This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
John Gholson’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
It's been almost a week since I've seen it, and I'm still kind of mad about it. My enjoyment of comic book films is often a realization of my comic book fandom, separate from my film fandom, though there are some of these movies that are just good movies and not strictly good comic book movies. Part of the reason I've reacted so strongly to BVS is that it's not just a bad comic book movie but a bad movie, in its top-to-bottom construction, in ways that I can not force myself to get on board with in any way.
So before I get into the film stuff, from a sheer fanboy perspective, I was not delivered top-form visual iconography of three of the most recognizable icons in the world. The first time you see Batman, he's wearing a coat and goggles and the second time you see him, he's shot in close-ups while driving. One of the reasons the audience claps when Wonder Woman appears is because it's one of maybe two comic book "hero shots" in a film that stars heroes (the other being Superman carrying the rocket to safety).
Also from the fanboy within, Batman doesn't kill. He believes in rehabilitation. It's one of his "weaknesses," if you want to see it that way, but most fans see it as a strength - that this person at his core is still optimistic about the basic good of humanity despite all that he's seen. And Superman doesn't spend his career wondering why the hell he's Superman; his powers allow him to execute a one-man ideal as to what the best of humanity could be. Despite differing methods (Batman = offense, Superman = defense), this optimism in their fellow man is the very core that unites them as heroes and occasional partners (not the shared coincidence of having moms named "Martha.")
The pairing should be as simple to execute and as classic as peanut butter and jelly, which makes the film even more baffling. Already I'm concerned, but ok, I'm willing to go along with this film's unusually pessimistic versions of Batman and Superman...But then the "plot" happens and as each new plot point appears, apparently disconnected from the previous scenes, it's really hard to stay on board.
So, I'm getting characterizations I don't recognize, shot with visual disinterest, and placed into a storyline that is not only ugly, it doesn't make connective sense either?
If the film starts with Bruce Wayne's bad day establishing that Superman's godlike powers are dangerous if left unchecked, then what's the African murder subplot for? As best I can tell, it's to give Lois Lane "something to do." Lex Luthor doesn't have to make this point to the world about Superman by framing him. One of our lead protagonists already believes it, other characters in the film are already acting on it (Holly Hunter, Scoot McNairy). And why would Lex frame him using bullets (since when does Superman shoot people?) and why use special bullets that point back to Lex (instead of "regular" bullets that could've been purchased anywhere)?
There are a few things (Wonder Woman is included in this) that the movie asks us to come to the movie with; things that aren't in the text, but in the cultural consciousness. We know Lex Luthor hates Superman and we kind of have to sit down to the film with that in mind because there's not a lot of establishing of what Lex's deal here is exactly. You can chalk it up to Superman's unchecked power, but Eisenberg's Luthor is missing a scene of sincerity in which we can really get on board with the villain's motivations within this specific story. For a time, it seems like Luthor is using Superman to get big government defense contractor bucks, but that motivation doesn't really jibe with the second half of the film where Lex wants to control Superman by torturing his mother.
So, Lex is pulling Kryptonite out of the ocean so he can create an anti-Superman weapon. He hires a suicide bomber to blow up a Superman senate hearing with Superman present (is this a tantrum from Lex because he knew his government deal was DOA?) It's another thing that seems big and important when it's happening because there's build to it, but after it happens, it really doesn't seem to have anything to do with the overall story once it's in the rear-view (just like the Africa stuff).
Batman steals Luthor's Kryptonite because Batman would also like to have an anti-Superman weapon, since he's still pissed about the day the World Engines came to town and destroyed everything. It's Bruce Wayne that finds out what Luthor's doing and both men in the context of the film are anti-Superman businessmen, so why doesn't Wayne just join Luthor in the anti-Superman biz, instead of just stealing what Lex has a legal right to? Also, Diana Prince (Wonder Woman) shows up at parties and knows Bruce Wayne is doing sneaky stuff and lets Bruce know she knows, and I don't know why or how it affects the plot at all, but there she is.
