Batman v Superman: Review of Justice

Superman is dead.

Superman remains dead.

And we have killed him.

This movie. This fucking movie. This Goddamned fucking miserable amoral shitstain on the Underoos of the superhero genre, blockbuster filmmaking in general, DC Comics, Batman, and Superman. This loathsome hateful excuse for a miserable exercise in audience abuse. This utter Goddamned monstrosity of a movie.

…I don’t like it very much, is what I’m getting at. I’d say that I hated it, except that hatred isn’t nearly a strong and complex enough emotion to convey my true feelings toward Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (God, the fucking title isn’t the worst thing about the movie, and it’s awful and nonsensical). I loathe this movie. I despise and abominate it. I hate everybody involved with it. I want to see Zack Snyder (God, who the fuck spells “Zach” with a K? Assholes, that’s who) drawn up and charged with crimes against humanity in The Hague. I want every print of it destroyed, except for one, which will be used as evidence at Snyder’s trial.

And I wasn’t going into the movie expecting to hate it this much. I was dubious about the project when it was announced, but cautiously optimistic. As information rolled in—Ben Affleck’s casting as the Batman, Gal Gadot’s as Wonder Woman, the return of Lex Luthor, that fucking title—my anticipation wavered, but I was still holding out hope that this wouldn’t be a total disaster. The first footage came in and at some point my expectations switched to “glorious trainwreck”—the movie would be bad, sure, but the sort of bad you can’t look away from, something to be mocked over drinks and junk food with friends or put on when there’s nothing else good on TV. As more information came through—an executioner Batman, those trailers with “False God” spray-painted on a Superman statue, the revelation of Doomsday as the act-three baddie—this estimation seemed accurate. And then the actual movie came out. Or rather the reviews came in. And a single thought came into my head: I have to see this movie. I’m kind of a masochist, you see, and I can’t resist the urge to watch a shitshow unfold. And so sometime Thursday night, I started looking for movie houses which were showing it. I had about as much difficulty as one might finding a seat for a wide-release tentpole from one of the Big Six movie studios in the second week of its run—which is to say, none whatsoever—and picked out a time and venue which worked for me. I boxed up the dogs, grabbed my phone, wallet, and house key (on a Superman key chain), put on my shoes, and set out to the theater. Not necessarily with a song in my heart or expectations that the movie would be anything better than decent, but I was willing to be surprised. I bought my ticket (painfully and suddenly aware that I could be seeing Zootopia instead), almost forgot to pick it up, breezed past the ticket-taker, and bought a small Coke, a hot dog, and a box of Junior Mints [1]. I settled into my seat; the Coming Attractions gave me hope. The house lights went down and the Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment logos came up and the opening credits played over—dear God, not fucking again—the funerals of Thomas and Martha Wayne (because if there’s one thing we’ve suffered from a lack of over the past twenty-five some years of Batman adaptations, it’s a depiction of his parents’ deaths). I found myself a tad grumpy with the movie, but not mad at it [2]. Hell, I kind of admired Snyder for the sheer cheek of appropriating Frank Miller’s staging of the deadly act in The Dark Knight Returns. And then—it feels kind of reductive to say that “the rest of the movie happened,” but that’s more or less exactly how it unfolded. I found myself doing and considering acts I don’t ever commit in theaters. I don’t talk during movies, for instance—there’s a basic social contract, and I attempt to honor it [3]. Yet I found myself talking. Shouting, outlining ideas for this review—I was in dialogue with the movie. I considered throwing my hot-dog wrapper at the screen throughout; in the end I didn’t (I disposed of it in the appropriate receptacle, because, again, social contract), but it was definitely something I almost went through with.

We must pause before going into the meat of what’s so bad about BvS to acknowledge the small flecks of gold among the dross, for I am nothing if not fair and even-handed. Bill Finger got credited as the co-creator of Batman (albeit as the lower half of the billing—“Batman created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger”), which is the first time I’ve seen that particular bit of justice done. The Batsuit is arguably the most comic-accurate one we’ve seen on film since the days of Adam West and Burt Ward. Wonder Woman steals the show in her few scenes; she’s really the best part of a dreadful movie and doesn’t deserve to be here. Amy Adams as Lois Lane is equally good; again, it’s a shame the movie she’s in is so damned abominable. I liked that Mercy Graves made an appearance. The cast is great—Henry Cavill is a good Clark Kent, Ben Affleck would be the movie’s saving grace if his Batman was written better and Wonder Woman wasn’t in it. It wasn’t as depressing as I thought it would be. The soundtrack isn’t too bad. If we get some variation on “Reign of the Supermen” out of the movie’s ending, I’d enjoy that. And…that’s pretty much it.

Okay, now that that’s over, I honestly have no idea where to start. There’s just so much wrong with BvS, so much that’s incoherent or stemming from a flawed at best understanding of how these characters work or inexplicable or just plain dumb. Let’s start with how these characters work, or don’t as the case may be.

