Devils don’t come from hell beneath us.
A lot of fans, critics and casual movie goers alike, do not like this movie. They are disappointed, annoyed, dismayed, and angry by the movie they saw. They didn’t see the movie they wanted to see, and they didn’t enjoy it. That’s fine. Not every highly-anticipated movie is going to be universally loved, this was never going to be the next The Force Awakens. Thankfully, I am not one of those disconcerted fans. Because honestly, I like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The more I think about the film, the more I like it despite its many faults, and I realize there are a lot of things wrong or misguided in this film. Why do I like it? Because for me it offered something different and raised interesting ideas. I liked the morose tone and I loved the questions it presented about being a hero and how religion and the fear of the unknown can motivate those to extremes. It was ambitious and had the makings for something truly special. Is it a great film? Hell no. Is it a bad film? No way. It is a decent movie that should have been something truly unique and great. The main failure of the film that prevented greatness was the film’s failure to fully develop the three main characters’ (Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor) motivations and different ideologies thoroughly. Because for me, the motivations and contrasting character ethics that led to the Batman and Superman fight should have been the most important part of the film, and instead, was lost on the audience through muddled story telling and a rapid pace.
This is something I usually can’t reconcile, and something that normally would kill a movie for me. If a character is unmotivated in their own story or has a bad motivation, then the movie can be a drag, which this movie was for many. But for me, the problem didn’t lie in the actual individual character’s ideals and opinions and motivations, but how the movie presented those motivations. In a movie called Batman v Superman, obviously these two characters are going to fight, there is no way to avoid that. And, without spoiling too much of this film, the three leads all have three basic incentives that drive the plot that are believable.
Batman doesn’t like Superman because he views him as a danger to mankind. He has a great conversation with Alfred discussing the “abosolute” possibility of the danger Superman could pose. It’s good stuff and after an amazing opening sequence, which gave me chills, following Bruce Wayne’s POV during the destruction of Metropolis from Zod’s and Superman’s climactic Man of Steel fight, it is logical that Batman would want to stop Superman before another calamity occurs. Bruce Wayne does not want this unknown being from destroying more of the world he protects. Of the three main characters, his motivations to fight Superman has the most time to develop. He discusses with Alfred his views and emotions. He has scenes and action sequences showing him actively figuring out how to defeat Superman. The Batman character builds his argument and theology through the film up to the climactic fight. Then there are the other two leads who have great motivations, but sloppy (or lack of) development.
Clark Kent doesn’t like how Batman is treating criminals and how he fights crime. Batman is not a good person in this movie, and I’m cool with that. I don’t mind that this is a Batman that has crossed the line and, as he admits to Alfred, is a criminal. And naturally Superman wants to stop him and his ever increasingly malicious vigilante tactics. That makes sense and is good motivation to fight Batman. Lex Luthor has an inferiority complex and some daddy issues and wants to control gods. Makes sense. He is a spoiled, bratty, crazy, smart, insane man who wants to take part and control the mythology that has become a reality in his city of Metropolis. He obsessively keeps track on other “meta-humans”. He wants to take down Superman and control him at the same time. He’s powerful and crazy and wants to control the one thing more powerful than him.
These three characters have motivations that are understandable and believable, but the problem with the movie is it adds too much to the story that eventually muddles these characters and their development. Their motivations are lost in the larger narrative, which is the film’s biggest problem. If an audience member isn’t paying attention, they might miss an important scene where Lex quickly mentions his dad and his obsession with demons and gods. The film is too busy jumping from plotline to plotline, instead of pausing and letting the characters discuss their purposes and emotions. The film tries and succeeds at times, and fails many other times. It lacks too many scenes to build upon the character foundations.
There should have been a scene where Clark Kent and Louis Lane discuss his ideology and how he views the Bat of Gotham. They could debate the merits of being a hero or a messiah. This could give more creedance why Kent keeps pursuing Batman through the Daily Planet, all to the chagrin of Perry White. But there is little of that. There are great moments of Superman silently reflecting on his heroics and I like that the movie shows Superman being a hero, but has the world still dislike him and mistrust him. It made him, to me, a more interesting character. This is a good theme of the reason to be a hero to so many, when so little gratitude is returned. It’s a theme worth exploring and should give a lot of depth to the character and speak volumes as to why he would want to stop Batman and his incredulous way to fight crime. But that doesn’t happen enough, that theme isn’t explored to completion.
The film raises intriguing questions and moments surrounding its central characters, like the scene where Martha Kent tells her son he doesn’t owe the world anything if the people don’t accept him. That scene is one of the few times Superman self reflects about his heroics. But then little else, besides staring morosely or stopping Batman instead of stopping the criminals with the rocket launcher. Which is a damn shame, because this film finally made a Superman I was interested in seeing and exploring. I am not a big fan of Superman, he doesn’t have enough complexity for me to fully enjoy. And this film has that complexity, it has that motivation and potential to create a great Clark Kent/Superman character, but Snyder fails to capitalize on that early development or few key scenes. There are good character moments, but not enough of them to add true emotional weight.
The same is true for Lex Luthor. Here is a character that should have been fascinating, but instead is written and performed as a purely psychotic man from the beginning. He does not slowly reveal his pschosis, instead he immediately is twitchy and egomanical. I loved his jolly rancher scene and his ever present ticks during his gala speech, but there was no norm before those moments. His introduction displayed his villainy. He had no arc. Any scene where Lex attempts to explain his actions or ideas about gods and men are too short. Director Zach Snyder does not allow the dialogue and performances to breath. He and his editor smash cut from scene to scene, alternating action with dreams with dialogue sequences.
Lex had the potential to be one of the more complex and interesting characters. Because on paper he is, (I do admire Jesse Eisenberg going all in on the role, I really do, I just wish his performance and the writing revealed less of Lex’s true intentions and insanity early in the proceedings), but through execution, Lex fails to leave a good impression, and his master plan, which relies more on coincidence and fortunate timing, does little to help this character and his motivations and ideology felt. Everything Lex does to discredit Superman makes sense (really enjoyed the Granny’s Peach Tea scene). Everything he does to help Superman fight Batman falls apart under scrutiny. Without spoiling anything, the ultimate fight scene between our two heroes is based on convenient timing and information never shared with the audience. It’s unfortunate because the basic building pieces are there, they are just lost in the constant pace where storylines and character beats are introduced and dropped and forgotten.
The lack of focus on the characters and their arcs made the fight less emotionally involved. But I still noticed the beauty and ambition in the set up and the basic character intentions. This film could have been more than an okay superhero film because the themes and basic emotional through lines are incredible. They just, whether through the fault of the studio, or Snyder, or not enough time for Chris Terrio to, what I assume, vastly improve David S. Goyer’s original script, were not developed or had enough focus. All the pieces are there, they just didn’t meld together because of extraneous Justice League set up or fluid transitions from scene to scene. This movie could use a longer length or certain scenes replaced with character beats that create cohesive arcs to allow these characters to grow and contrast each other more naturally. A great movie is there on the screen, it was just unfortunately mis-assembled.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a beautifully shot film with great performances, some thrilling action, and thematically rich. It just doesn’t know how to explore those ambitious themes and potentially interesting character arcs into a cohesive whole. The plot is too sporadic to focus on what should be the most important aspect of a film about heroes fighting each other and their enemies: the reasoning for the fights.