As the world of films and filmmaking expands, so do the potential stories and worlds we get to experience–expanding genres and breaking expectations. And while neither of these films really do that, they act as a testament to how such diverse narratives can be contained under a rather general label.
Batman v Superman and Deadpool are both “superhero” films, but only in the most general ways. At their core, each are different when it comes to presentation, goals, and overall success. So it’s strange to think that just a few nights ago I attended a drive-in theater that showed these films back-to-back, allowing for a rather fascinating juxtaposition to develop between the two works.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
DC Comics’ and Warner Brothers’ most recent venture has been met with a lot of controversy, criticism and even disdain, and I think there’s a good reason for this. I can understand that many film-goers are fans of the original source material, and that certain moments can evoke nostalgia or appreciation for the characters at hand. But as someone who shares those feelings, this film was one of the worst I’ve seen in a long time. This may be a bold statement to make when there are so many worse films that are premiering in theaters every day, but the thing is I don’t attend those films because I don’t expect them to be good. While I’ve had my doubts that this film could live up to certain expectations, dictated by the successes of Marvel Studios or the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, nothing prepared me for the complete lack of effort, stakes, or legitimate content that awaited.
The title suggests that the film will be focusing on the gargantuan and anticipated battle between Batman and Superman, based on the iconic fight set in the The Dark Knight Returns comic, one of my personal favorites when it comes to DC Comics. Unfortunately, this source material is the film’s ultimate undoing. The comic is a Batman comic, yet this movie, while featuring Batman and reintroducing him into the universe, is meant to be a Superman film.
Most of the conflicts or issues within the world focus on the god-like status of Superman, and whether he can or should answer to an authority in some manner. The government struggles with how to understand and respond to the alien’s presence, which brings Lex Luthor into the mix, but we’ll get back to him later. Every action the caped crusader takes is met with some form of hostility, even when saving lives, as people wonder why they should forgive his actions in the destruction of Metropolis or what he could do if left to his own free agency. And while these can be interesting ideas to tackle, they are handled in a way where there really isn’t a questioning at all. We, as the audience, root for Superman, and while I can understand the viewpoints of the average person, I don’t care about any of them. There’s nothing that makes me root for the average joe and their difficulties to accept Superman because we already know his intentions are true and just. And Superman is never really given an opportunity to struggle with the implications. There’s a scene in which he discusses it with Lois Lane, but this is towards the very start of the film. Henry Cavill plays such a stone-faced and unemotional Superman that I never really saw him struggle, existing in a perpetual state of disinterest more than anything else.
This relegates Batman to the sidelines as he occasionally looks to do justice. Ben Affleck was a casting choice that was questioned from the very start, and I can see why now that I’ve seen the film. Much like his co-star, I didn’t feel like there was much actual emotion associated with his scenes. There was a lot of brooding and angry faces, but that never conveyed me to feel sympathetic to his plights. And showing me the Batman origin story for the umpteenth time does not help. The film even adds a bit at the very start where Bruce Wayne is driving around Metropolis during the battle with General Zod, but it’s done in such a way where I could tell the movie was trying to force me to feel certain emotions without having earned them.
That’s a statement that I feel could sum up a lot of what this movie is about; making us feel connected when the film hasn’t given us a reason to. It’s like throwing these iconic images in our faces is supposed to be enough to make us become invested.
Touching back on the misleading title, two-thirds of the movie goes by without any conflict between our two main characters beyond their alter egos meeting awkwardly at a party. Much of this time is spent talking politics over whether it’s okay that Batman and Superman are superheroing around their respective turfs. Some time is spent with Lois as she does some “investigating,” but this feels like an incredibly lackluster and poor use of time. Amy Adams is a great actress, so she must have been given very little to work with when it came to this movie and Man of Steel, as her performance is mind-numbingly dull in both instances.
Other recognizable names are as follows:
– Jeremy Irons plays a somewhat gruff Alfred, who felt jarringly uncaring and harsh, likely due to the darker tone of the film. I also found it distracting that I know him primarily as the voice of Scar in The Lion King, making his performance here less than impactful.
– Holly Hunter is another character with a distinguishable voice that has been lent to Disney previously, as Helen Parr in The Incredibles, but her character just felt rather out of place. I’m not sure if it was the accent or somewhat genuine nature, but she felt less like a character and more like the actor walking around in the world of DC Comics.
– Gal Gadot does a fine job for what little screen time she’s given as Wonder Woman. If you’ve seen her in the trailers, you’ve seen just about every scene she’s in. A lot of people were incredibly pumped to see her on screen, but it’s really not worth the price of admission. Just watch the trailer a few more times to hold you over until her solo film.
– Laurence Fishburn continues to portray the only human and relatable character in the series, as his both serious and comedic nature lends itself to the only enjoyment I felt in the entire movie experience.
– And Jessie Eisenberg, well, I’ve put this one off for a while because of how distracting and downright frustrating the portrayal of Lex Luthor is, but ultimately it can be summed up in three words; abysmal Joker rip-off. To be clear, I’m not blaming the actor on this, as the script he was given is what it is. But it’s incredibly clear from the get-go that the writers of the DC films don’t seem to understand that there are a variety of interesting villains in the DC archives that don’t fall under the “crazy” category, despite how that’s basically the tagline for the upcoming Suicide Squad. So rather than be treated to a calculating, intelligent adversary, Lex is an eccentric maniac who gets away with waaaaay more than he logically should, and his supposed plot eventually breaks the film in such a way that it really couldn’t recover.
Moving forward from here, I would like to talk about some spoiler-based criticisms I had with the movie, but if there’s one thing I’d like readers to consider before clicking away to another end of the internet, it’s that a movie should rely on its own story and merits rather than the promises of future installments or teasers for what may or may not come next. Regardless of how interesting and debated the Knightmare scene is, it doesn’t add anything to this movie, acting more of a set-up than anything that applies to the story that was being told. Batman v Superman fails to understand this on a fundamental level, and tries to prepare for a Justice League film that is meant to be on the level of The Avengers, but misunderstands what this means in such a fundamental way that we’re left with a two-and-a-half hour teaser trailer with next to no substance.
Spoilers for Batman v Superman ahead.
Before wrapping up this article, I just wanted to touch on the frustrating inclusion of Doomsday.
Let’s say that you have next to no familiarity with the mythos or character, as most viewers of the film can attest to. Towards the end of the film, Lex uses the body of General Zod to create Doomsday through the broken-down Kryptonian ship, unleashing the mindless monster on a rampage in the city. Ignoring that this writes the character off as a rather, brutish monster rather than the honed and wholly individualistic creature that was tortured for millennia to become the ultimate, indestructible killing machine that he is, this is incredibly sloppy script writing that leaves the viewer with next to nothing to build off of. Because the villain has no back story to speak of other than Lex’s ravings, we don’t know what drives Doomsday to do what he does. Rather, the film makes it so we aren’t supposed to care, as if to say, “He’s just some bad guy, let’s see the good guys beat him up!” This devolves the conflict into being meaningless beyond the end result of Superman’s “death,” which is so quickly shown to be reversed that it’s inconsequential. This end note left me feeling that the film was too lazy to come up with any real driving force or involving conflict, instead coming up with quick fixes to patch together some excuse to put DC’s two icons on the big screen together for once.
So how does Deadpool fare in comparison? See Drive-In Double Feature: Part 2 soon to find out!