Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Review — The Superhero Movie That Hates Superhero Movies

Or to be more accurate, the trend they’ve been going on as of late.

I’m in no way a DC fan. I was more of a Marvel enthusiast growing up. I say that to make it clear that I have no particular reason to prefer Snyder’s DC adaptations to Disney’s Marvel ones other than the fact that the former are actually good whilst the latter are not because Disney are money-seeking whores. In an age where superheroes are all the rage and nostalgia-baiting has become an accepted form of entertainment, the “House of Mouse” has pretty much been exploiting my childhood worse than Nintendo ever will by releasing the same movie over and over again, just with a different name attached. I mean seriously, is there any real difference between Thor or Ant-Man besides the characters, setting, and powers? The story and humor (aka the most important parts of any movie) are all so freaking interchangeable and there’s so little of it to begin with in those films because it’s clear they’re structured in a way to advertise for the big team-up stuff like The Avengers and Civil War.

Great marketing perhaps, but it’s a shitty way to tell a story. What if I want to show The Avengers to my little cousin during his birthday party? He’s going to have to watch at least four other films before he can understand what’s going on in it, which is something that even the prequel trilogy avoids. And it’s because Zack Snyder understands this mentality that I love his superhero films so much. He understands that portraying characters accurately and with a sense of fun should never be a priority compared to telling an actual story, and he understands that the concept of the superhero itself is inherently stupid. But at the same time, he also understands that you have to love what you lash out at, because – let’s face it – no one’s going to listen to a strawman hater and who better to criticize something than a fan? And it’s through his balance of understanding the lore of the superhero whilst poking fun at how silly it sounds when you explain it to a normal person that makes his movies such great post-modern meta commentaries on the genre. Hey, if Quentin Tarantino can change the outcome of WWII in order to make a point, then why should a fictional character like Superman be immune?

With Watchmen, Snyder transformed the most well-regarded comic book of all-time into a tribute/criticism of the genre’s “recent-at-the-time” turn into faux-grittiness with those X-Men/Spiderman films and Nolan’s stuff whilst ditching the Cold War metaphors that wouldn’t really connect with today’s audiences. With Man of Steel, he turned Superman into…well…Batman in order to criticize how stupid his very concept is whilst making sure to understand that we’re still supposed to see the dude as a savior. He’s just not allowed to be perfect anymore and has to work really hard to be one. And now with Batman v Superman, he’s directly criticizing Marvel’s practices themselves, turning Batman into a wearisome fool who’s been doing the hero thing for so long that he can’t make good judgments anymore whilst continuing to criticize the idea behind Superman, and all whilst delivering on the film’s promise that we’d see the two fight (which incidentally was pretty cool to see).

But let’s start with the plot first. When the destruction in Man of Steel’s climax destroys one of his towers and cripples one of his employees, an aging and jaded Bruce Wayne becomes distrustful of the man who might as well be named Jesus whilst a young and jovial Lex Luthor shares his opinion to a quite frankly psychotic degree. So much so that he somehow ends up discovering the DC heroes’ identities and tries to setup the titular conflict so that Superman can go bye-bye whilst he tries to become the most powerful human being through his own kryptonite research. This quite frankly is not hard for him to do because the two already distrust each other due to how they go about with their very similar views. Meanwhile, a young woman named Diana Prince – who you can easily tell is Wonder Woman from the very first second you meet her, but that didn’t stop the audience from cheering wildly when she shows up in costume – works behind-the-scenes to erase the traces of her existence discovered by Luthor. But when the men end up taking their stupidity too far, she ends up having to take center stage in a way that makes you look forward to when she gets her own movie.

I’ve read a lot of criticisms regarding Batman v Superman and it’s pretty much just the reaction to Evangelion 3.0 all over again: some valid ones in regards to the performances and such, but most of them come off to me like they’re reaching. More specifically, the complaints regarding the presentation and how confusing it is to follow. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen Jodorowsky, Bergman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and am currently watching Concrete Revolutio as of this moment of writing, but Batman v Superman and its multiple out-of-nowhere dream sequences were as easy to follow as the 1989 Batman film if you ask me. And it’s not like it’s that complex a story to begin with: Batman v Superman’s (surface) story is all about the two leads growing to distrust each other due to their histories and how said histories have shaped their very similar, yet completely different beliefs. Maybe there were one or two too many dream sequences in order to convey that, but condemning a product for not being subtle with its message is a criticism that’s quite frankly lost on me, and it definitely doesn’t disrupt the flow in any (well, not more than a minor) way since they’re in service of that story.

