In Defence of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

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Batman v Superman is a hulking mess of a film; a nearly three-hour orgy of explosions and collapsing buildings and resurrected alien generals being punched into space and nuked. The script is a mess, it doesn’t make any sense and it’s badly edited. And as if that weren’t enough, it has to struggle against charisma vacuum Jesse Eisenberg, who chews the scenery out and throws it back up. It amazes me that this grey man-child can still find work when it’s pretty evident that he can only play himself on various amounts of cocaine. Thank god he’s back-seated for the film’s best bits.

And yes, despite my micro-rant I do think that the film has some good- no, great- bits. Batman’s Knightmare has to be a standout for 2016 cinema thus far; a lapsarian nightmare-scape- a war between gods and men and demons from the sky. It was horrifying, and it was epic. The scene is a visual apocalyptica of Biblical proportions; Affleck and Cavill flex their rage and manias, as Hans Zimmer’s transcendent, mountainous score whirls away. It is truly something to behold.

So, too, is Batfleck. Affleck’s Dark Knight is unstable, he is borderline, he is violent and impulsive and willing to do whatever it takes to whoever must take it in order to achieve his goals. This Batman is a killer; we see him shoot people, stab people, blow people up. In one particularly inventive scene, we follow two cops through a sex traffic den. The cops find girls in a cage, the door now open, and one of the traffickers shirtless and tortured, a bat branded on his chest. They turn and see the bat, and he rushes them, this great black thing flying across the room and away. The officers are terrified, and so are we, because this is not Bale’s paragon- it is a broken psychotic.

My defence does not just consist of singing some pretty praises, however. I am also concerned with how unfairly this film has been lambasted for making the same mistakes that other films have been allowed to get away with. Let’s take the last Batman film as an example. The Dark Knight Rises was an awful film. It was not only Nolan’s worst film, but one of the worst written films I have seen in a very long time. The plot was completely contradictory and nonsensical; character motivations were either non-existent or ultimately undermined to a degree that I cannot remember ever seeing in anything else. Indeed, half of its ludicrously broad cast ended up as filler for an already overlong film. Dawn of Justice made some of those same mistakes. But where do they each sit on Rotten Tomatoes? 87% for Nolan and 28% for Snyder.

I think that a lot of this has to do with Nolan being the go-to for the baby’s first film critics of our generation, just as Tarantino was for the nineties and Scorsese for the eighties. He’s the designated wunderkind, and Zack? Well, he’s a troublemaker. He won’t just settle down and make a superhero movie, he has to overcomplicate it. And, just as he did with the excellent Watchmen, so too did he screw the conventional pooch here, with some para-dimensional prophetic babble about god-men and devils. And maybe that’s why I like it. Because it’s different, because it’s stylish, because it’s not just about how it ticks boxes and makes sense, but how it makes you think and feel.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), directed by Zack Snyder, is distributed in the UK by Warner Bros Pictures. Certificate 12A. 

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  1. avatar

    I mean, I think I kind of said most of these things in my review anyway? I do really enjoy Ben Affleck in here, but he’s not Batman, he’s a psychopath. He has the clearest arc, and even that doesn’t really make sense.

    I get what you’re saying about Eisenberg, but I don’t think it’s accurate to describe him as a “charisma vacuum” if he’s also chewing the scenery. They’re kind of contradictory – chewing the scenery kind of forces you to watch him, having charisma means you want to, but the end result is the same. I like him a lot generally, but he has a terrible character here.

    I really enjoyed the Knightmare sequence, like you. It doesn’t help that it doesn’t seem to have its own clear, internal logic, or make a contribution to the film’s narrative, but if it did it would be something I loved. It’s also literally less than 5 minutes of the whole thing.

    I’m half in and half out with what you say about Nolan. I haven’t seen TDKR in a few years, and I loved it wholeheartedly at the time. But I think people were more on board with that than BvS (although it has plenty of its own detractors), because on a fundamental level its editing makes sense. BvS feels like anti-cinema because of how little sense it ever makes.

    BvS doesn’t make sense, and its characters are kind of monstrous, if they have characters at all – and those are the protagonists! I don’t think films make us feel authentically, or certainly not feel “the most” when they don’t make sense, even if it’s a sense that is more about intuition and emotion than “logic”. Because Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make me feel anything for any substantial period of time apart from never ending frustration, and a little bit of gleeful sadism at how bad it is. (Also it doesn’t make me think in any constructive ways)

    • avatar
      Scott Williams on

      I wasn’t explicitly responding to your review, just the general critical backlash.
      There are many different versions of Batman, and I think this one has as much of a textual foundation as Bale’s.
      I don’t agree that ‘chewing the scenery’ and being uncharismatic are contradictory. Chewing the scenery is acting with emphasis; going over the top and being excessive. He definitely does that here. But it’s boring and he’s boring.
      I think what you said there about TDKR sort of proves my point. Yes, it is edited well, and that editing does a great job of obscuring the script’s total illogic. Visual momentum does not make up for a terrible script.
      I don’t have an issue with amoral or even immoral characters. I don’t think you could make a film like this, about alien demigods and immortal Amazonian warriors, and make it engaging in a human, relatable way, without muddying the water, without getting to grips with some difficult, sometimes irreconcilable moral ideas.
      The visuals, the score, (some) of the acting, the ideas and the philosophies at play, they all left me with something to remember and think about, and to mull over for days afterwards, so much so that I put this article out!

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