Editor-in-Chief and A&E Editor
After last year’s critically panned Fantastic 4 reboot had an extremely underwhelming box office performance, there was some talk that the film’s lack of success signaled a certain superhero fatigue amongst audiences. After all, it appeared inevitable that the nearly decade-long trend of successful and well-received comic book movies dominating the market would come to an end. So, it only seemed natural to assume that the backlash towards Batman V. Superman, the latest superhero film from Zack Snyder, would deal a huge blow to both Warner Brothers’ DC Comics film franchise and the superhero genre in general. Could it be possible that the age of spectacle, spandex, and special effects was coming to a close? However, to the surprise of some detractors, Batman V. Superman was a massive success at the box office, coming in at number one during its opening weekend. These contrasting responses must be sending mixed signals to film studios interested in making major comic book adaptations. Can these tales of super heroics continue to thrive even when met with negative reviews?
Looking at Snyder’s film is key to coming to an answer. For the most part, it deals with the same overarching themes that its predecessor, 2013’s flawed but interesting Man of Steel, mostly fumbled. The film is mainly concerned with the nature of heroism and power in the modern world, and there are enough drawn out monologues about unilateral power and somber senate hearings questioning the actions of Superman, played stoically by Henry Cavill, to drill these ideas into audience’s heads. The film’s characters are evenly split between those who view Superman as a messiah and those who see him as a dangerous alien who should be perceived as an extreme threat. Bruce Wayne, whose alter ego is the iconic vigilante Batman (if you somehow did not know that) belongs to the latter group. The opening of the film shows Wayne witnessing the loss of human life caused by Man of Steel’s climatic fight scene. The implied carnage from that scene was one of the most controversial elements of the film, and the sequel seems to be a response to any criticisms. This only scratches the surface of the weighty plot elements that Batman V. Superman addresses, and it would be hard to fault the film for lack of ambition. If only those plot elements were handled effectively...
The “proper” tone for a superhero movie is up for debate, and the raunchy and energetic Deadpool brilliantly highlighted the variety that could exist in the genre. Sadly, Batman V. Superman chooses to double down on the moody, dark tone of Man of Steel, resulting in a kid’s movie that does not have some of the key elements that would attract younger audiences, such as “entertainment,” “hope,” or “a sense of fun.” This is not to say that this way of approaching the story is a total failure. In fact, the scenes featuring only Batman, a character who thrives on being dark and gothic, work beautifully. Many fans were skeptical of the casting of Ben Affleck as the caped crusader, but he looks and acts the part, and his older, more world-weary take on the character is refreshing and compelling. The action scenes featuring him are also fantastic and at times almost threatening to watch, showing audiences why criminals would be so scared of him. Still, the film begins to fall apart the closer that the two heroes get to each other.
For all of the movie’s philosophical aspirations, the final act sees the film completely abandon the more interesting concepts in the plot and devolve into computer-generated nonsense that mirrors the worst elements of the chaotic finales in films such as Avengers: Age of Ultron. It almost feels as if the film, which during its first two acts wanted to make weighty and profound statements, realizes during the climax that it sold viewers an epic brawl between the two titular characters, and it awkwardly twists its plot in order to arrive at the promised fight. When it does come, it amounts to about eight minutes of the legendary heroes beating each other senseless without any real sense of emotional payoff or conclusion.
There are other problems as well. The romance between Superman and Lois Lane, played here by an underused Amy Adams, is just as underdeveloped and bland as it was in Man of Steel. There is no sense of forward momentum in their relationship, and Adams is only given scenes where she either worries about Superman or is saved by him. It is perhaps the most passive and generic portrayal of Lane the character has ever seen, and it has none of the complexity or wit that previous actresses have been allowed to give the character. The lack of complexity continues to other characters as well. One of the most compelling elements of Superman is the juxtaposition between the clumsy, simple Clark Kent and his heroic alter-ego. This version of Kent, however, is a complete blank slate, and he makes almost no attempt to come off as an oaf or everyman. He is just Superman, wearing stylish glasses.
The legendary Laurence Fishbourne is given a particularly thankless role as the Daily Bugle editor Perry White, and the less said about Jesse Eisenberg’s over-the-top and cringe-worthy Lex Luther, the better. It is more reminiscent of Jim Carrey as The Riddler in Batman Forever than Heath Ledger as The Joker. Jeremy Irons, playing Batman’s mentor and butler Alfred, fares a little better, and he brings some of the only humor and brevity in the whole movie. His chemistry with Affleck can potentially make even the most jaded viewer look forward to seeing the upcoming solo Batman movie. Wonder Woman, played by relative newcomer Gal Gadot, has potential, but her role seems like an advertisement for her solo movie that is forced into the plot. It is hardly a surprise that, in this testosterone-soaked slugfest, the only female character with any power or autonomy is buried under the plot.
Despite all of this, even though Batman V. Superman is a clear failure, it is an interesting one. There is something admirable about how high it aims, even if it falls extremely short. The one criticism you cannot throw at it is that it is too “safe.” It takes some serious risks, and they make for a viewing experience that will at least leave an impression, even if it is an awful one. In all truthfulness, it is almost more fun to watch than the less flawed but middle-of-the-road Ant Man. Batman V. Superman’s attempt to infuse the genre with something different is perhaps the clearest example of how formulaic and tiresome even the best superhero films are becoming. Eventually, audiences will need a break from the same old story being told again and again, and it will be necessary for more films to add something new and fresh. It would be a stretch, however, to describe Batman V. Superman as fresh.