Then there’s the criticism that this movie is a big advertisement for the Justice League movie, which I just had to laugh at upon hearing that that complaint was a thing. Whilst it may be true that Batman v Superman’s main reason for existing – besides getting Batman to fight Superman of course – was for WB to advertise the thing, that doesn’t automatically negate everything else you can read from it. Also, when have any of the other superhero movies not been more than long advertisements to a much bigger movie? Did the first Iron Man have any purpose in its plot other than to promise a future gathering of superheroes? Was Winter Soldier more than the characters getting betrayed by their organization and preparing to fight them in the future? You can’t serious tell me with a straight face that a movie where Superman dies in the end had less things happen in it than Thor 2.

As for the other problems that most people point out, they’re all in service of the even bigger story surrounding Batman and Superman’s conflict and what Snyder’s been doing with his superhero films for a long time now. Batman and Superman’s new portrayals should offend whatever you knew about them prior, because this film doesn’t just want to destroy the hero so that they can inevitably be redeemed. It wants to destroy everything Marvel has ingrained into us since Iron Man in regards to character loyalty and a sense of “fun” so that we can get the film franchise we deserve rather than the one that we think we want. From the dour mood to the “stupid” characterization of our leads, everything is done for that purpose. And destroy, Batman v Superman does, to the point that it might even be considered Snyder’s End of Evangelion if it wasn’t for the fact that Snyder does make it clear that he hopes to rebuild a new legacy from the ashes with the DC film franchise by including Wonder Woman into the movie and slowly reviving Superman after his death scene whilst giving Batman a new reason to keep fighting after all the hell’s he been through. Hopefully one where each movie must serve a larger purpose besides introducing another hero for the sole purpose of making them a team member for a bigger film.

Batman v Superman doesn’t just exist to introduce another big player in today’s current trends. It wants us to question whether or not what we’re getting right now is really all that satisfying. It wants us to see that “how” we tell a story should not overtake “what” the story actually is. It does not hate the hero, but its pretty clear that it does hate Disney – or more specifically, its practice of giving us what we’re familiar with whilst executing the elements on a level that never rises above more than okay regardless of whether or not they actually add to the story or doing anything actually new. And seeing as how they’re now giving the Marvel treatment to Star Wars in terms of releasing one movie a year (a film focused on the team who retrieved the Death Star plans? Really?!), I can’t say the film’s dislike is misplaced. In fact, I can just see the board meeting for the writing process of Batman v Superman right now. “Sorry fanboys, but Jimmy Olsen has no place here and we’re not going to keep him around just to satisfy your desire for comic loyalty like that other company would do. However, I think we found a way to integrate him into our story naturally for a few moments. Boom! Headshot!” *laughter all around*.

This film is completely unapologetic about how much it refuses to play by the rules of what the mass market considers acceptable, and whilst that’s often a bad thing because it tends to lead to nowhere but shallow hipster-ism, Batman v Superman has a goal and a reason to use its rule-breaking for said goal. And as a post-modern critique of our current pop culture and how it treats superheroes, I’d say Batman v Superman always stays on course with few – if any – deviations and comes together very well at making its point by the end. Sure there are plot points that don’t make sense, but this is a movie about an invincible alien fighting a man dressed a bat, so who says that everything has to make sense? Is it weird that Lex Luthor knows who all these heroes are without any buildup to said discoveries whatsoever? Couldn’t Batman and Superman have avoided fighting each other if they made an effort to communicate? Why is Aquaman being played by Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones?

