Expert film discussion from completely unqualified people


March 26, 2016

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Review: Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

You will believe a man and another man can punch each other.

For a different perspective on Dawn of Justice, you can read Vito's review here. And for our podcast on Man of Steel, click here.

Here be spoilers!

With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, director Zack Snyder doubles down on every hateful, misanthropic statement he made in 2013's Man of Steel. This is a film that hates everyone and everything, and (like its version of Superman) is pretty cheesed off at the audience for daring to oppose it. It raises questions about superheroes and the nature of super-heroism, but it doesn't bother to answer them because doing so would distract from all of its impotent rage. This is a film in which Batman assault-rifles men to death at point-blank range and Wonder Woman flashes her tits far more often than her sword. It's a disjointed, thematically muddled mess that serves only to expose exactly what Warner Brothers thinks of superheroes and their audience. Spoilers: It's not much. 

I'd count myself among those who believe that Man of Steel fails because it runs Superman through the Batman lens (or at least the most myopic version of it). That film is heavy without being thoughtful and brooding without being intense. Some would say this was just Superman's first outing, and that he was still getting through all those "why me?" issues that plague most heroic origin stories. He was still developing his philosophy, still searching for the drive and purpose that would propel him forward in his fight for truth, justice, and the American Way. Batman V Superman, however, proves that the character is limited and uneven because Zak Snyder simply does not care about him. This isn't a matter of misunderstanding a character; Supes is an archetype, and archetypes are meant to be run through different thematic lenses. There is no right interpretation. The issue is that this film gives Superman absolutely nothing to say at all (There's literally a moment in which he's about to explain his actions to Congress, but the chamber explodes instead). People speak for him, sure, and people speak about him; Most see him as either a violent God run amuck or a savior from on high. Batman sees him as an imminent threat. But he says nothing, pursues very little, and experiences no discernible catharsis. Does his frustration stem from the public's distrust or from his own hesitance about being heroic? The film never tells us. Several characters try to coax him toward the light, but by the time he makes his heroic sacrifice only two things are clear: Lois Lane is his world and he could give a fat fuck about the rest of us.* 

Which brings us to the Caped Crusader. Geeks and dude-bros alike agree that Batman is cool. Batman will always be cool and he will always be cool to everyone. Adam West's Batman is cool. Christian Bale's Batman is cool. Will Arnet's LEGO Batman is cool. Ben Affleck's Batman uses an abandoned car as a flail to crush gangsters. He brands criminals with his insignia and growls viciously while stabbing thugs through the heart. He rips through groups of enemies with Arkham City levels of speed and brutality. He murders people with violent intent and true malice aforethought. Most crucially, he uses guns of all shapes and sizes. Many, including Snyder, would argue that this Batman is very cool. This is an older, more grizzled Knight, after all, and Affleck conveys that Frank Miller cynicism better than any on-screen depiction ever has. The issue here is that Snyder has nothing to say (apparently a theme) about vigilantism or its causes or effects. Batman hates Superman because he's been fighting evil so long that he knows that good men don't stay good very long. Superman hates Batman either because he takes the law into his own hands or because he believes that only a Kryptonian should be allowed to do that. The two fight, the film ends, and, well, that's all they have to say about that. Snyder's refusal to contextualize or comment on his violence makes it very difficult to find Batfleck all that cool. This is a truly disturbing take on the character that is made all the worse when he decides to form the Justice League: We're meant to believe that this adventure taught Batman to work with others? Does the film believe fascist vigilantism is good or bad? Who wins the ideological battle here? Was there ever one at all?

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice doesn't bother with a message because it knows everything is just going to explode anyway. It smashes its way from one unanswered thematic question to another, punctuating each with a burly brawl or a time bomb. I could get into Jesse Eisenberg's problematic characterization of Lex Luthor and everything that comes with it (schizophrenic rambling = intellect!) or the fact that Wonder Woman spends the film sauntering around cocktail parties and learns about the Justice League via email attachment. It's more to the point, however, to point out that Batman V Superman is saying something profoundly dark about the state of superhero cinema. There is no joy in this film. There is no awe. To Snyder and his heroes, we are sinners in the hands of angry gods. Those gods have flesh-piercing laser eyes and concussion grenades, so we'd do well to stay the fuck out of their way. 

*This selfishness isn't new, of course. Christopher Reeve's Superman spun the earth backwards simply to save Lois' life. The difference is that she was just one of the millions of lives saved throughout Superman: The Movie

Rob DiCristino writes and podcasts for The Ugly Club (@uglyclubpodcast). Follow him on Twitter @RobDiCristino. He mostly tweets (especially this week) about Ben Affleck.


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