Like the title says, this is a post about things I didn’t like about Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Like anything I do, say, or write about comics and comics-related media it will be almost annoyingly detailed; TLDR: spoilers Spoilers SPOILERS. Consider yourself warned.
1. The violence was genuinely (and needlessly) over-the-top
Adapted work is its own thing.
That’s one of the things die-hard superfans sometimes miss. There have already been innumerable comics about Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The fact that this movie got made is its own thing, the same way The Lord of the Rings films were their on thing, or the Game of Thrones HBO show is its own thing. The original work, the source material, is in a sense limited (and targeted to a limited audience)… Bringing the page to small or big screens is at once a compliment and a compromise.
A compliment in that these characters (that some of us die-hard superfans love) get to be exposed to more people, in more consumable contexts… But compromise because expectations for movies and tv shows and what the average viewer will like can be very different. So I get the idea that you want to modernize Superman (or Batman). I get when you make a movie that costs hundreds of millions of dollars you’re going to want to have a lot of explosions. You might not be willing to dwell on the specific ethics of these characters that have been developing for seventy years for very long in a film that has to cram a lot of stuff in; cutting such a perspective into a single sound byte might make sense as a filmmaking choice.
… At some point adapting, “modernizing”, and reducing down too much can betray the essence of a character; what makes the character [special], or worth a movie (or a movie franchise).
Case in point:
In the opening action sequence a terrorist has Lois Lane at gunpoint. Superman is staring him down. Superman can do a lot of different things here (this is a movie, by the way, that acknowledges the work of John Byrne in the credits). He can melt the terrorist’s gun with heat vision. He can fly so fast that he can stop the hammer of the gun on the way down. Even if the gun is to Lois’s temple he can move so quickly he can catch the bullet before it hits her. All of these things, by the by, are well within the abilities Superman shows in this movie.
Zach Snyder has Superman torpedo into the terrorist and slam him through the wall behind him. Not only is this way more risky than anything I suggested above… It would almost necessarily result in the terrorist being liquefied. There is just no reason for it… Though it does set the tone for the next two hours and their nonstop over-the-top violence.
2. Superman’s complete lack of conscience or consequences
Superman has many super powers… Heat vision, super strength, resistance to injury, lightning speed to the point of interplanetary flight. That last one has, over the years and different writers’ interpretations led to super-learning and super-strategy. Superman’s brain just works super fast; he is a super scientist sometimes, a chess master, a prize winning writer.
The difference between Superman and Batman is that Superman is always tempered by his humble roots and moral grounding.
So why in the world (beyond the fact that he is more than willing to fly humans through brick walls) would he trade Batman’s life for Martha Kent’s? We know why Batman wants to fight Superman… But at the climax of the film, Superman consents to Lex Luthor that he will trade the head of the Batman for his own mother’s life.
Let’s think about this for a moment… If Superman wins, Batman dies; if Superman doesn’t win (or doesn’t fight), Martha dies. It’s a life for a life in either case… But in one Superman isn’t the murderer himself. Where is his moral compass? What would Martha have wanted for him? In the universe set up by Man of Steel Clark let his father die for less.
Besides which, super-brain for a second, if Lex knows who his mom is and can blackmail him this one time, what is to stop him from doing the same thing the next time?
3. Batman seemed to have no problems killing people… With guns
In comics and most related media, both Batman and Superman have gone to extraordinary lengths to preserve human life, even of their archenemies. A lengthy plot line in the Justice League cartoon is about Bruce thinking about killing the Joker (but not) when Clark thinks about killing Luthor and going down a dark path. Only the alternate-universe-death of Lois Lane is ever enough to have Superman do stuff like punch out the Joker’s heart; less than that and he will turn the other cheek. It was a huge deal at the end of Final Crisis for Batman to use a gun to beat Darkseid; but Grant Morrison’s use of Batman, the gun, and the conclusion of that story was perfect poetry. And Darkseid is a god.
In Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Bruce strafes cars and trucks from his Bat-Wing. I guess the guys in the aforementioned cars and / or trucks could conceivably have walked away… But those were some big explosions. Bruce didn’t blink an eye. In the pivotal scene where Batman saves Martha Kent from the KGBeast (armed with a flamethrower) he, like Clark and the unnamed terrorist in the opening sequence, could have done a lot of different things. He chose to shoot the gas tank with a gun (blowing it up and lighting up the kidnapper) tackling Martha to the ground under a presumably flame retardant cape. It wasn’t just un-Batman; it was common.
4. Batman had no control of his emotions
Bruce has Clark by the throat, kryptonite lance etching his cheek, getting ready to monologue.
Lois bursts in and stops the scene.
