Batman v. Superman: Not Super, But Not “Bat,” Either

I really, really wanted to like Batman v. Superman. I really did.  Normally, after watching a superhero movie, you emerge from the theatre feeling something: Maybe a little giddy. Or perhaps a little inspired. A little more resolved that while evil exists in the world, so does good.
I felt nothing after I watched Batman v. Superman.  Nothing. I came in an optimist and left a nihilist. It’s not that it was a bad movie. It wasn’t.
It was merely “okay.”
Batman v. Superman wasn’t the feelgood fun of Guardians of the Galaxy. It wasn’t even the semi-feelgood fun of the first Iron Man installment. It didn’t make me a little misty like X-Men: Days of Future Past. But it didn’t want to make me punch my couch into matchsticks like Superman Returns, either, so that’s a plus.
What it felt like, however, was just a two-and-a-half-hour-long movie based on well-known comic book characters with some explosions thrown in for good measure. The only bit of insight it gave into the characters’ extensive mythos was that both Batman and Superman’s mothers have the same first name: Martha. (I’m kind of embarrassed I never made that connection til now.)

An Epic Showdown?

The big showdown between comics’ two most recognizable names didn’t come until the last half hour of a film that suffered from an absentee editor and an even more absent sense of pacing. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was just as long a film but, thanks to a skilled editor, didn’t feel like drudgery. By the time the epic battle went down, I’d already been waging a war of my own: fending off sleep thanks to lulls in the action and the really comfy leather recliners in the theatre.
The big battle scene between Batman and Superman — featuring Wonder Woman, Doomsday, Ja Rule, and Lil Jon — was too little, too late. Sure, there was lots of cool ‘splodey stuff, laser beam eyes, and shit flying everywhere. But the way it went down felt like it was simply pulled out of the air because they’d realized, “Shit. We’re at the two-hour mark and if we don’t throw in some loud crashing and banging, even the most diehard fanboys (and fangirls) are going to either A.) fall asleep or B.) start texting the person next to them on their cellphone so they don’t fall asleep.

Not “Super”… Just “Okay.”

baabpicIn a film riddled with polarizing points, Batman v. Superman had a lot of aspects that were smack dab in the middle, making it “just okay.” Chief of these things was Ben Affleck as Batman. He wasn’t nearly as fun, off-kilter, or even hinting at slightly disturbed as Michael Keaton’s version. But he sure as hell wasn’t as painfully awful as George Clooney’s Batman, either. He’s somewhere in the middle.If anything, I take more umbrage with the way this particular incarnation of Bruce Wayne / Batman was written more so than the way he was played.

As far as overall acting from the ensemble cast, the film felt more like a table reading with a buttload of CG effects than an actual major motion picture. With the exception of the sorely underutilized Lawrence Fishburne as Perry White and Jesse Eisenberg’s annoyingly over-the-top Joker Jr. Lex Luthor, the actors’ interpretation of larger-than-life comic book heroes felt a little too New School understated / “Must… Hide… The pain… Grimmacing will get me through.” The end result didn’t really give the audience much in terms of feeling one way or another about characters that should have elicited a stronger reaction. There were a few elements of Batman v. Superman that did elicit a strong reaction — for better or for worse.

The Good

  • Jeremy Irons as Alfred. The venerable British actor was still young by cinematic standards for Bruce Wayne’s beloved butler, but wasn’t quite as comforting or warm-and-fuzzy as previous versions of Alfred played by Michael Gough or Michael Caine. And given that he had to be Batman’s “thinking parts,” it was no wonder why Irons’ Alfred seemed exasperated with Bruce most of the time. While comic book fans can expect Superman to deal in absolutes, seeing the world in stark shades of black and white, they don’t expect that from Batman. Batman, as The World’s Greatest Detective, is cynical yet analytical. He is open to possibilities. As much as Bruce Wayne’s life has been colored by tragedy, he is never tunnel visioned. He sees things from all angles. In Batman v. Superman, Bats spends the bulk of the film hell bent for leather after having witnessed tragedy on a massive scale brought to his doorstep. It’s understandable, but still out of character. Irons’ Alfred acts not as Bruce Wayne’s conscience, but rather his better, more rational half.
  • Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Israeli actress Gal Gadot had very little screen time as Wonder Woman, but she made the most of it. Despite the 2 hour and 33 minute runtime, most of Wonder Woman’s backstory (or at least history of working with mankind) was condensed into one photograph and a tantalizing bit of dialogue near the end of the film. What she lacked in screen time, Gadot made up for with presence. She looked every bit the Amazon warrior and completely bad ass. Even though Batman v. Superman left me cold, she still made me want to see the new Wonder Woman flick coming soon. 
  • Character “Easter Eggs” you didn’t have to sit through the credits to see. One point DC scores over Marvel is that they don’t make you wait to sit Rip Van Winkle-style through the ending credits to see an embedded 30-second promo for future films featuring fan-favorite supporting characters. Batman v. Superman nestled cameos of Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg into the film, whetting fans’ appetites for flicks featuring other more peripheral members of the Justice League. (Side note: Aquaman looks really cool.)

The Bad

  • Way too long / lack of pacing. As mentioned previously, Batman v. Superman dragged. For a film that didn’t need a whole lot of exposition, it took way too long to set up the storyline and even longer to have it unfold in a way that was even remotely satisfying. The film assumed you’d already seen Man of Steel (honestly, I actually like Henry Cavill’s Superman) and took five minutes of a near-wordless flashback montage to tell Bruce Wayne’s backstory that made him the “poor little rich boy” vigilante orphan we all know and love. That said, there was no reason for the set-up to take so long. The opening moments of the film were good and threw you into the middle of the action, flashing back to Superman vs. Zod tearing through Metropolis and bringing the personal casualties and loss into focus instead of just being generic carnage and cool ‘splodey stuff. After that, it was all downhill from there.
  • A distinct lack of humor. There was no humor in this film. None. None whatsoever. While Marvel’s films frequently feature a little bit of levity, that does not seem to be DC films’ stock-in-trade. But Batman v. Superman didn’t even have one ray of sunshine to lighten the mood (or quicken the pace) at all.  Even Chris Nolan’s bleak “Dude, this is so hyper-real and dark” Dark Knight trilogy managed to squeeze in a chuckle here and there. Not this one. Batman v. Superman took itself more seriously than a goth on prom night. Lighten up, Francis.
  • Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. Speaking of the lack of funny, I think the filmmakers assumed Eisenberg’s manic portrayal of Lex Luthor was going to be the humor quotient in Batman v. Superman. Initially, he was amusing. However, the bits with him tittering to himself and the spastic flailing got old real quick. It felt like Joker Lite, but in this case, the Joker had a hard on for Superman and not Batman. In the film, this version of Lex was supposed to be a young, twisted genius who wanted the same thing as Batman (to hold Superman accountable to mankind), but with a nefarious hidden agenda. Eisenberg’s Lex came across as Mark Zuckerberg doing a bad impression of Heath Ledger’s Joker. What started out as mildly entertaining quickly disintegrated into painful eye-rolling every time Lex appeared on screen. We get it. You’re off-balance. Thank you. Please, drive through.

Overall, I would say wait for the DVD of Batman v. Superman instead of sitting through it in a theatre. It’s not a bad film, but would likely be more enjoyable in the confines of your own home when you have the opportunity to hit pause to hit the head or grab a snack from the kitchen.

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