Widow in Cap 2) and steps back (Black Widow in Age of Ultron). This was definitely a step back.
I went in to this movie with incredibly low expectations and the film still managed to disappoint and frustrate me. The only DC movie I’m planning to see after this is Wonder Woman; Batman vs Superman killed any desire I had for the rest of the Justice League films. (Except maybe Aquaman. Actual Hawaiian Jason Momoa is very tempting and it has the bonus of not being directed by Zach Snyder).