Mostly Spoiler-Free (Unless Otherwise Stated)
As a card-carrying Geek Dad, yesterday I performed the obligatory pilgrimage to the local megaplex with my son and a couple of his friends to witness the latest blight on cinema, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
I contemplated not paying to see this movie at all, based on what I know of the director, Zack Snyder and his previous work as the de-facto main creative force of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). I did not much care for his version of Superman in his previous work, Man of Steel. In short - spoilers for MoS follow - I didn't mind Superman killing Zod (people forget Superman also killed Zod in Superman II, with far less compunction) at the end, but I was greatly bothered by two main factors: Clark/Superman was raised by an earth-father in the form of Kevin Costner who taught him to fear and mistrust humans, and the over-the-top destructo-porn ending in which Clark seemingly has no regard for the slaughter of many thousands through his direct actions in engaging the Kryptonians in populated areas.
So this article, which argues that paying to see this movie only gives a vote of confidence for Zack Snyder to continue his cinematic reign of horror, should be taken seriously. But obviously I'm a hypocrite, especially given this pic:
To be fair, the shirt was given to me, and I merely wanted to try to balance the boy's obvious Batman-based superiority.
Anyway, on to the review:
As expected, it wasn't very good.
Oh, is that not enough? Ok, then hang on...
I'll be the first to admit that I read some reviews ahead of time and they undoubtedly colored my viewing to some extent. That said, this movie in my opinion doesn't deserve the 30-or-so percent rating it currently has on Rotten Tomatoes. But the 30% is more a reflection of how many people found it to be bad, rather than how bad it really was. It wasn't that bad.
Part of the problem, which is a problem with many movies today, is that the trailers gave far too much away. I don't go on trailer-ban for comic book movies (especially ones that I don't anticipate being great to begin with) so some of this might be on me, but they revealed the Big-Bad of the movie in the trailers, and that really should have been saved for the movie itself. Also, most of the cool action scenes are spoiled in the trailers. So if you've seen the trailers, you already know what you need to about this movie. If you liked what you saw, go see it. If not, stay home.
But if you can bear with me while I unpack my issues a little more, my chief problem with this film is that the main characters are completely unlikeable.
The new Star Wars movie had a lot of problems but many people (myself included) had no choice but to overlook them because the characters were just so damn good.
One might argue that Batman doesn't need to be likeable, but even if so, Superman really ought to be, don't you think? After all, he's the one guy who (in every other version) tries to do the right thing no matter the cost, which should have been what his dad taught him down on the farm, but unfortunately in this universe his dad told him he'd probably be better off letting a bus full of schoolchildren drown rather than reveal himself. This Superman rarely cracks a smile, and seems to actually be annoyed that people would question him in any way. He's also just not very smart, as the requisite brawl with Batman could, in my view, be avoided with some quick-and-smart dialogue choices.
This version of Batman, though, is a worse transgression, because of the fact that he's the world's most popular superhero and they finally had a chance to give us the definitive version. The suit alone inspired me with some confidence, as it's a dead-ringer for the Dark Knight Returns costume:
And to be fair, I think they actually came close to giving me the version I wanted, which is why I feel that this opportunity was all the more wasted.
Like many fans, I was not happy to hear that Ben Affleck was cast as Batman. It wasn't just that I hated his version of Daredevil, which I did. It wasn't even entirely due to the fact that I have lost a lot of respect for Affleck after his bizarre and ill-conceived attack on Sam Harris during an appearance on Bill Maher's show:
No, I just don't think Affleck is a very good actor. And every time I see him onscreen as Batman, all I see is "Affleck in a Batman mask."
I have to admit, though, that despite my concerns, I felt he acquitted himself relatively well, so I won't fault Affleck too much for my problems with Batman. It's down to the screenplay, mostly. And Zack Snyder not having a clue.
As Bruce Wayne, Affleck does a pretty decent job, even though his character is thin (but with so many of them, how could he not be?). He does detective work that is more impressive than any previous Batman onscreen incarnation, and his motivation for hating Superman is convincingly established.
As I noted, he looks the part, and there is one spectacular fight scene which is far-and-away the best live-action Batman fighting we've ever seen. However, it's problematic because he is more brutal in this fight and throughout the movie than almost any comic book interpretation. In my view, his willingness to slaughter people with such abandon turns him into a different character altogether.
What annoys me most about this is that Zack Snyder defends this interpretation - as well as his interpretation of Superman - as genuine, and more true to the comics than we peons realize, so if you don't agree, you're not a True Fan. Well, screw you, Snyder. I'm certain I've read more comics than you and these characters are not reflective of their core attributes.
Batman also does a few things that I just don't think are very smart and therefore un-Batmanlike. I won't get into specifics beyond one example: is it really important to strength train for a fight with Superman? Really?
So that's the core of it for me: not my Batman, not my Superman.
Other Bad Things
Lex Luthor. Okay, look, I know some people love this interpretation and I won't argue, maybe it's just a matter of taste. I found him annoying, but worse, inconsistent - I couldn't discern a personality for him beyond "quirky" which made his motivations impossible to understand.
Doomsday. Even though I actually didn't mind the final fight as much as I thought I would, the realization of Doomsday was as generic as they get. Yes, I know that's more-or-less how he looked in the comics but this is one time that straying from source would be welcome, considering what's come before:
Other Good Things
Wonder Woman. She wasn't in it much, but when she was, she was a breath of fresh air. Her first appearance is probably the highlight of the movie. Too bad it, too, was spoiled in the trailers.
Alfred. A different take than we've seen for Wayne Manor's butler on film, but I enjoyed the dynamic between Bruce and Alfred. I could see a solo Batman film exploring him more being very interesting.
The Batmobile. I actually prefer this to the tank version from Nolan's films, it's a nice hybrid between that and the Tim Burton versions.
Batman vs Superman, the actual fight. I have to admit that it was well done and fairly convincing. Also one of the highlights, so it does deliver on the title's promise in my opinion.
After re-reading all this, I realize there is actually a lot to like. It's just unfortunate that there's also a lot to dislike and it doesn't gel very well. Overall my current feeling, which could change over time, is that I like it a bit more than Man of Steel, but that's pretty faint praise.
I know I'm a hypocrite, but I don't want more of this universe done in this way. So if you're on the fence, please save your money. Perhaps if this movie doesn't make the necessary $1 billion to make any real profit, they will make the creative changes needed to give the DCEU a credible shot at challenging the Marvel juggernaut.