Batman V Superman V Frustration

I was going to avoid writing another blog post about a film, as I’ve done a few of those over the last couple months, but then Batman V Superman happened and I just needed to write stuff down about it. This post will be less a review of a film, and more of a deconstruction of everything it does wrong. This film was frustrating, because it could have been so much better than it was. Whether you liked it or not, hopefully we can all agree on that.

Obviously, I’ll be talking about the whole plot, so if you’re avoiding spoilers, stop reading now. You’ve been warned.

Motivation; such an Aggravation

So let’s start off by saying that this film is one of the most frustrating films I’ve seen in years, probably up there with the Star Wars prequel trilogy, in that it has a really cool idea and a great cast but squanders it on a convoluted, messy plot and characters without proper motivations.

If we exclude Wonder Woman for a moment, whose presence is little more than an extended cameo, and ignore any secondary characters, this film comes down to Batman, Superman and Lex Luthor. These three characters are the ones with the most screen time, and the ones who are moving the plot forward.

Batman they get right. The opening sequence, which is probably the best in the film, does a fantastic job of creating Batman’s motivation for the rest of the film. Superman’s presence led to the death of a lot of people he cared about, and as such he sees someone with that much power too dangerous to be left alone. Superman needs to be taken down, and he’s the one to do it. This is later developed more with scenes between Batman and Alfred, discussing the logic and problems with this particular viewpoint. So far so good.

Then we get to Superman. At the start of the film, we see him investigating Batman. He’s become a vigilante so jaded that he’s started branding criminals and outright killing people. To begin with, this seems like it’s going to be a great setup, but then… it falters. We see Clark Kent as a reporter who wants to talk about serious stuff rather than puff pieces about sport, but then nothing else happens and the motivation disappears. If we’d had scenes extending this viewpoint, with superman getting angry about batman constantly breaking the law and getting away with it, it would have been a motivation to stop him. But, by the time we reach the fight, superman is only there because Lex is blackmailing him. As a result, the whole fight seems pointless. We know that Superman goes there to talk to him, so why doesn’t he? They just start fighting, and as cool as some of the action beats are, you’re just watching, waiting for the moment where Superman mentions that Lex is making this happen, and the two realise they’re on the same side.

And then there’s Lex Luthor, which is where the film goes really downhill. It’s not just that Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal is incredibly annoying (although it really is), it’s that he’s never given any sort of real motivation for why he wants Superman dead so badly. He has some muddled, contradictory dialogue about gods and demons and power, but we have no idea why he hates him. Yes, people who know the comics know that Lex Luthor hates Superman, but these characters are clearly not the ones from the comics, so we need to be told the motivations in this film. This is a problem, not just because it undermines the whole point of him manipulating Batman into killing Superman for him, but because of everything to do with Doomsday.

When Doomsday is unleashed, the first thing he does is almost kill Lex, and then he goes on a rampage destroying literally everything in his path. Let’s say that Lex gets what he wants, and Doomsday kills Superman. What then? He would have continued to destroy everything in sight, and within days Lex would be dead or running from a ravaged US with an unstoppable monster tearing shit up, killing hundreds of millions. This would be a fine outcome for a villain like the Joker, who thrives on chaos and would happily die if meant he got to watch the world burn first, but that isn’t Lex Luthor. Lex Luthor is power hungry and over-confident, but he doesn’t want the world to be torn apart.

This might all seem like nitpicking, but a lack of character motivation makes the entire third act of the film pointless; we have no emotional investment in the outcome, because we’re not on one side or the other. We just watch two people fight until they stop, and then watch them kill a big monster.

Too Much Setup

This would be enough of a problem to ruin the film, but unfortunately it gets worse. Considering that it takes the film over an hour and half to get the Batman Superman fight, it’s baffling that by then they haven’t set up enough character motivation. What were they doing in all that time? The answer is pointless action scenes that don’t move the plot forward, and setup for later films. Let’s start with the latter. I fully understand that story beats need to be put in place to create buzz for upcoming films, but when will studio executives (or directors, we’ll probably never know who to blame) learn that you can’t just gut a film to make room for setup for more films and get away with it. Age of Ultron, The Amazing Spiderman 2 – if you make a film that spends too long just on setup for other films, you’re going to ruin things and put into risk those other films from ever happening. How people haven’t learnt from the mess of the last Spiderman movie and how it killed things for Sony, I have no idea.

If films are created well enough, they don’t need to be setup in other films. The worst part of Age of Ultron is the weird bit with Thor, which is purely setup for Thor 3. You know when they should be establishing the story for Thor 3? At the fucking start of Thor 3. Setup, development, payoff. This is how films work. It’s absolutely fine to drop hints about upcoming releases to make fans excited, but it can’t come at the cost of taking attention away from the film you’re currently in.

Going back to Batman v Superman, the first two-thirds of the film is a tiring slog. The sequence with the batmobile is decent, but ultimately pointless as Batman doesn’t get the kryptonite, and later gets it offscreen. The scenes with Lois Lane aren’t bad, but they don’t really go anywhere and feel like the writers were just really struggling to find something for her to do. This part of the film is also edited very strangely. We get no through line, no establishing shots. Instead, we just cut from scene to scene to scene, seemingly at random. I bet you could rearrange them a bunch and it wouldn’t matter. Establishing shots are important; they give a sense of location and act as a natural breaking point every few scenes to break up ‘people talking in rooms’. Without them, the film feels rushed, with is impressive considering how bloated it is with crap we don’t need.

The dream sequences look cool, but are completely pointless. They don’t further the plot, and they’re really confusing. We don’t know what we’re seeing so we have no reason to care. The bit with the Flash (at least I think it’s the Flash) is completely baffling, and I would have been fine with that if it was the only setup scene in the film, but its one of many.