At the end of the day, I think the meta-narrative that pervades the film’s runtime is strong enough to overcome those flaws and narrative holes. I’d even advise people who like what Disney is doing to watch this movie with my viewpoint in mind. Hey, if they can’t take criticism, then they shouldn’t be criticizing movies to begin with. Batman v Superman is easily the best film I’ve seen this year and I doubt I’ll see better unless Sion Sono has some unannounced project coming out soon that actually has a chance 0f getting subbed. I’d even go so far as to say it surpasses Snyder’s previous attempts at superhero storytelling, and given how much they push the bar to begin with, that’s saying a lot. With the movie not performing as well as Warner Brothers hoped, I can’t say for sure whether the DC universe has a bright future ahead. But I’d rather take a good thing that’s short-lived over one that overstays its welcome to the point of indifference. Dear lord, The Force Awakens is a lot lamer on rewatch; and if the following films don’t try much harder, Star Wars is going to end up like the Indiana Jones franchise – a popular series we all love that we want no more of, and yet we’re getting more anyways.

Minor Quips

  • So how about the recent positive response to that Captain America: Civil War film, huh?
  • For the record, I don’t regret buying The Force Awakens and will give Rogue One a chance to impress me. At the end of day, I’m a Star Wars fan at heart.
  • Iron Man 3 is okay. Just want to throw that out there.

22 responses to “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Review — The Superhero Movie That Hates Superhero Movies

  1. Pretty much exactly what I think of the film. But even should someone not look beneath the surface of the film, how bad is the surface stuff really? The critical panning this is getting is ridiculous – is it any worse than any of Marvel’s offerings? It certainly doesn’t have the childish humour and fan pandering, but that’s about it. Is that all it takes to make a movie these days?

    One thing I’d like to add is just how many fucks Snyder gives about you understanding the film. That “Martha” scene gets made fun of a lot making it that much more sad how much of it’s brilliance has been lost on people. Apparently when a shitty classic like The Searchers has it’s main character change his mind on killing someone with no buildup, it’s one of “the most transcendental moments in the history of cinema”. When BvS does it with subtle buildup, it becomes a joke.

    • Apparently when a shitty classic like The Searchers has it’s main character change his mind on killing someone with no buildup, it’s one of “the most transcendental moments in the history of cinema”.

      Now now, let’s not insult other films besides the ones Batman v Superman are clearly insulting with its story. Movies do have to stand on their own regardless of whether other similar products exist or not, let alone a mostly unrelated Western. Now I haven’t seen The Searchers, but it’s an old film, so it could be that its faults are a result of being a product of that time period. It’s happened with some old classics I tried, like It Happened One Night.

      • For all we know, The Searchers might have been an influence on this film, so it mightn’t be completely unrelated – many directors have admitted to taking influence from it after all. I’d recommend giving it a go, if not only to see where I’m coming from about this moment (which even if it is a product of it’s time, calling it transcendental is ridiculous), but to see the parallels between the John Wayne character and Batman.

  2. I don’t think the whole meta-narrative in this movie, or any other Snyder films, are actually good.

    Linking to back to your Active Raid post yesterday, I can write a post twice as long as this one explaining why Active Raid is a very good meta commentary of the Tokusatsu industry and its viewers. (btw, how many toku has you watched?) However, I won’t because: 1. It’s still not good, no matter what messages it’s pushing; 2. I hate meta as an explanation for narrative laziness. My feeling about most Snyder films is pretty much the same.

    Later Marvel movies are dumb, but the first Iron man has story arc. Tony started by understanding how his war business is killing himself and everyone else. Then he tried to find a way out without compromising his power. Finally, he learned how to not be a dick. Later films unfortunately ignored most of his character development But hey, I don’t believe Psycho pass 2 ruined the first one.

    • I disagree on the whole laziness argument. When you take into account that the film’s intention is to criticize the current superhero boom, everything flows very naturally. Same with the Watchmen film. You may not like the whole meta-narrative thing, but it’s a valid form of storytelling. Tarantino himself has been coasting on that style of storytelling for years.

      As for Active Raid, whatever it has to say about tokusatsu (and no, I haven’t watched many) never came off as more than fanwank to me. It’s kind of like how the new James Bond film was nothing more than a collection of references to past movies with no original ideas of its own. What the heck the point of playing all of Bond’s past moments completely straight in today’s world is is completely lost on me, frankly.

