So I saw Batman v Superman last night. Ugh.
I considered it my civic duty. As bad as all the reviews have been—and they undersell just how bad this stinker is—we do live in the democracy of the dollar. I think a big opening weekend gross for this film is our best shot at getting a decent superhero film out of DC comics in the future. So I went.
This movie is a lifeless, shambling zombie that just won’t die. I don’t like speaking ill of the dead (or the undead, I guess), so instead I’ll focus on the one character in the whole two-and-a-half-hour death march that shows some spark: Wonder Woman.
It turns out she’s the perfect case study for director Zack Snyder, because everything he gets right about her is everything he gets wrong about the rest of the film. For one thing, she’s the only character to have fun. If there’s a future to DC Comics filmdom, Wonder Woman will be its Thor. She understands the joy of the worthy opponent, of being outmatched and outmuscled, of being well and truly walloped.
She’s also mysterious, while everyone else is just baffling. Snyder doesn’t seem to understand the difference. He invites questions about all of the characters, and that’s a good first step, but few of the questions are interesting and most of them are left unanswered. Mystery requires intriguing questions (so not, for instance, “Why does Lex Luthor care about Batman at all?”) that actually get satisfactory answers (so not, “Maybe he wants a proxy to fight Superman, though then we’d have to explain why he tries so hard to keep Kryptonite out of Batman’s hands…”).
I can’t say Wonder Woman’s moral motivations are clear, but at least they’re not totally self-refuting. That’s not true of anyone else. This film is supposed to be a moral drama pitting Superman’s idealism versus Batman’s grim justice. Instead we’re left with Super-utilitarianism versus Bat-utilitarianism, and neither of them is all that good at the utilitarian calculus. Both of them kill indiscriminately, and Batman’s only edge on Superman seems to be that he doesn’t claim otherwise. (Superman flat-out lies about it.)
By contrast, Wonder Woman is the only hero to show any concern for civilian casualties. Superman spews heat-vision willy-nilly, throws bad guys through inhabited buildings, and generally lays waste to any urban center around him. His most egregious kill comes almost as soon as he steps onstage: we all know he’s faster than a speeding bullet, yet instead of plucking said bullet out of the air he chooses to bash down walls with the shooter. Batman shows the same disregard for human life (and with a particular penchant for machine guns and high explosives, no less, making him more like the Punisher than the Batman we all know and love). Compare these reckless testosterone junkies to Wonder Woman, who fights with sword in hand—a deadly weapon, so she’s ready to kill, but only those she can stand with toe-to-toe.
Wonder Woman is also the only hero in the film not to be vexed by disjointed dream sequences. All of these raise more questions than they answer, and they all hint at the sequels Snyder wants to but can no longer be allowed to direct. Fans who know what Darkseid’s parademons are and who know the Flashpoint storyline are the only ones to have any hope of recognizing what the hell these scenes are about, and all of them will agree that it’s way too early to even give a hint in that direction. One movie at a time, folks.
You’d have thought it was obvious that a superhero movie ought to be fun, that the hero ought to have some mystery to her, that we should discover the truths underlying the mysteries, and that the hero ought to be, you know, heroic. Wonder Woman is the only one who’s a hit on all counts. The real tragedy is that she only gets seven minutes of screen time, less than five actually in costume doing Wonder-Womany stuff.
In all, BvS feels not like an action movie but like an early stage in the storyboarding process. If I had my druthers, the final draft would eliminate the jibber-jabbering Lex Luthor completely, and it also wouldn’t have the most important plot point turn on the fact that the two quasi-heroes both have mothers names Martha. Most importantly, it wouldn’t take itself so goddamn seriously. It would learn a thing or two from Wonder Woman.