Just a few quick thoughts on Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.
1. More than anything else, I feel sad for Superman. The Superman series started strong with Christopher Reeve in 1978, but then it quickly nosedived into irrelevance, and the studio’s attempts to revive the character in 2006 (with Superman Returns) and 2013 (with Man of Steel) were widely perceived to be less than satisfactory. So now the follow-up to Man of Steel is a sort-of sequel that is far more concerned with rebooting the Batman character and teasing us with hints of next year’s Wonder Woman movie (plus a few other superhero movies). What’s more, just about every major character in this film except for Wonder Woman makes Superman their bitch (pardon the crude phrasing, but I think Zack Snyder would approve): Lex Luthor, Doomsday and even Batman all have Superman under their thumb or at their mercy at one point or another, and to the extent that Superman is depicted as heroic or inspiring, it is usually so that someone else can question or subvert his image.
2. I loved seeing the Metropolis battle in Man of Steel from Bruce Wayne’s point of view. I love it when films revisit earlier movies from a different perspective (e.g. Back to the Future Part II). I love it when characters from the margins of a story are made the primary focus, at least for a few minutes. And I thought the sequence nicely set up Bruce Wayne’s heroism, in the way he heads straight into the cloud of debris without any of his Batman paraphernalia, out of concern for his employees. Among other things, this sequence creates an immediate distinction between Ben Affleck’s take on the character and Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne, who made a point of behaving like an irresponsible playboy in public and allowed others to run his company for him.
3. I can never see massive sets like the Batcave, and all the fancy-shmancy computers that Batman uses, without wondering who put them together. Did Bruce Wayne and Alfred build the secret entrance to the cave and pave the tunnel and program every computer all by themselves? Or is there a whole crew of people out there who have stayed remarkably true to the terms set forth in their non-disclosure agreements?
4. Bruce Wayne does quite a bit of detective work before we finally get a good look at him in the Batman suit. That’s nice. Clark Kent — who got a job at the Daily Planet in the previous film despite having zero experience in journalism — does pretty much zero reporting. (Perry White even makes a point of complaining about this.) That’s not so nice. And the photojournalist who accompanies Lois Lane in one early scene is using film in his camera, rather than a digital camera — is that actually still a thing?
5. How on earth does Lex Luthor have all the info on everybody that he has.
6. Bilge Ebiri likes to remind people that Diane Lane, who plays Superman’s adoptive mother, is the same age as Robert Downey Jr, who actually plays the biggest superhero in the Marvel cinematic universe. (They both turn 51 this year.) But let’s give this film some credit: Lois Lane is played by Amy Adams, who was 38 when Man of Steel came out and is 41 now. Margot Kidder turned 29 while shooting the original Superman in 1977, and Kate Bosworth was a ridiculously young 22 when Superman Returns was filmed — this, despite the fact that the film was set several years after Superman II and Bosworth’s version of Lois Lane was mother to a 5-year-old boy! So the current films are an improvement on their predecessors, in that regard.
7. There’s a lot of God-talk in this film but I’m not sure it amounts to much. A lot of people make theologically and mythologically loaded comments about Superman — a woman complains that Superman answers to no one not even God, a vandal says Superman is a “false god”, Lex Luthor says “metahumans” are “the basis of our myths”, we see a bunch of talking heads on TV, and so on — but the film shows no interest that I can recall in what Clark Kent himself makes of all this baggage being put on him. I do find it interesting that Luthor frames the battle between Superman and Batman as a battle between “god” and “man”, when Batman has frequently been associated with demons in other stories (including Batman Begins).
8. Speaking of those real-life talking heads on TV, I think one real-life celebrity is actually killed in this movie. (At least, I assume the person in question is killed when a certain major disaster happens shortly after we see this person.) For some reason this reminds me of the controversy over Lee Iacocca’s death in Watchmen — though I’m sure the real-life celebrity in this case knew what the filmmakers were doing. (Then again, maybe not.) And speaking of Watchmen: thanks to that earlier Zack Snyder film, I could not help but wonder why Doomsday did not have any genitals in this film. It just seems like the sort of thing Snyder would have included, if not for the PG-13 rating. (See also the nude Wade Wilson fight scene in this year’s Deadpool.)
9. This Batman really doesn’t have any qualms about killing people, does he?
10. There’s a plot twist here that is so abrupt, it reminded me of the scene in Disney’s Tangled where a ruffian stops dead in his tracks while menacing Rapunzel and says, “I had a dream once…” And it hinges on a coincidence from the comics in such a way that I was reminded of the old Spinal Tap line about there being a fine line between clever and stupid. I might have even laughed out loud in the theatre. Might have.
11. Mostly, I just feel sad for Superman. I collected Batman and Superman comics between the late 1980s and mid 1990s — including the first appearance of Doomsday, who makes his big-screen debut in this film — and it’s always bummed me out that Superman has never had a satisfying representation on film. (Parts of the 1978 film work very well, but other parts are extremely dated — and I never liked that film’s jokey take on Lex Luthor.) Man of Steel at least flirted with the idea of turning Superman into “an ideal to strive towards,” and the Hans Zimmer score was suitably uplifting (I’ve been humming the main theme quite a bit this past week). But the new film doesn’t have time for any of that — and when Zimmer brings back the Superman theme in this film, it is usually played in a sad, solo-piano register. Seems apt.