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?
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.
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.
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.
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!