I despise Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Ok, let’s back up for some ludicrously long context. I generally have a complicated relationship to Snyder’s work, which I appreciate conceptually, even though the execution almost always loses me. His Dawn of the Dead remake and Watchmen were impressive, if not earth-shattering; both flawed, but admirable adaptations of beloved material. All his other work (especially Man of Steel, up to that point) has felt like a string of marginally qualified failures. So no, I did not feel an urge to see Batman v Superman in theaters. I caught up with it late, at home, probably a few weeks into its Blu-ray release and just truly, absolutely, utterly despised it. So why then would I watch it again, not once, but twice in this in the last 6 months? Well, it’s been said that I’m too trusting in others.
For a several months last year (and recently revived), I ran a weekly competition on twitter where the winner(s) would assign me a movie to watch. Some people assigned beloved classics that had eluded me like The Red Shoes and Lawrence of Arabia; some forced torturous trash upon me like Murder on the Cape and Lesbian Vampire Killers; some assigned films I’d already seen, like Blade Runner 2049, Room, and The Thing, with the hope that I would change my lukewarm stance. The fact that Batman v Superman partially fit in all three of these categories is what made the assignment truly unique. It was a film revered as a beloved masterpiece by some (including that week’s winner), it was intended to torture me since I despised it with a passion, and the winner was hoping I’d reassess my firm claim that it was one of the worst movies I’d ever seen.
On my first watch back in 2016, though I found it perplexingly dumb, I was more plagued by boredom than anything else. It was confounding that a movie so busy, loud, and obnoxiously bombastic could be so mind-numbingly dull; every moment was equal parts agonizing and insipid. I vowed to never revisit it. When I was forced to break that vow by a twitter user intent on having me rewatch one of their favorite films, I was quite frustrated, exponentially so because I was specifically assigned the Ultimate Edition, which runs about 30 minutes longer. How was I expected to endure another half hour of a film I already considered to be virtually unwatchable? The optimist in me held onto the unrealistic hope that this added material might somehow, someway, maybe, possibly make the film decent.
And of course, it did not! Sure, the editing isn’t as jarring with the added material; it gets room to breathe, but it’s still got undeniably putrid breath. Though I admittedly didn’t find this longer version to be quite the unwatchable burden I’d anticipated, I still felt validated in my previous opinion that I was absolutely not missing anything the first time, the fans are indeed living in their own bizarre universe where their fandom trumps even their own evolving taste, and the film is just plain atrocious. I felt oddly relieved, finally having put this abomination of a film in my rearview for good. I could sleep soundly, knowing the matter had been put to rest for once and for all. Until 6 months later when, once again through my twitter competition, I was forced to suffer this unwieldy, cinematic failure.
I’ve now seen Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice 3 times, which is more viewings than I’ve given my favorite film of that year, American Honey. Even though Batman v Superman is such a preposterous mess of a film, I can succinctly describe what I hate about it: everything. I genuinely find it awful from top to bottom. Beginning with the sequence meant to emotionally manipulate the audience through shameless and cheap evocation of ground-level 9/11 imagery, the film feels carefully crafted to adamantly revolt me. The following hour, still horrible, is its best, but that’s minuscule praise.
The first half plays like a filler episode of a Netflix superhero show, complete with unengaging, perfunctory wheel-spinning and rushed, meaningless plotting; it's an expositional slog to get to the titular fight, which is anything but satisfying. From there, it becomes a monotonous hour-plus long battle sequence against a CGI blob. It would work better if it was meant as parody, but sadly, self-awareness is sorely lacking from Snyder’s vision, per usual. Even the CGI is fittingly awful. Similar to the nauseating, incomprehensible action sequences in Transformers films, there’s nothing interesting onscreen even when the film becomes a frenetic mess. It somehow becomes even less engaging the more there is onscreen.
The philosophical musings about humanity, keenly inserted to give an air of wisdom and depth, are as shallow as they come, and the dialog which is meant to feel weighty, lands with a thud. “That’s how it starts; the fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness; it turns good men…cruel.” Give me a break. The character arcs are lackluster. Our two heroes finally bonding over a shared appreciation for family, Batman learns that branding enemies isn’t the moral thing to do, Lois and Wonder Woman…whatever, they get nothing, of course. None of it is complex, all of it convoluted; it’s the worst concoction.
To keep my laundry list of things I despised to bare necessities, I’ll, finally, close out my (suitably overstuffed and chaotic) rambling by briefly touching on two key points that may seem disparate, but I find to be indicative of the film’s misguided execution. 1. Eisenberg’s horrific performance, which is almost paradoxically awful in that it’s a perfect example of outrageous overacting, yet still just a lazy, exaggerated riff on his normal shtick. Overblown, yet hollow. 2. The most interesting action sequence, which also happens to be the worst: the over-choreographed “one take” fight scene where the camera slowly pans around Batman as he fights off bad guys in the desert. In theory it seems like a welcomed break from the quick-cutting action sequences we’re used to, but it’s an absurd overcorrection that feels more stilted than immersive. In many ways it would seem like Snyder is trying to subvert genre clichés and audience expectations, but he ultimately fails, making the film far worse than conventional superhero films. The final shot, clearly influenced by Inception’s emblematic ending, made my eyes roll so emphatically, it’s a miracle I still have eyesight.
Really, the film can be best summed up as a bifurcated, jumbled mess of misguided plotting, dialog, and action set pieces, all attempting to emulate Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but failing to understand how he made that aesthetic and atmosphere work in his favor. Snyder’s attempt at a gritty Batman ends up muddled, ugly, and laughably self-serious. If this is truly Snyder’s unfiltered, precise vision, I applaud him for nailing what he was going for and connecting with an audience clearly hungry for whatever he gives them, but I still think it’s an abysmal film that I pray I never have to revisit, though those words sound all too familiar now.