Terrible Trailers

Lets move on to another problem then, and that’s Wonder Woman. Ironically, the problem with her in this film doesn’t actually occur in the film; the fact is that the scenes with her fighting at the end of the film are cool. Unfortunately, there was no sense of wonder or surprise for any of it, because it had all been shown in the trailers. And I do mean all of it. The shot where she jumps in front of Batman? In the trailer. The shot where she blocks doomsday’s attack with her shield? In the trailer. The shot where she lunges through the air with her sword? In the trailer. The shot where she’s stood together with Batman and Superman? Take a guess.

What should have been a cool, exciting moment that got people interested in the wonder woman movie was spoilt because we didn’t get it after a two-hour buildup, we got it in a 3 minute trailer. By that point in the film, I was fatigued, and I wasn’t excited because I already knew it was coming.

By this point, I should be done with my complaints for the film, but nope, still going. I already mentioned that too much setup for other films is bad, but this film takes the cake for laziest placement ever. The film is setting up a Justice League movie, with at least 3 other characters involved. How do we find out about them? Batman sends Wonder Woman an email, and we sit with her watching little film clips. I felt like the film had just turned into a bad youtube video – ‘Hey guys, sit with me while I react to the leaked justice league footage!’ It was so lazy and forced that it actually made me angry. More so because the clips weren’t even discovered by Batman, being the worlds greatest detective, they were found by Lex Luthor and Batman just stole them.

An Alternative

To wrap up, let me give you an alternative. I don’t want to get too ‘fan fiction’ here, but imagine this film instead:

Firstly, Lex Luthor isn’t in the film. We start off the same way, with Batman getting his motivation shown. Then, we continue with him, showing how he now kills people (which he does in BvS, but it’s never really explained), and how he’s old and jaded. Then, we cut to Superman. He’s now started recovering from the events of Man of Steel. People were hostile to begin with, but quickly he’s shown that he’s a force for good, saving people and the like. You can even have a montage of him doing just that, but rather than showing it in depressing slow motion like BvS did, show Superman feeling good about himself, and being happy to be helping. If Zack Snider doesn’t understand what happy looks like, play this in the background.

As a reporter, Superman stumbles onto Batman, and how he’s doing the opposite. He isn’t saving people, he’s just punishing petty criminals. Disgusted by it, he starts researching Batman in order to stop him. Meanwhile, Batman is busy researching ways to not only stop Superman, but he’s researching meta-humans to find out if there’s anyone else out there that he needs to stop. We then get an action scene where Batman goes after a criminal, but Superman shows up to stop him. Cue a fun scene where a bad guy is trying to escape, Batman is trying to catch him, and Superman is trying to catch Batman. By the end, the criminal gets away, and Batman and Superman have an argument (not a fight). Batman tells superman he’s too optimistic, and that he’s fed up of giving people second chances, and that he’s coming after him. Superman reveals he knows Batman is Bruce Wayne, which comes as a shock, and threatens to reveal this information unless he stops. We think Superman has won, until we find out Batman knows Superman’s real name. Détente. Neither can act. Batman leaves, and Superman doesn’t know what to do.

Later, when Superman is at work, he receives a letter from an anonymous source. Turns out it’s from Batman, and it shows that the criminal that Superman let escape went on to kill someone. Superman is in crisis – what if Batman is right? What if criminals should be killed, to stop them from hurting others? He takes off, and we have a scene similar to the one in the film with him getting away from it all, talking to his dad’s ghost if you like, not sure what to do. Meanwhile, we see Batman has reached the point where he’s developed the tools to fight Superman, and in superman’s absence, people have been getting hurt, and the public is starting to turn against him. Batman solidifies this feeling by saying that they can’t rely on some superhuman to be trusted, when he can just wander off and abandon people when he likes, and puts out a challenge to Superman.

Superman is lost, and unsure, until he stumbles upon a criminal from the montage at the start of the film. Turns out, after Superman caught him and gave him a second chance, he’s turned his life around. Superman’s faith in humanity is restored, and he know’s that there is good in people, and everyone deserves a second chance. Seeing Batman’s challenge, he goes to meet him. Batman is in the wrong, and must be stopped.

They fight, and this is the climax of the film, audiences probably torn on who they’re rooting for to win. Eventually, Batman starts to win, his kryptonite technology overwhelming Superman. Batman offers to save Superman’s life – if he flies away and never comes back. Superman refuses. He says he knows there is good in everyone, including Batman. He says that all he wants is to do the right thing, no matter how hard. He puts his life in the hands of Batman. We see a flashback of Batman’s father or mother, telling him how the right thing to do is always the hardest, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. Batman is conflicted. He starts beating on superman, over and over, but eventually collapses. He can’t do it. He can’t kill someone who’s a good person.

Superman explains that together they can be a force for good like nothing before. Batman agrees, and reveals the information he has on meta-humans. Rather than setting out to kill them, they set out to find them and recruit them. It’s the Dawn of Justice. We get a couple of sneak peaks of Wonder Woman and the rest as they go to find them, and the film ends, excitement buzzing for what these two guys can do now that they’re working together.

They Can Do Better

Maybe that sounded terrible to you, but I think that would have made a much better film. At the end of the day, in a film called Batman V Superman, I wanted a film where those two guys really went up against each other, philosophically, mentally, physically. What we got was a two-hour trailer for another film, with a cool 5 minute fight that had no emotional investment.

The point of me writing all this hasn’t been to say ‘if you like the film then you’re wrong’. There is plenty of stuff to like in this film. But just imagine how much better it could have been, and you’ll understand my disappointment. It’s fine to have enjoyed this film, but don’t jump down people’s throats if they didn’t like it – all we’re doing is demanding better films, and at the end of the day that’s something we can all get behind.

/end rant

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