Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice: How it could have been better

I hate being the guy who has to say I told you so. Especially when it comes to something like this. Off the back of Man of Steel, I had some very distinct concerns about the coming DC shared universe, especially if it was going to feature another Zack Snyder movie. But I pushed those worries down as March drew closer and tried my very best to give Batman V Superman the chance to impress me. Sometimes, being right sucks.

I wouldn’t flat out describe the movie bad. It does have its redeeming qualities and does an awful lot to set up this new shared universe it wants to create, the problem is that it is to its own detriment. Batman v Superman is too focused on being some kind of event, or jumping off point, and it makes the whole experience far too busy to be properly enjoyed on its own.

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This movie is trying to rush into setting up a universe rather than letting it grow organically. As a result, the movie comes across as messy, jumbled and confused. It is filled with characters that could have been cut entirely, plot lines that did nothing to push the story forward and strange non sequiturs that achieved little else than to confuse their audience. There is potential for a great movie in here, it just gets lost almost straight from the get go.

Let me give an example, no let me give you three examples: Lois Lane, Lex Luthor and Wonder Woman. All characters that should have been cut from this movie, their presence adds little to the story the movie is really trying to tell and do nothing but pad out its already bloated length. Lois is the least expendable of the three, but she spends the entire length on her own, on some wild goose chase that doesn’t really lead anywhere the movie would have found its way to without her. Instead she should have been with Clark, giving him some humanity and allowing him to talk to someone about what is happening to him. Something he sorely needed.

It’s amazing that a movie of this length can be so bloated and yet miss basic things like a character arc for its main character. Superman’s motivations in this movie are so strange, he acts like the benevolent alien who is just does what he wants. All the time the media and government debate whether he should be allowed to have free reign. The answer, which should be a simple on in my opinion never really finds a conclusion in the story. Superman looks sad that people on the news don’t like him one moment, the next he seems content to allow people to paw at him like he is some kind of messiah. Superman doesn’t show any humanity in this movie, he is just the alien who sees a very clear distinction between us and him, why he bothers to show to to work as Clark Kent I have no idea.

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He never argues his piece, he just “is” and does what he wants, he never talks about his motivations with anyone nor how he feels about anything. He isn’t a character, he is simply a plot device to carry the rest of the movie along, which is terrible considering the movie is supposed to be named for him. There are so many different directions they could have gone with the character, so many existing story lines they could have made better use of where Superman lives in a world so corrupt he has to do things that might seem dangerous to some. Superman is supposed to be hope, he is supposed to be good, he’s supposed to be super.

Hence their miss use of Lois Lane, I think the two have only a couple of scenes together, only the first one (when he climbs in the bath with his clothes on) shows some humanity from him. I know it might come across a an outdated type of role for a female actor in movie making these days, but she needed to be on Clark’s elbow. They needed to be talking out the events of the movie, Superman needs to feel justified in what he is doing is for the best. That he’s not just one some power trip. It just doesn’t make him a relatable, or a likeable character. They should have humanised him, make him visibly wonder his place more than just once in the massive run time. It’s a continuation of my problems with the character from Man of Steel.

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So that’s what Lois Lane could have been doing, what about Lex Luthor. Well Lex is a problem I could write an entire article about on its own. I don’t know what kind of performance Jesse Eisenberg was trying to give, but it was not enjoyable to witness in the slightest. I get the sense it came from a very cynical place, like the studio desperately trying to recapture the lighting in a bottle that was Ledger’s Joker, giving him lines that sound like they were lifted from the bible and having him do things press Jolly Ranchers into dude’s faces. I can’t think of a single scene he had that wasn’t just plain distracting and that made the movie better by its inclusion.

Lex’s motivations are non-existent, he hates Superman yes, but why. Is it because he is strong? It’s not personal as far as I can tell, he is just a psychopath who just does thing because. I feel that his role was entirely superfluous. As events unfold, Batman and Superman both have good reasons to want to fight one another. And yet, rather than allow them to come to blows on their now as a result of their opposed views, personal codes or ethics, you have a contrived scene where Lex discovers who Superman is, kidnaps his mother and blackmails him into fighting Batman, something would have probably done anyway on his own.

In my head, a far better movie exists in which Lex is totally absent, or is simply a dangling hook at the end of a movie. Superman and Batman fight and resolve their dispute all on their own and don’t suddenly forget their grievances with one another simply because Lex was a prick to both of them.

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He just ruined entire scenes he showed up in, spouting terrible lines and ruining dramatic moments with performances full of twitches and Tourette’s like outbursts. I’m not expert on the source material, but I always thought Lex Luthor was supposed to be a calculating, master manipulator, not yet another Joker rip off. I actually suspect the only reason they call him Lex jr and have his father mentioned so many times is in case this very thing happened. So Warner can press the metaphorical panic button and leave Eisinburg in jail and cast Brian Cranston or something to come in as a revived Lex Sr.

