There isn’t a stone left unturned in Warner Bros’s efforts to ensure that their movie about the iconic battle between the two most celebrated superheroes of the DC universe, makes big bucks at the box office. Right from the announcement in 2013’s Comic Con where they released the logo of the Superman’s S with the Bat sign overshadowing it, to the BatFleck casting decision which raised too many eyebrows, to the crazy marketing that began more than an year before the release, Warner Bros have definitely put a lot of thought into making the release an unforgettable worldwide phenomenon. If only they’d directed some of these efforts into making a good movie.
Man of Steel was not a particularly good movie, but had some really great ideas, and if not for all the interminable wanton destruction and indiscernible action in the second half, it would have been one of the best superhero origin movies. The writers of Batman v Superman are smart enough to realize that they need to answer for all the destruction caused in Man of Steel, and thus decide to write a movie that’s about the world’s reaction to Superman’s powers and the destruction he can cause with it. But since the movie is titled Batman v Superman, there needs to be a Batman story and they decide to put in Batman’s agenda, which is just a blown up version of peoples’ fears about Superman’s powers being used for evil. Since Batman is being introduced to Man of Steel’s DC universe, you also need to show his origin story, right? Alright, let’s add that in. Now, you have three serious issues, each of which deserves a movie of its own, and you’re trying to conflate them in one. Some skilled script-writing and great direction can pull it off without making the movie seem like a drag.
But then, the overambitious writers decide to also make it a movie that unites the Justice League. They decide to introduce Wonder Woman and a separate agenda for her. Oh, while we’re at it, let’s also add a gratuitous villain who has his own evil motives. Enter Lex Luthor. OK, now what’s missing? Even though we don’t have time to develop five different plots in one movie, we have this director who is crazy about action, so let’s reserve like one whole hour of run-time for action scenes. So basically we’re now left with little over an hour to present the audience with five separate stories, and that includes plot details and character developments. Sounds plausible? Apparently, Warner Bros thought it did.
The writers and the director clearly have no idea what the movie’s theme is. There are just too many plots and the movie ends up being about none of them. Besides the plot, the action scenes towards the end go full shaky camera, and dive headfirst into the incoherent mess that’s even worse than Man of Steel’s climax. There is a creature called Doomsday that shows up at the end that sets off one of the worst action sequences I’ve witnessed. Lex Luthor is not only an unnecessary plot detail, but is also an extremely annoying one. Jesse Eisenberg’s twitchy over conscious portrayal of Superman’s nemesis is just a pain to watch. One necessity for a superhero movie, that is flagrantly missing from this one, is the presence of scenes that elicit thrill and awe at the magnificent feats of your superhero. Remember the scene in Dark Knight Rises when Batman shows up after 8 years and the entire cop army in Gotham goes after him, or the one in Iron Man, where Tony Stark escapes from captivity with his first primitive version of the Iron Man suit. No superhero movie is complete without such awe inspiring scenes.
I’ve been a fan of Larry Fong’s cinematography for a while now, and despite the movie looking darker than necessary, I really enjoyed the visuals and the angles. Although the action scenes would be much better without shaky cam and the Doomsday scenes were just a mess, I would recommend the movie for its camerawork. Ben Affleck is a solid Batman and is an even better brooding billionaire, Bruce Wayne. Henry Cavill is also impressive as the Man of Steel and even though he doesn’t once crack a smile, he has the innate charm that makes you empathize with him. There’s one sequence where journalists and scientists talk about whether Superman should be treated like a god or a criminal, punctuated with scenes of Superman pulling ships, rescuing spacecrafts and saving people in slow motion, which is indisputably the best part of the movie. Despite having no reason to be in this movie, Gal Gadot’s fine portrayal of Wonder Woman is a pleasure to watch. Composers Zimmer and Junkie XL haven’t done anything unique here, but the bold soundtrack choice for Wonder Woman’s entrance makes it one of the few memorable scenes in the movie. The plot about Metropolis growing increasingly suspicious of Superman, and his helplessness, despite being a God to the few that look up to him, is obviously the best among all the ‘themes’ in the movie and it’s a pity it gets lost in all the other nonsense the movie tries to be. Batman’s origin story and his reason to fight Superman is also strongly portrayed, but again, it isn’t given enough time to develop.
Batman v Superman is a mistake. It’s not a failure but it’s definitely a mistake. It is a product of Warner Bros’s impatience to launch their Justice League franchise and their predilection for box office success over quality of content. The movie’s worst foible is its indulgence in too many stories that it obviously has no time to develop. If the movie had just focused on one of the plots or even two of them and did away with the rest, it would have been a great time. A lot of the movie is likable and most of it is visually satisfying but Batman v Superman is certainly no masterpiece, and it definitely doesn’t live up to the humongous expectations piled up over the last three years. I will give it a 7/10 mainly for its sublime camerawork, and partly for some great but insufficiently executed ideas.