The most inexplicable failure is probably—definitely—Batman. You’d think that DC and Warners would have a pretty solid grasp on the Dark Knight by now; his is far and away the most consistently successful franchise to spin out of DC Comics. Add in that one of BvS‘s principal screenwriters is widely credited with bringing the character and franchise out of his post-Joel Schumacher slump and the generally grimmer tone of the DC Extended Universe [4] and a logical observer would assume that Batman in his first appearance in this continuity—in a movie which bears his name—would be, if not the best part of the show, at least broadly in keeping with the character as established over the past seventy-six years of publication, cinematic appearances, television, and video games, toys, etc. This logical observer would be wrong. Oh, to be sure, the broad strokes of Batman are still in place—murdered parents, billionaire playboy, faithful manservant, striking terror into the hearts of criminals, all those wonderful toys, cave as base of operations. It’s everything else about this Batman that’s wrong. For example: In this movie, Batman [5] kills people. Now, movie Batman has historically been a bit more willing to kill than his comic and cartoon counterpart. But there’s generally been lip service paid to the idea that he’s got a code against killing—in Batman Begins, for example, he merely leaves Ra’s al-Ghul to die in a trainwreck rather than save him. This Batman is a hardened killer, willing to straight-up murder anyone standing in his way or whom he believes to be a threat to Gotham City. He packs heat, which is antithetical to everything I understand about Batman—not just machine guns on the Batmobile and Batplane, as is customary in Batman movies, but actual, people-carried guns. His plan to take out Superman involves, in addition to a Kryptonite spear, Kryptonite gas, and sonic disruptors, machine guns. He uses sniper rifles, what looks like a shotgun but could be a grenade launcher, and a submachine gun. You know, Batman, gun nut, goes together like…something and something else. Chocolate and peanut butter? No. Oil and water? No, still too conciliatory. Matter and antimatter? That’s closer. This is in addition to the massive trust issue this incarnation of Batman has. Now, to be fair, Batman is not a trusting fellow in the best of circumstances that could create Batman. It’s understandable, what with the whole “parents brutally murdered in front of his eyes” thing and the “spends his nights fighting a never-ending battle against the worst humanity has to offer” thing. I just have a hard time accepting a Batman who, upon seeing massive devastation, decides the perpetrator is a danger who must be stopped at all costs. I have trouble accepting a Batman who brands the worst of the worst and leaves them to be beaten to death by their fellow-inmates. By that logic, the Joker should have died by the Batman’s hand on his second crime spree—hell, on his first, if we’re going by the Joker-venom origin from the Golden Age and Batman: The Animated Series. Two-Face, Killer Croc, any crook more dangerous than the Clock King—they should all be six feet under. And besides, a billionaire who expends vast resources to stop an alien he believes a to be a threat to mankind? That ain’t Batman, that’s Lex Luthor.

Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is also in this movie, and if I had to pick an aspect of the movie I hated the most—difficult—it would probably be him. Rather than the criminal mastermind of earlier movies or the slick corporate raider the comics have favored since Crisis on Infinite Earths and John Byrne’s reboot or the mad scientist of the Silver Age, the Lex Luthor on display here is…I’m trying to figure out how best to describe him. Eisenberg has abandoned such traditional acting techniques as “subtlety” or “nuance” and gone on an all-scenery diet [6]. The comparison I’ve heard the most is to Heath Ledger as the Joker; I was reminded more of Frank Gorshin’s Riddler from Batman ’66. It may well be that he’s making the most of a bad script. But it never quite coheres into a believable portrait—of a sociopath, of a man who believes himself the natural superior of all other humans and is unsettled by the alien demigod stealing his thunder, of a demagogue stirring up hatred against an other [7], or anything, really. It’s a collection of nervous tics accrued to a slender core of a man who hates and fears Superman because—why? He believes Superman is holding humanity back? That Superman is God and God is evil? It’s never made clear.

Which brings us to the man (of steel) at the centre of this whole mishmash. I praised Cavill’s Clark Kent above, and I stand by that. The problem with Cavill’s performance is twofold. First, Kent’s barely in this two-and-a-half-hour slog of a movie; it’s possible to go to the restroom and miss a Clark Kent scene entirely. Second, for all that Superman is a central figure in this movie—it’s a sequel to his sixth movie, he’s in the title—he doesn’t act much like Superman. He’s all scowls and snarls, hovering, threatening, eyes burning with barely suppressed heat vision. If he’s a god, he’s an Old Testament sort of a god: A savior, to be sure, but one willing to do a lot of smiting. There’s this strange disconnect between the script and the movie when it comes to Superman: on the one hand, Goyer wants to present him as a symbol of hope, a perfect man who did only good, to rip off Alan Moore. On the other, every other element in the movie seems calculated to undermine this. The first reference to Superman as a force for good comes after two scenes of destruction—the Battle of Metropolis which closed Man of Steel and opens BvS and a rescue of Lois Lane from the clutches of an African warlord [8]. Subsequently we get a (really awkwardly transitioned into) montage of Superman saving people, in which he’s portrayed as distant and slightly inhuman. He usually comes down into frame—swooping in from above. We hardly ever see him in a close-up in flight—except when he’s floating in low orbit, apparently dead of a nuclear strike. The traditional invocation—“Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!”—is not once heard. Nor are “truth, justice, and the American Way” once mentioned. While the traditional set of powers is present here—possibly less the super-senses—their application is strangely violent. Even his flight is a violent thing, all sonic booms and rapid crash landings.

