The news is out: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is a flop. With a dismal 30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, it has been called “critical Kryptonite,” and for good reason. The film is fundamentally undisciplined. Watching it put me in mind of two five-year-old nerds imagining a showdown between their favorite heroes, a sort of “it would be awesome if…” wishlist that never even tried to make sense.
But instead of just letting the movie be a fun action romp, directors and producers wanted to make it seem serious, so they added in talk about “God and Man,” and made the movie painfully dark on nearly all levels. Next, you had the idea of turning this already jumbled mess into the beginning of a long franchise modeled off of Marvel’s The Avengers film library. Finally, they wanted to make it acceptable for 2016, so why not add a female superhero (with no backstory) — that’s hip, right?
Before I proceed to rip the film to shreds, I would like to mention a few things that the movie did well. The Hans Zimmer score proved strong, if a bit jarring. What little of real acting the script allowed for came across well — honorable mentions to Ben Affleck (Batman) and Jeremy Irons (Alfred). The visuals proved breathtaking, with powerful shots of violence and well-defined detail. In the end, all these strong elements drowned in a deluge of atrocious story-telling.
So here are the 7 gaping holes in the movie. Enjoy!
1. This isn’t Superman.
The Superman in Dawn of Justice is dark. At one point, he declares, “Superman was never real — he was the dream of a farmer from Kansas.” As The Atlantic’s Asher Elbein points out, this is the respectable adult version of Superman, rather than the aspirational kid’s hero who launched the story. This dark Superman came from “one of the uglier paradoxes of the superhero-comics industry, characters who were devised to entertain children soon became completely unsuitable for them.”
Next Page: This isn’t Clark Kent.
2. This isn’t Clark Kent.
Clark Kent is a bumbling, awkward reporter, whose secret identity works so well because he is the most normal person in the world. He is cheerful, funny, and down to earth, as portrayed well in the TV show Smallville. The Dawn of Justice Clark Kent, however, is serious and morose, and in person he is Superman with glasses: neither awkward nor normal, he remains imposing.
Next Page: This isn’t Batman.
3. This isn’t Batman.
Dawn of Justice has a pretty cool Batman — he has an awesome batmobile and all the great gadgets a rich boy could order — but he lacks the defining virtue of the hero. Batman never kills anyone, not even the Joker. This Batman emphatically does kill people, and more than that. He brands the bat symbol into their skin, which is a near-guaranteed death sentence in prison. Once or twice, he even looks like a terrorist.
This isn’t Lex Luthor: It’s Mark Zuckerberg, or the Joker.
4. This isn’t Lex Luthor: It’s Mark Zuckerberg, or the Joker.
This movie’s Lex Luthor is more of a mix between Friedrich Nietzsche and Mark Zuckerberg. Jesse Eisenberg is a great actor, as shown when he masters the role of the Facebook founder, but he would never make a good Lex. When I first saw the trailer, I thought he was the Joker. Now there’s a role the witty and verbose Eisenberg could pull off.
Next Page: Wow, women really are stock characters in this movie.
5. Wow, women really are stock characters in this movie.
The angry feminists among us constantly attack films for portraying women who are hard to relate to: they’re either damsels in distress or “strong women” without a backstory. In this case, the angry feminists are right on. We get one photo of Wonder Woman’s history, and she swoops in out of the blue to save the day. And how many times is Lois saved by Superman? That’s her whole purpose in this movie.
Also, Dawn of Justice makes a point to introduce other members of the Justice League, such as The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. The ten seconds of character development they get in this movie are likely all they will ever receive in the future films, so watch closely!
Next Page: The God and Man analogies don’t work.
6. The God and Man analogies don’t work, because the film gave up on them.
Dawn of Justice loves to bring up the “God and Man” trope, but nothing ever happens with it. As a serious Christian who likes a good story, I was intrigued as to what they would end up doing. A hero who is literally an alien, worshiped like God, whom people want to put down because he could have too much power — now that’s a compelling story! The showdown between Batman (Man) and Superman (God) was to be the theological climax of the film.
Except it wasn’t. Sorry for the spoiler, but the battle ends, and in the lamest of possible ways. The mere coincidence of two characters having the same first name suddenly makes mortal enemies the best of friends (what?). Then we get a meaner, monstrous villain (what?). And then there’s another hint of a good story: the character representing Man could be the only hope to save the character representing God, and the movie just drops the idea. Major let-down.
Next Page: SPOILER WARNING — The Movie Breaks Its Own Rules.
7. The movie breaks its own rules.
Either Superman has powers or he doesn’t. Either the presence of Kryptonite weakens his powers or it doesn’t. In one scene, the movie breaks these two fundamental rules. First, Superman can barely pick up a spear because it has Kryptonite — he almost drowns. Then he can fly while holding the spear (what?), but somehow he can be killed (what?) while holding the spear because it still (what?) takes away his powers.
Oh yeah, Superman dies: there are even two big funerals. But don’t worry, he doesn’t really die. The dust on his coffin rises (what?) at the end of the movie and this somehow means he is alive. How that works, I haven’t a clue.