This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Carl Hudson’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
This movie feels like Zack Snyder remaking Watchmen in the DC Universe. There are good and bad things about this. The good thing is that Snyder and his team (Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer as the credited writers) are trying to lift the superhero movie to higher grounds, dealing with misuses of power and of seeing the world through hope and love or suspiciousness and hostility. The bad part is that, because this is the DC Universe, he really has to push everyone's interpretations of these characters, maybe up to the point where they lose who they are. The other bad thing is that the film has so many moving parts (ordered, roughly, by importance; Superman, Batman, Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, Wonder Woman, Gotham, Alfred, Metropolis, the build-up to Justice League, The Daily Planet, Politics™, and then some other stuff) and so much it wants to say that once the fighting starts (and, incidentally, the plot clicks into place) it feels like it's degenerating and doing itself a disservice. Mostly though, I feel like there's a better movie hidden underneath this one, sometimes poking out sometimes but not really given its due.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice should, instead, be titled "Superman's Rebirth". Because as much as it wants you to believe you're watching a Batman-movie, this is Superman's show all the way. This is about how he feels out of place, how the public goes from having complete faith in him to fear him, how he gets beaten down and then sacrifices himself for the greater good ("the greater good"), only to rise again a better man, a super man. There's nothing wrong with this plotline, necessarily, and Snyder & co.'s instinct in regarding these superheroes as symbols and gods are a little meta, but very interesting. The problems starts showing up when you have too many masters to service. Now, obviously, I don't know the plans they have for this universe. Maybe all these elements were necessary and this will all pay off magnificently in future film, but I sort of doubt it. The whole thing stinks of the "eat your vegetables and then you get dessert"-thing, because we don't really want movies we "have" to see just to understand the future, much more fun movies.
So but where are the problems, specifically? Well. They're in the fact that this movie is poorly, complicatedly told, and although this ends up revelatory in a fantastic scene with Superman and Lex Luthor on the top of a building (the aforementioned "everything clicks into place"), you spend a lot of time getting to that scene. In everything before that scene, the plot seems to work overtime into getting Batman and Superman into a confrontation, because that's the movie you're seeing - not because the characters want to, or because it's appropriate for the plot. It feels like they started writing this movie asking the question "Why does Batman and Superman fight?" with "Because Lex Luthor makes them" and then made up a huge, complicated plot involving manipulations and government dealings and African terrorism, then inserted a whole lot of religious symbolism like a thematic blanket on top of everything. Again, it's the vegetables-before-fun, and it throws big wrenches into two characters; Batman and Lex Luthor.
Both of these characters spend the first part of the movie doing tons of stuff, but it takes a long time before we actually get to know what or why they're doing it. This is what I mean by complicated storytelling; I spent so much time thinking about what was important and what was not. I was sure I'd misinterpreted or missed something in the damn Africa-sequence for a long time, till they revealed that Luthor was behind it - which threw me for a bit too, to be honest. I feel like the whole first part of the movie would've been better if we knew what Luthor was up to and had the tension of "will this plan work?" instead of the mystery ("what is going on and why?"). And yeah, they tried to make Lois Lane investigate the mystery, but man was that a half-assed attempt. Wouldn't it have been more interesting if we started this movie from Batman's POV, laying out his past and origin, but then switched to Lois as she investigated the aftermath of the Africa-incident?
If it were up to me, I would've nixed the whole political plotline (which didn't really give the film much anyhow, as the writers literally decided to blow it up halfway through the film) and replaced it with Lois' investigation and more Batman/Bruce Wayne, with a few Superman-scenes, but mostly him as a looming spectre. Then, of course, you would have the problem with Batman's motivation behind this fight... But to be honest, I feel like this was a massive problem in the film as well. I didn't really believe Batman's reasoning for why he wanted to kill Superman. Was it because he sees the bad in everyone, and an all-powerful alien was just a little too much for him? Was it because he really liked that building in Metropolis? Or because he kept having nightmares?
I realise that a lot of my reasons for disliking the film is because it didn't do what I wanted it to, but you're reading this so you must at least be a little interested. This wouldn't really change much, but it would change the whole arc of the movie. It'd give the movie back to Batman, where I think it belongs. The film never really has a good idea regarding who this Batman is, creating an easily manipulated doofus that seems to do whatever the plot (or the scene he's in) needs him to. Sure, he'll investigate Wonder Woman. Sure, he'll be manipulated by some returned cheques. Sure, he's brooding about his past and he's scared of bats. But what if there was, sort of, a way to tie all these things together?
