Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice
based on characters published by DC Comics
2016 • 151 minutes • Warner Bros. Pictures
There is no way to prepare for the horror show that is Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
I thought I was prepared. I had read every negative review, starting with Helen O’Hara’s. I spoiled myself silly, starting with the first episode of Overinvested. I took every measure to gird my loins, in the hopes of yielding the finest bad movie schadenfreude of the year, possibly even the decade.
But there’s no way to be prepared for the nihilistic slog of this film. As I told Captain Cinema upon exiting the theater, I felt like I had gone through childbirth without the reward of having had a child. We had to go home and watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens just to remember the taste of strawberries, as the saying goes. (That and a heaping helping of tiramisu definitely helped.)
Before I get into spoiler territory, because I am going to get into spoiler territory, here is the simplest and easiest way to know if Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice is for you. This is a film where the audience is honestly surprised when Batman threatens to throat-punch a villain with a sizzling Batbrand and doesn’t. If that level of violence and character assassination appeals to you, congratulations, please enjoy all of Zack Snyder’s cinematic oeuvre.
Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice has a convoluted plot, but, suffice it to say for our purposes here, Batman is angry at Superman for the destruction of Metropolis in Man of Streel. After a year and a half, Batman decides to take action against this alien intruder, spurred on by anti-Superman sentiment in the wake of a Lois Lane rescue, his own feelings of inadequacy, hallucinations, dreams, and Lex Luthor.
For the first forty-five minutes of its epic slog of a run time, Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice is a pretty okay movie. It’s dark and humorless, to be sure, but it makes coherent sense. Do we really need to see how Bruce Wayne’s parents die in loving detail again? Probably not, but there’s something lyrically over the top about baby Bruce levitating out of a cave via swarm of bats that’s appealing. Do characters make weird decisions? Yes, but in a way that seems logical in the wake of Man of Steel. For a moment there, I wondered if the critics had been blowing things out of proportion.
And then Batman self-sabotages a plan to put a tracking device on a van by indiscriminately murdering Lex Luthor’s hired thugs and causing tons of property damage, before promising to make Superman, who swings by to tell him to knock off the vigilante antics, bleed. When the van in question finally pulls into LexCorp, the tracker hanging on by a thread, Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice makes it point very clear: everything in the film is subservient to unchecked toxic masculinity and sadistic ultraviolence. I am honestly amazed that this film received a PG-13 rating, and not at all surprised it achieved this rating through only a few judicious cuts, which explains the existence of the R-rated home release.
As viewers, we are asked to sympathize with Batman. (We are certainly not asked to sympathize with Superman, who remains a strange cipher.) His backstory opens the film, we seemingly spend the most time with him, and he’s the only protagonist who takes action against what he believes is a dangerous threat. But this is a film where Batman takes actual pleasure in torturing Superman, where he breaks a sink over his head because he can. This is a film where you see Batman wielding guns so much that it becomes commonplace instead of shocking. I don’t inherently object to this level of violence. There is room for it in art. But to see a film where we are asked to find a man who derives obvious sadistic pleasure from such violence as heroic and worthy of adulation and attention is beyond the pale for me.
I have been quite catty throughout this review, and I think this film deserves it. But, to be charitable to Zack Snyder, I think, as a director, he sees his films in terms of great, epic moments. When adapting the DC universe, there are moments that he finds intriguing and compelling that he wants to bring to the silver screen. Setting aside the fact that the moments he finds most intriguing seem to be Frank Miller-based, that’s no bad thing. The problem is that he cannot seem to find a way to elegantly reverse-engineer these moments, because he doesn’t seem to understand that their impact in the comics derives from years of careful (or not so careful) set-up. He’s too eager to hit those marks, and they come and go, leaving little impact. Superman dies in this film, in a strange moment that seems to imply that the most masculine thing to do is to inflict violence upon one’s self, and it makes no impact, because we haven’t spent time getting to know Superman as a character.
There are precious few bright spots in this film, but they are there. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, by virtue of being all action and no theological rumination, is lovely, and her “Immigrant Song”-esque theme tune is fantastic. Jeremy Irons’ Alfred is nicely arch—I adored every second where we learned that Alfred really wants Bruce to settle down and have kids. And I never knew I was such a huge a Lois/Clark shipper until I dimly realized the only time I was experiencing human emotion during the film was during their scenes together. But they’re hardly worth the price of admission.
I saw this film in theaters.