Batman vs. Superman: What went wrong

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(This is an analysis of what went wrong with the movie, so spoiler alert, of course.)

So, I watched Batman vs. Superman, despite all the negative reviews. Here’s my opinion: I didn’t like it. Now, before any of you BvS fans start getting angry at me, hear me out. If you like the movie, sure, good for you. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I tried to like it, but I didn’t, and here, I’ll explain why.

My biggest problems with the movie are the storytelling and the poorly thought out plot. I watch a movie to be moved by the story, to grow attached to the characters, and to be wowed by the action. Let’s just say, none of that happened. “But it’s an action movie! Don’t think too much about the plot!” you might say. Well, there are plenty of action movies out there that are well written and engage the audience such that they ask for more. I was bored before the ‘big fight’ between the titular characters start, and it’s hard to care about the fight when you are not emotionally invested in the characters.

Anyway, like I said, storytelling. A lot of times, the film jumps from one scene to another without thought about how it will disrupt the pacing of the film or the attention of the moviegoers. The most jarring of all was, for me, the part where Bruce Wayne was decrypting the information he had stolen, and then suddenly we were transported to the middle of the desert. The switch was sudden, but worse was the fact that it felt as if I was watching another movie altogether. Who were those people? Who’s doing the shooting, and who’s getting shot at? Where did those soldiers with wings come from? Am I supposed to care? And suddenly, BAM! Batman was caught, and an angry Superman stormed in and… all of which turned out to be a dream?

Then right after that, we had another sequence in which The Flash tried to give Batman some warning about Lois Lane bla bla bla… I was still recovering from the desert scene, and I had no time to really process what it was about. I suppose it was in line with some bigger storyline spanning the entire franchise, but the audience doesn’t know the bigger storyline! Keep it coherent!

Another example of bad storytelling is, in my opinion, Batman’s attempt to find ‘the White Portuguese’. We were first shown Batman beating up and torturing a criminal in his attempts to obtain the information. We weren’t told who this person Batman is looking for, and why. This is disturbing because Batman was supposed to be one of the good guys that people root for, even if his methods were unorthodox, because his actions were always justified. Here, it was hard to support Batman’s actions because we didn’t know what the stakes were. The justifications were given later, when we were told the significance of ‘the White Portuguese’ (it’s carrying a ‘weapon’). Unfortunately, by then, I had already filed Batman under the ‘deranged-psychopath-torturing-people-for-ambiguous-reasons’ folder.

You might argue that this discomfort with Batman’s action was the central theme of the story. I see your point. It would have been a very thought-provoking and engaging theme, had it been done carefully. We were supposed to still think that Batman ultimately has good intentions, and weigh his actions with regards to the results. There should be ‘yes, he did [insert action], but…’ kind of feeling in us. In this case, we should have been informed about the reason first, and have the beating-up-criminal scene shown later, so that we can decide for ourselves where we stand on that spectrum. Instead, it was the other way around. Like I said, bad storytelling.

By then, I am really not endeared to Ben Affleck’s Batman, because further along the movie, we see Bruce Wayne desperate to gain information about LexCorp’s activity. He suggested breaking into LexCorp in the form of Batman, whereas a calm and collected Alfred told him that he could have gotten the information easily as Bruce Wayne. Instead of an intelligent Bruce Wayne who would think of the best way to get what he wanted, we get a Bruce Wayne who is enthusiastic to exercise his Batman status, regardless of the outcome. To make matters worse, even with the information in his hands, he failed to deduce Lex Luthor’s plans and walked straight into a trap. Fans of Batman would agree that what made Batman appealing were his intellect and his morality, and sadly, in this movie, we got neither.

Superman was just as bad. His character arc involves his godlike powers, and whether he should be accountable for his actions. Yet, despite all the controversy surrounding him, we see a rather emotionless Clark Kent going on with his life stoically. It didn’t seem to bother him that he pretty much leveled the entire city while fighting Zod. Also, in the scene where he rescued Lois Lane from the hands of a dictator, we were told that a massacre had happened at the same time. Yet, Superman had to mood to join Lois Lane in the bathtub when it was over. No guilt, no ‘I should have saved those villagers’. Come to think of it, had he appeared a few minutes earlier, he would have saved the CIA agent posing as Lois Lane’s colleague, and take out all the bad guys, thereby preventing the massacre. This is made worse by the fact that Superman has pretty much everything he needed to just swoop in and save the day: super hearing, the power to fly, and invincibility. Seriously, what’s his excuse? He got stuck in traffic or something?

In a much later part of the film, he was made to attend a hearing at the Capitol. A bomb detonated. Of course, being Superman, he survived. He confessed to Lois Lane that he didn’t know there was a bomb, because he wasn’t looking for it. So that explains why he didn’t save those villagers and all… he wasn’t looking! This also means that unless you’re Lois Lane, he won’t bother saving your life, except when it’s convenient for him. Thanks, douchebag.

After the Capitol bombing, we finally see him feeling guilty. At that point, I was surprised with the development, since he was involved in more than one incident where people died because of his actions (or inaction), and he was indifferent those previous times. Yes, I know that it’s one of the themes of the movie (whether Superman should be held responsible for the deaths and destruction in his name), but we weren’t supposed to side with the government on this. He didn’t seem to learn from his mistakes, or worse, he didn’t consider those other deaths his mistakes.

