Could it be possible that the ancient Greeks didn’t actually worship Zeus, Hercules, Aphrodite, and the rest of the Olympian crew? That they were just popular stories that we mistake for worship today due to their prevalence? I can very much see our superhero stories being mistaken for worship two thousand years from now when the remains of our society are being uncovered, because Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and their crew serve very much the same purpose as those stories with the Greek pantheon in them. This is even more the case with the superheroes from DC than from Marvel, as the DC heroes are far more powerful, far more perfect, far more pure than those in the Marvel universe. If Zack Snyder has given us a glimpse into the modern day version of the ancient gods, then all I can come away with from Batman v Superman is that the gods must be crazy.
A popular, common, and personal favorite theme in superhero stories is the idea of what it means to be a hero. Do heroes kill? Do they lie? Is there any part of a code of honor that can mean they aren’t a hero? Some of the greatest superhero stories ever written tackle questions along these lines, and while the questions aren’t possible to ever answer, pondering on them can make us evaluate our own ethics and actions, make us examine our own lives and see how badly we find ourselves wanting. I thought that perhaps Batman v Superman was trying to explore these themes early in the film, as our characters both seemed to be more interested in power than in morality. Superman is powerful, therefore he must be killed, and from Superman we get what seems to be a self absorbed alien who wants to be good but has no idea what we silly Earthlings want from him.
As the film went on, though, I could see that it was just that the writers (Terrio and Goyer) and director (Snyder) had no idea how to give a character, any character, a meaningful motivation and had the characters do whatever was cool for the moment. This is made even more frustrating as the tone of the film is intensely serious with nary a joke to be found (okay, there are one or two, but none are good enough to remember) and the film does actually try to touch on serious themes involving power in religion and politics, but can’t help but fail in these explorations as the characters themselves seem to have no good reason to be taking any of the actions they are.
This lack of motivation leads to another problem with the characters, and that is the fact that these people don’t really resemble their counterparts from the comic books. This isn’t always a problem. Heath Ledger’s Joker only barely resembled the Joker from the comics, but it was such a well written character and fantastic performance that it didn’t really matter. It was a brilliant revisioning of a classic character. Here, though, we just have characters with only a passing resemblance and no consistency. Batman doesn’t kil, unless he does occasionally, and Lex Luthor almost seems to be the most consistently moral person here, until he completely and totally contradicts everything that motivates him toward the climax of the movie.
Batman v Superman is far from a complete failure. While the writing is sloppy, Ben Affleck as Batman gives his all in trying to turn the mess of a script into a strong performance, as does Amy Adams in her turn as Lois Lane (not true for Cavill as Superman nor Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, unfortunately). The special effects and action sequences are a lot of fun and completely over the top, for the most part in a fun way, though occasionally even the special effects fall into the lack of consistency trap and go a little too over the top (the Batmobile apparently can drive through concrete and steel buildings without even slowing down). Finally seeing Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) on the big screen doing her thing as well as has ever been done live action is also a real treat, but I fear this is only largely due to her relative lack of screen time.
Batman v Superman: The Dawn of Justice is a fun film, and if all you care about in your fun is bombastic fights and special effects then I have no qualms about recommending you see this film, and seeing it in the theater on the biggest screen possible. If, however, things like theme, character motivation, and consistency in tone mean anything to you, the movie is going to be at least a little of a let down, the amount of a let down being equal to just how important those things are to you.
Rating: 5.5 out of 10