Let’s get this out of the way: Batman v. Superman is a horrible movie. It fails in just about every conceivable way a movie can fail. The story is flat. The cinematography is dull. The editing is haphazard. The acting is all over the place (Gal Gadot is delightful, Ben Affleck is the most well rounded Bruce Wayne/Batman ever, Henry Cavill is unoffensive, Jeremy Irons is great, and everyone else is bad to awful). The music is really… just the worst. The dialogue makes no sense. I really cannot say that there was much that I liked about this film. It currently sits at a 31% on Rotten Tomatoes, and honestly that is too high a score. But you know what? I honestly do not care about any of this stuff. We should have known what this movie was the moment Zack Snyder was hired on to do this movie. He is basically a B-Movie director with a big budget, and this simple fact has been shown time and time and time…. and time again. I do not understand why he keeps getting jobs, nor do I understand why his movies are successful. The only reason he is successful is that he has somehow failed upward into big franchises. So, this movie was doomed from the start. At best, its ceiling was mediocre popcorn film, i.e. 300. If you were expecting more, well, I don’t know what to tell you. But none of that critical junk really matters. I could attempt to impress you with deep rationalizations about its weighty theological content, or its critique on modern social structures. Instead, I am going to talk about something less aggrandizing. I am going to talk about Superheroes. (Mild Spoilers Ahead).
El Capitan, Vance, has already discussed heroism to some degree, with his article on Captain America, and I believe that some of the disagreements he has had with people over Steve Rogers’ merit in the MCU has really boiled down to people not realizing that there is a fundamental difference between a protagonist and a hero. A protagonist does not have to be heroic in order to drive a movie. Vito and Michael Corleone prove this to be true. All a protagonist has to do is be the center of the story, and confront the antagonist, or antagonistic forces that he/she is facing. Again, think Michael Corleone and his slow descent into evil. Its dramatic and compelling, but no one could possibly claim that Michael is heroic. He is a morally gray to black character, but he works perfectly within the movie he is in. Heroes, on the other hand, are defined by good thoughts and good actions. They do the right thing, mostly for the right reason. So Rick put Ilsa on the plane, Sam carries Frodo up the mountain, and Han comes back in order to cover Luke while he takes a shot at the Death Star. So with that in mind, i must point out that the “heroes” of BvS are, at best, morally gray protagonists, who are also profoundly stupid.
The general plot of this movie is that Bruce Wayne decides that Superman must be killed because he is too powerful. The reason he decides this is because he experienced the destruction of Metropolis from Man of Steel, which happen because Zod and Superman were fighting. There really is not much more to it than that. So my question is, simply, who is the hero in BvS? I realize the whole selling point of this movie revolves around watching these two titans fight (trust me, its not worth it), but shouldn’t there be some sense of heroism in these two characters? We see Superman save 4 people in this movie. Batman saves two. Outside of that, every action they take is selfish, and worse, pretty self-preserving. The fight itself happens because of hypocrisy on both characters parts. Superman wants to stop Batman because he thinks that Batman acts outside the letter of the law, and yet Superman himself killed Zod during their climactic battle in Man of Steel. Pretty sure that is taking the law into your own hands. Plus, every time someone mentions that Superman should answer to some authority for his actions, he gets this strained look on his face, even though it is the very same thing he would require of Batman.
Batman (and it pains me to say it) is actually worse. Its not so much that he straight up kills at least 20 people in this movie, which is troublesome enough. What troubles me, and in all honesty ruins the movie, is that he wants to kill Superman for purely circumstantial reasons. That is a complete misreading and misunderstanding of the character. Understand this; in this movie, Jesse Eisenberg and Batman want Superman dead for the same reason. They do not trust him, because he is an alien (well Eisenberg does not trust him because he thinks Superman is God, or something, but it is the same idea). And this movie makes it pretty clear that Superman is to be viewed as a minority. From the signs that mirror, directly, Westboro Baptist’s signs, all the way to the burning of a Superman effigy, Superman is a societal outcast, and Batman decides that he must die. He even states that if there is even a 1 percent chance that Superman is dangerous, then he should be killed. That is the exact same reasoning that people have for banning Muslims and turning away refugees. I think it is safe to say that if your movie makes Batman’s goals compatible with Donald Trump, then you have failed miserably.
And thus we get to the central problem of this movie: this is not Batman or Superman. This is Batman and Superman as read through the dystopian and cynical viewpoint of Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns. Neither character seems to want to make the world better. Their motivations are completely self-serving all throughout the film, and in a superhero movie, that is a serious problem. Eisenberg even tests Superman by stating that God cannot be both absolutely good and all powerful, and instead of having Superman disprove Eisenberg’s theory through some heroic acts, wherein people are saved, Zack Snyder, David Goyer, and Chris Terrio decide to follow this challenge up by having Superman go fight Batman immediately after. This, of course, proves Eisenberg’s point (yes I realize that a character makes a pretty big sacrifice in this movie, but even that sacrifice comes in the context of idiotic violence).
Superhero movies without heroics are useless. I am honestly worried that someone will see this movie and believe that this is the definitive version of Batman and Superman. For Batman, they will see a murdering psychopath, who believes that his parents died senselessly, and is so tortured by the memory that he now has a warped worldview, which includes destroying anything that is different. For Superman, they will see a cold narcissist, who was raised by two amoral people who want him to hide who he is, and who is completely burdened by having to do the right thing. And, in this day and age, where everyone is so divided, that is not what is needed. People need to see a Batman, who through sheer force of will wages a war on crime, so that as many people as possible can live their lives without having to go through the tragedy he went through. People need to see a Superman who is a beacon of hope to all who see him, and who believes in mankind’s ability to be better than they are.
The movie is an abomination, but of all of its sins, the one that will resonate the most is this: I did not believe in Batman or Superman as heroes. And that is as big a tragedy as there could have been in this movie. If the movie was just bad i could have handled it, but turning 2 of the 3 most recognizable superheroes of all time into arrogant bullies? That just makes me depressed.