Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

The ideological tangles in this are irresistible: the alien god versus the one-man defense contractor, the social and political implications of heroism. But that stuff's not worth dwelling on, despite how much the film dwells, because it offers the film almost nothing.

It’s at base a movie about the public’s relationship to its gods, be they Earth-born or merely Earth-dwelling. But it has almost no sense of the actual public, even as so many of its ideas invoke that public—no sense of the believers beyond the awe-stricken, wary, open-mouthed masses, no sense of their faith, no sense of their demands of these men beyond what can be summed up in slo-mo tableaux and glimpses of newspaper headlines. It’s condescending bunk. By the second hour, pushing toward the third, after a century or five of junior philosophizing, you’ll wish Snyder had resisted these ideas altogether.

It’s not that he’s an unskilled filmmaker, and the people arguing that he's a talentless hack are being a little ungenerous. Snyder's problem is that he misplaces his ambitions. His talent is for freewheeling, excessive, energetic action that resists logic. He's got an imagination. Let him loose in a wholly illogical and fantastical world, as was the case in his funnest film to date, Sucker Punch, and give him the template of some prior text (usually a comic), and he might surprise you—he has a sense of style, a boyish excitement, that can bring inelegant but earnest joy to the most airless nonsense, even if he doesn't make it any less nonsensical. Sucker Punch, for example, isn't about anything so much as it acts out the thing we do when we see, re-watch, think about, and dream about movies (and video games). It took appreciably little interest in its potential feminism, which in the case of Snyder is a miracle and a godsend.

For me, the best scene in BVS, taken out of context, is a fever dream set in a fiery, apocalyptic desert. It keeps getting worse and worse, more and more excessive: a surprise betrayal, a fantastically violent bit of combat in which a gun-wielding Batman opts to fight hand to hand, huge bugs that emerge out of nowhere—and a freewheeling camera, roving through a long take, that gives a palpable, horrifically exciting sense of Batman's confused distress.

Snyder ruins it by exposing the moment as a dream within a dream, by feeling a need to further complicate the already illogically complicated. He feels a need to connect things back to the story, and when he has to tell a story, he fails, because he can’t seem to find the right form for his fantasy ambitions when they're anchored to broader questions or dramatic needs.

Snyder is attracted to Big Ideas. But somehow, despite his talent, he doesn’t trust images to convey those ideas on their own—doesn’t trust the site of Superman, tight-bodied and bursting forth with a sonic boom, to tell us everything we need to know about this alien hero being a god. No, we have to talk about it, hear about it, have Neil DeGrasse Tyson ramble on about Copernicus in a talking head montage as Superman is laden with every variety of albatross. As a set of alternating panels in a comic, this works, especially in the work of Frank Miller, whose ideas were often made apparent by the interjections of the press. Weighed down by so many similar, dreadfully static conversations in a 2.5 hour movie, however, it feels like bullshit.

Snyder feels a need to supplement action with discourse. He strains for the dramatic, muscular, idea-driven action of his mentor, Christopher Nolan, but his style rejects Nolan's rigid, practical realism while trying to retain what this method induces in Nolan's filmmaking. Snyder doesn't know how to reconcile the differences this makes. Luckily! he has, what, 2 more of these? Maybe he'll learn.

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