Bruce throws down the kryptonite lance and runs off to save Mrs. Kent.
Bruce throws down the kryptonite lance and what now?
He spent the entire first half of the movie doing nothing but trying to get the kryptonite and then just discards it? Forget about the fact that it would be an important plot element later… Why would the most competent man in the world possibly do that? HE SPENT THE ENTIRE FIRST HALF OF THE MOVIE DOING NOTHING BUT TRYING TO GET THE KRYPTONITE.
The entire plot of the video game Injustice: Gods Among Us is Bruce getting access to kryptonite. This is not just a smart guy acting stupid, this is the smartest guy acting extraordinarily emotional instead of rational. In the final scene between Batman and Luthor, Bruce pulls off the first half of “something super cool in a movie”, sneaking into Luthor’s jail cell when the lights go down. He is going to brand Lex with the bat to mark him in prison. It’s going to be awesome. Lex starts ranting, Bruce grunts loudly, punches the wall, and leaves. It’s inexplicable. It’s un-Batman.
5. Wonder Woman’s wildly inconsistent defensive capabilities
After two hours of teasing us in evening gowns Gal Gadot makes her Amazonian debut jumping in front of Doomsday, bracelets defending a hapless Batman from certain eye beam. Cool. Aegis bracelets, Hephaestus sword and shield, Magic… check, check, check. Cool.
So Wonder Woman is tough, ageless, etc. But she does seem to need her bracelets or shield to defend her from superhuman attack. We see them light up when she is blocking heat vision, or channel explosive bursts of energy. So tell me how this defends her from an omni-directional nuclear-esque explosion, or even just construction debris?
Doomsday is shown knocking down multiple buildings in every direction with his energy attacks. Batman has to take cover. Wonder Woman can’t actually block all of that with either bracelets or shield. But we just saw that she has to use the bracelets and / or shield, didn’t we? She’s super… But she’s not Superman. If the building she is in is getting incinerated I totally get that she would have perfectly preserved wrists, but the rest of her shouldn’t logically be Maxim cover-ready for the next frame.
6. For that matter, Wonder Woman’s wildly inconsistent offensive capabilities
We know Superman killed Zod by snapping his neck in Man of Steel. Wonder Woman cuts off Doomsday’s hand with her magic sword. She breaks his armor on multiple occasions, hamstringing him, as they melee… She’s clearly well trained and agile enough to land cuts without getting hit back. Why doesn’t Wonder Woman just behead Doomsday? She could: WE JUST SAW HER CUT OFF HIS HAND.
7. For that matter, what exactly can kill Superman (or Zod / Doomsday)?
Let me get this right: A nuclear explosion not only doesn’t kill Superman, it doesn’t damage his uniform. Being stabbed by non-kryptonite, though, kills him to death? Keep in mind he was not stabbed by kryptonite. He was just near kryptonite. By this logic, when Batman poisoned Superman MULTIPLE TIMES with direct hits with his kryptonite rifle, shouldn’t he have been weak enough to die by all the bathroom sinks, multiple-story falls, and building breaking blows that Batman levied on him? Any of those — which included multiple head and neck blows while actually choking on kryptonite fumes — should have been more lethal than a random stab wound that happened to occur while he was merely near kryptonite.
8. Anything and everything having to do with Lex Luthor
Lex is the smartest man in the world, who by the end of the film commands the sum total of Kryptonian scientific knowledge between his ears. He outsmarts Batman and figures out Superman’s secret identity. What is his motivation? Why would he make Doomsday with apparently no fetters or fallback plan? Just to kill Superman? Lex didn’t actually have a kryptonite weapon. Would Doomsday have stopped nicely after killing Superman? Doomsday’s first move was busting up Lex’s own office building! Why did Lex kill his own assistant in Washington? (Mercy is one of the few characters Lex ever seems to have a genuine respectful relationship with in comics and cartoons.) Why in the world is it the end of the plot line to put him in prison. Does he suddenly no longer know who Batman and Superman are in street clothes if you put him in prison? We know he can stop Batman from branding him with a rant… What if he starts ranting about billionaire Bruce Wayne?
Not that I didn’t like lots of things about Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. I teared up early when Bruce Wayne in his Gucci vest rushed towards danger to save a little girl. I thought Wonder Woman was badass. But in an environment that includes movies like Deadpool, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers, or X-Men: Days of Future Past we are simply no longer in a place and time where comics movies can be mindless and inexplicable. Comics movies can be brilliantly executed like Stardust, hilarious commentary like Kick-Ass, or just great movies (not just great “comics” movies) like Captain America: The Winter Solider.
Zach Snyder had a great opportunity on this one. Sadly, it could have been a lot better, for both superfans and regular-fans.