Five Legitimately Great Things in the Otherwise Irredeemable 'Batman v. Superman'
Whenever I tell someone I travel frequently for work, their first response is typically something like, “Oh, that must be exciting!” Sometimes that’s true. Like when pull into your house after a 10 hour day followed by a five hour drive and you choose not to leave the car running as the garage door shuts. Mostly, though, it’s a cocktail of tedium and loneliness garnished with locally sourced boredom.
I’ve lived in a hotel for the past three weeks; I’ll call this place home until the last week in April. The staff here addresses me by my first name, an ostensibly endearing practice that nonetheless depresses me more than if they just called me “cockbreath” and left semen-covered scorpions on my pillows each morning. My daughter sees me through a 5-inch iPhone screen. My wife, who once secretly adored weeks without her husband, now looks forward to my departures with the enthusiasm of a female writer tweeting out a link to a 10,000 word piece about how a popular, male-oriented television series treats women poorly. Being home alone with an 18-month old for consistently long stretches is taxing, to put it kindly.
There are two perks, however: a movie theater within walking distance and the free time to take advantage of it. Tuesday, I sauntered down the road and voluntarily handed a teenager $6.64 in exchange for one ticket to Batman v. Superman. As Pajiba’s resident Zack Snyder defender, I felt obligated to check out his three-hour school bus fire and then defend this auteur against the effete, highfalutin critics whose tiny little brains can’t grasp that Snydog makes movies for the fans, man.
This is not that piece. My fingers refuse to craft any honest defense of Batman v. Superman because none exists. Everything TK wrote in his masterful takedown holds true.
A concussed stegosaurus could have turned in a more coherent, more entertaining, more plausible script. The needlessly byzantine plot hinges on nonsensical coincidences, selective stupidity, and character motivations so bizarre they make The Walking Dead seem like Le Carre. Lois Lane is reduced to being a female Forrest Gump who appears at every critical juncture solely to complicate matters for our costumed protagonists. Jesse Eisenberg just…goddamn. Eisenberg puts the “U” in Lex Luthor. As in, “Are u the worst actor alive, bro?” His manic, ridiculous portrayal might be the single worst performance in a major tentpole release in a generation. Matthew Broderick’s turn in the Godzilla remake is the only other serious contender.
The first piece in the DC Cinematic Universe isn’t a total loss, however. Snyder managed to stumble into a few memorable moments. Hell, one or two even brush up against great. Don’t misconstrue the following five items as a BvS defense. The overall product is still year-old feta cheese stuffed inside a flattened skunk rotting on a warm Texas highway. You’re not scraping it off the road and taking it to the taxidermist just the skull isn’t completely crushed.
I understand Nannyfucker isn’t our readers’ favorite person, but his angry, brooding yet still somehow charming take on Bruce Wayne injects some much needed humanity into film teeming with wooden performances. Is this a Justice League origin story or an Entmoot, amirite nerds? Affleck wouldn’t work in Burton’s or Nolan’s Gotham. But he’s the right actor to play a world-weary billionaire vigilante disgusted with a populace teetering on the brink of self-destruction. You buy him as Wayne and Batman, a trick no one has nailed since Keaton hung up the cape and cowl in 1992. A solo Batman film with Affleck in front of and behind the camera is suddenly much, much more interesting.
The Opening Sequence
We’ve known since the first trailer that Snyder planned to incorporate Superman’s battle with Zod from Man of Steel into BvS. How he did it, both from a technical and storytelling standpoint, merits high praise. After murdering the Waynes for the 194th time, the film shifts to Metropolis on the day Zod tried to transform Earth into Krypton. Only this time, you see the battle through the eyes of terrified citizens on the ground. Specifically, through Wayne’s steely retinas as he speeds into the heart of the destruction in a doomed attempt to save Wayne Enterprises employees from certain death. It’s a well shot, well-staged, well-executed sequence from the opening chyron (“Metropolis. When the world first met the superman”) through the grim conclusion. The seeds of Batman’s battle with Superman were sewn long before Luthor machinations began.
Batman v Superman is about as enjoyable as passing a golf ball-sized kidney stone while trapped in a sweltering elevator with Kathy Griffin and a gassy Martin Shkreli. Can’t imagine how much worse it would be without Gal Gadot. In her hands, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman is a fierce, riveting, playful, brilliant, sexy badass who steals every scene she’s in and dares you to come get ‘em back. Creating such an instantly iconic character over the course of a full-length movie is a herculean task. Doing it as supporting member with only seven minutes of total screentime is goddamn otherworldly. Gadot is a star. For all of Warner Bros.’ struggles getting the DCU off the ground, they may wind up being the first studio with a female superhero as its most popular character.
Zack Snyder’s Cinematography
Snyder’s directorial shortcomings are well-documented. While the bulk of BvS’ failures stem from David S. Goyer and Oscar winner Chris Terrio’s dreadful script, Snyder is the creative force behind the entire shared universe. He signed off on Eisenberg’s casting and the dream sequence inclusion and “Martha!” Had the movie succeeded, Snyder would receive all the adulation. It’s only fair to lay the failure at his feet. That said, the man still knows how to compose compelling visuals. While his action scenes — the aforementioned opener notwithstanding — often lack coherence (the CGI-heavy car chase is incomprehensible), Snyder’s stills remain unparalleled. Superman pulling a battered ship through ice as the Aurora Borealis dances in the night sky. A dilapidated Wayne Manor looming in a field of tall grass. Batman slithering through the shadows to escape a trigger-happy cop. A desiccated Man of Steel floating in space after being struck by a nuke. Even a simple establishing shot of the Kent farm late in the film took my breath away. Snyder’s visual acumen is strong enough that I still want to see what he can do with a top-notch script.
Oh, what up, Tin Cup? Just up here at the North Pole stacking rocks like the mildly autistic farmer you are, eh? That’s cool. Say, do you happen to have a homespun allegory about how heroic acts may have inadvertent consequences that you can share with your disillusioned alien son? You do? Great! Fire that off while Henry Cavill tries to look pensive. Better button that Carhartt, buddy. You might be here a while.