'Batman V Superman' V Spoilers: What Works And What Doesn't In Zack Snyder's New Film

If the box office numbers are any indication, then all of you saw director Zack Snyder's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice over the weekend. And why not? Negative reviews or not, the film is a proper event and a gigantic, towering moment in geek culture. Those bad reviews grease up discussion and inspire conversation, even as they try to warn you against actually seeing the movie.

And since you've seen it, we're going to take a slightly deeper dive into the movie today, hand-picking stuff that works and stuff that doesn't work for the purposes of spirited debate. Think of this as less of a review and more of an opportunity to pick this movie apart and/or defend it. And like it or not, Batman v Superman offers a lot to talk about. Spoilers follow.

The Opening Sequence (and Batman's Motivation)

Once you get past seeing Thomas and Martha Wayne get murdered for the nth time, Batman v Superman really does get started with a bang. By placing Bruce Wayne in Metropolis during the climax of Man of Steel, the infamous fight to the death between Superman and Zod takes on a terrifying new context. Fans and critics rightfully accused Zack Snyder of callously indulging in this scene's collateral damage, ignoring the body count that was surely being racked up as each building tumbled. By giving us the chance to witness it from the ground, through the eyes of a mortal man (even if he's Batman), the sequence takes on the flavor of a horror movie. At a distance, the World Engine looks terrifying. From the ground, Superman and Zod look truly unknowable and alien.

In fact, this opening and Ben Affleck's reaction to the horrors surrounding him, is strong enough to make Batman's ongoing grudge against Superman feel genuinely believable. It's actually unnecessary that the rest of the film keeps on taking wild left turns to force these two superheroes into a brawl. Lex Luthor's manipulations feel redundant – the rage on Bruce Wayne's face as he stands amongst the ruins of his former building, surrounded by who knows how many dead employees, feels like enough. In a film that so often lacks purpose and focus, this scene sets the table in a brilliant and unnerving way.

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The Dark Knight of Gotham City

Ben Affleck is the best part of Batman v Superman and there are individual scenes in the movie that suggest that he will, one day, star in a solo Batman movie that will be nothing short of thrilling. But right now, all we have is a great performance in a movie that doesn't seem to get the character and fails to utilize the iconography of this character. Say what you want about Man of Steel, but it introduced a new Superman with the appropriate amount of spine-tingling bombast. The arrival of Superman was a moment. The new Batman never gets that. He's first introduced as a shadowy, out-of-focus figure. His first major action scene comes an hour later in the middle of a dream sequence. And then he gets in a car chase. Why Snyder refuses to give this new Batman, a Batman whose costume looks incredible and whose actor truly embodies the character, a proper grand reveal is baffling. It's like the movie doesn't understand the importance of iconography.

Equally baffling is how the film presents the Dark Knight as a casual murderer. Sure, Tim Burton's 1989 Batman featured a lead character who killed criminals, but that wasn't cool then and it's not cool now. No matter what anyone says, the fact that Batman doesn't take lives has been a fundamental component of his character for longer than most people who watch this movie have been alive. Watching this Batman callously blow up cars full of henchmen or blow up a guy with a grenade or even use a gun (the weapon of the enemy!) to puncture the tank on a flamethrower is disconcerting. Batman's great moral strength, and his greatest weakness, has always been that he believes in second chances. That's why his Rogue's Gallery keeps on coming back to bite him in the butt.

Everyone has been sharing this panel from the great Kingdom Come all weekend and it deserves to be shared again. Snyder obviously has his own unique take on Batman and that's his prerogative. He's the director. But by ignoring decades of history and sidestepping what this character means to millions of people around the globe, he's doing Batman a disservice.

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But Affleck is good! He's convincing under the cowl (where the electronic voice modulator works better than expected) and he's a blast as Bruce Wayne, capturing the character's steely intelligence even when the script asks him to do dumb things. That montage where Bruce engages in his crazily macho Crossfit-esque training regimen while science-ing the shit out of some Kryptonite is the closest a film has gotten to actually capturing what makes Batman such a wonderful and bizarre creation on the page. He's a scientist and a bruiser, a detective and a brawler. You can see this in his big fight with Superman – once stripped of his powers via Kryptonite, Clark Kent is no match for the smarter and better trained Bruce Wayne.

