I had issues with Man of Steel but overall I was entertained by it. I thought the one thing it needed to do was show Superman saving more people. Being more selfless. There is a montage to that effect in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice but it really doesn’t help. The new movie has a problem with tone, only exacerbated by the fact that this movie is trying to do way too many things. It wants to be many different types of movie and it fails at all of them. Below, I break down some of the issues but there are no spoilers for anything you didn’t see in the trailers. In fact, the trailers kind of show all the big moments. There’s one more twist but I won’t address that at all.
First, the movie tries to be a sequel to Man of Steel. But it uses the same exact arc. Some people love Superman (they built him a monument for saving Metropolis). Others hate him (he didn’t save everyone). It asks the question of whether we can trust a being with this much power. It really is a retread. In the comics, I would argue Superman’s best stories show him to be the perfect immigrant. He loves his adopted country and planet. It shows that being moral and selfless is hard! In this movie, Superman is sad. Always sad. He never smiles. Clark smiles once when he’s with Lois. It’s a very dour take on Superman. He is not very selfless, either. There is a montage of him saving people but it’s almost like a necessity and an afterthought: Oh yeah, he has to save SOME people.
They do fix a few things. This time, all the big battles do not involve taking out hundreds of innocents. We’re specifically told the battles are happening in abandoned areas. That’s good. But it’s even more exciting when a superhero makes themselves vulnerable to save others. It’s exhilarating to see a crowd cheer a hero when they witness them do something amazing. We’ve seen it in other Superman movies, in Spider-Man, in Captain America. It’s great.
Superman is not presented with many opportunities to make a heroic choice. He makes a choice to testify in front of Congress when they think he caused deaths in Africa. And he has to decide whether to fight Batman or not. But those are not big choices, not really. In Guardians of the Galaxy, Star-Lord makes a decision, along with the team, to defend Xandar against Ronan. They risk getting killed or arrested but they can’t let innocent people die at the end of the day. Superman is manipulated into attacking Batman by Lex Luthor (I’ll avoid the specifics but you could guess this much by the title, if not the trailer).
The movie also wants to be a political thriller. But with several superheroes and supervillains, there’s no time to give this any attention. It stalls the movie out repeatedly. It does give Lois stuff to do and she is proven to be a capable journalist. But it’s pretty obvious who is going to be behind everything at the end of the day. At the beginning of the movie, she is interviewing a terrorist in Africa. Soldiers outside begin killing the terrorists and Superman shows up to save the damsel in distress. Then he leaves. We’re later told the terrorists took revenge by killing villagers. What?! In Iron Man, remember when Tony Stark hears that Yinsen’s country is under attack by terrorists? He flies right there and resolves things, saving people. Superman saves the one person he cares about, then leaves and causes an international incident. What a jerk! Lois spends a lot of time tracking down who made a bullet that Anatoli Knyazev (leader of the soldiers) used. He was KGBeast in the Batman comics. Here he’s just a guy. A guy that the movies wanted to use which, by the way, meant the Arrow TV show had to stop using him as a supporting character.
The movie also has Batman. And even though we’ve seen his origin many times, this movie is an origin story for Batman as well, through flashbacks. Flashbacks that are actually dreams. Batman has, no joke, about five dreams in this movie. One of them is a dream within another dream that involves a superhero warning him about the future. I think. It was pretty confusing. It’s also an origin for Lex Luthor. And a hint at the origins of Wonder Woman and three more superheroes. At least those are kept to hints. But that leads to the last movie that it wants to be.
It wants to lay the groundwork for an expanded universe. Instead of establishing these characters separately and bringing them together, this movie lays the groundwork for a shared universe. It hints at a coming cosmic threat. Actually, it’s more than a hint. But it’s confusing as to exactly what’s happening. Batman seems to be having visions in his dreams but it’s not clear who is putting them there or how. And by the end it seems like Lex may have been given similar visions? I won’t spoil who it is hinting at but if you’re a fan of DC Comics, you can probably guess. Even the trailers hint at it and it’s not hard to guess at if you’ve read the comics much.
So that’s several types of movies that it’s trying to be. It is trying to accomplish a lot. The movie begins multiple times and ends multiple times. As in, completely disparate stories and elements are examined but they don’t interconnect. It therefore takes a long time for the movie to start and a long time for it to wrap up. In the middle is a bunch of action but it is cut very fast and very special effects heavy. I’m not saying it’s done badly. It’s good for what that is. But I like to understand the area people are fighting in. I love seeing some real stunts. And this is very chaotic. It’s also loud. Very loud. I felt like it was Batman v Superman v ME. Though I did like Wonder Woman’s theme. In fact, Wonder Woman is the best part of the movie, by far. She’s not in it much but when she is, she brightens everything up. Gal Gadot won me over big time. Her personality, her costume… it’s great. I also liked Jeremy Irons’ Alfred. He was quippy and helpful. He was good.
I did not love either Batman or Superman. Batman kills people. A lot. He must have about 20 deaths on his hands in this movie and he does not regret it. That’s a very different interpretation than I prefer. The Batman in the comics traditionally has a very, very strong no-kill rule. This guy doesn’t. And Superman? He’s there to save Lois. Or his mother. But outside of the montage in the middle, he is not very interested in helping others. In fact, he doesn’t even really want to do his job as Clark Kent at the Daily Planet. His boss assigns him a football story and Clark just doesn’t do it. He argues to investigate Batman and Lex Luthor but Perry White says no. But he doesn’t do the football story and pisses off his boss. When I learned that director Zack Snyder likes Ayn Rand’s Objectivism philosophy that argues that extraordinary individuals should not be obligated to do things outside of their self interest, moves like this make a LOT more sense. His mother literally advises him that he doesn’t owe the world anything so he doesn’t have to save anyone. Grim.
Batman does not do much detective work in this movie. In fact, he overlooks the status of one individual which leads to disaster. Superman does not use all of his powers, either. They’d come in VERY handy for the final battle and the just-mentioned disaster. He flies, he’s strong and he has heat vision. There’s also evidence of him using super hearing. But X-Ray vision would have been useful and he never uses it. Or super breath. Maybe it doesn’t fit the tone they’re going for but I love seeing Supergirl regularly use all of her abilities on her TV show and with the movie’s budget, I can only imagine it could look great. I could not stand Jesse Eisenberg’s take on Lex Luthor. Utterly manic. He made Riddler look tame. It found it utterly grating. I can’t believe the man could do business because he is babbling and treating people like shit constantly.
One final note. I saw this in regular old 2D. It was pretty dark. As in the movie itself has muted tones. I would imagine that in 3D with the glasses it may be much darker. I don’t think I’d recommend trying it.
So obviously I don’t recommend it. Sorry. I wish I could. I went with a friend that’s a big Superman fan. He liked this movie quite a bit. He argued that just seeing Batman and Superman on the big screen together was exciting. And he liked the action. I can’t argue against either of those things. I just got tripped up on tone and structure. Maybe your mileage on those aspects is different. I give it half a thumb out of three thumbs.