It’s not like we didn’t know Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was going to be bad. It’s directed by Zack Snyder, a man known for agonizing slow-motion close ups of dirty, boring things in stories that fold in and out of dreams with no logic or rules. The Superbat film follows on the heels of 2013’s Man of Steel, which introduces Henry Cavill as the world’s most uncharismatic superhero in a movie that critics and fans alike agreed was terrible but made $668 million anyway.
I didn’t have to see Batman v Superman, and maybe I wouldn’t have, except that after its Thursday night opening I kept hearing insistent, provocative voices in my ear. My friend Sean Kilpatrick, film critic for Hobart and genuine eccentric, sent me cryptic messages in the night saying things like “It’s a mainstream weird mess of moody for kids, but shit that will fuck them up subconsciously,” and “There is no story, it’s boom to the boom,” and “Four stars.”
Spike Friedman, writer for Seattle’s The Stranger, tweeted this:
Even before seeing the picture, I felt that Spike and Sean were saying very nearly the same thing, except Sean likes his movies cloaked in dread, whereas Spike prefers comprehensive and entertaining stories. I am somewhere in the middle.
And so I had no choice but to see the film on Friday night, along with $80 million worth of other people at a crowded multiplex in Dearborn. The show had sold out. There were children everywhere. It was cold outside and we were cramped together with our winter coats on. The kid behind me kept kicking my seat, but the horror awaiting him was so great that I couldn’t stay mad at him.
Batman and Superman hate each other for reasons of public safety, ostensibly, but really it’s because they both want to be the only superhero around. Theirs is a rivalry stretched as thin as the story can muster, because actually, of course, they are on the same side. Bat vs. Super is chaotic good vs. lawful good, which is two sides of the same coin (and they both had a mother named Martha, so that settles that).
Ben Affleck makes a good bat. He’s older and barrel chested and he shoots dudes with guns, which I have overheard resonates with the withering morals of the comic book Batman in his later years.
Superman fails on every level, including journalism. Show me a journalist with muscles like that and I’ll show you a unicorn. The big news with Henry Cavill is how he was able to put on lots more muscle in the three years between Man of Steel and this film. That’s the kind of stuff the world thinks we want to know about Cavill and his craft.
The rivalry between Superman and Batman is the best thing about this movie: Hulking man versus sniveling demigod. Batman works the fuck out and arms himself to the gills and it’s nothing against Superman’s god-given talents. It’s the proletariat versus landed gentry where both are maniacal children. Bear in mind, these subtleties aren’t actually in the film; you have to sort of write them yourself as you’re watching. In the movie we get lots of shots of Batman lifting super heavy weights with chains and grit, and it’s good. Workout montages are never not welcome.
I liked a few other things. In an otherwise humorless tomb filled with gloomy douchebags, Jesse Eisenberg’s nervous energy as Lex Luthor hits the spot. There are a few good car flips and super smashes. Anytime Batman punched a guy, I got excited. In a particular dream sequence, he punches one man after another and they keep swarming him like bugs; it feels like maybe the only time Snyder has ever turned an event into an emotion on screen. And I like the score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL: It’s over the top and drones on like mean drums, and that’s what you need when Wonder Woman finally shows up (with no pants on, but let’s not bring fashion into this).
In summation: Batman v Superman is as bad as everyone says, but they’re hating it all wrong. It’s a bad movie because Superman is a lame character and we’ve already done Batman to death. The man who made it is pretentious and bad at making art, and the incoherent story drones on forty-five minutes too long. The darkness isn’t the problem. People wanted a poppy fun adventure and instead we got a murky, ugly movie starring the Garbage Pail Kids in an alternative version of earth where 9/11 happens daily via aliens in the sky and the people don’t know who they are or where they live or what they want. In the film there is Metropolis and its sister city Gotham, but in life we have Detroit with some fake skyscrapers and molten rock painted on the landscape. Batman v Superman is a sick movie that indeed takes place in hell, and I have to admire Zack Snyder for tricking us into paying for his dumb, nightmarish vision.