For the final of the cuts comes Wonder Woman. Before the movie was out, early buzz seemed to indicate that Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was one of the best parts of the movie, where they got that from I have no idea, she barely exists in the thing. Gadot has a number of scenes in her civvies throughout the movie searching for some incriminating photograph. Then at the end she shows up to join the final battle against Doomsday. While I had nothing against the character or her performance, there was no reason to include her in this movie to the degree they did considering how little she contributed to it.

Her entire existence in the movie is to allow a file to be viewed, showing what is essentially a series of teaser trailers for the coming shared DC Universe, it’s a terrible little scene that acts as one more non sequitur take takes you to of the movie. It kind of leads into one my other problems with the movie, that is leans too heavily on building for coming movies rather than focusing on making itself a better story.

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Sequel baiting should’t be to the detriment of the movie itself. By all means drop little hints into the background or into dialogue, but please don’t allow it to be at the expense of the movie I’m currently watching. Setting up the building blocks for a multi film universe is great, but it needs to grow organically, Batman v Superman feels forced in the worst possible way. There was no need to take minutes out of the middle of the movie to show me Cyborg, Flash and Aquaman, those characters are no relevant to the current story in the slightest, nor did they add anything. Add them at the end, after the story is over, as a teaser for what is to come, but don’t take a 15 minute slice right from the middle to tease a movie that you haven’t really sold to us yet.

It’s just one of the things that seem utterly confusing out of context, there were four dream sequences in the movie that come from nowhere and left me scratching my head as to what possible purpose they served to the movie I was watching. I like seeing little interconnected threads weave together over time to create some better world, like in most storytelling. But the setup in this movie was so heavy handed that is just comes across as desperate. These other characters are getting their own movies down the line, there is no need to introduce them to me now. Plus, the heavy-handed religious overtones when teasing Darkseid are too much too soon.

So, I’ve spend a lot of time talking about things that should have been taken out, what about things that should have been in this movie. Well, the bulk of the movie is spend with Batman, who in my opinion is the highlight of the entire thing. Ben Aflek’s Batman is a great weathered hero, realising his crusade has been for naught and wants to make a real impact on the world. Together with a burned out Alfred, the pair have some of the best dialogue and scenes of the movie.

As much as the entire sequence was unnecessary and distracting. I loved the Mad Max sequence out of context and would love to see that movie on its own.
As much as the entire sequence was unnecessary and distracting. I loved the Mad Max Batman sequence out of context and would love to see that movie on its own.

If the same amount of care and time was spend following Superman, his story and his morals instead of all the things I’ve already mentioned then the movie could have been something much more. Batman kills people in this movie, actually he kills a lot of people. And it’s not just him throwing someone off a building and the viewer thinking “He only needs to land awkwardly and he’s dead.” Nah, Batman drives his car into people’s faces, shoots missiles into cars and shoots a gas tank on a guy’s back with an assault rifle to blow him up. Despite problems with the characterisation of Superman, I don’t mind this Batman at all. He’s older and can believably be at the end of his rope when it comes to his lethality. But despite all of this, he is shown to care. He genuinely warm with Alfred, he cares during the entire beginning sequence in Metropolis and he cares enough to make me like him despite the fact he is stone cold.

Despite the incredible destructive force he is capable of, Superman is still supposed to be the good guy. The person who saves lives, ends conflict and does it in the light of day. Had they written his character better and given him something to do other than look jacked, the two character are diametrically opposed. Having them exist in the same movie would always end in them coming to blows regardless of the machinations of an insane 2nd generation billionaire. Despite his trailer lines, there was not enough Night vs. Day/Black vs. White in this movie, as both characters come across pretty gritty and morally grey.

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The movies should have been two intertwined stories, each taking place from one of the main character’s point of view, promoting their ideals while vilifying the other. The two very easily have qualms about the tactics and impact of the other. The fight was nowhere near a big enough part of the movie and starts and ends due to needlessly contrived reasons. Have the fight end due to some greater external threat. Sure, use Doomsday. But have them team up because of this new threat, not just in time to combat it.

Have the movie end on a tone of begrudging tone of respect between the two, calling a truce but by no means burying the hatchet. Then include your Wonder Woman/Lex Luthor/shared universe dangling hook, after the story is resolved. But no, instead the movie kills Superman in a move that is as lazy as it is counterproductive. Not for a minute for anyone in the cinema believe that Superman is dead. Wow, yeah, Doomsday “killed” Superman in the comics, so what. What you’ve essentially done there is remove all drama and consequence of death from your future movies. Well done Snyder.

The Batman v Superman portion of this movie felt secondary to its own subtitle, it felt like a stepping stone rather than something that could exist in a vacuum. To me, that feels like a failing of the director, a man who is more interested in style than substance. At this early stage of the shared universe they’re trying to create, this movie wasn’t a great starting point. I hope that future movies from different directors can just be enjoyable singular experiences rather than masquerading as some important movie event

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