The disconnect is baffling to me. There are a few storytelling maxims I’ve had ground into me for as long as I’ve been a writer—conflict is the essence of drama, a character should want something, even a glass of water, characters should develop and grow over the course of a story, have a beginning, middle, and end, that sort of thing. The one that’s been bugging me since I walked out of the theater—hell, since the first Daily Planet scene, where it first crops up—is probably the most fundamental, or at least the most common: Show, don’t tell. Every English class I’ve ever taken, every manual of writing, I’ve had that rule pounded into me. It gets to the point where it combines with a preference for precise language and becomes another maxim: Instead of describing a character as “beautiful” or “nice,” or “vile” and just letting that be the end of it, describe what it is that makes them that way. And David S. Goyer is a professional writer, twenty-plus years in the film industry. He wrote Blade. He wrote Batman Begins, for fuck’s sakes. Probably Chris Terrio and Zack Snyder have had it drilled into them, too. Why, then, does the script insist Superman is good and pure, and the movie provide precious little corroborating evidence? Would it not make sense to have something, anything, backing that claim up? What has the Man of Steel done in the past eighteen months to earn the trust of the citizens of Metropolis? In a two-and-a-half-hour movie, it should be easy to cut something somewhere—say, one of Batman’s dream sequences, or all of Batman’s dream sequences—to add in scenes of Superman, I don’t know, helping to reconstruct downtown Metropolis. Or saving a kitten from a tree. Some fucking thing. We get none of that.

Which brings me to the strangest thing in this Godawful excuse for a lousy parody of a crushing despair-fest of a superhero movie: within the logic of the movie, Lex Luthor is right. This is a Batman and Superman movie that wants you to fear Batman and hate Superman. Which, okay, sure, fear Batman, cowardly and superstitious lot, par for the course, but hate Superman? Really? I mean, he’s Superman. It’s like hating a puppy: You might do it, but you feel awful afterward. And yet on the terms BvS puts forth, there is no other option. Its Batman is a homicidal gun nut, its Superman a distant, enraged deity. When Batman goes into a vision of a dystopic future of Super-Stormtroopers and Parademons, one gets the feeling that this is a likely, perhaps inevitable, outcome of letting Superman run about unchecked.

(As an aside, the press tour has been…interesting, in the Chinese sense of the term…as a look into the psyche of one Zachary Snyder. While there’s probably not a basis for a systematic Theory of Snyderian Ethics, some strange patterns are emerging. Besides Snyder’s repeated attempts at damage control over Man of Steel‘s ending, he’s made some frankly bizarre statements about the movie. Witness, for example, his justification for revealing Jimmy Olsen—Superman’s Pal, arguably one of the four most important supporting characters in the Superman mythos along with Lois Lane and Ma and Pa Kent, and besides that a walking symbol of the goofy, innocent Silver Age of Comics—as a covert CIA operative and then killing him in the first fifteen minutes or so of the film. Snyder considers this a “fun nod” to the comics; ditto having an apparently bronzed and graffitied Robin costume in the Batcave [9]. Snyder also appears to be constructing an argument-from-consequences against heroism, to judge from Pa Kent’s scene [10] and his public statements to the effect that one shouldn’t rescue a cat from a tree because it might not be fixed. Which, okay, maybe we can argue the merits, but that’s not how Superman works. It’s baffling that the director and guiding light of the current Superman movie franchise has a viewpoint apparently so opposed to the Man of Tomorrow’s.)

The hell of it is, it didn’t have to be this way. I can see a film arising from the same basic germ as this one: The relationship begins as one of mutual suspicion, goaded by Luthor until it erupts into a fight, which comes to a draw because of Superman’s basic decency. Then some character development, some comedy maybe [11], and the final battle. As in the movie proper, Lex has Ma Kent hostage and will kill her unless Supes kills Batman within an hour. Now armored and prepared to deal with a demigod, Batman puts in a better showing. Actually, he pounds the crap out of Superman and as he’s standing over his foe (preparing to deliver the killing blow? No, this is Batman; more likely he’s taking a breather), Superman throws up a hand. “Stop!” he cries. “You don’t want to…Luthor’s forcing me to do this…he’ll kill my mother…” And the Batman stops. His demeanor softens. He sees something familiar in this refugee of the stars—he’s not sure what, just something. Maybe he’s remembering a boy in a brightly-colored circus outfit in the moment after a trapeze gave way. Or a small-time crook, not even out of middle school, trying to steal the Batmobile’s tires. Maybe even a cold night too many years ago.

…Or at least, that’s how it might turn out, if I’d written it. And if I didn’t toss out most of the set-up from the word “jump”. And if the movie had an emotional rage beyond despair and petulant rage. And if the Batman Snyder, Goyer, and Terrio have constructed were at all capable of compassion. But none of that is true. There is no joy in Batman vs. Superman; for a movie that’s so invested in showing us the sheer godlike power of Superman, there’s no real wonder to him here. It’s not fun, and I say that not as some DC-hating misanthrope (although if anything can make me hate DC, it’s this movie) who thinks that superhero movies should be made for seven-year-olds and only for seven-year-olds, but as a man with a deep and abiding love of the superhero genre, as one of about nine people who liked the 2011 Green Lantern movie, and as someone with the crazy idea that superhero movies should be enjoyable, especially when movie tickets are ten bucks a pop. I also say that as someone who’s been awaiting this particular meeting since before I could sign my own name—if you’re going to have Batman meet Superman, why the hell would it be like this? How does anyone with more knowledge of Superman than an alien from Betelgeuse who landed on Earth within the last twenty-four hours justify making a Superman movie where Superman doesn’t once smile? For a movie as indebted to The Dark Knight Returns as this one is—and I will reiterate that Snyder’s version of the Wayne murders is stolen shot-for-shot from Miller’s and add that Batman says, “We’re criminals, we have to be criminals” at one point in the film, that Batman’s plot to stop Superman is a direct lift from the earlier work, only the nuke is American rather than Soviet, because detonating a weapon of mass destruction above a major population centre is a-OK, so long as it’s at a high enough altitude (fallout is not a thing Snyder’s concerned with, apparently)—it’s devoid of the sly satirical humor that Frank Miller threaded through TDKR.