If you take away the murdery aspects and put someone else in the director's chair, I will be the first in line for a solo Batfleck film. Affleck's Batman deserves so much better than this.

The Man of Steel Himself

Interestingly, Henry Cavill's Superman has his own collection of entirely unique problems to deal with. Like Affleck's Batman, this take on the Man of Steel is often unrecognizable from his comic book counterpart, saving the world out of weary obligation instead of basic decency. In fact, Batman v Superman (and Zack Snyder) seem entirely uninterested in superheroes as pure beacons of hope and goodness – even when Superman is rescuing a rocket from a launch pad accident or saving a young girl from a burning building, Cavill is never allowed to crack a smile or feel good about what he's doing. Martha Kent telling him "You don't owe this world a thing" is downright shocking, as Superman owes his adopted world everything and that has been the cornerstone of his character since 1938.

But even if you choose to ignore how Snyder's "more complex" version of Superman tarnishes what makes the character so special to begin with, it doesn't change the fact that he has almost nothing of importance to do in a movie that features his name in the title. He's a total dick to Batman...just because. He gets on Lex Luthor's bad side...just because. He gets framed for a bunch of murders in Africa just so Lois Lane can have something to do. There's a movie to be made about Superman realizing that the rest of the world is afraid of him, but that's hard to pull off when Superman begins and ends the movie as a grouchy, continuously bummed out martyr figure. There is no change. No growth. He ends the film in the same place he began. Except that he's dead now.

The sad truth is that Henry Cavill has everything you need in a great Superman. Under the watch of a different filmmaker, he could have been definitive.

The Grand Debut of Wonder Woman

The absolute best moment in all of Batman v Superman comes during the final fight between the "Trinity" and Doomsday. Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, who arrived on the scene a few minutes earlier in her warrior garb, is knocked back by Lex Luthor's newly created monster. She lands in rubble, looks at her opponent, smiles a shit-eating grin that says "Oh, that's how we're going to do this?" and launches back into battle. It's not much. It's just a tiny reaction in the middle of a very busy sequence, but it contains all of the charm and personality that is missing from both Batman and Superman. In that moment, we actually see who Wonder Woman is.

While Gadot rocks her scenes and Wonder Woman is a certifiable badass during the climactic brawl, the truth is that you can cut her from the movie entirely and the basic story remains exactly the same. She exists for two reasons: to help set up future movies and to show up in the nick of time for the grand finale. That she's not actually integrated into the plot is a huge problem – she feels more like a cool Easter egg that got blown out of proportion than a proper character who serves the film in any way.

Most damning of all is that Snyder, once again, refuses to embrace her iconography. Much like how Batman is never given a proper cinematic introduction, Wonder Woman just shows up and does her thing. Her powers and abilities aren't given the weight they deserve. This is our first time seeing this character on the big screen ever and her famous golden lasso isn't even given a hero shot. The film just treats it like no big thing when she uses it to tie up Doomsday. Is this fanboy nitpicking? Kind of. Sort of. Maybe. But it also showcases just how little everyone involved in this film seems to appreciate what these characters mean and how important their iconography is to so many people. Say what you want about The Avengers, but at least Joss Whedon knew how stage his characters so they visually lived up to their comic book legacy.

Lex Luthor and Alfred and Lois Lane

The supporting cast of Batman v Superman is a mixed bag, but most of the fault lies with the script rather than performance. Take Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor, for example. A lot of digital ink has been spilled about the quality of his manic, bizarre performance, which leans heavily on tics and strange outbursts. It's a performance that can't help but feel desperate, but can you blame him? Because on the page, his Luthor is literally nothing. He's a rich guy who hates Superman, just because. He's a scheming snob who wants to frame Superman, just because. He's a petulant egomaniac who creates an unstoppable monster and unleashes it upon the world, just because. Eisenberg's performance isn't as bad as many have claimed. It's just a skilled actor trying to bring something to a cipher. Nothing Luthor says or does makes sense and he's a villain simply because he's always been a Superman villain. Considering how rich and complex this character has been in so many incarnations, this is inexcusable lazy...and it's not Eisenberg's fault at all. The poor guy did everything he could.

