I watched BvS today. I don’t know what to think about it. Overall, I think the movie was a bit of a mess. But I can’t seem to pinpoint why. Breaking it down by the standard things that people use to judge movies, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong.
Character-wise, I liked it quite a bit. Superman is at his Superman-est. Batman is also amongst the most Batmanest Batman I’ve encountered. For reference, I consider a lot of things to be Superman-in-character, but the epitome of it would be in Final Crisis, with the Miracle Machine and Nix Uotan. I consider the most Batman-in-Character Batman to be the tortured soul that Dr. Hurt put Batman through in Batman: Black Glove, culminating in Final Crisis and Batman RIP. The movie’s Superman and Batman are probably the most alike those two comicbook counterparts ever – though I’d argue that Batman in the movie is a hyperextreme version of the comic book version. Nonetheless, characterwise, they’re pretty much very close to the comic book representations, so I have no qualms.
Yes, even with Batman killing – he has caused the death of others in the movie, but never once directly caused the death of a person. Even KGBeast – Bats could have shot KGBeast in the head, cementing a direct kill. Instead, he shot the gas tank that KGBeast was wearing, causing it to blow up. In the mind and morality of Batman, he’s NOT killing someone – it’s the extreme version of “I’m not going to kill you, but I’m not going to save you either”. You can argue it’s a copout, but it’s a very perfectly Batman-ish character decision. It’s this Batman that I can believe shooting a radion bullet at Darkseid.
Supes isn’t a boyscout in this movie – he isn’t even a boyscout in the comics (Captain Marvel has that honour). But Supes has always been about the sacrifice to do something right. He’s the Jesus character, who is almost always conflicted about his actions and their repercussions – the guy who keeps news clippings in his Fortress of Solitude on the people whom he failed. I think Henry Cavill’s Kal El does just that. That sad shot in the Capitol scene nailed it for me. He even says it – Superman’s just a dream of a farmer from Kansas. I can really imagine this Superman being the one who assembles the Miracle Machine and wishes a happy ending for everyone.
Even Jesse Eisenberg’s Luthor, I feel, was Lex Luthor at his core. I consider the All-Star Superman Luthor and Lex Luthor: Man of Steel to be the epitome of the characterization of Lex. The Lex who would not cure his sister’s cancer because he wanted to show up Superman, and simply cannot abide being nothing but the best of Man – that’s the Lex Luthor I consider to be Lex Luthor. I mean, he was given an orange ring and became the god of Apokolips. He’ll become the Super Man (JL Rebirth spoilers). That’s the kind of person Lex is. He is a Machiavellian man who thrives in an environment of asymmetric information (though arguably you could say Bruce Wayne is more of that kind of person), and does whatever it takes to get what he wants. The surface of the mad scientist, the charming politician/businessman – that’s just the surface to who Lex Luthor is. Eisenberg, I feel, plays Lex with a different surface, but still holds the same core.
Lois and Diana were a bit of blank slates in the movie – they weren’t as central, but I felt their characterizations was decent enough for the movie. Wonder Woman was awesome – she got hit back by Doomsday and all she does is grin. Now THAT’s an Amazonian I can get behind.
And so we consider plot next – The plot of the movie was convoluted, but made quite a bit of sense given some thought. Here was Lex Luthor, a man, so torn by the fact that he’s no longer the best that he is – and he’s so used to getting what he wants, mind – plots to bring the Superman down. He does this the way a rational person does it: harm Superman’s reputation first – dishonor Superman’s reputation in the general public by making him show up to Namimia and frame KGBeast’s actions on him. Then engineer a public outcry through the use of the government process. At the same time, like any rational person, he creates a backup plan, because Junebug wouldn’t play ball. He needs access to the government’s storage of the Kryptonian facilities, to gain more knowledge, because knowledge would grant him more power. His political machinations fail, so he gets rid of the evidence (blaming Superman along the way) and goes to his second plan – to set the Bat of Gotham against Superman. His power comes from asymmetric information – he knows the identities of Batman and Superman (as befitting the smartest man in the world), and is able to use that information to get the leverage he needs.
I think the problem was that the story was told from very differing points of views. It starts as Bruce Wayne, anchoring the story with his narrative, but somehow that anchor is lost somewhere in the movie, after the chaotic scene switchings. And the piecing together of the story is told through Lois, while Superman was given a very small subplot (the Bat of Gotham and his vigilante ways).
The reveal and payoff (the scene with Lois and Swannick and the bullet) was worth it though – it immediately made the seemingly random and disconnected cut scenes in the beginning of the movie feel more like reading the beginnings of a comic book arc (especially Grant Morrison’s work).
I do feel that the editing was quite bad. It was choppy. Narratives didn’t lead from one to another. But like I mentioned in the previous section, it felt a bit like a comic book arc – having you to compartmentalize different parts of the arc before a payoff (it’s also one of the reasons why I don’t pull weeklies and rather read trades).
Against the justification that it was a bit more comic book like, I’m not so sure if the editing is genuinely bad or intentional. The only truly bad bit of editing was when Diana was reading the email – that scene just broke the tension of the Doomsday battle. Another jarring narrative transition that I didn’t quite enjoy was the lead in from Africa to the Congressional hearings.
cfgt, who watched the movie with me thought the movie was too long and the Capitol scene could have been cut. I disagree – because that scene cemented Luthor as a guy who doesn’t fuck around. I felt that there were certain scenes that were not well explained, characters not fully fleshed out. It shows Superman being upset at himself for not being vigilant enough. It doesn’t really hurt the plot though (although that may be bias given I have a fairly vast knowledge of the DC universe).
I felt like the movie was too rushed, and not enough time devoted to the development of characters. Lex for example, was noticeably a lot more deranged after emerging from the Kryptonian birthing matrix – as if Keelex told him something dark and foreboding to come, and he had decided to take matters into his own hands to have a Super Man that he can control (Doomsday).
In conclusion – I have no idea what to feel about the movie. When broken down and you think about it, each component – acting, character, general plot, etc all felt really good. It felt like the most comic-booky comic book movie I’ve ever watched, with some stellar acting. But on the whole, it was just a bummer. It felt heavy, and weighted, and joyless. There is a certain sense of doom throughout the movie – like a lead fog, weighing down upon the subconscious.
Perhaps that I have been compelled to actually write a blog post about Batman v Superman is a sign of denial – that I’m trying to actually convince myself it’s a good movie. Or perhaps, it’s a genuinely good movie that I feel is underworked. I have no idea.
p/s: Namimia? C’mon Zack, you could have used Khandaq, or Bialya, or Polokistan. Everyone’d have loved it even more.