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Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Is an Unpleasant Endurance Test

1 out of 5 stars.


Usually, I don’t focus foo much on star ratings; they’re just meant as a short cut, but this time, with Batman v Superman, I was torn. Honestly, 1½ seems low for a movie I know some big fans are loving, but I gave 2½ stars to Deadpool, a movie I personally didn’t like but consider better executed than BvS. I would have given Age of Ultron a 2, a movie I didn’t like but had moments (although way, way too long!), and I gave Fantastic Four 1½ stars, which might even have been a little high. I almost said 1½ stars with Batman v Superman, but on the train home at 10PM last night, I compared the two. If playing “would you rather,” the reason this movie gets a 1 star is I can see myself someday sitting through Fantastic Four again (probably with friends and a glass of wine), but I will never, ever waste my time with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice again.

I want to make it clear (because I’m hearing a lot of angry fans getting upset): I didn’t dislike Batman v Superman because it isn’t as fun as the Marvel or X-Men universe. I can appreciate a movie attempting to be dark and serious, and there should be room for both kinds of movie. I disliked Batman v Superman because it is an unpleasant movie to sit through, lacks any emotional impact, and is clearly written just to kickstart a money-making machine for DC. Objectively, this is one of the ugliest movies I’ve ever seen, and I left feeling like I’d had just been yelled at by someone I don’t know on a bus. This is just a poorly made movie, and even fans of DC’s characters who are excited to see it should be upset at the way Zack Snyder and his writers Chris Terrio and David Goyer wasted a golden opportunity.

I’m about to go into plot here, but I should say first that this movie is incredibly confusing—not because I didn’t pay attention (I took 10 pages of notes to try to keep track of this “epic”), but a big problem is that things have clearly been edited due to trying to stuff too much into the movie during filming, and it ends up without an incoherent story that doesn’t develop characters. The movie starts (as they love to do) with the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents, in the most Snyder-esque way (he loves to film people getting shot in slow-motion). Then there’s some weird stuff with little Bruce Wayne and some bad-looking CGI bats, and then we start with the ending of Man of Steel—the fight scene that destroyed cities and caused the death of thousands. Oh, and there is one of the most overt, tasteless 9/11 references I’ve ever seen in a blockbuster (which did not seem to play well in a New York theater).

Now 40-something Batman’s mad, and Superman seems a tiny bit guilty about the whole thing … but not really that much. Lex Luther wants to take down Superman because … we aren’t really given a reason beyond him being hungry for power. I’m pretty sure they were trying to set up another outside threat with Callan Mulvey’s Anatoli Knyazev, but I sense that was just set things up for Justice League. Lois Lane’s investigation storyline also seems to have been cut down considerably (poor Amy Adams). By the way, one of her scenes happens to be the trans-misogynistic, trying-to-be-a “joke” of the film, which had no place in this movie not only because it’s awful, but because Lois Lane’s “investigation” is such a 4th tier, unnecessary element the entire scene could have been cut entirely.

And that is the biggest problem this movie has. If Man of Steel is the starting off point, and events from that movie cause of this tension between Superman and Batman, why not really focus on that element instead of getting these other underdeveloped stories in the mix, which go nowhere and have no meaningful impact on the characters? Instead of letting that tension rumble and letting us really see how Superman/Batman react in the face of the world’s corruption, this tension seems like something yelled at the actors during a lame improv show, and their reaction is completely unmotivated and totally unconvincing. The actors playing our icons aren’t very good, either. I know Henry Cavill has some screen appeal; I’ve seen it in I Capture the Castle, but in these movies, he’s SO BAD! There is a smugness across his face every single time he arrives from the air (I think Snyder thought it translated to stoic hero) that made me constantly think, “I don’t like you,” and “stoic hero” is fine, but usually that translates across Cavill’s face as just “apathetic robot.” Ben Affleck is slightly better and given more shades to play (usually angry and childish), but at least he has some emotional levels and gets to play off of a few more characters … until he doesn’t, and he just goes flat across the face.