And it’s not like it’s got an excuse to be this bad. The Schumacher Bat-flicks are at least visually interesting and intentionally funny; Superman IV and the 1994 Fantastic Four movie—the latter of which was so bad that it has never seen a legitimate release in any format—were quickies intended to shore up rights. The Captain America movies from the late seventies have the excuse of being a) made in the late 1970s and b) being made for television in the late 1970s. This is a $400 million blockbuster made in the year 2016; it has no business being as bad as it does.

Now, kiss. KISS, DAMN YOU.

It’s an exceptionally dumb film. One crucial scene hinges on the presence of a jar of urine on the desk of a United States Senator; the climax depends on Batman and Superman’s mothers having the same first name. And that might not be too bad; after all, Michael Bay’s movies are loud, big, and dumb, to be sure, but that’s their nature. You can’t get angry with Bay, any more than you can get mad with a dog that craps on the carpet and eats out of your wastebasket. But BvS is a different, worse animal: A dumb film that wants to be smart. It’s pretentious. It wants to say things, important things, about God and man, about power, about heroism, but it’s just not smart enough. It aims for ambiguity and hits at confusion. It aims for moral greyness and hits at a muddle. It aims at the precise, surgical deconstruction of The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen and demolishes Batman and Superman with a sledgehammer. If it’s a deconstruction, it’s like a small boy pulling the wings off of insects and saying he’s an entomologist.

This brings me to yet another problem I have with this movie: BvS is incapable of standing on its own. Part of that’s inevitable: this is a Big Franchise Blockbuster in the year 2016, and thus has to spend some of its run time setting up the DC Cinematic Murderverse to come. Of course, it does this in the most ham-fisted way possible, by way of a dream sequence and an interlude in which Wonder Woman sits down and watches video footage of the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. But it’s expected in an age where “cinematic universe” are words to conjure with, in a movie starring DC’s three biggest heroes. Yet it does not stop there. BvS is obviously, dreadfully, indebted—enthralled might be a better word—to Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns; the powered Bat-Armor Batman wears in the climactic fight is drawn from that graphic novel, in addition to the lifts I mentioned above. There’s an obvious correspondence in their shared vision of an aging Batman protecting his city from human and inhuman scum. Snyder’s tight close-ups cutting to wide shots echo Miller’s dense sixteen-panel grid giving way to splash panels. Snyder even homages, momentarily, the iconic image of Batman silhouetted by lightning. There are other, more subtle (about the only bit of subtlety this movie has) references. The—vision? Dream sequence? Actual visitation? Who the fuck even knows?—of the Flash warning Batman about Lois’s importance [12] echoes his role in Crisis on Infinite Earths. During what I’ve come to think of as the Desert Action Batman dream sequence, we see an omega carved into the desert and what appear to be Parademons among the Super-Stormtroopers; apparently Superman got some help from the Fourth World.

darkseid-590x895

Pictured: The movie’s uncredited producers.

 

And yet the film is strangely compelling. I imagine it will be screened in film classes of the future as an object lesson in how to screw up a blockbuster, along with the Star Wars prequels and the later Matrix movies. There’s just so much wrong with it; it somehow manages to misunderstand Batman, Superman, Lex Luthor, the Clark Kent-Lois Lane relationship, the Kents (and those are both deeply troubling misunderstandings, inasmuch as the one’s central to how Clark Kent works and the other’s central to what makes Superman tick), The Dark Knight Returns, the Flash (who’s in the movie for two and a half minutes, tops), the Fourth World (which is at this point stage dress, narrative greebling), the DC Universe, the craft of moviemaking, and (if she’d had more than six minutes on screen) probably also Wonder Woman. It tries to be deep and symbolic, yet the ramblings of a stoned college student are more profound. It’s—and this is a strange word to use, but it’s the only one that fits at all—inhumane to a degree that I’ve never seen in a superhero movie or comic book or, hell, anywhere. There’s no compassion to it—not from Batman, not from Superman. In the movie’s final scene—and I should probably spoiler-tag this, but fuck it—Lex Luthor is imprisoned and—DUN DUN DUN!—has his head shaved. Enter Batman in full Bat-Regalia. (He enters by disrupting the prison’s electrical system, which is one of, like, three even remotely Batman things Batman does [13] in this movie.) He comes up to Lex, and—because I like to think I have a grasp on the Batman—I fully expected him to lean in and say something along the lines of, “I forgive you.” But this Batman leans in, tries to brand Lex (which, to be clear, is something he does only to the worst of the worst—he misses, imprints a bat-symbol three inches into the concrete, but it’s the attempt that counts), and growls, “I will hunt you down and bring you to justice.” Or words to that effect—something equally cliched. I forget. Which honestly doesn’t make a lot of sense—he’s in prison, presumably he’ll get a fair trial, be found guilty of blowing up the Capitol (because that’s also a thing that happens, Superman is unable to stop a former Wayne employee played by Scoot McNairy who lost his legs in the Battle of Metropolis and is now secretly on Luthor’s payroll from blowing up the Capitol because he wasn’t paying attention, being distracted by the jar of piss on Senator Holly Hunter’s desk, which is a scene I reject categorically [14]), and receive twenty to life or meet Old Sparky, except he’ll engineer a daring escape, and there, I’ve written the opening of Justice League Part One, Zack, are you happy? Of course, I foolishly expected someone in this movie to act like a decent fucking human being under Marthaless circumstances, and I fully anticipate receiving hate mail accusing me of being on Marvel’s payroll (I don’t think anyone at Marvel even knows I exist, much less would be willing to slip me a grand to slag a terrible movie; besides, I don’t see a dime from any of my online Sisyphus impressions. No, I am hating this movie gratis and of my own free will) who just hates DC and wants superhero movies to be made for seven-year-olds. None of which is true.