Imagine how Batman, Gotham's vigilante and saviour, would feel after Superman saved Metropolis. After realising there were others out there; people with powers. More powerful than he was. I think he'd be scared. More than that, I think he'd feel small, worthless. What place does he have in this new world, this world of beings from other planets and of people with powers, not just money, a lot of free time and a sense of justice? Add this together with the fact that this Batman feels more tied to the past than ever (in the movies, at least); he hasn't restored Wayne Manor, he regularly visits his parents' grave. He's obsessed about the past and he doesn't see a place for him in the future. Superman becomes a symbol of all this, and if he can just break that symbol, kill Superman... Then the old world will be back. Then he can relax; he'll have his power, his place.
So he teams up with Luthor, all the while keeping an eye on him, thinking "this person is unstable". They meet at a board meeting or something, Luthor having already figured out that he's Batman, and he proposes a plan to rid the world of Superman. Luthor can invite him to his home and have the "Demons from the sky"-monologue. Then we'll have the Lois-scene in Africa. Of course, after a while, Batman figures out that Luthor has other plans (re: Doomsday, whom he still creates out of access to the ship; Wayne has government contacts, and that's that - but also he could find the clips of other heroes, and realise that he can't really stop this new world; it's coming, whether he kills Superman or not, and Luthor wants to force it into being), and eventually sides with Superman, fighting against Luthor and Doomsday. In this version, Batman should be the one killing Doomsday with the Kryptonite-spear, thus accepting his place in this new world of aliens and people with powers, assuming his place among them and leaving his past behind. The film could end with him rebuilding Wayne Manor. You could even keep the dumb post-apocalyptic dream, which felt so out of place but wouldn't be so bad if you started the film with it. Batman, in voice over, could say "I used to have nightmares" and we'd see his origin, the shooting of his parents, the funeral, the bats, donning his mask and fighting crime, then cut to the end of Man of Steel, seeing Bruce Wayne watching footage of Metropolis (he doesn't really need to be there), then cut to his post-apocalyptic dream. You could later have revealed it was some gadget of Luthor, making him paranoid, or just a vision (this could tie in with the religious symbolism, and would be interesting too - Batman thinking, at least with a small part of his mind, that he's on a mission from God). Then it'd just be following Lois' investigation, probably looking into ties between LexCorps and Wayne Industries, meeting both Luthor and Wayne, not exactly knowing where they stood. Bruce could have a "Trust me. I know what I'm doing"-line, but Lex could be more threatening and end the scene with kidnapping her, kickstarting the fight.
This way, Bruce Wayne/Batman would be smarter, you'd have a bit of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend, but not really"-thing, while Luthor wouldn't have get bogged down with secondary characters and the whole thing would be much more streamlined. It would be a movie where Batman and Superman both pondered their place in the world, and it would end with them finding that place; together, standing against greater evil, against people who see the bad in everyone and just want power to impose their own rule and rules, not any form of justice or hope.
As you can see, this becomes a very different movie, but one I'd like to see nonetheless. Still, I can't fault Snyder for going another route, and I thought where he went was interesting enough. Certainly entertaining, a little too complicated for its own good, very unsubtle (though I liked the painting-bit, ending with the implication that heroes came from Earth and villains from the sky, hinting towards Darkseid and other alien forces), with occasional cringe-worthy dialogue ("Superman is above the capitol!"). I wish, however, that the film was a little more streamlined and a little more thought out in its theme and characters. The way it is now, it wants to say a lot and ends up becoming a bit of a grab bag with different thoughts and themes and characters. It's a movie with a lot on its mind, at least; an ambitious movie. It fails in some aspects and succeeds in others. In the end it becomes an interesting, entertaining and ambitious, though a little boring, mess of a film. I've certainly seen worse blockbusters and superhero movies. Hopefully Snyder & co. can at least refrain from the boring parts in the coming films, though I think with the studio pushing them, DC Universe is, tragically, doomed to end up rushing these, in which case I'll take a little boring but ultimately interesting and ambitious messes any day of the week over "playing it safe", middle-of-the-road. Though next time, Snyder, please throw us a few more jokes. I get that you want to shy away from the Marvel quips, but a sense of fun won't hurt the somber darkness you seem to enjoy; it may actually help enhance it.
How dumb was the "your mom and my mom are both named Martha!"-scene, as well as Lois' running to get rid of the Kryptonite-spear and then going right back to pick it up again? Also, Aquaman is just... weird. I also wish that Snyder would infuse a little more colour into this world. The whole thing is a little too gray for my tastes, especially when it's a big superhero movie with people wearing red and blue spandex. I'd love to see those colours pop a bit more.