Why Batman v Superman never even had a chance to be good

There was a time when a mega-expensive turd like Batman v Superman would have been soul-crushing for comic book fans. Back then, superhero movies were rare and wondrous things. When one sucked, it killed that character’s chance at another big screen appearance for another 20 years.

Even worse, each bomb was a setback for the entire genre. Why would Hollywood spend $100 million taking a chance on “lesser” characters like Wonder Woman or Flash when they can’t even get a solid hit out of George Clooney as Batman?

And good luck getting anyone to even read your Elongated Man screenplay.

Now, even an epic disaster is no longer a big thing. We simply spend a few weeks pointing and laughing at Batman v Superman while waiting for Captain America: Civil War to rock our world. It is truly a glorious time to be alive.

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Nitpicking all of the plot holes and missteps in Batman v Superman one by one would fill half the internet (and has.) But those are the symptoms, not the cause. So instead, let’s look at the four overarching reasons why the movie never had a chance to be good in the first place.

Don’t get ahead of us.

1. There’s no difference between the two heroes

Comic books are filled with characters who are carbon copies of one another: Aquaman and Namor, Hawkeye and Green Arrow, and Cyclops and that wooden coat stand Clark Kent hangs his fedora on. But Batman and Superman aren’t supposed to be clones—especially when facing off in a big-budget “versus” movie.

Yet, what did we get? A Superman who’s relentlessly grim, violent, bitter, and tormented by the burden he’s placed on himself trying to honor his dead father. (The human one.)

And then there’s Batman, who mindlessly charges headlong into every fight knowing he’s completely invulnerable, right down to his fireproof and bulletproof cape. In the fight to save Martha Kent from Lex Luthor’s henchmen, one of the criminals gets the drop on Batman [!], shoots him point blank in the back of the head, and the bullet bounces right off his armored skull cap. None of that is supposed to describe Batman. Hell, with his indestructible plane and magic grappling gun that even works horizontally, Batman can even fly.

Their two alter egos are also muddied into an indistinguishable blob. Since when does Bruce Wayne head to the office for a daily 9-to-5 job and form relationships with people at work? Over at the Daily Planet, Clark barely pays lip service to his secret identity as a fluffy feature reporter, because he’s broodily obsessing over a threat to the city.

Worst of all, there’s no clash in beliefs that leads our two heroes to fight. That would require them to be different from each other. Instead, they both hate the other for putting himself above the law as a murderous vigilante. And they’re both equally oblivious to irony—as, apparently, are the screenwriters and director Zack Snyder.

All of this adds up to a conflict without any conflict to it. Two indistinguishable “heroes” with indistinguishable agendas come to blows over their similarities.

2. Nothing of consequence happens

If you’re going to blow up Congress in your movie, your movie damn well better be about blowing up Congress. But in Batman v Superman, an entire branch of the U.S. government is destroyed and the only fallout is that Superman gets 20% more angsty for one brief scene before we’re on to the next catastrophe.

A little bit later, the president launches a nuclear weapon at Superman, and the only fallout is a little bit of zombie makeup that immediately fades.

These are huge events that should blow our minds by the sheer scope. And yet, it’s all emotionally weightless. When the characters brush these events off immediately, the audience can’t help but do the same. Here’s a truism: If there are no consequences in your movie as to what happens, then nothing of consequence is happening in your movie.

Even when Superman dies, eh, it’s no big deal. It’s so obvious that he’s going to come back that director Zack Snyder doesn’t even bother to explain it or show it. A few floating rocks on the coffin are enough to assure everyone that even this BIG HUGE SHOCKING EVENT holds absolutely no weight, just like everything else.

3. Zack Snyder

There’s a simple reason that none of the characters act like anything matters, and that’s because in a Zack Snyder film, none of the characters ever act like anything matters. He simply positions his actors like props to get the most WICKED AWESOME ‘90S X-TREME visuals and then calls, “Cut!”

Watchmen was extremely faithful to the comic book in look and plot, and yet it captured none of the impact. This is primarily because Nite Owl was as emotionally detached as Dr. Manhattan, as was everyone else. Is nuclear war imminent or is the McRib back at McDonald’s? The dialogue claims it’s one thing, but the deadpan line readings might as well be the other. We’re not building toward anything. Everyone is as blandly morose in Act 3 as they were in Act 1.