This brings me to the next point. Towards the climax, which is the fight between the heroes and the Zod-Lex Luthor abomination, we got a (relatively) thrilling scene where Superman lifted the monster and took the fight out into space. ‘He’s finally learning!’ I thought. The government, predictably, decided to use nuclear missiles in retaliation, not caring about Superman’s safety. It was supposed to make the audience worry about Superman, to denounce the selfish actions of the government, and to applaud Superman’s sacrifice… and yet, should we?

You see, this is another example of bad storytelling in this movie. We weren’t told if Superman will be affected by the nuclear bomb. If it was some other superhero, we might have a reason to worry, but hey, Superman just took a bomb blast to his face in the Capitol not long ago, and he was fine. Not a single scratch on his pretty face, not a single tear on his costume. We weren’t shown the limit to the amount of non-kryptonite-related damage he can take, and I honestly thought he will just shrug off the nuclear blast. I wasn’t worried at all.

Compare this to the most direct analogy I can think of: Ironman bringing the nuclear warhead out to space in The Avengers. In that scene, we were told that Ironman will potentially die from his actions. It seemed possible, because Ironman, as far as we know, is still mortal. In BvS, we had Calvin telling the President that Superman might die, but it felt like a halfhearted throwaway dialogue that no one really paid attention to. Had he been given another second of screen time to protest and argue his case, I think that scene would have a significant emotional impact.

I was looking forward to see the part where after all the conflict and drama, the heroes will resolve their issues and work together to defeat the bigger enemy. Instead, what we got was a disjointed, badly choreographed fight where the three heroes were hardly shown interacting with each other. Batman spent most of his time avoiding attacks and ducking behind walls, while Superman spent a significant amount of time with Lois Lane. Wonder Woman seemed to be the only one whose heart is truly in the fight.

You might think of this as a lazy analogy, but I am going to talk about the Avengers again. The Avengers handle this kind of teamwork far more effectively. Even when the heroes are not in close proximity to one another, they had some kind of communication and delegation of tasks. In fact, just from the trailer itself, the fights in Captain America: Civil War seemed far more interesting than the final fight in BvS. In the trailer, when you see Cap and Bucky taking on Ironman together, they had this team chemistry to them that tells you they are working together. Another example, from the same trailer, would be the part where Ironman signals for Spiderman, who appeared and snatched Cap’s shield. These kind of scenes tell a lot about the team dynamics, be it verbal or nonverbal. For BvS, not only were the heroes shown to be physically separated, they were hardly talking to each other. They might as well be random strangers fighting the same monster.

To further illustrate my point, I would argue that Superman’s death was entirely preventable. It has long been established that Superman will be weakened against kryptonite, so why does he have to be the one to get the kryptonite spear?! Batman could have been the one to get it. After all, the whole reason he lured the monster to that spot was so that he could kill it with the spear. Yet when Superman and Wonder Woman appeared, he seemed to have totally forgotten about it. We don’t know if Wonder Woman is sensitive to the effects of kryptonite (I personally don’t think so), but Batman was the one who made the weapon, so wouldn’t it be fitting that he uses it? Not only this drastically reduces the teamwork factor between them, it makes Batman a poor strategist as well. Finally, Superman’s death was to be an emotional scene, but I was too busy shaking my head at the incredulity of it all to really mourn. So there you go: a prime example of a poorly thought out plot.

The villain could make or break a story. What we have was a potentially interesting villain in the form of Lex Luthor, who is actually very iconic in the Superman universe. He is an intelligent villain, who can be quite sinister and menacing. Instead, we get a highly grating, whiny and overacting Jesse Eisenberg. He was so hyperactive that he appears more like a desperate high schooler trying to be cool than a serious villain. It was hard to take him seriously, which was unfortunate, because the final monster that the heroes have to battle was shown to be a mixture of Lex Luthor’s DNA with Zod’s body so the monster was supposed to be… hyperactive? Really, I see no quality of this movie’s Lex Luthor that will be of any use to the monster in its fight against Batman and company.

I really tried to like this movie. I thought the philosophical arguments about power, about accountability, about man and about God, could have been very engaging. This film tries, but it would have required a good narration to pull it through. It had ambitions that were thwarted by sloppy writing and incoherent pacing.  Before I end this article, the following are a few minor complaints that I have about the movie:

  1. The Wayne Enterprise employees have no sense of self-preservation. They could clearly see the destruction outside their windows, and they waited for their boss to call them and tell them to evacuate? I get that the movie wanted the emotional impact from their deaths, but you could have them die from buildings falling on them while they were evacuating, or while they were in the streets. Same outcome, more logical plot. Worst was Jack, who told everyone to leave the building, but stood there waiting for his own death. Seriously, dude.
  1. Clark Kent is probably the world’s worst reporter. When Bruce Wayne showed up, he was like, “Who’s that?” Oh, I don’t know… just one of the richest men on the planet?
  1. The resolution of the conflict between Batman and Superman came because both have moms named Martha. Forget about all the disagreements, forget about all differences in ideologies and methods… all you really need is a convenient common point in the form of your mother’s name.
  1. When Batman challenged Superman to the fight, he was shown to be immediately trying to murder Superman, who didn’t even have a chance to explain his case. Superman was not even approaching him in a threatening manner. This reinforced the idea that this version of Batman is a trigger-happy psychopath who just wants to kill people.
  1. Seriously, what’s up with the branding?! We know that Batman was angry, but the anger was mostly towards Superman, so why does he go around branding random criminals who were no way related to Superman?

I suppose that’s all I have to say about this movie. I just hope that the Wonder Woman movie will be better (mainly so that Hollywood has no more excuses about not making female superhero movies).

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