Taking the last two hypothetical charges in reverse order, I don’t think that saying, “Maybe parents should be more comfortable taking their kids to this movie featuring Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman than to, say Deadpool,” or, “Maybe this movie featuring Batman and Superman should be watchable by kids” or, hell, “Maybe I shouldn’t feel compelled to apologize to the family seated behind me,” is equivalent to saying, “Superhero movies should be made for under-tens and only under-tens!” And I don’t hate DC. Partly because it’s absurd to invest enough of your emotional life in a corporation to feel love or hatred toward it, unless you work for it, own stock in it, or it’s trying to claim eminent domain and demolish your house or the community center to build a shopping mall or big-box store. And partly because—I read a lot of comics. I’ve read a lot of comics in my life. And I’m not beholden to one publisher: I remember reading a collection of old EC comics and getting my wig flipped, I’ll always be fond of Fantagraphics for reprinting Peanuts and giving the Hernandez Brothers a spotlight, make mine Marvel, Image has produced some fine books over the years, and I’ll always love Saga and Invincible, Dark Horse couldn’t be righter up my alley if its main offices had their addresses there; hell, my favorite comic book of all time has been self-published, published through both of the Big Two, and is currently at Dark Horse. And that doesn’t even begin to consider webcomics and manga. But I did my most important comic reading between the time I was eleven and the time I was about fifteen—and the majority of that was DC. Sure, there was Invincible [15], Elfquest, and anything by Stan ‘n’ Jack [16], and the first comic book I ever bought was an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, but the big issues, the ones I have fond memories of poring over during lunch [17] or on a trip to the comic shop? All-Star Superman. Infinite Crisis [18]. Astro City. Tom Strong. Geoff Johns’s run on JSA. Kingdom Come. The Bronze Age adventures of Nightwing and Flamebird [19]. And of course, the reference guides—the big DC Encyclopedia in its 2008 and 2004 editions, the smaller ones devoted to Superman and Batman, as a consequence of which I can tell you the vital statistics of half the JLA. I love Superman. I love Batman. Hell, my default online handle is a reference to Will Magnus, creator of the Metal Men. So it pains me to warn people away from a movie in which Batman and Superman appear, because it gets the characters so egregiously wrong on such a fundamental level that I wonder if it’s not some sort of elaborate conspiracy to burn the franchise to the ground for the insurance money, so to speak [20].

Thing is, I want to see movies featuring Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. But not like this, Lord—not like this. If I want to see a nihilistic dick-measuring contest that demeans a beloved American institution, all I’ve got to do is turn on the TV or open up a browser window and navigate to a news site. What I want is superhero movies. I want heroes who aren’t afraid to smile once in a while. I want to feel like I’m rooting for the title characters to win. I want Superman to save people. Shit, I want Batman to save people. I wouldn’t mind if Superman saved a kitten. I’d like a more optimistic take on Superman and Wonder Woman—Batman can be just as grim and cynical and DARKNESS! NO PARENTS! CONTINUED DARKNESS! as he wants, but the other two-thirds of the Trinity just don’t work like that. I want to believe not that a man can fly, but that a man with absolute power would use that power for good. I want some kid—hell if I know who, just some kid—to feel the thrill I got watching the original, Christopher Reeve version and Superman Returns. If that makes me a shill for Marvel, so be it. If it makes me out of touch (and I doubt it does, at least in this respect), I’m way ahead of you.

I don’t know. I’m grumpy and cynical. I’ve been accused of being bitter, which is probably truer than I’m willing to admit. What other people find inspiring, I find ludicrous or creepy. I obsess over things—well, it’s probably more accurate to say something will stick in my brain and take up long-term or permanent residence, which is wonderful for strategic thinking but horrible for your mental health. What keeps me going is fiction and nonfiction, the former mostly genre, the latter mostly history—where we’ve been, what we could be. I’m not sure why those specifically; it’s just what I’ve ended up reading more than anything else. If I had to make a guess, had to justify those tastes—and I don’t have to, read what you will—I’d say it’s because I’ve got a clear idea of what our problems are and no idea of the solutions. So—continuing in that vein—I look away from the here and now and the mundane to find—well, something. Maybe the answer’s in the political crises of the ‘Sixties and ‘Seventies. Or the rise of fascism in Europe in the years between the World Wars. Maybe it’s the trials of the young United States that have the key. Or the Civil War. Or the Gilded Age. Or the Thirty Years’ War. Or maybe I’m bullshitting to get to my next point because I’ve no clue how to make an effective segue here.

