I’m an unapologetic proponent of the superhero movie. The genre has yielded enough genuinely great works during its relatively brief run at the pinnacle of international popular-culture so as to forgive a lot of its missteps, and I firmly believe that it offers tremendous artistic and cultural value to those who would take advantage of it: Superheroes can make us laugh, give us catharsis, embody our fantasies, challenge our perceptions and give mythic weight to political metaphor.
Sadly, they can also be stupid, ugly, wrongheaded, intellectually-offensive and boring… and sometimes, they can be all that and more; and you wind up with a movie like BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE – a malignant, puss-bleeding cancer on the ass of its own genre.
I’m sitting here trying to decide where to even start this one, guys. DAWN OF JUSTICE is a terrible movie – I literally cannot recall the last time I was so shaken (literally shaking with rage!) at the climax of something I should hypothetically have liked since the first TRANSFORMERS movie. It’s bad on a level that would seem to defy even the worst vulgarity to mete out a proper condemnation; the kind of bad that begs to be conveyed by frantic vaudevillian sputters, a futile flailing of the arms and a stream of old-timey white profanity: I am agog at it’s awfulness. Flabbergasted by the depths of its failings.
Billed as 2 ½ solid hours of Universe-building DC Comics fanservice, the resulting film plays more like a “Producers Gambit” gone sentient and homicidal: If it were to come out tomorrow that a billionaire philanthropist with a pathological hatred of the superhero genre spent $400 Million to create a perfect embodiment of every negative prediction the old-guard film press ever made about the apocalyptic influence of comic book movies that would suck hard and swallow deep enough to choke to death and take the entire genre down with it... not only would I believe you, it would be more plausible than the actual plot of the film; which attempts to build a foundation for a prospective slate of features to rival the Marvel Cinematic Universe by smooshing together the plots of the two most overrated DC stories of the last 30 years.
And when it comes to this rectum-puckering garbage fire of a story, for once, I legitimately believe it when Snyder says the R-rated Blu-ray director’s cut absolutely needs to be at least 3 hours long, because at 2 ½ hours the theatrical cut has so clearly been hacked to the fucking bone the first and second acts occasionally feel like an exercise in seeing how many different locations in a row you can cut to without using any establishing shots. I’d compare it’s baffling lack of structure and complete disinterest in having a single character behave with adherence to any basic outline of rhyme or reason to the plotting of bad pornography but even bad pornography tends to at least fade in on whichever San Fernando Valley McMansion the gangbang will eventually take place in.
Speaking of pornography – though, to be honest, I can’t imagine any psychological healthy soul being able to pleasure themselves to anything happening onscreen in this clusterfuck (unless of course they’ve got money invested in CIVIL WAR…) - once the two solid hours of relentlessly tedious setup for a plot that somehow manages to be at once overcomplicated yet so simplistic it wouldn’t pass story-time muster in a Florida kindergarten has given way to the supposedly “action packed” finale; the whole production devolves into a high-contrast CGI trainwreck so narratively uninvolving and visual unconvincing that it feels less like The DC Holy Trinity teaming up to fight Doomsday than it does like watching four different screen-savers awkwardly fuck.
But I’m getting ahead of myself: The “epic” storyline that Zack Snyder, David Goyer and Chris Terrio spent three years and a rumored $400 million-plus getting made and that Warner Bros has potentially mortgaged its next decade as a solvent business on goes something like this:
Lex Luthor dislikes superheroes because reasons and he hates Superman most of all. So when he finds out that Batman is also mad at Superman because people who worked for Batman got killed during the ending of MAN OF STEEL he undertakes a ridiculously complicated master plan to goad Batman into killing Superman that involves the triggering of a Benghazi-esque foreign policy disaster in North Africa, the staging of a suicide-bombing during a United States Congressional hearing and a jar of piss (I’m not even kidding, a MAJOR plot-point of this movie involves a jar of Lex Luthor’s piss.) Except Lex didn’t really need to go to all that trouble because Batman already wants to kill Superman because he had a psychic nightmare about Darkseid except Darkseid was played by Evil Superman and also The Flash (I think?) popped out of a time portal and yelled at him about Lois Lane. Who herself then gets kidnapped by Lex Luthor along with Superman’s mom in order to force Superman to attack Batman whom Lex has also tricked into building kryptonite weapons and the anti-Superman battle suit from THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS so maybe he actually can kill Superman. But even if he can’t it doesn’t matter because Lex has also used alien science-magic to turn the body of General Zod into Doomsday whose stronger than both of them put together. Fortunately it turns out a mysterious lady whom Batman had been flirting with earlier in the movie is actually Wonder Woman, who shows up at the very end of the movie to punch Doomsday multiple times, buying Superman the opportunity to use Batman’s kryptonite weapons to kill Doomsday but then also get killed himself. With Superman now dead, Batman and Wonder Woman decide to invent The Justice League in case anything like Doomsday ever happens again or if Batman’s weird nightmares come true somehow. Also, yes really Superman is dead.
