We saw it. I’d seen a number of reviews floating around the internet, so I walked into the theater with pretty low expectations. That helped a lot.
Ultimately, it felt like a movie that needed at least one more rewrite, or maybe one fewer. It was better than I expected it to be…but that doesn’t make it a good movie.
There was a lot on this movie’s To Do List.
- Deal with the consequences of all that destruction at the end of Man of Steel.
- Introduce Batman and give him a reason to hate Superman.
- Introduce Lex Luthor and his machinations to destroy Superman.
- Bring in kryptonite.
- Lay the groundwork for the Justice League movie, including showing Wonder Woman and the other heroes, and dropping hints about Darkseid.
- Show Batman and Superman beating the crap out of each other.
- Throw Doomsday into the mix.
To be fair, the movie checked off every one of those boxes.
Unfortunately, it didn’t do so very well.
Probably the strongest item on the list was acknowledging and dealing with the awfulness at the end of the last movie. A lot of fans were upset at the massive death and destruction during the closing act of Man of Steel, and this movie builds pretty well on that. We see the collapse of one of Bruce Wayne’s towers, which kills one of Bruce’s friends/colleagues. We see one of the survivors of that disaster. There are congressional hearings. And you get hints that Superman himself continues to struggle with what happened, though I think there could have been more on that front.
Batman…okay, I was surprised at how much I appreciated Ben Affleck’s Batman as a character. I loved the chemistry and interactions between him and Jeremy Iron’s Alfred. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any real character development. The movie tells us this Batman is older and bitter and burnt out and mentally unstable, but it doesn’t give us enough to earn that. Instead of weird nightmares and yet another retelling of the Batman origin story, show us more of the toll this job has taken on him. Show us his guilt and his fear. Show us how he started to cross those ethical lines, and how he reached the point where he was determined to kill Superman. This storyline could have been wonderful and powerful. Instead, it was just…there.
Wonder Woman was a good character, and I loved seeing her. That said, did she need to be in this movie at all? Did she add anything to the story? If you’re going to bring in Wonder Woman, give her more to do. (So, when does the Wonder Woman movie come out???)
Lex Luthor. I’m torn about Jesse Eisenberg’s performance. I appreciate that he was trying something new, but the awkward manipulative supergenius thing never really gelled, nor did his motivations.
Doomsday. Why? That’s another example of taking a long, complex storyline and cramming it into about 15 minutes, and it just doesn’t work.
- Let’s introduce Jimmy Olsen and kill him, just for fun? No.
- Mercy too, for that matter.
- Perry White is…pretty much a jerk.
- Both Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne just happen to know Superman’s identity? I could buy into this if the movie gave us any hint as to how they figured it out.
- Also, did I interpret correctly that Lex was behind those letters to Bruce Wayne? So he knows Batman’s identity too? What, was there a public Facebook page or something?
- Random time-traveling nightmare dude. WTF?
- Lois Lane was pretty much just Damsel In Distress for this movie, except that she did investigate that one bullet…an investigation which had zero impact on the plot.
- Holy crap, Doomsday is an Uruk Hai!
- Weird skull-faced Superman in space, post nuke. (Fixed by 7 seconds of sunlight.)
- Lex Luthor wanders into the Kryptonian ship with Zod’s fingerprints, and the ship invites him to take command of everything? My thumb drive has better security.
The biggest problem, in my opinion, is that it could have been a good movie. If they’d worked on developing the characters instead of overstuffing every frame with fights and explosions and Justice League hints and so on.
Make us care about Bruce and Clark. Help us sympathize with both of them. Help us like these characters. A few more moments of humor would have done so much to make us care. Show us more of Alfred worrying about Bruce and actually trying to do something about it. Show us Bruce’s fears — a few random nightmares don’t cut it. You don’t try to kill someone because you had bad dreams. Show us more of these people’s grief over their mistakes, and how their determination to avoid further mistakes leads them down the wrong paths.
Give Lex Luthor a coherent scheme, and show him being brilliant and oily and manipulative and clever beyond a bomb in a wheelchair and some letters to Bruce Wayne.
Give us more of Lois Lane and Clark Kent being in love and being happy, so there’s a cost to losing one another.
Give us a real redemption arc for Bruce Wayne/Batman. Show us realizing what he’s done and how he ended up here, and make him work to do what’s right.
From all the reviews I’d seen, I expected this movie to be bad. What I didn’t expect was to see the potential, the movie that might have been. I wish I’d had the chance to see that movie.