“DEEP down, Clark’s essentially a good person… and deep down, I’m not.” – Jeph Loeb, Batman: Hush
It’s finally here. A battle we’ve waited for years, decades, even lifetimes for. The pinnacle of the human mind and physical training, against the sun god. Does it live up to the hype? Maybe that film eventually will. This is not that film.
There are hundreds of clashes between Batman and Superman to choose from. You may have a favourite, you may not. Either way, these are two massive cultural icons.(Yes, cultural icons; Superman has been around since 1938, and Batman from 1939.) Cultural icons will have different iterations. If this isn’t your preferred iteration, then that’s okay; there are plenty more to choose from. If you’re a movie goer with no real interest in comics, this may be an entirely different experience, and I’m sure the 100,000,000th time we were shown the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne was useful to you.
There is plenty to like in this film. Snyder is a visual director. He creates a visual aesthetic that is stylistic, modern and unique, albeit incredibly dark at times; the reds and blues of Superman’s costume are almost undetectable in many shots. With a score by Hans Zimmer, the film sounds brilliant, with Superman’s recurrent theme and Batman’s foreboding choir setting the mood brilliantly. Which is just as well, because the music was better at telling a story than the writing. The prospect of the wider DC universe is also exciting, if somewhat clunkily executed.
One of the standout successes in this film is Batfleck. He has charisma, poise, steely determination and that fucking chin, mate. His Batman, in the moments that feels like Batman and not some random middle aged bloke proving he could win a fight, were some of the most batmanny Batman moments in cinema. Snyder obviously paid a lot of attention to the success of the Arkham games in figuring out how this more chunky hulkish Batman should move, and it made for very exciting cinema.
Henry Cavill continues to be a fantastic and stoic Super-Christ, with a real sense of having the weight of the world on his shoulders, which is an interesting take on Superman (He also looks like Joel McHale in some shots, which isn’t really important come to think of it). Gal Gadot is also brilliant as Wonder Woman, but we do need to wait a while for her proper debut. You could say that we spend a while waiting for Gadot, but then I’d spit in your grape juice.
I said earlier that you are free to like these iterations of Batman and Superman. I am also free to be disdainfully tired of them. This film’s characterisation is abysmally inconsistent. While Affleck is good at what he’s been given, unfortunately there is little of the man who thinks of everything. There is little of the strategist, logician or detective that a Bruce Wayne I could believe in would have to be. Instead we are given a man that thinks with his testicles.
His motivations for fighting with Superman seem to be to prove that he can. In one of the inspirations for this film, The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller (before he went insane and swung even further to the right), Batman gets into a fight like this with a gang lord, and is handed his batbum back to him on a plate. He then learns. This Batman doesn’t. He simply throws all the toys he can at his enemies with little finesse.
And if this motivation for beginning a fight is weak, then I won’t even go into the measly excuse to end the fighting. When I heard it, I laughed my arse off. The film starts with some heavy 9/11 imagery, and this is very definitely a Patriot Act Batman. He has seemed to have sacrificed his rules against killing or guns and brands people with his logo. Comic guru Grant Morrison pointed out once that Batman has trained both his body and his mind. He’s trained with Buddhist monks and has done months of meditation. You don’t come out of that a dickhead.
Zack Snyder is many things. Subtle is something he is not. It’s not so much that there are nods to other comics, it’s more that the film breaks its own neck to other comics, stopping the narrative dead in its tracks as the film lies in the tunnel of love having just shot its way through a crowd of scared teenagers. There are set texts that the film uses as inspirations.
Speaking personally, I take issue with the texts it chose as they appear to be The Dark Knight Returns (which was, in retrospect, a paranoid libertarian fascist’s struggle with a changing world), The Death of Superman (in that it includes the character Doomsday, from a run of the Superman comic that did serious creative damage to that title and DC comic at the time), the Arkham games series, and Injustice: Gods Amongst Us. I don’t have that issue with these last two because they are video games; I take issue with them because it appears Zack Snyder has not done enough reading and has opted to go for videogames instead of over 150 fucking years of combined published history.
This film, as all Superman films before it, begs an important question: Why, in an age where many of the rich have acted so awfully for so long, is it so difficult to do Lex Luthor right? Jesse Eisenberg is a fantastic actor, and there are times in this where he is engaging, but he spends the majority of the film like a jittery Mark Zuckerberg/Max Landis/Jim Carrey’s Riddler/James May.
When done right, Luthor is a calculating genius. He decided he wanted Superman dead because he presented something that Lex can never make for himself. He is the man who built a robot suit in order to pose a threat to a near invincible alien, who could cure cancer but doesn’t, who became President, who tunnelled out of prison by making a machine that reads Moby Dick so loud and fast it became a sonic cannon. He’s not a mad scientist; he’s far too organised for that.
So, is Batman Vs Superman a bad film? Not in the grand scheme of things. It definitely isn’t as clever as it thinks though. There are many moments in this film that are worth watching. There are many things in this film that gripped me and that I enjoyed. However, there is not a sense of fun or joy about it, from the visual style to the characterisations.
Darkness is only as good as how you use your light. The film revolves around a sun god that can see the space between atoms, that can run faster than a speeding bullet and can fly unaided, as well as a man that has trained himself to be the pinnacle of human training, mentally and physically. And if you can’t see joy in that, then why did you make this movie?