Review: Batman Versus Superman

Now I’ve done it. I went and accidentally watched the whole three-hour extended cut of Batman Versus Superman, the stupid title I won’t write out. In case anyone cares, I liked it better than Civil War, though both movies had the consistency of tapioca — pure mush, pure cinematic gibberish.

Mild SPOILERS ahead for BvS, and the Netflix series Stranger Things.

Despite my grumpy first graf, there’s a lot to recommend in BvS. I’ve said it before, but Zach Snyder has something to say as a filmmaker—I just don’t know what it is, and whether he has any interest in trying to say it outside of the current ecosystem of comic-book movies. I don’t mean to suggest that comic-book movies can’t have anything to say. Far from it. But we all know that in today’s studio system, any big-budget movie that makes it through the meat-grinder is going to be tailor-made for the fanboy crowd, packed with easter eggs, shout-outs, and myriad crowd-pleasing moments—and if the fanboys don’t like it…if there’s an outcry online? Well, that’s fine. Then the next one’ll be more cheerful. Or less cheerful. I dunno.

I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said before, ad nauseam.

If you want to support great new filmmakers, you’ve got to look online. Dial up Netflix and see my buddy Karl’s new movie. Yeah, a friend of mine’s been working steadily in Hollywood since 2007, and his second movie just dropped on Netflix. It’s called Rebirth. It’s got a slew of actors you’ll like and a script that’s simultaneously funny and disturbing. It’s weird and wacky in a way that no tenpole comic-book movie would dare these days.

Or hell—while you’re on Netflix, watch Stranger Things. It’s one of the most dazzling new series I’ve seen in years. It taps into the so-called retrowave (80s throwback) movement with skill, combining a freaky John Carpenter tone with downhome Stephen King yarn-spinning. (Imagine the The Body crossed with The Goonies crossed with the boardgame Arkham Horror.) It’s made by a pair of filmmakers called the Duffer brothers. I’ve never heard of ‘em. I think that’s a good thing.

Okay, let’s talk about what I liked and didn’t like about Batman Versus Superman:

LIKED

Gal Gadot. Cast MVP. Great performance. Otherworldly and stately. Felt like a field marshal. Liked how they depicted her fighting style—very Trojan War. Also liked how her power set was more in line with her being the DCU’s number two; she’s canonically about as powerful as Supes, plus she’s got those forged-by-Hephaestus weapons. Liked how she spoke in her default accent.

Ocean’s Eleven-style high-class skullduggery around Luthor’s mansion. More of the trinity fighting crime in their street clothes, please.

Ben Affleck and Jeremy Irons. Great. Felt like old friends or an old couple. Liked Alfred’s role as his backup in the cave. Affleck’s Batman also had a real sense of history. He felt real and lived-in.

Holly Hunter. Dumb role, but a good performance. I say it was dumb because she and Luthor had some of the most groan-worthy dialogue, but she played it well.

Diversity. Kudos to Warners for making the DC cinematic world look like the one we live in. Yes, Superman and Batman are white, but while I don’t know enough to suggest how Gal Gadot registers ethnically, she herself is from Israel, plus she’s an alum of the uber-diverse Fast and Furious franchise. Rounding out the cast are Laurence Fisburne and Harry Lennix. In addition, a great deal of the minor players, supporting roles, and extras were women and/or people of color. It makes a difference. It’s also worth noting that the future Justice League includes two people with Jewish heritage (Ezra Miller’s Flash, Gadot), plus a Pacific Islander (Jason Momoa), as well as current JLA member (and former Teen Titan!), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), one of the greatest African American heroes ever. (Oh, and how great was it to see Miles Dyson himself, Joe Morton, as Vic’s dad?) Now let’s see a movie where Superman is a person of color.

Lots of beautiful imagery. Loved the dual funerals at the end, both featuring “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes. (Crom, when I go, let that be played at my wake.)

Some admirable narrative weirdness. Liked how Pa Kent appeared, Six Feet Under-style, to speak with Clark on his visionquest. Liked how Batman was able to teleport into Luthor’s prison. Liked Bruce’s dream sequences, even though they narratively made this his movie instead of Clark’s, when this is supposedly a sequel to Man of Steel.

DIDN’T LIKE

Cinematic gibberish. I flatly didn’t understand the whole opening action sequence. I basically understood how it fit into the larger storyline—Lex was framing Supes for something—but I didn’t follow it, or any of its attendant threads. Why’d that lady get pushed in front of a subway train?

Tone-deaf weirdness. As unpleasant as it was to see a depiction of a terror attack on the US capitol, it was even more unpleasant to see the aftermath: Superman awkwardly standing amidst the blaze, pursing his lips and shaking his head like he’d just cut a room-clearing fart. Another howler of a moment came right before the final battle. Lois is about to climb into a cab, and then Superman is just…there, grimacing in that way Henry Cavill grimaces. (I’m also not sold on Henry Cavill in this role. Maybe he works as the Superman for Snyder’s burgeoning onscreen universe, but he doesn’t look or feel like the Supes I know.)

More tone-deaf weirdness: How the hell old is Diane Lane, and how the hell is she supposed to be Henry Cavill’s mother, even an adopted one?

NO IDEA HOW TO PROCESS

…Jesse Eisenberg’s performance. I didn’t get it. He’s a fine performer, but I didn’t get it. I mean—I got it. They wanted Luthor to be less “all-powerful businessman” and more “Hannibal Lecter,” but it didn’t quite wash.