Far more successful is Jeremy Irons' Alfred Pennyworth, who is a refreshing update on Bruce Wayne's loyal butler. He's not so much a manservant now as he is a partner in crimefighting, fixing the Batmobile, piloting the Batplane by remote control, and tinkering around the Batcave when Bruce is out and about. There's a casual, blue-collar gruffness to this Alfred that's a refreshing change of pace – like the man he works for, he's been doing this for a long, long time and Irons has a great rapport with Affleck. Plus, his constant concern for Bruce's love life is simultaneously adorable and sad. He lives to serve, but he just wants Master Wayne to be happy, damn it!

And that brings us to Amy Adams' Lois Lane, who is given the worst subplots and in continuously put in needless danger just to give Superman something to do. That's a shame, really. Man of Steel utilized her beautifully and allowed Adams to make this the definitive take on Superman's greatest ally. Here, she stumbles through two hours of subplots that could have been excised entirely before getting trapped underwater so she can have an action beat in the third act. Adams, like Gadot, Cavill, Eisenberg, and Affleck, deserves better.

Story and Tone

It's becoming increasingly obvious that Zack Snyder (a filmmaker I usually enjoy) is a bad fit for the DC movie universe. His natural cynicism and his interest in selfish, conflicted heroes goes against everything these characters stand for and everything they represent. Call it a re-imagining or call it a different take, but these heroes and their world actually mean something. To throw away and optimism and good old fashioned heroics in favor of darkness and violence and heroes who don't act like they want to be heroes is the wrong choice and the worst possible way to launch a cinematic universe. Batman v Superman has two modes: grim and grimmer, and both of those are monotonous and tired and reek of desperation. These characters, this world, don't need to be reinvented. The DC universe is many things – weird and colorful and unique and filled with infinite possibilities – but endlessly grimy and morose feel wrong. A Batman who brands some enemies and casually murder others is representative of this film's tonal issues in a nutshell. At the end of the day, he's still a man dressed in a bat costume. He's still silly. He should still be a character kids can enjoy and look up to.

All I can say is that if someone told younger me, a kid who grew up devouring episodes of Batman: The Animated Series before launching into actual comics, that a new Batman movie wasn't for me, I'd be dismayed.

Jimmy Olsen in Batman v Superman

But the big issues here go beyond Snyder recreating the DC universe in his own grotesque image. Batman v Superman is a just a huge mess of a movie that feels thrown together without care. Pointless scenes lead to more pointless scenes with no drive or connective tissue. The story is a collection of subplots where most of those subplots could be removed from the movie entirely. Even the action (and there's not much action) feels unmotivated and sloppy. The coincidences and insane beats begin to add up. Why does everyone think Superman massacred a bunch of people who were shot? Why did Lex Luthor arm his men with special bullets, other than the movie needing to give Lois something (boring) to do? Why didn't Superman, whose X-ray vision was his first power to manifest in Man of Steel, not notice that the wheelchair in the senate hearing was packed full of explosives? Why did Batman place a tracking device on a truck carrying Kryptonite and then proceed to chase that truck, and almost destroy that truck, when he just ends up stealing it from LexCorp anyway? Why the hell does Superman interrupt Batman's big car chase, where his opponents are firing machine guns and launching rockets at him, just so he can scold a fellow vigilante? He's Superman. He surely knew that Batman was chasing bad guys. Because they had rocket launchers. All of this before you even begin to tackle why Lex Luthor does anything that he does in this movie. Every scene gives you a new reason to ask "Why?!"

Despite giving Batman a crystal clear reason to want to fight Superman in the opening scene, the film muddies the waters so much that their actual confrontation is just a wet fart: two heroes, manipulated by the dumbest scheme in superhero movie history, fight each other just because they're both huge dicks. It's hard to love Batman when he's gleefully using a Kryptonite spear to slice open Superman's cheek before preparing a killing blow. It's not just a betrayal of an icon – he's just downright unlikable and cruel and stupid. The movie in a nutshell.

That Dream Sequence and the Justice League

In the middle of Batman v Superman's finale, when things are officially going to hell and the lives of countless innocents are at stake and Batman and Superman put aside their differences (because, ugh, they both have moms named Martha) to save the day, Wonder Woman watches three movie trailers. These trailers star the future members of the Justice League, who are all getting their own movies soon enough, and they are desperate as anything else in the movie. Sure, Marvel movies are as guilty as anyone of using valuable real estate in new films to set up other movies, but they have never been as egregious as this. Thor's magical exposition cave in Avengers: Age of Ultron has nothing on Wonder Woman checking out Hot New Previews for The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg, complete with the suggestion that Lex Luthor personally designed their logos. Okay.

What's really frustrating is that these clips would have been great post-credits fodder, something that would send the diehard fans out chattering and talking. Instead, they're dropped into the middle of the climax and kill any and all momentum that the film has been building. And let's be honest here – nothing on display in these trailers-within-a-movie is impressive enough to pause the third act. Cyborg's segment looks like a clip from a SyFy original movie. The Flash's bit is totally incoherent unless you know exactly what you're looking at (and most people won't). Aquaman's preview is particularly hilarious, as Jason Momoa simply pops out of a ship while looking grumpy so he can destroy a camera. It's an obvious and desperate attempt to ape Marvel-style world-building, but somehow done with less tact and in a way that kills the movie for a few minutes.

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The other big tease comes in that extended dream sequence, where Batman battles his way through a desolate future populated by Superman-worshipping soldiers, winged monsters, and a symbol carved into the ground that suggests DC uber-villain Darkseid has arrived. It's another scene that stops the movie dead in its tracks and makes no sense to anyone beyond the initiated. Silly and tone deaf, it makes a long movie feel longer and never once enhances the actual story of the film you're watching. It's all Justice League set-up. If it's that. The fact that Bruce never mentions it to anyone or seems to dwell on it makes it feel even more pointless. Even more detestable is the body count Batman racks up here. Even if it's a dream, watching him gun down a bunch of people is nothing short of detestable.

And then it all concludes with a dream-within-a-dream, where Ezra Miller's Flash, looking unrecognizable to fans and a casual viewers alike, pops up to warn Bruce of a dark future. If we had met the Flash, if we knew who he was and why he mattered, this could have some weight. But he doesn't look like the Flash anyone knows and his warning doesn't make much sense within the context of the film. This is undoubtedly more set-up for Justice League, but it's not even clear that it's set-up for Justice League. It's just an incoherent thing that happens, rather than a well-defined tease.

Doomsday and the Final Fight

Despite having a perfectly fine comic book design, the Doomsday who shows up in the third act of Batman v Superman to give Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman something to fight looks like a Lord of the Rings cave troll made out of human feces. It's a disastrous design for a final villain who couldn't be less interesting.

But hey, at least he's supplying a reason for DC's Trinity, arguably the most famous superheroes in all of popular culture, to team up and kick butt. Right? Well, kinda. Once you get over the initial rush of seeing these three together in the same frame, the final fight is a bit of a letdown. Wonder Woman and Superman take turns punching Doomsday. Batman dodges his attacks from a distance. Rinse and repeat until the final moments, where the three of them finally work in tandem to take him down. Maybe I'm just spoiled by the Avengers movies, where the heroes communicate and strategize and use their varied power and skills and complement each other in satisfying ways, but this doesn't cut it. There's no sense of teamwork here. There are just three people punching a poop troll.

And this is why Justice League feels like such a threat at this point. If Snyder can't create a fun dynamic between these three, will he be able to make the more varied members of the Justice League fun to watch? Teams require interplay. They require group dynamics that justify why we're watching them and why they work well together and depend on each other. The climax of Batman v Superman is the sloppiest, most incoherent action scene of Snyder's career. If Justice League is going to this writ large, then no thank you.