Before Birds of Prey hits theaters we’re looking back at the entire DCEU, next up we look at Batman v Superman.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a mess of a film. What was originally supposed to be a sequel to Man of Steel became a world-building film for an entire DC cinematic universe which would be named the DCEU (DC Extended Universe). The film suffers not from the content, per se, but for the way in which it is delivered. There are aspects of multiple good films here, but the film’s poor pacing and inability to find a clear path from start to finish is what drags it down in the end.
It’s frustrating to see the way the film panned out because there was a slight glimmer of hope left after Man of Steel that DC could have built on to create something truly remarkable. The problem is they focused building so much within one film that everything feels wrong in the end. There are great moments in the film, most of which are fan service. There are also terrible moments in the film, usually by way of crappy dialogue. However, if the film had a better flow to it, it may have worked.
The parts of the film that focus on Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman work on their own. The Batman story is one that we haven’t seen on screen before. It borrows heavily from Frank Miller’s classic The Dark Knight Returns. In doing so, it gives us an older and wearier Batman, one that doesn’t care as much if some goons get smashed by his car. The subtlety of Wonder Woman throughout the film is fantastic, and her reveal leading into the third act is spot on. WB and DC could have hidden the fact that Wonder Woman was in the film, and up until her identity is revealed you would have thought she was Catwoman. But her actions aren’t against type for the Amazonian Princess, and every moment is a highlight.
As for Superman’s story, the film does a decent job of building from where things stood in Man of Steel. It says, “Yes, we put Superman in our current day setting, and yes, he’s having a hard time and struggling to understand who he needs to be, but that’s the point.” It’s giving reason for the delivery of this entire Superman story. The film is asking the audience if we could ever truly accept Superman in our world. If he was just trying to be the good hero we see in the comics and such, would we accept him? Ironically enough, the Superman angle has aged really well given the current political climate. In a way, it has become a commentary on our acceptance of refugees and immigration policies.
The problem that lies within Batman v Superman is that these stories don’t fit well together. Add to that the plot lines surrounding Lex Luthor–each of which could have been their own film–and it falls apart further. That’s not to say that the reasons Lex has for his master plan are wrong or that it couldn’t work; they just don’t work in this film. Lex Luthor pitting Batman against Superman and then creating Doomsday as a backup to wipe them both out if necessary is not a bad idea. Doing that in the film that is the direct sequel to a Superman origin film, introduces Lex, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and begins setting up Justice League just doesn’t work.
As for Lex, Jesse Eisenberg’s version of the character may be different from what we tend to expect from the character, but it’s not a bad take. If you are going to introduce Lex Luthor in this world, he has to be someone reminiscent of Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. Lex Luthor works as a character because he is always able to overcome the trouble he faces with the law because of the way he works as a businessman. He changes his image to reflect himself as the victim, donates to charities, helps rebuild Metropolis, and everyone forgets what terrible things he’s done.
In the world we live in, that persona only works when it’s done through a Mark Zuckerberg-esque character. We see an older man in a suit with his name on a building, and the moment he does something bad, we condemn him and his business. But we find out that Apple is outsourcing their workforce to sweatshops or that Facebook is spying on us, and we still post to Facebook hourly on our brand new iPhone 12! We give these businesses and the men and women who run them a slap on the wrist and move on. That’s the real world we live in today, and that’s the world in which Lex Luthor can keep coming back to attack Superman.
Speaking of attacking Superman and the titular battle between our beloved heroes, I’m not ashamed to admit that the Martha moment does work. It may not seem like it on the surface, but when you dive into the details of the situation presented within the film, it fits. The film acknowledges in the first scenes of the movie that Bruce Wayne’s memory of his parents’ death is bookended with his father saying his mother’s name before he’s about to die. It’s the period at the end of the sentence that lead to Bruce spending the rest of his life dedicated to a certain purpose: to never let this happen to anyone else.
The film says straight off the bat this moment is why he does what he does. Hearing his father call out his mother’s name as he died is still there all these years later. Now he’s spent decades fighting crime in Gotham, and he’s always stood by two solid rules: no killing and no guns. As Bruce becomes more ruthless concerning Superman, he has a nightmare where Bruce breaks his cardinal rule and actually uses guns, which leads to Bruce’s own demise. This can be interpreted as his mind telling him “you’re going down the wrong path.” But he ignores it. Then when he’s finally about to brutally kill Superman with a weapon in his hands meant only for killing and Superman begs for mercy, Superman says, “Martha.”
Bruce is triggered back to the moment that has guided him on his crusade all of these years. It’s a chance for him to finally come to terms with the monster he’s become now, for him to stop and realize, “This isn’t who I am, and this isn’t why I do what I do.” He has been pushed to the brink, and he needs a reminder of why he started this in the first place. By Clark saying “Martha,” Bruce finds that reminder and vows to save Martha at all costs. It’s been joked about relentlessly, and it’s not presented in the best way possible, but it’s one of the deepest aspects of the film and is one of the few good things that intertwines the various stories.
Overall, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice could be fixed with better pacing and maybe moving around a few pieces of this convoluted puzzle. There are good elements within each individual plot line, and overall, each individual plot line does kind of work in its own way. But when each line is interwoven together, the film falls apart and feels too clunky. It becomes something that’s hard to get through at times and barely pays off with the results of the third act. In the end, it’s worth going into for the individual parts, but as a whole, the film is its own doomsday.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is currently available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital.
Be sure to keep following us throughout the week as we look at the DCEU leading up to this weekend’s release of Birds of Prey.
Written by Alex Lancaster
(Alex is a life long film fan, and has dedicated his life to watching, making and obsessing over films. His favorite film is Big Fish, and he despises Avatar. He has a 5 year old son. And a bad habit of saying more than he needs to. Follow @alex5348 on Twitter)