      • Watchmen is good, but it’s because of the great source material. Not sure why you think Snyder should take credit for it. Any above average director can do it just as good. And Tarantino is better at cinematography and dialogue than Snyder, so there are more to his films than BvS.

      • Watchmen is good, but it’s because of the great source material. Not sure why you think Snyder should take credit for it.

        Because despite sharing plot points, the movie has a different story to the book? I mean why else would it get such a bad rap with comic book fans?

      • Because comic book fans often are insufferable nitpickers. The story was basically the same. The only big changes was they cut out the pirate novel (which would have been impossible to do in a movie version for length reasons) and replaced The Squidgina with Dr. Manhattan, which spared them another good chunk of time and a lot of CGI money. In general, it was a choice of narrative economy: reuse stuff that you already have rather than throwing more meat on the barbecue. I don’t think there was anything else to it. I liked Snyder’s Watchmen, but mostly because it was basically Alan Moore’s Watchmen turned into live action, almost panel-by-panel.

    • Now in regards to the Iron Man movies, my problem with Tony’s development is that it seemed to be completely separate from the story and sometimes the journeys felt like they came out of nowhere. Iron Man 2 in particular was terrible about it. What exactly does Tony dying and him acting like a jerk to his friends, only to be redeemed later on by a last minute discovery add to the Marvel storyline? How does the villain factor into this? Completely lacking in tension, threat, or excitement the entire way through.

      The reason I think 3 came out fine is because even though it was mostly character porn, the Mandarin actually did stand for something, and something that factors into Tony’s PTSD issues caused by the first Avengers film at that. Not great, but it worked fine as a standard action movie.

      • Ehh, most of the changes of Watchmen movie are in the ending. It’s pretty faithful, at least the ultimate cut I watched. I heard the theatrical version cut a lot.

        And I think Iron man 1 tied everything into Tony’s development, with an actually satisfying ending. The later Marvel films are all over the place.

      • I find interesting in the recent Marvel movies the conflict between “using power to protect” and setting oneself some limits, especially because (contrary to what is probably generally intended) personally I tend to empathize more with Tony when he does stuff like creating Ultron. I think his arc is continuing nicely. He used to be irresponsible. Then he learned responsibility, and how to use his power for good. Then the realization crept on him that he could do MORE, and he started feeling responsible not merely for the bad things he did, but also for the good things he could do and didn’t. As the movies go on, he becomes more and more obsessed by achieving ever higher levels of technological power to protect the Earth from threats. Ultimately, he’d probably be willing to turn into a full blown villain – one who for the sake of protecting mankind does some very bad things to it (I guess we’ll get a glimpse of that in Civil War).

        Of course a lot of Marvel movies are mostly harmless superhero fluff, but I think Tony’s arc stayed consistent AND meaningful throughout the MCU, with the possible exception of Iron Man 2.

      • Yeah Iron Man 2 was just bad. I saw it in 2011 back when I was still kinda onboard Marvel’s policies and it was painful.

        And I understand Tony’s arc and all, but 3 was the only one of those films in my mind where his arc felt like it actually mattered to the story. There are snippets throughout the other films, but they’re sorta in the background compared to the overall story each one tells.

  3. “the former are actually good whilst the latter are not”

    Except that isn’t true at all. I mean, the MCU are for the most part pretty solid while the DCEU ones so far are 0-2. Winter Soldier alone refutes that ridiculous notion.

    By the way, BvS is terrible. I recommend Red Letter Media’s review or Mark Kermode’s.

    • the MCU are for the most part pretty solid

      They have no fucking story. DCU does. End of discussion.

      Winter Soldier alone refutes that ridiculous notion.

      I thought that movie sucked. The only thing that happens in that film is Captain America discovering his organization is evil, his friend is turned evil, and Steve adjusting to his new life and getting along better with some of his partners. That’s not a story. That’s a fucking transition, and I do NOT enjoy watching transitions.

      By the way, BvS is terrible. I recommend Red Letter Media’s review or Mark Kermode’s.