Anyway, the world’s a mess. Kansas—Kansas, for shit’s sake!—is considering a law that would pay students two and a half grand minimum for snitching on their trans classmates if they happen to use the “wrong” bathroom. We jeer the failings of those we oppose and apologize for those of those we favor. People are political footballs now; something you wrote, five, ten, fifteen years ago as a dumb fuck of a college student can get you shitcanned and blacklisted. We treat mid-level employees of subdivisions of multinational entertainment conglomerates with the same level of scrutiny we would a nominee to the Supreme Court (if we’d consider the nominee in the first place, which isn’t altogether likely). We’ve opened up Pandora’s box, relocated it to San Francisco, and used the money to found a start-up called—well, Pandora and Box are both real companies, so something meaningless, yet reminiscent of an actual word. Our new lords and masters fiddle around with the unimportant stuff, yet leave the real underlying issues untouched. Truth is meaningless. Justice is an excuse for a good old-fashioned witch hunt like as not. The American way? Ha. But it’s at times like this when we need heroes the most. Not to blind us to the ugly realities of the world, but as a light, as an inspiration. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster looked out at a world of fascism, racketeering, corruption, depression, gangsterism, and created Superman. Jack Kirby and Joe Simon looked out, scarcely a decade later, onto a world where those forces had fallen into outright war, saw the United States would soon be embroiled (the beliefs of a great many notwithstanding), and created Captain America.

I wouldn’t just suggest people not see BvS, I’d actively warn them away from it; if you’re really that eager to see the movie after all that, I’d tell you to read the “Spoiler FAQ” over at iO9, instead—it’s significantly, shorter, free, and actually entertaining [21]. It’s a joyless slog, and I know I’m repeating myself here, of a hellish excuse for a movie whose two-and-a-half-hour run time somehow manages to be too long and too short. It misunderstands Superman, Batman, superheroes, and the foundations of DC Comics. It’s ugly, hateful, a movie created for adolescent and post-adolescent, under-socialized fanboys, the sort of people (let’s be real, here—they’re universally guys) who think it would be so badass if Batman killed the Joker and that Superman’s a pussy and that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is for tiny babies. If you’re that person—and while I don’t as a rule discourage people over the age of thirteen or so from reading my blog, I will show you the door, and since I’m a nice guy I won’t let it hit your ass on the way out—you’ll probably love Batman vs. Superman. The rest of us…yeah, not so much. There are some good moments—the Clark and Lois scenes work, and Wonder Woman’s easily the best part of the movie—but they’re not worth the ten bucks plus snacks.

Also, Batman and Superman don’t have sex even once, so this entire exercise is pointless.


[1]By the way, Regal Cinemas’ fountain drinks are huge. I think the small is larger than a regular bottle of Coke.

[2] And there were kids in the theater—a family of five or six (I wasn’t keeping count), about elementary-aged. I feel sorry for them—Zootopia was also playing, and I’d rather take the risk of them turning into furries than having BvS be their entry to DC. Anyway, this contributed a lot to my grumpiness—I’m not a big fan of children under most circumstances, especially not in fancy restaurants and at the movies.

[3] Also, my bosses have not shot me into space and are not screening bad movies in order to find one that will make me crack and then use that to take over the world. Nor am I one of two sassy yet lovable robots constructed to ease the pain by cracking jokes.

[4] Is that really what we’re calling it, by the way? Are there important non-movie components I should be keeping tabs on?

[5] Who isn’t called “Batman” in the movie, actually—he’s referred to as “the Bat-Vigilante” or the “Bat of Gotham.” It’s weird.

[6] It seems to have worked for him—man’s a stick.

[7] It’s especially weird in the year 2016, given the rise of Donald Trump and nativist and crypto-fascist sentiment in the West in general, that this side of Luthor’s character is soft-pedalled. There are some nods toward it—in the signs protestors wave when Superman visits the Capitol, for example, and in Luthor’s ramblings about “God and Man”—but it’s not nearly as prominent as I’d have thought it would be.

[8] Which scene, according to the on-screen titles, takes place in “Nairomi, Africa.” which is confusing, and kind of racist. Granted, it’s not like comic books have never made a country up—off the top of my head, the DCU has Qurac, Markovia, Polokistan, Bialya, Nanda Parbat, and Khandaq, while Marvel has Wakanda, Symarnia, Madripoor, Genosha, Latveria, and Canada. That they couldn’t come up with a more plausible location than “Africa” doesn’t speak well of the level of creativity or imagination at work here.

