Superhero movies have become stale. They’re still very much a staple of pop-culture landscape and as popular as ever, but the plots are lukewarm, frighteningly similar rehashes. As a lifelong reader of comics, I’m painfully familiar with storylines being cribbed from decades of stories adapted into two-hour blockbusters. For the most part, they are about as deep as a poem written by a love-struck 12-year-old kid who listens to too much Fall Out Boy. Much to my surprise, “Batman v Superman” is a completely different kind of superhero movie. It is an epic, challenging, baffling, occasionally brilliant, grotesque monstrosity that might be the most interesting superhero movie ever made.
“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is the kind of polarizing film that will be loved by some and loathed by others. It is unconventional in every sense of the word; a film that abandons the fast, loose and fun style of the Marvel movies for something more iconic. This is not the kind of spandex-clad frivolity that’s become the cornerstone of the popcorn-movie experience since “Iron Man” hit theaters in 2008. Director Zack Snyder has brought the most popular characters from DC Comics to the screen in a movie about more than just superheroes punching each other—though it happens. It’s more about questions of what makes a hero—and a philosophical examination of their role in our world.
The film opens with a quick recap of the final moments of “Man of Steel”: Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon) are tearing through Metropolis, leveling the city as they battle for the fate of the planet. We see the carnage through the eyes of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who rushes to Metropolis to try and save employees of his company. They quickly become collateral damage in a war they don’t understand. Wayne blames Superman for the lives lost, as do many people in the American government who are untrusting of this flying Christ-allegory from another planet.
Exploiting this fear is Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who wants to get his hand on all alien technology currently littering the city of Metropolis. Eisenberg takes Luthor in a new direction, maneuvering his character away from smarmy megalomaniac and into the range of full-fledged psychopath with antisocial tendencies. Luthor starts to work on a plan to bring down Superman and create a weapon so powerful that all of humanity could be destroyed.
This is an unconventional blockbuster for many reasons. Mostly it takes its sweet time getting to the good stuff. This is not an immediate gratification kind of movie. It’s a slow burn that devotes a huge chunk getting inside the heads of these characters and showing differences between Batman and Superman’s ideologies. Superman wants to help people; though, he rarely considers consequences of his actions. Taking out the leader of an African terror cell might be a quick fix, but what about violent retribution taken out on the people of a war-torn country once he leaves.
Batman on the other hand is all about considering consequence. He doesn’t trust Superman, having seen firsthand what happens when an inconsiderate being with immeasurable power is unleashed on a populated city. Superman is equally untrusting of Batman, who he considers to be a vigilante who beats up the underprivileged and ignores their civil rights. Instead of hosting a debate on CNN for the two to discuss their differences, they decide to suit up and beat the crap out of each other. Because that’s how arguments are settled in a world where people wear spandex to work.
The final third of the movie is a gigantic slug-fest that sees an armored up Dark Knight throwing down with the Last Son of Krypton. While it’s fun to watch, it is less cerebrally stimulating. Being a huge popcorn film, this is the only direction the film could take. Even though it ends up like every other superhero movie, I respect “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” for having lofty goals. Sure, there are things in this movie that don’t work. Some of the dialog is wooden and treacly. Zack Snyder, like Michael Bay, seems better suited for textured visuals and performances. There are so many iconic moments in the film but very few human ones. At some points it feels like 12 editors and three composers were freebasing on an Everest-sized mountain of cocaine while fighting for control of the final cut.
This is an extremely odd movie, but that’s the very reason I ended up liking it. It’s like watching “Flash Gordon” or “Dune”—so removed from the source material and so completely gonzo in terms of staging. I just couldn’t help but marvel at the finished product.