Meanwhile, Lex uses a Kryptonian super-computer at the bottom of the sea to create an outlawed-on-Krypton "Kryptonian abnormality" made of Zod's dead body and some of Lex's blood. This nonsense is important later.
When Lex discovers Batman is mucking with his Kryptonite, he kidnaps and tortures Ma Kent and forces Superman to bring him the head of Batman. But, what's this!? Batman has used the kryptonite to make himself a bunch of anti-Superman weapons and armor so that he can take down Superman once and for all, right when Superman needs to save his momma. As mentioned above, they fight until Bruce discovers that their moms are both named Martha.
Somehow, this leads to Lex unleashing the abnormality, now named "Doomsday," on the least-populated, most-abandoned areas of Metropolis and eventually Gotham, where the characters can fight without human causality, which for some reason makes the U.S. government nuke them (a ludicrous action beat without consequence - Doomsday falls back to earth; Superman dies and is revived by the sun). Wonder Woman joins the fray at some point. Lois retrieves a Kryptonite spear she didn't know anything about until the moment the film requires somebody to go fetch the weapon. Then the movie goes full-on "Death of Superman" with Superman and Doomsday simultaneously stabbing each other and dying.
Batman is the only character with an arc, as the moment inspires him to do something bigger and better than be a guy who brands humans for death or runs over people in his car. Lex goes to prison for all his terribly executed horseshit plans and starts babbling about a different powerful spaceman, which is sure to be Darkseid, all set-up for a planned Justice League movie. The movie closes with a shot of vibrating dirt; again, completely unconcerned with the visual iconography of the very characters it's using. No hero shots. Go home.
I've never wanted to armchair quarterback a movie so badly. Lose the African stuff. Lose the suicide bomber. Wayne's bad day establishes that not everyone loves Superman; you don't need the other stuff and it doesn't have any payoff. Superman needs to be ignorant of the fact that people might be afraid of him - his arc should be a discovery that not everyone sees him as the Kansas farm boy he sees himself as, and how can he show the world that he will never, ever harm them. His characterization in BVS starts with him wondering why he's Superman in the first place and he never answers that question for himself before the movie kills him outright.
The Doomsday crap should be specifically for Darkseid. Let's assume, since Lex is most likely rambling about Darkseid at the end of the movie anyway, that Lex discovers who Darkseid is in the Kryptonian knowledge machine. If Lex is already looking at Superman like an unwanted God, then Darkseid would be Lex's worst nightmare. Doomsday should be created as Lex's contingency plan for Darkseid and Doomsday should simply break free because Lex can't control him (and that's some classic Lex hubris). This doesn't make Lex's "I'll torture Ma Kent until Superman kills Batman" ploy any better, but it gives logic to the illogical Doomsday stuff.
Couldn't the abrupt aside where Batman watches clips of Justice League characters from Lex's computer desktop be handled better than that? Is it a matter of placement? It's a cold stop in the middle of other business. Yeah, we're getting our Easter Eggs but they're rotten. The moment where Flash appears after Batman's dream, in what will surely be a scene extended in Justice League, is done a huge disservice by having the character appear in armor that is unrecognizable as the Flash (again, the movie does not care about the iconography of its own icons). Chris Pine is distracting, Cyborg's origin looks like it's from a completely different film, and I'm not sure why Jason Momoa was doing any press for the film or is in the film's merch, based on what essentially boils down to a couple of seconds of him looking directly into the camera while in costume.
To paraphrase a friend, the whole movie feels like someone pressed "Play All" on the deleted scenes of a different BATMAN V SUPERMAN film. Maybe I'd watch that one. I dunno. The best I can say is that I'm still ok with seeing Wonder Woman next year. This movie, though, is a big, loud wasted opportunity that left my geeky heart flatlined when it wasn't actively irritating me. It delivered no thrills within it greater than any of the images used to promote the film (Wonder Woman in costume, Jack Kirby parademons in a dream sequence). Yeah, maybe it's not the worst comic book movie, but it's easily one of my least favorites.
How do you screw up PB&J?