I has some big-time problems with Man of Steel, including issues with its callous killing of thousands of people discreetly offscreen, but I must admit it exerted a weird fascination over me, and I actually saw it about three times in the theater. The visuals were just amazing and kind of stupefying, I liked how it was actually quite sci-fi with spaceships and humans reacting to aliens, and uncomfortable as all the exquisitely-rendered mass destruction was, it was eerily fascinating. And I got definitely caught up in the anticipation of this one, devoured all the trailers greedily and kept up on every little tidbit of news trickling out, was there devouring the bad reviews the minute they appeared, and was firmly in place at the 6pm Thursday advance showing.
And it turns out the bad reviews were right. This really does suck quite, quite hard, and makes Man of Steel [MOS] look like a masterpiece. It’s also fourteen years long.
Okay, so we all know that the only reason this exists is that Warner Brothers wants an interrelated team of superheroes like Disney has with Marvel. That is it. Full stop. They got Superman barely resuscitated before they decided Batman was going to be in the next one and they were going to force boot an entire universe of superheroes instantly. So the only real discussion is how decent is it as a movie, given that entertaining anyone or having any quality at all is FAR down the list of priorities.
We open with the golden anniversary 50th presentation of the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents. This was actually filmed about half a mile from where I live now, and I see that theater all the time. What’s kind of funny is that the criminal just kills them, right out in the street, then runs off, without even trying to get money or anything. Intercut with this we see him running away from their funeral, falling into the batcave and being fluttered by thousands of bats, who actually lift his body up into the air. I thought that was a pretty bold, expressionistic statement, and was eager to see where the film would then go, but it turns out it was just a dream. Then he’s grown into Ben Affleck and drives his BvS Special Edition Jeep [which they showed an ad for before the film… there really is a Batman v Superman “special edition” Jeep and I thought “Oh my God, HOW embarrassing would that be? When, like, three years later you have a car tied in to some shitty forgotten would-be blockbuster?”] into the destruction at the end of MOS because—surprise!—there’s a Wayne Enterprises tower there, because—surprise!—Gotham City is just “across the harbor” from Metropolis! Which they just failed to mention in the previous film.
Because, you see, Zack Snyder was so stung by my Moviegoers in Harm's Way essay, which took him to task for glorifying awesome mass destruction without any hint that it’s BAD that thousands of people are dying, that he rejiggered his entire film [and sent several lovely fruit baskets] to make it seem like he was capable of understanding the criticism. But this film only shows that he heard the charge, but didn’t understand the meaning, as this film tries to make criticism of the destruction a main theme, and pays lip service to places destroyed as being “uninhabited” [which, I must admit, is what I said would make all the difference], while still fetishizing violence, destruction and military might. Oh well, some people you just can’t reach.
So Bruce regards Superman as a threat. By the way, this Batman is a lot meaner than incarnations seen on screen so far, and does indeed use guns and does indeed kill people, or see that they will soon be killed [he brands child sex offenders with a bat symbol, ensuring that they will be killed in prison]. It was actually a little shocking to see Batman using a gun in numerous scenes. Anyway, bullshit starts expanding exponentially, with a lot of complications that don’t add up to much. There’s some ya-ya with Lois Lane and a special bullet supplied to African warlords by Lex Luthor, and a government cover-up of the same, and some other claptrap. There’s Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg playing Lex Luthor, which, gee… I wonder how Zuckerberg or other tech bros feel about being considered the “evil genius supervillain” type. There’s Holly Hunter as a senator, and some whole yap-yap with her, and there’s Luthor trying to get ahold of Kryptonite from the wreckage from the previous film, and this mysterious woman we know is Wonder Woman investigating him, and Wayne investigating both Luthor and him, and there is Clark Kent whining here and moping there and having a personal crisis over here while making some really pooty faces.
So, about an hour and forty-five minutes in [please register that this is NEARLY TWO HOURS], with forty-five minutes left to go, it hit me: NOTHING HAS HAPPENED. We’ve made it all that way into the film, and NOTHING HAS HAPPENED. There’s been a lot of flap-jawing and a fair amount of yap-yapping and some key scenes with some fairly intense jim-jaws, but narratively, NOTHING has happened. There is a conflict [inflated, contrived] and a LOT of incident, but none of it really adds up to much or has advanced the narrative an inch from where it stood at the beginning. And then you start to think “WHY in the world does this need to be so long?” [and you might have heard there is a special edition coming that will ADD 30 minutes]. And then you think “There is NO possible way I could ever sit through this again.” And then you’re a little mad that your time is being wasted, and it’s not like you’re really having any fun or seeing what you want to see.
Because, it also hits you around this time, while this movie has a lot of Bruce Wayne and lesser amounts of Clark Kent, it has very little Batman and even less Superman. And when it does have them, it has very little of them doing what you want to see them doing. We have a little bit of Batman fighting criminals up front, then the next Batman action sequence is a dream sequence [don’t ask], and that’s about it until the end. The film really has NO sequences of Superman doing what any of us want to see Superman doing, which is being good and saving people. There is a 30-second montage of him saving people, ALL of which you have seen in the trailers, and that is IT. That was a revelation about the Snyder superhero movies for me: I am not at all seeing what I want to see these characters do, I'm just watching them get involved in a bunch of bullshit. And all that bullshit is not, shall we say, exactly Chekov.