It’s no wonder that Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is the highlight of the movie; she arrives like a breath of fresh air: charismatic, energetic, and a physicality her costars lack … before she’s swallowed up by a mess of CGI action. But Wonder Woman is barely in the movie (Gadot is probably only in a fourth, and she doesn’t show up as her alter-ego until the movie’s last fight sequence). By that point, I was so exhausted by these two childish, angry dudes that I was relieved for any new element to be added—well, not Doomsday, who looks really stupid jumping around the city like a Ghostbuster dog, but the fact that I would have been fine with both of our “heroes” taking each other out entirely so we could just get on with it is a huge problem. What should be an emotional fight that has been building up is completely lacking excitement or depth because we don’t know (or like) either of these people besides their pre-made iconic images, and we know they’ll just keep coming back in other movies if they get the interpretation wrong in this one.

And just in brief: I hate Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luther. He might have fit into the ’70s version of Superman (or even the ’80s-’90s Batman movies), but if you want realism, his character literally makes no sense. He’s somewhere between Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka and Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman (thank god no one turned on pop music around him) and is as annoying as a mosquito flying around at night. Holly Hunter probably is the best supporting performance in the movie (although brief), but like Scoot McNairy, Laurence Fishburne (who must be eager to get back to the Matrix after these two films), and Adams, all these actors are just wasted in roles that don’t merit their talent. Jeremy Irons’s Alfred is underwritten but promising.

As I mentioned, this movie is way too stuffed with needless elements that don’t pay off. Snyder has taken a headlines-only approach to international tragedies to try to create a Jesus figure (hey, just in time for Easter!) and suggest this movie has more depth than it actually has. He throws in these ideas without any perspective to add, so it feels like a director appropriating real world events as a shortcut to make his work seem culturally relevant and profound. I don’t want to compare this movie too much to Marvel or X-Men, because it stands alone as just being “bad” movie, but at least when those movies address socio-political issues, they have a focus and seem to have their own ideas to bring forth. The only ideas I get from Zack Snyder’s movie is to suggest this is what would happen if Anthony Fremont had grown up in our world and been allowed to turn TV into a multi-million dollar movie.

Snyder just keeps getting chances, and I have no idea why. Even on a technical level, this movie is frequently ugly. The clean urban scenes look the best, but most of the action sequences are messy (with the possible exception of a pretty good car chase through a city). Rather than ratcheting up tension and excitement by slowly building, they’re overdone and seem coated with so much CG that you just feel lost in a world you don’t recognize, and that CG coating is sometimes inexplicably overdone. For example, why all the lights with techno color? Why all the digital rain? Why the gross-looking fire? After Star Wars, Mission Impossible, and Captain America, the overblown CGI isn’t impressing as much as clean action, but Snyder can’t manage to do that, and he also fails to create CGI images that are exciting or pleasing to the eye.

By about the halfway point of sitting through it, I started to realize this is a real time-suck of a movie. I don’t care about any of the characters or the plot, the action isn’t even that entertaining, and the onslaught of sadistic imagery felt like something Snyder had waged against his audience. I haven’t observed such a begrudging response to a press screening since Transformers 4. If you didn’t know about Justice League coming up, all the cameos from upcoming characters would be baffling, but with the exception of Wonder Woman and Aquaman, I’m not full of hope about what’s to come (and I just feel bad that Ezra Miller will be on the receiving end of Flash comparisons). More than anything, I went home glad to still have the new X-Men and Captain America to cleanse the pallet of the nasty aftertaste Batman v Superman left behind.

(image via Warner Bros.)

Lesley Coffin is a New York transplant from the midwest. She is the New York-based writer/podcast editor for Filmoria and film contributor at The Interrobang. When not doing that, she’s writing books on classic Hollywood, including Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector and her new book Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System.

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