It’s says a lot about Ben Affleck’s raw talent that he was able to infuse Bruce Wayne with some charisma despite Snyder’s direction. Poor Henry Cavill, on the other hand, doesn’t stand a chance. Watching him play Superman is as close as I’ll ever come to knowing what it’s like to have acute Asperger’s. There is zero emotional connection to anything he does or says.

Quick, tell me what emotion this character is feeling. Actually, take your time. Any guesses?

When Clark bemoans, “Superman was never real. Just the dream of a farmer from Kansas,” that could have been a powerful scene! But there was no previous hint that Clark was struggling to be something he wasn’t, or live up to someone else’s expectations of him. And when Lois responds, “That farmer’s dream is all some people have. It’s all that gives them hope,” who the hell is she talking about? No one we’ve seen in this movie. These lines of dialogue aren’t the culmination of anything; they come out of the blue just because they sound cool. What a waste. They say the writers of Frozen ditched their entire screenplay and rewrote everything around the song “Let It Go”. A great Superman movie could be built around this scene, but not one directed by Zach Snyder. No inner journeys allowed.

(And no, deciding you’re no longer going to kill someone because your mothers had the same first name is not an “inner journey”.)

4. Warner Bros. was paying more attention to Marvel’s movies than its own

Asked about how they’d change Justice League based on audience reactions to Batman v Superman, a Warner Bros. exec reportedly said, “We’re not going to take a movie that’s supposed to be one thing and turn it into a copycat of something else.”

It’s one thing to want to avoid being a copycat, and it’s another thing to be so obsessed with your competition that you completely lose sight of your customer.

Imagine if Wendy’s refused to put their hamburgers on buns because McDonald’s was already doing that. That’s the approach Warner Bros. took to creating their DC movie universe. They completely surrendered any territory that Marvel had already claimed without a fight.

And when the hate started rolling in, Warner Bros. still couldn’t see past Marvel to recognize who their audience was or what they wanted. They still wanted to define their next film purely in terms of the competition.

The finished product was a disaster, so just imagine how bad the first draft was! Now stop imagining and check out Agony Booth’s Bad First Drafts: Batman v Superman!

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  • Gearóid

    Nice article, although I have to say Cyclops is not boring, from Messiah complex up to Avengers vs X men he is a hard ass leader who takes no crap.
    What happened to him after is very upsetting, to just destroy a character for what goal I dont know.
    Its very cringy watching DCs attempts at movies, stop wanting what Marvel has and do your own thing.
    I predict Justice League will be a critically disaster though may gross a lot of money.
    At that point DC will have blown there chances and considering the library of cool characters they have they should be doing well, compitition is healthy for Marvel.
    This makes me think of Solkars DC is run by children.

    • Thomas Stockel

      In regards to Cyclops, what is it Harvey Dent said? Die a hero or live long enough to become the villain. I have been seeing at Marvel over the years more and more heroes being destroyed through a desire to be edgy because writers don’t know what to do with them. Professor Xavier was discovered to have made some terrible moral choices over the years (i.e. the unknown X-Men team that got slaughtered by Krackoa and his mind wiping Cyclops), Cyclops killed Xavier, Tony Stark became a fascist prick in Civil War I, Carol Danvers became a fascist prick in Civil War II, Steve Rogers thinks he’s a head of Hydra now, Black Panther has a cure for cancer and chooses not to release it, and don’t forget The Illuminati, where six “heroes” arrogantly make decisions behind everyone’s backs, an idea so bad it was done a second time during Hickman’s tenure on Avengers.

      Oh, and for a while there Spider Man was Doctor Octupus…or the other way around. Yeah, screw Marvel, I’m done, make mine DC. At least they admitted Nu52 was a mistake and they’re trying to fix it.