Now, one word you may have heard applied to this film is “incoherent.” Well, the charge is justified. One exampleis that, in the beginning we see Superman, in Africa, save Lois by charging through a wall with a bad guy. That is ALL we see. Yet, we are later to understand that he destroyed a whole village and terrorized numerous people, but we didn’t see any of it. Later, he’s SUDDENLY back in Kansas with his mom, they have a very short conversation [that we come in partway through], then it’s over. There’s a sudden scene in which Bruce opens the chamber and looks at the Batsuit, then the movie just goes on, that having no place or import. Superman saves Lois several times, but each time, just flies off a second later, barely saying anything to her. It gets to be a little funny… aside from one scene at the beginning, they NEVER have a conversation of more than a few seconds. At one point he shows up on her balcony, says two lines, then flies off. It’s like, why bother even coming? Send a text. The scene where Supes climbs up on the Batmobile for a chat ends after one short line. This is one of those movies in which none of this interminable bullshit would be happening if there was even one character capable of expressing him or herself verbally. But you can’t have articulate characters if you don’t have articulate screenwriters.
Ah, but let’s talk about the little mini-movie-within-a-movie called “Dawn of Justice.” I didn’t know we were actually talking about TWO movies here, but the movie we were in effectively pauses, and RIGHT before the big climax. Bruce sends Wonder Woman an email—yes, the Justice League is introduced AS AN EMAIL ATTACHMENT—that basically introduces them all [or the first round at least] with no connection to the rest of the film. Come to think of it, wouldn’t it have been interesting if part of this whole thing was human Batman not just dealing with alien Superman, but a bunch of new people with supernatural powers? The way The Avengers deals with the appearance of superheroes and the appearance of aliens? Oh and by the way, for all the flap-jawing here, the TRAILER for Civil War goes into more depth about philosophical issues regarding superhero containment than this entire film. Grrr! I'm kind of getting worked up into a rich, creamy lather over all the annoyances of this movie, and it’s not even worth it! Curse you, Zack Snyder!
Okay… now I'm chill. So, as you know, for some reason, especially in a world so concerned about spoilers [because plot is ALL there is to a movie, right?] they decided to let us know that Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman all team up against a newly-introduced scrotum-monster, removing all stakes and suspense from their fight. What you might not know is that the main event fight of the title doesn’t take place until the final minutes [after the hours of yap-yap] and is over in about seven minutes. Pretty much all of it is contained in the trailers [except the fact that Batman is using Kryptonite, which surely you could guess]. Then they fight the scrotum-monster, which is where Wonder Woman shows up [repeat: in the final minutes. For a maximum ten minutes]. So you paid to see a bunch of Batman versus Superman action, and what you got was a shitload of Bruce and Clark, with a few minutes of WHAT YOU CAME FOR tacked on at the end. Why? Why did they do this? I do not know. But you should know what you’re in for.
Okay, should we discuss the spoilers? Please note that when we say we will be discussing spoilers, that means that we will be discussing SPOILERS, so if you are concerned about SPOILERS, you want to come back after it says “Spoilers End,” because, make no mistake, the part marked “spoilers” will indeed contain SPOILERS. Are we clear?
SPOILERS > > >
So, for no good reason, and in an entirely arbitrary, avoidable way, Superman dies at the end. There was NO REASON for him to die, he could have just inserted the Kryptonite spear and gotten away to take a moment to recuperate. It’s surprising they went this way, to say the least, and not because it’s so audacious, but because: is there ANYONE who thinks that Superman is actually dead? IS THERE EVEN ONE PERSON ALIVE ON EARTH WHO THINKS SUPERMAN MAY ACTUALLY BE DEAD? Not for any plot reason, just because of FRANCHISE reasons. They’re going to do Justice League without Superman? They’re going to throw away the brand new franchise they spend so much effort into restarting? And then, insult to injury, they go ahead and tell you he’s not actually dead. It’s making my brain hurt. I actually would have kind of liked it if he just went ahead and popped out at the end here, but no, they have to pretend as though ONE person on Earth might have some suspense over what might happen. It makes me want to kill myself and yet I WILL NOT DIE OVER SOME SHITTY FRANCHISE-STARTER!!!
< < < SPOILERS END
So there you go. I can’t go on about this anymore. It’s not even worth summing up what I’ve said. But—and now I'm talking to you, regular Cinema de Merde reader—doesn’t it seem like we’re starting to see the real-world effects of living in a society where NO ONE READS? Like, could we have our current electoral candidates, with their fervent bases, despite offering nothing but repeated assertions that “We’ll Fix It!” if people had developed senses of logic and consequences?* And—even aside from the fact that our dominant form of cinema is based on picture books—could we have a movie like this if people had even short-term memory and a sense of how one action leads to another? Or motivation? Or psychological factors? Or what a focused story is? Or how a theme can mean more than just repeating a few keywords? Would we be so convinced that knowing spoilers—i.e. the belief that stories are nothing more than plot points—can ruin movies entirely? Oh and by the way, did you know that one of the fastest-growing areas of bookselling is “adult coloring books?”
*But please, I beg of you, let’s not get into the election in the comments.
You will or won’t, I can only repeat that it sucks, is dreary, and is a hundred years long.