For a film that employs as many religious allegories as Batman v Superman does, it seems to forget that even God took seven days to build the universe. Beginning where 2013’s Man of Steel concluded, Zach Snyder’s latest foray in the DC universe feels rushed and unsure of itself.
Tackling the introduction of Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is a tough task for multiple movies let alone one but this is where Snyder’s ambition ultimately becomes his kryptonite. Poor pacing plagues the film as Snyder tries to incorporate a vast number of characters and tell their stories in a Pulp Fiction style jump cut between story arcs. But Batman v Superman fails to properly adapt this style because 1) it does not spend enough time (or wastes its time on redundant scenes) on one arc before jumping to the next and 2) it lacks a common thread to tie these stories together. As a result, the film ends up being messy, disjointed and I’d imagine intimidating for someone unfamiliar with the DC lore.
There is too much happening in Batman v Superman that even with a near three hour run time, there just isn’t enough time for these storylines to develop. There is promise to some of these themes, like Superman’s uncertainty over his own role on earth or his ideological differences with Batman but none of these are explored enough in depth for any real pay off. Instead, the film spends too much time on mundane storylines like Lois Lane (Amy Adams)’s tracking of a stray bullet.
The lack of cohesion is particularly disappointing especially when so much excess is left into the film, For example, There are three separate scenes where Superman (Henry Cavill) seeks reassurance from his family and they all hit the same point about identity. The same can be said for Batman who undergoes multiple instances of a similar epiphany. In a movie with so many storylines, these scenes are redundant and could free up space for what people actually want to see (Batman’s break into Lexcorp for example). It would be less of a problem if these scenes each contributed to the overall depth of the characters or gave better insight into each their motivations but like most of the movie, these scenes come off as shallow and exist seemingly only to justify the titular battle.
Snyder’s take on Superman is horrible as he seems to completely miss what makes Superman the hero he is. Snyder alienates (no pun intended) Superman into this God-like figure instead of likable and a champion of the people. There is almost nothing likable about Superman here, there’s no intrigue and he comes off as an arrogant bully. However, Superman is not the worst portrayal in this film, Eisenberg’s performance as Luthor is. Erratic and fidgety rather than the confident megalomaniac that Lex is in the comics, It is almost as if he auditioned for The Riddler but ended up getting Luthor and the producers didn’t bother to tell him.
Through the carnage, there is some glimmer of hope. Ben Affleck is a better Batman than anything we’ve seen before. He balances both sides of the Batman well (Bruce Wayne and the Batman), a feat that eluded even Bale and Keaton and is genuinely frightening in his style. His movements look like they come straight out of the Arkham video games flowing beautifully as he incorporates his gadgets with his vicious strikes. I do not mind the more violent take on Batman as much as some others, this is after all a Batman based upon Frank Miller’s classic “Dark Knight Returns” however the usage of guns (even in a dream situation) seems like a betrayal of one of the fundamental rules of the character. As Bruce Wayne he carries himself with confidence while maintaining that tinge of sad darkness in his expression encapsulating the theme that Bruce Wayne is the mask and Batman is his true identity.
Gal Gadot gets far too little screen time but when she finally arrives in her Wonder Woman gear she steals the show as she exudes power and grace throughout the climactic battle. The way she glides through the battle like an Olympic figure skater is a nice contrast to Superman’s rough bulldozer approach. As Diana Prince, she shows that she can stand toe to toe with Bruce Wayne perhaps even getting the better of him in these exchanges. The current superhero landscape is noticeably void of females so Gadot’s performance hopefully is a predecessor for bigger and better things to come when her solo film releases.
The scale at which these heroes fight is something to behold. Unlike other superhero films, it’s not a horde of meaningless aliens or robots that are the enemy, Instead Doomsday actually feels like a threat to the heroes. Say what you will about Doomsday but he shows up and challenges the Trinity, he is imposing, feeling like a threat worthy of the combined might of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. By establishing the power of the villain, the heroes, in turn, are seen in a more powerful light. The balance of power helps keeps the stakes high and prevents the action from feeling like an inevitable cakewalk for the good guys.
Much has been said of the tone of this movie. It’s been called overly dark and joyless, I do not necessarily consider this a bad thing, Yes, Marvel has found success creating a family friendly, bright style universe but DC should not feel the need to bend to the mold. Serious superhero movies can work (as evidenced by Nolan / Burton ’s Batman films), the key is to build a (relatively) grounded story with strong characters that stay true to their comic book roots. Batman v Superman suffers not because of its tone but because of its poor narrative development.
It’s a shame that the plot could not match the action this film provides as Batman v Superman ends up being simultaneously over ambitious with what it wanted to do but too lazy to fuse these goals together into one cohesive story (To be honest, I’m not sure that’s even possible). Maybe it was pressure from higher-ups to match Marvel or maybe they sense that the superhero genre is starting to collapse as the market becomes oversaturated, whatever the case Batman v Superman is a mess, if DC is smart they now should step back, slow down and build their empire piece by piece. There are signs of promise here (Affleck’s Batman, Gadot’s Wonder Woman) but in order to capitalize on those, you must first realize that world building takes time and even Gods cannot build a universe in a day.