      The thing with those reviews is that they take Batman v Superman at face-value. I don’t believe in face-value as the only way to judge a film, and I refuse to buy into the notion that just because Snyder is frattish with the cinematography means he can’t tell symbolic stories. Now if you want to refute why BvS isn’t good based on the points I give in this review, I’ll be happy to hear it.

  4. They have no fucking story. DCU does. End of discussion.

    What a blatantly false statement. Each film has had a story. Iron Man 1 had a story. Winter Soldier had a story. Ant Man had a story. You know what didn’t? BvS. You know why? Because it couldn’t even get basic storytelling right.

    I thought that movie sucked.

    What, you changed your mind? I recall you talking positively about it. Anyways, it doesn’t suck. It’s up there with the greatest superhero films. The only thing that happens? Those are pretty fucking big developments in Captain America’s arc. Yes, that’s a story. What the fuck are you even talking about.

    The thing with those reviews is that they take Batman v Superman at face-value.

    No, they took the film as whether it’s a good film or not. There is only things at face-value for that film because there is no depth. Any attempt by Snyder is handled laughably bad.

    Now if you want to refute why BvS isn’t good based on the points I give in this review, I’ll be happy to hear it.

    What points? Everything you brought up to defend BvS is just interpretations you pulled out of your ass. Pretentious overthinking like “It’s criticizing the Marvel and superhero formula!” Like what? I guarantee that fucking Zach Snyder, the guy who made 300 and Sucker Punch, didn’t put even a fraction of thought you are trying to ascribe to his films. There’s nothing in the film that indicates that it’s trying to do any of what you pointed out.

    BvS is terrible written and terribly edited. It just cuts from scene to scene with nothing linking them together. No concept of coherent storytelling. The reason Superman and Batman fights is fucking stupid and the reason they stop is fucking stupid. Any attempt at symbolism is overshadowed by clumsy execution. “Martha!” anyone?

    I just love how you think a terrible fim is the best film of the year so far when we already have Deadpool and Zootopia. Civil War will show BvS how it’s done.

    Now I’m just waiting for Nostalgia Critic’s review to tear it a new one.

    • What a blatantly false statement. Each film has had a story. Iron Man 1 had a story. Winter Soldier had a story. Ant Man had a story. You know what didn’t? BvS. You know why? Because it couldn’t even get basic storytelling right.

      Those are pretty fucking big developments in Captain America’s arc. Yes, that’s a story. What the fuck are you even talking about.

      I think you’re confusing “plot” for “story”. They are very different things. The plot is how the product chooses to display the events and the story is what the events actually mean. It’s not uncommon to mix the two definitions as it doesn’t really matter as long as you know they’re different.

      What, you changed your mind? I recall you talking positively about it.

      Bought the blu-ray and rewatched it with a friend. Held up worse than Force Awakens.

      Everything you brought up to defend BvS is just interpretations you pulled out of your ass. Pretentious overthinking like “It’s criticizing the Marvel and superhero formula!” Like what? I guarantee that fucking Zach Snyder, the guy who made 300 and Sucker Punch, didn’t put even a fraction of thought you are trying to ascribe to his films. There’s nothing in the film that indicates that it’s trying to do any of what you pointed out.

      A lot of people think The Great Gatsby is about nothing but a creepy stalker who can’t move on from the past or Evangelion is nothing but a cheap-ass exploitation series. That doesn’t make them right. And I’ve pointed out indications to my points in this review. What most people consider bad writing/editing, I consider not seeing the forest for the trees. Plus, even if Snyder didn’t do any of it on purpose, who cares? There are so many writers out there that have tried to accomplish one thing, only to end up with a completely different result.

      I just love how you think a terrible fim is the best film of the year so far when we already have Deadpool and Zootopia. Civil War will show BvS how it’s done.

      Deadpool is generic apart from some of the humor. Zootopia is okay, but it’s just every story about racism ever only told a little more cleverly. And I’ll see Civil War when it comes out, but would it even make sense to people who didn’t see all the prior films?

      Now I’m just waiting for Nostalgia Critic’s review to tear it a new one.

      His clipless reviews are kinda hit-and-miss to me. Loved his Force Awakens one. Didn’t really like his Phantom of the Opera one.