[9] Which Robin is this? I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone other than Snyder—or possibly Ben Affleck—knows. Tradition—and the HA HA THE JOKE’S ON YOU BATMAN scrawled across the front of the costume—makes me think it’s Jason Todd, the second Boy Wonder, in a reference to the “Death in the Family” storyline, in which the Joker beat Jason to death with a crowbar. It’s also possible that the Robin here was Tim Drake—who I immediately jump to when I think “current Robin,” because I grew up with a DC Universe in which that was generally the case—or Damian Wayne. Given Snyder’s….affection…for TDKR, it could be Carrie Kelley—I can’t say for certain, because there’s nothing that points to a definite gender. I think, Snyder being Snyder, that it’s possible the Robin isn’t any of those—it’s Dick Grayson, the youthful ward of billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne and the first to wear the tights. It makes me sick just writing those words—but wouldn’t that be the quintessential DC Cinematic Murderverse thing to do? It’s meat to the fanboys who think it’s “unrealistic” that a man who dresses up like a giant bat and uses his apparently unlimited resources to beat up drug dealers and escaped mental patients would bring an adolescent or child into the fray and Dick is closely associated with Batman ’66 and the Joel Schumacher Bat-flicks.

[10] [Pause, deep breath] Okay, so in about hour eighteen or nineteen of this insult to the past seventy-eight years of superhero stories, even the ones it’s cribbing from, Clark goes to the mountains—I think the Himalayas, possibly it’s the Arctic, but I don’t know, because a consequence of the movie’s jaw-dropping contempt for its audience is a defiant unwillingness to divulge key information to us—for some reason (possibly to get away? Doesn’t he have the Fortress of Solitude for that?) and he encounters Jon Kent. This could be a ghost, could be a hallucination brought on by being in this movie, could be that he survived his suicide attempt in the first movie and he’s moved up here, wherever here is; we don’t know, because again, contempt for audience leads to incomprehension on audience’s part. Anyway, Jon’s here to give Clark really bad, confusing advice in the form of a folksy yet idiotic anecdote: When he was ten or so, the Smallville area experienced incredible flooding. Jon helped his dad save the family farm from destruction, for which he was rewarded with a cake that his mother baked. Except that the flood waters were diverted into his neighbor’s pasture, where the neighbor was keeping his horses. So the horses, as horses whose pasture has suddenly been flooded are wont to do, drowned. Their terrified whinnies echoed into the night as Jon tried to sleep. That’s it. There’s no spin, no attempt to make this into a throwing-starfish-into-the-ocean parable; some horses died because Jonathan Kent once tried to do a good deed. While it explains a lot—and I mean a lot—about the Jon Kent of the DC Cinematic Murderverse, it’s so fucking wrong-headed, so antithetical to the idea of Superman that it makes me want to vomit. Or punch something. Either one, really. It also puts the lie to the line elsewhere in the movie that “Superman was the dream of a farmer from Kansas.” Jonathan Kent would have had Clark stay home on the farm and never become the Man of Steel, lest he expose himself or accidentally kill someone. If Superman’s the dream of anyone in this travesty, he’s the dream of a scientist from Krypton! I said above that the script and movie are at odds. Forget that; the script’s at odds with itself. (Although we do have a good idea of Jon’s favorite song.) (And “Hero Cake” is the name of my next band. It’s sort of a medium-fi, nocore electro jive thing…)

[11] This should be read in the voice of Doctor Zoidberg.

[12] I didn’t take any notes during the showing—I left any sort of pad at home, my handwriting’s bad enough in daylight—so I think this is supposed to be important, but I’ve got no idea.

[13] The other two are when he shields the little girl from the debris at the beginning and his rescue of Martha Kent.

[14] There was a thread I considered including but ended up dropping about how I refuse to engage with BvS on its own terms, and this scene is a prime example of why. I could see it if it were Batman or another mere mortal, but this is Superman—you know, faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, can bend steel with his bare hands and change the course of mighty rivers? That guy? And I could see it if he were covering the hearing as Clark Kent and didn’t want to compromise his secret identity, but he’s there to testify, in full Superman garb. There are a dozen ways he could’ve stopped or detected the bomb—seen it with his X-ray vision, heard the ticking of a timer inaudible to human ears if it’s on a timer, seen the microwave pulse or radio wave if it’s being remote-detonated (because this is something Superman can do, he can see across the electromagnetic spectrum), fused the controls with his heat vision, flown Scoot McNairy out of the Capitol at superspeed (but McNairy doesn’t want to accept Superman’s help and he blows up anyway, only it’s in the Virginia woods instead of the heart of the US federal government), acted as a human (well, Kryptonian) shield absorbing the brunt of the blast, and why the hell am I a better writer than Professional Screenwriter David S. Goyer?

[15] Invincible may be my favorite Robert Kirkman comic book, actually. Yeah, yeah, Walking Dead, but you know what? I don’t really like zombies. Don’t see the appeal (well, except for Shawn of the Dead).

[16] Lee ‘n’ Kirby, natch! No, I don’t know why this footnote’s here. It just is.

[17] I’ve gotten really good at the lunch-bolt, for various reasons. If the line’s not too bad, I could grab, eat, and bus my tray in under fifteen minutes and spend the rest of the lunch period reading.

[18] As with Green Lantern, this is something I really enjoyed despite seemingly no-one else being simpatico.