      • Gearóid

        Really interesting to hear your views anytime, i must check out some of those comics in your recent video especially the Alex Ross one.
        I am very ignorant of DC comics but you make a great appeal as to why i should check them out.
        I really want DCs movies to do well.
        It hurts personally with what they did with Cyclops, back in 06 i bought the entire X Factor run mainly because of him.
        I really only bought the Bendis Uncanny X Men to see were they will go with him and from what i have read online about recent stuff, the Inhumans v X Men, i am most unpleased.

  • Interesting read. Most of the critiques I’ve seen for this movie have relied more heavily on the story not staying true to the characters, or pointing out the plot holes, so it’s good to see one coming from more of a cinematic perspective.

    The snarky photo captions add spice to the article. I enjoy that sort of thing.

  • Murry Chang

    I finally watched this the other weekend and it was not good to say the least.
    Affleck does a real good job as Frank Miller’s Batman, but beyond that everything was total garbage.

  • Wizkamridr

    I thought we were done bitching about this movie. Let it rest and move on. If the DCU blows up into a fiery mess, then so be it. Just watch your cookie cutter/ paint by the numbers marvel movies that are doing so well.

    • So you complain about complaining about BvS while also complaining about Marvel films? Is this the turducken of complaints?

      • Wizkamridr

        I’m just being cynical like everyone else on the internet. I grew up with the Chris Reeve movies, but Snyder isn’t ruining my childhood. And yes, imo, marvel films are forgettable. Their rival is drowning in the kiddie pool, so marvel is being lazy and playing it safe.

        • Thomas Stockel

          I respectfully disagree. Yes, Marvel has had missteps, but Civil War was in my opinion amazing, the culmination of eight years of storytelling as Tony and Steve go toe-to-toe and tearing apart the super hero community in the process. And I don’t mind another B v S article if it brings something new to the table like this one did.

          But if you’re looking for something new to watch/read you could always check out my video, Dear Netflix, right here at The Agony Booth. ;p https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c46a6f7732727897dbd2053d249cf995ef241e18fa33884faf82552e5ea1453b.jpg

  • Premonition_45

    Zack Snyder saw “The Incredibles”, and walked away thinking Syndrome was the “true” hero in the story.

    • mamba

      Wasn’t he?

      His grand plan was to give superhero tech to the world (after he profited from it a little) so that everyone would have access to the tech. In his words…”when everyone is super…nobody is”.

      So in other words, he was willing to issue in a new era of technological progress, so strong that superheros would be completely unnecessary in the world, as the average person could fight back just as well, not to mention the military and police.

      Remember he had no other plan. he wasn’t trying to take over the world, he was already rich with his own island, and he only targeted former superheros…the same ones that rejected him foolishly. These would be the same heros that are currently illegal I might add?

      So yeah, syndrome was a hero of the story…we’re just not supposed to think about it too hard. 🙂

      • Toby Clark

        *implied facepalm* Heroes don’t, a) murder dozens of other heroes (most of which may not actually have met him when he was a fanboy), and b) unleash a giant destructive robot on a populated city to prop themselves up as heroes by stopping it.

        • mamba

          Ok, he had a few issues I’ll give you (laugh), but as evil plans go, at least he limited his destruction initially and the endgame was sound. Punisher is a hero and he kills all he time.

          BTW the first post was semi-sarcasm. Aside form the laugh, my point was I think with a very minor tweak they COULD have had him actually someone to relate to. Say for example he focused his evil robot plan on SOLELY the Incredible, and designed his “hero-me” robot to ONLY attack him and nothing else for show. I’m just surprised they made his endgame as nuanced as they did.

          Oh and for fun and curiosity, I took your criteria as a challenge:

          a) Wolverine has attacked virtually everyone he met with full intention to kill them at one point. Hell when he first met Captain America, cap got about 3-4 sentences out before Wolverine tried to take his freaking head off in one swipe…and they were both after the same thing at the time (giant robot)

          b) Watchmen’s main plan substituted a squid for robot but was basically the same thing. Aside from that, this is a tougher one I admit because intent is important (i.e. Ultron doesn’t count), but Booster Gold isn’t above this kind of thing.

  • DamonD

    Point one was the killer for me.

    One was a desaturated, brooding, inwardly angry man crushed under the weight of expectations and guilt and finding no joy in his deeds, and the other was Batman.