      • And I’ll see Civil War when it comes out, but would it even make sense to people who didn’t see all the prior films?

        Can’t say for sure of course but I think it probably will. All you need to know is there’s been a conflict brewing between Cap’s and Tony’s approach to protecting security. You could say Cap follows virtue ethics whereas Tony follows consequentialist ones. Plus you saw Winter Soldier, so you have that chunk of the story down. The only other thing that could be useful is probably Age of Ultron (and you probably saw that too). Agents of Shield is subtly building the general atmosphere for the movie as well, with tensions involving the way superhumans are seen by the general populace and by politicians, and Daredevil Season 2 went there as well after all, so we have a feeling of why in this world there’s good reason for this Civil War to break out.

      • Well of course I’ll understand it since I’ve seen all the Marvel films prior. I just don’t want to see stuff like when Ant-Man briefly invaded the Avengers compound – a scene that wouldn’t make sense if you haven’t seen Ultron – again. The other Captain America movies, fine because this is the third installment of that specific hero. But aside from the fact that Civil War is technically another team-up movie, I’d rather not see out-of-place references again.

      • I think you could get that Avengers compound scene simply by knowing that the Avengers EXIST in this world. But I wouldn’t know for sure of course, since I saw all the movies too. Hard to imagine how I’d react if I didn’t.

  5. The problem with giving this kind of statement is that ANY film that does a genre badly can be seen as a meta-critique, because it shows the problems of the genre in their most glaring way. The Room is a metacritique of romance dramas. Twilight is a metacritique of romance fantasies, 50 Shades of Grey is a metacritique of erotic fantasies etc… You don’t know whether its genuinely that the conventions are being destroyed for an intellectual purpose, or you’re so bored that your brain is self-hypnotizing itself to analyze it from a higher perspective. (some interviews with Zack himself indicate that its the latter)

    If you’ve watched School Days, you’d know that even though that’s a staggering and obvious meta-critique of the worst tropes of the genre, its still boring and painful to sit through.

    This is probably something that can be called ‘Vertigo Syndrome’. While whether Hitchcock was planning to make a conventional thriller or not is debatable, the film itself became this poetic psychosexual-drama possibly by pure accident. Yet, arguments for both sides fit, that its completely unrealistic and stupid, or that its an expressionistic portrayal of a perverse psyche. Similarly, Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew has also been argued as a meta-critique of misogyny by showing precisely the worst outcome of it, yet you won’t ever be able to pinpoint whether that is really what Shakespeare felt, or whether he was being a misogynistic douchebag like everyone else during his times.

    On the other hand, there are those films that are obvious metacritiques, because they hint at their anti-thesis within the film itself, while still being well-constructed. Mad Max for example, or Spring Breakers, or Woody Allen films, or arguably a lot of Kathyrn Bigelow films. Being a meta-critique is no excuse for being a slipshod film, and meta-critiques without substance beyond that are to be condemned to the trash-bin of history once the phenomena is over.

    • Yeah, but School Days is a BAD meta critique of the genre because it just spewed unfocused hatred towards the visual novel/romance genre without narrowing the focus. It only had one message: “guys who sleep around get shanked and cause women to go insane”. That is NOT a satisfactory attack on the genre in any way. That’s just evil for the sake of being evil. It’s the same problem I’m having with Joker Game right now. It’s clearly a subtle attack on Japan’s policies at the time, but the only thing it’s saying is “the military is bad”. No specific references. No characters with arcs. Just really unimaginative about it.

      Batman v Superman, I consider a good meta-critique because it attacks Marvel’s policies in all sorts of ways I found satisfying whilst constructing its own solutions. And no, I don’t consider the film-making slipshod. First off, that’d be hypocritical of me to say considering my favorite films include stuff like The Toxic Avenger and Caligula. Second, I could clearly see the action and follow everything that was going on, including what was a dream sequence. BvS isn’t exactly Izo, y’know.

      And just for the record, I never said meta-commentaries can’t be bad. If you looked at my Active Raid review, you’d see that I understand those films and that show can be satire. Are they good satires though? Personally, I don’t think so, because I think their scope is too broad, like Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream.