The DCEU is a mixed bag to say the least. They tried to get their universe started by the time Marvel was well established. Batman v. Superman (2016) is the perfect example of this, as they try to establish all of the Justice League characters, crudely I might add, along with several planned overarching set ups that get no or little payoff, and be one of the most anticipated movies of the decade! Safe to say, there was a lot for this film to live up to. To add to the mounting pressure, they gave us ANOTHER Batman. Although I am not complaining, a new Batman only 4 years after Christian Bale hung up the cowl in The Dark Knight Rises (2012)! Let’s just see where this film went horribly wrong, and shine a light on the few bright spots as well.
Batman v. Superman (2016) deals with Batman, AKA Bruce Wayne (played by Ben Affleck), and Superman, AKA Clark Kent (played by Henry Cavill), as their differing ideologies surrounding justice begin butting heads. All while Lex Luthor (played by Jesse Eisenberg) tries to gain a giant chunk of Kryptonite to be used as a deterrent for the legendary Kryptonian, just in case Supes goes a little “cray-cray”. But when that plan goes awry, Luthor turns to other Kryptonian technology in order to create Superman's Doomsday. There are even government hearings about Superman and his use of his superhuman abilities in there somewhere, but that doesn't matter at this point.
I have to give the DCEU credit as their trailers are spellbinding at times, however this does come at the expense of oversharing the story. Basically giving away everything the audience would like to see on the big screen in a 2-3 minute teaser. The second Batman v. Superman (2016) trailer is especially guilty of this; giving away the 3rd act villain Doomsday. Also, why include Doomsday when our main villain in this movie is supposed to be Lex Luthor? I mean, I get that Superman needs someone to fight without killing them, again. (*cough, Zod, cough*) But Doomsday is completely rushed with both his creation and his powers growing quicker than the movie’s already breakneck pace, leaving him a forgettable foe.
It was made painfully clear that this film was a product of a company trying to milk as much out of as little as possible; as they shoehorn in Aquaman, the Flash, and Cyborg with cameos BEFORE they even get solo movies. HECK, Cyborg doesn’t even have one yet “technically”, or Flash for that matter. They were able to rope in Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot) for a short time and even give her some fight club action. Nobody complained at her inclusion in the film, hell, I enjoyed her on screen with her fighting alongside Batman and Superman in the climax. But we all wanted more of Wonder Woman in the final product.
With this movie's unrealistically fast pace, there are times the story took precedence over character development. The biggest offender to this was the infamous, “MARTHA!!!!” moment. I didn't even realize at the time that Batman’s and Superman’s mothers had the same name, but c’mon, there are better ways for these two comic legends to kiss and make up. I get the emotional gravity of the situation and what the writers were trying to do, but they executed it so hastily and messily that it didn’t make any sense or have any emotional weight.
When casting was announced for Batman v. Superman (2016), it turned many heads, albeit, not all for the best. Many jaws had hit the floor when the news broke that Ben Affleck would be taking up the cape and cowl for the DCEU. However, after the film, many can agree that Ben’s performance was one of the few highlights of Batman v. Superman (2016), bringing out Bruce’s ferocity and darker impulses as Batman. Although, others were uneasy with his lax approach to Batman’s code, possibly killing bad guys during small chunks of the film. When Gal Gadot was announced as Wonder Woman, many were skeptical of the casting due to her limited experience in film; best known in the Fast and Furious franchise (2009-2013) up ‘til that point. But like Affleck, few could criticize her performance as she embodied Wonder Woman perfectly with her honorable character traits & formidable and fierce fighting skills.
The one casting choice many were worried about was Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. With Eisenberg, experience wasn't the issue, it was more of the choice as him as the iconic Superman villain. While fans can be worrisome about casting decisions, such as Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008), it doesn’t mean the actor will give a bad performance. Eisenberg as Luthor, however, is NOT the case. Where Luthor is a calculating psychopath in previous incarnations for both film and comics, Luthor here is portrayed as a fidgety man-child who is using Superman as an outlet to deal with his daddy issues. Eisenberg is a capable actor, but he wasn’t a good pick to be Luthor and the dialogue he was given didn’t help.
Despite many of the film's flaws in pacing, character decisions, and dialogue, one thing it got absolutely right was its action and visuals. Time and time again director Zack Snyder goes above and beyond to create spectacular action set pieces in Batman v. Superman (2016). Showing the epic tone this franchise can have with sequences like the famous Warehouse Fight between Batman and Luthor's goons; as it shows Batman’s fierce brutality and creativity while fighting. It almost feels like the Batman Arkham video game series, and that’s a big compliment, since that video game series is praised for its action and fight sequences. Another sequence in the film that happens to be my personal favorite is the “Batman, Dark Apokolips” sequence which honestly is Snyder at his most creatively free in the film. Using a long take and visceral hand to hand as Batman fights parademons in a foreshadowing moment meant for the Snyderverse’s version of the DCEU, but didn’t come to pass (yet, who knows what Warner Bros. will do).
I can’t mention Batman v. Superman (2016) without talking about the titanus grudge match between these superheroes. There is heavy inspiration from Frank Miller’s, The Dark Knight Returns, with Batman's armored suit standing a chance against the demi-god, Supes. But it also has Batman outsmarting his opponent by relying on his wits and gadgets, while Superman relies heavily on his abilities. I’m not complaining about the actual fight in the slightest, however, I am a bit annoyed how Superman refused to keep reasoning with Bruce as they fought. It was like at some point, he gave up and said, “alright, lets throw these hands”. Also, just so this is clear to everyone, Batman was the clear victor!
Batman v. Superman (2016) definitely shows how much weight Warner Bros. threw around to try and make this movie into the outlet of a franchise in the making, in an attempt to catch up to the ever evolving MCU. There are still some great moments like The Warehouse Brawl and some great performances from Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck. But the movie is too bogged down in its own world building to make coherent sense. If we got Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) immediately after this movie was released, it would’ve felt like a necessary pill to swallow in order to get a superior film. Instead we got Josstice League (2017), and nothing made sense anymore. Let’s hope Warner Bros. is finally learning from their mistakes!