It’s almost enough to make you feel bad for Ben Affleck. He’s had a good run since the days of Daredevil and Gigli, revealing himself as a real corker of a director and actor too, with The Town and Argo under his belt. He’ll get it over it, and maybe he’ll get to right a few wrongs with his own solo Batman effort, which he is rumoured to be directing. But that’s a column for another time.
It’s always been fashionable to love Marvel and bash DC, especially when it comes to their movie efforts. Most people don’t seem to consider that Nolan’s Batman trilogy are the highest critically claimed superhero movies, and that DC practically invented the genre back in 1989 with Burton’s Bat. Then they destroyed it with those plastic nipples in 1997, but plastic nipples are the kryptonite of any franchise.
Expectation was high and then very low indeed after the first Batman VS. Superman: Dawn of Justice trailers started rolling in. First, the stupid title was hated on, then the po-faced, overly serious tone was given a real bashing too, and it seemed strange that a trailer designed to make the film feel dark, mythical and foreboding then lead to so many folks hating that same tone when they had their butts in the cinema seats.
Zack Snyder should be praised for his efforts on this film purely because it does nothing to try and feel like a Marvel flick. While a late act CGI monstrosity in the form of Doomsday threatens to venture into the same weary territory that Marvel films like to finish with (CGI heli-carrier air battle, anyone?) the fight scenes in Batman Vs Superman felt miraculously like they were grounded in some sort of in-universe reality. The titular scrap between Bat and Supes is a long time coming, landing fairly late in the film, but it’s worth the wait.
While it would have been easy to have it descend into the sort of skyscraper slaughtering chaos of Man of Steel, save for a few tosses through some abandoned buildings, the fight takes place mostly inside an abandoned church. It fits with the mood of the film, and the fight feels incredibly balanced, with a excellent tit-for-tat rhythm to it of Superman discovering why Batman is known as one of the planet’s greatest scientists and analytical minds, and Batman discovering why they call him the Man of Steel.
The later Doomsday show down gets altogether stupid, with nuclear missiles, island destroying chaos, and a butt load of CGI in play, but watching Superman, Batman, and the freshly appeared - and absolutely excellent - Wonder Woman play off each other makes for an exhilarating fighting scene that again feels weighty and tough.
Wonder Woman gets a great character moment where she recovers after a pounding from Doomsday by gathering her sword and shield and grinning in a primal way. The look conveys more than most of the wooden dialogue in the film does, lending a nuance to the character that goes beyond exotic girl in gravity defying dresses sticks on ancient battle armour. I can’t help but wonder if Civil War will handle its titular showdowns quite so well.
Elsewhere, Jesse Eisenberg chomps the scenery as Lex Luthor, a megalomaniac technology obsessed mad scientist channelling Mark Zuckerberg. He’s a ruthless weirdo who gives a cringe worthy speech and doesn’t seem to know how to act around people. He’s also the mastermind behind much of the badness in the film, proving to some degree the irony of his “Oldest line in America” line from the trailer by trying to be as powerful and corrupt as possible.
He got a lot of flak for his over the top, energetic performance, but there’s a lot to like here. He’s not like other villains. He’s not powerful in of himself, but rather, he uses his brains and finance to make him more than formidable enough for the duo of Batman and Superman. He is the one that orchestrates their rivalry, but there’s depth to the madness too. He’s an abused little rich boy in a man’s body that only felt the touch of a parent when his father was beating him. Like Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne themselves, he comes from an odd family dynamic and has a tragic past. Arguably, money and intelligence are Batman’s only super powers. Is he really that drastically different from Lex?
Batman VS. Superman loses the plot when it comes to… well, the plot. Lex pulls some serious strings to get the two of them battling each other, but it all falls apart when Batman finds out that Superman’s mom is called Martha too. There’s a little more to it than that, and the revelation makes sense in the way that Bruce Wayne is still haunted by the death of his parents. He wouldn’t wish that on Superman, and it also makes him realise that the Man of Steel is just a relatively normal man. He fights to save his adoptive mother, he struggles to do the right thing when faced with impossible choices. The film could have handled this a little better, and as it plays out, it feels like they spent so much time making the fight make sense that they stumbled over the fact that these two would have to be friends at the end of it all.
Elsewhere, other strands fray at the ends. Why does Lex Luthor fund those folks at the start who start shooting up the place in the desert? What do they have to do with anything? Why is he collecting dirt on Wonder Woman and the other ‘metahumans’? Why are we revealed the existence of Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg by essentially having Wonder Woman watch their teaser reveals on YouTube? Why doesn’t Wonder Woman use the kryptonite spear on Doomsday? Why does Lois throw it into the water then immediately go to retrieve it? Surely she would have been better keeping it so it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands eventually? What’s the deal with the many dream sequences? We see Wayne wake up in a sweat about four times through the course of the film.
It’s the same with any film of this nature, however. The pace is so whip fast that they hope it papers over any holes in the story, and besides, they’re all superheroes. It doesn’t have to make sense. What Batman VS. Superman does make, however, is a heavy, mythical feeling broody film. Its dark, it’s weighty, and at times it crushes itself under its moroseness - hell, even Nolan’s Batman flicks had jokes - but DC have genuinely tried something different here, and they should be applauded for that.
They’ve ignored the Marvel formula and tried to do it their own way, and in the process, they’ve taken their first steps into a cinematic universe that feels markedly different from its major rival. Batman VS. Superman isn’t about weirdo’s in costume cracking jokes, it’s about the heavy themes of man versus God, our place in the universe, and what our world would really do if a Superman fell from the sky and brought war and slaughter with him.