Holy shit. Now that I’ve actually said it out loud I hate this goddamn thing even more.
Everything from the characters to the dialogue to the plot points to the moment-to-moment storyline feels crammed in from somewhere else with no amount of forethought, which means damn near every major element sticks out like a metaphor for how much this bloated, internally rotting corpse of a film doesn’t work. No really, it’s so goddamn shit-curdlingly bad that there are TOO MANY moments of self-symbolizing badness to choose from. The entire production is a full-blown, top to bottom, all-encompassing disaster rolling into theaters.
Snyder’s preference for photographing the masculine form like the bastard offspring of Robert Mapplethorpe and Vince McMahon, which means that Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill look alternately like gigantic bulging scrotums painted-up like easter eggs when wearing their superhero costumes and a pair of poorly-tailored shaved gorillas wearing literally anything else – at one point Affleck strips down to his slacks for a ROCKY IV training montage that mainly involves pounding on a bus tire with a sledgehammer because how can we be expected to respect Bruce Wayne if we don’t know that his CrossFit WODs are mad legit bruh??
Cavill is somehow even more stiff and unlikable here than he was in MAN OF STEEL, rendered aloof and absent by an existential panic over whether or not he’s actually doing any good that never manages to resolve itself – though at least since he can generate action scenes he gets off better than Amy Adams who the movie keeps trying and failing to find a place for with embarrassing results. During the climax she nearly drowns trying to retrieve Batman’s kryptonite weapon from a pool of water which sounds hypothetically heroic until I tell you that she threw it in herself a moment ago for no apparent reason other than the screenplay really needed her to almost drown.
Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, however, gets off worst of all – this fucking guy might well be the worst comic book movie villain of all time. Nothing about him makes sense, his personality changes from scene to scene, he’s terminally obnoxious, for some reason we never find out exactly what it is he does or is “about” when he’s not doing bad guy stuff and despite his actions driving literally the entire plot we never get an answer as to WHY he’s done any of it: At first he says he hates Superman just because, then later he has a weird hangup about God, then later he’s mad at his abusive father and by the end he’s barking about being aware of some unseen menace looming in the distance.
And that big Title Fight? It goes on for about five or ten minutes, and it’s mostly just a fistfight because Batman keeps hitting Superman with kryptonite gas that makes them evenly matched… but then Batman gives up because he finds out Superman’s mom was also named Martha. No, for fucking real, that’s not even a joke. The incidental “oh, isn’t that funny” bit of comic book nerd trivia that Batman and Superman both had mothers named Martha is here treated as a huge goddamn revelation that makes Batman want to be Superman’s friends and fuck. This. Movie. So. Hard.
Oh, and if you’re wondering about JUSTICE LEAGUE cameos… they’re in there. Oh boy, are they in there. Y’know how they typically do the worldbuilding stuff in the Marvel movies as post-credit scenes or random background references that don’t (usually) interrupt the main movie? Well, that’s apparently too fuckin’ subtle for Zack fuckin’ Snyder. So instead, right in the middle of what passes for a pivotal scene in this shitpile, Batman gives Wonder Woman a hacked hard drive from Lex Luthor’s place that’s full of surveillance footage documenting the existence of herself, The Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman. No bullshit, that’s really how they do it: Wonder Woman gets an Electronic Press Kit and shows us all trailers for the next four fucking movies.
But unlike Nick Fury showing up at the end of IRON MAN, this didn’t feel like a promise – it feels like a threat. Not merely of more terrible movies, but of some kind of cosmic balancing of the scales: “Oh, did you really think the tendrils of nerd ephemera could ensnare and colonize the machinery of pop culture and there wouldn’t be a downside??” It’s as though geek culture is being made to suffer for enjoying itself too much, like we’ve gorged ourselves too gluttonously for almost a decade at a highest-quality AVENGERS-catered buffet… and now BATMAN V SUPERMAN is the rock-hard, rectum-shredding, anus-prolapsing rectal blockage we’re to be punished with for indulging too long without consequence.
And if that sounded pretentious to you, you should hear the characters in the movie drone on about their own mythological significance with a humorless self-regard that perfectly compliments the droning faux-Wagnerian percussions of the impossible-to-take-seriously soundtrack and Snyder’s increasingly garish aesthetic, which aims for Alex Ross but lands somewhere closer to compositions you’d airbrush on to the side of a panel van.
I could more folks, I really could, but by now I think you get the point: BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE is a travesty wrapped in a disaster inside an obscenity. It is steaming, rotten, sunbaked, oozing shit. As a critic, I can’t conceive that we’ll see a worse major studio movie this year. As an observer of the film business, I’m perversely fascinated to know what happens next now that one of the biggest studios on the planet has built multiple Summers worth of release slates around follow-ups to what’s turned out to be a Hindenbergian catastrophe. And as a comic book fan I am… suddenly feeling very, very old. And tired. I imagine it won’t last, but… for now… “tired” would indeed be the operative fucking word.