[19] Long story. Short version: In the ’50s and ’60s, Superman and Jimmy Olsen would occasionally venture into the bottle city of Kandor (which Brainiac had shrunken well before the destruction of Krypton for Reasons) and fight crime. Since Kandor was a re-creation of Krypton’s ecosystem, including a red sun, under which Superman is powerless, they would do it Batman and Robin style. Krypton having neither bats nor robins, they took the names of two roughly equivalent species, the night-wing and the flame-bird. This footnote does not concern them. It instead concerns their successors, Van-Zee and Ak-Var. Van-Zee was a scientist who bore a striking resemblance to Superman (as did a lot of people; seriously, one thing nobody seems to take into consideration about the Clark Kent-Superman thing, at least pre-Crisis, is that apparently one in seven men or so looked like Superman, so it wasn’t implausible that Clark and Superman might look similar); Ak-Var was his niece’s husband. (At least that’s what Wikipedia says.) They took over some time later (Wikipedia doesn’t have specific dates and I haven’t got the relevant stories to hand) and served as Kandor’s protectors.

[20] There’s a trend among BvS’s defenders to send critics a picture of a jar of piss labelled “Granny’s Peach Tea” (it’s a Southern saying of some sort; I think Luthor is meant to be a Southerner of East German descent in this movie, but I have no idea what the hell’s going on, I’m not exactly waiting to see it again, and it’s entirely possible he was code-switching in the relevant scenes), apparently unaware that in this analogy the movie itself is the jar of piss. Given that the jar of piss (I am having to type that phrase far too often for my tastes) is a distraction in the movie, it’s not outside the realm of plausibility (although it’s realistically about as likely as Bigfoot—who was actually Elvis Presley, aliens having abducted him in return for helping to fake the Moon Landing and assassinating John F. Kennedy—having planned and carried out 9/11) that Batman vs. Superman is not a “movie” in the conventional sense of the term, but merely the centerpiece of an elaborate ruse, eating up what little bandwidth wasn’t occupied by the Presidential election in order to distract us from a plot by an unknown entity (I say the KGB) to steal Fort Knox and the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Not the money in them—the buildings, Carmen Sandiego style. I have no idea why this would be the case—the plot is incredibly unwieldy and feels more like something Cobra Commander would come up with than anything that might occur in the real world. On the other hand, if you’ve got a better explanation for how a movie this jaw-droppingly wrong-headed and idiotic made it past the entire Warner Bros./DC Entertainment chain of command more or less unmolested, I’m all ears.

[21] Bricken also sums up in thirty-two words what I’ve spent eight thousand or thereabouts trying to say:

But what’s it about?

It’s about fundamentally misunderstanding Superman, Batman, superheroes in general, basic morality, and doubling down on all of Man of Steel’s problems. It’s also about 2.5 punishing hours long.

He’s also responsible for the term “DC Cinematic Murderverse,” which I’ve been using throughout.

Post-Credits Sequence

Superman is dead.

Superman remains dead.

And we have killed him.

But this is not the end, not truly. There are no endings in comics; death is impermanent; Superman himself has died, only to rise again. In a sense, then, this is a temporary setback, for both Superman and Batman. In a sense, this is the best thing to happen to them in decades—a wildfire, clearing out the accumulated underbrush of misconceptions and tropes that have fallen into cliche and leaving us with fertile ground in which we can build anew.

And we will. There’s no going back; we’ve come too far. There will come a day when the red of Superman’s cape is a bright red once more. There will come a day when DC movies reflect the four-color brightness of the medium they claim to adapt. But that won’t just happen; we’ve got to work for it. We’ll need a blueprint of some sort. I intend to provide such a blueprint.

NEXT:

Chasing the Rabbit presents

A reconstruction in seven parts

“Building a Better Batman”

Coming April 2016

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About docmagnus

I write things and draw things. Sometimes I do both at the same time. Sometimes I put what I wrote and drew on the Internet for people to see.

3 responses to “Batman v Superman: Review of Justice”

  1. Peter Adrian says :

    Not to mention that Miller’s TDKR Superman is a genuinely good person, which Bats knows. Never mind that Miller’s TDKR Bats rejects guns outright. Thanks for taking this one for the team.

    Like

    • docmagnus says :

      I think Snyder’s had the same problem as a lot of people reading TDKR did, in that his takeaway wasn’t “people want to read a lightly satirical, formally-innovative comic book featuring Batman written and drawn by a creator at the height of his abilities,” but “DUDE!! This comic book is so EXTREME! It’s not kid stuff! It’s MATURE and GRITTY! It’s got GORE and NUDITY! Joker kills Dr Ruth! Hardcore, dude! This is what every mainstream comic book should look like for the next five to ten years, only done by people with maybe a tenth of Frank Miller’s skill and creativity!”

      Like

  2. Mitchell says :

    “If it’s a deconstruction, it’s like a small boy pulling the wings off of insects and saying he’s an entomologist.”

    You know, I’m not someone in the habit of saying “I wish I had come up with that” but… man, I wish I had come up with that line.

    Couldn’t agree more with everything you said. And it’s downright weird how personal some people are taking any criticism of this film and turning it into a nonsense “you just hate dark movies, hater” argument — as if acknowledging the many flaws in the film is somehow akin to demanding Adam West play Batman for eternity.

    No joke, I once talked to someone who said the film was brilliant, and when I brought up the many problems with the script and how nothing was explained, he said “Well, it makes perfect sense if you read the wiki and read the novelization and check out the interviews Snyder did after it came out.” Yeah, because that’s how you can tell if it’s a well-constructed movie: homework.

    Anyway, great read. Thanks.

    Like

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