There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.
Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
— excerpt from W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939”
[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR, GENERAL SPOILERS.]
Wow. The script for “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016) was really bad.
I hate to begin a review with a statement so negative, but it’s true. I really think that I could have done better than this, and I know nothing about screenwriting. Hell, parts of the movie were actually MSTy-worthy. I just can’t believe that the gifted David S. Goyer had a hand in this.
Batman is flatly rendered and barely likable. Superman is capably played by Henry Cavill, but has little to say. Lex Luthor is portrayed as a cloying, verbose, flamboyant, attention-seeking manchild. He gets all the screen time in the world (and more dialogue than Superman, it seems), and he really come across as a whiny, rambling high school student playing at theologian, trying in vain to impress the girls. Luthor seems to want to ingratiate himself to every other character on screen. Strangely, this includes even those he is threatening or endeavoring to murder. He has weird vocal tics that quickly get on our nerves. “Mmm.” He makes repeated references to god, who he hates, and … this makes him hate the godlike Superman, via Freudian transference. Or something.
He consequently wants to kill Superman. He has kryptonite and demonstrably capable mercenaries at his disposal. But, for some reason, he wants to employ unreliable, convoluted plans to prompt Batman to do it. His plans to motivate Batman include harassing him with newspaper clippings and nasty notes, like a deranged stalker.
He also has a photograph of Wonder Woman that she would like to keep secret. She goes ahead and mentions it to an ostensibly drunken Bruce Wayne at a party anyway.
Oh! Luthor also knows the secret identities for both Superman and Batman, and has known for some time. We don’t find out how he knows, and he does far less to exploit this information than you would think. Couldn’t he easily (and quite legally) cause problems for both men simply by exposing them? Superman knows Batman’s identity too; I guess we can chalk that up to his x-ray vision? Batman is not in the know, and spends much of the movie trying to play catch-up, and is easily manipulated by Luthor. This is despite the fact that, in the comics, he is the world’s greatest detective.
There is bad dialogue, weird science, and bad science. There are murky, vague plot points and unsupported character motivations. Some things are just plain dumb — Metropolis and Gotham City stand within sight of each other, just across a bay. Either hero could easily intervene in the other’s city … but they apparently respect each other’s nearly adjacent turf, even though they don’t know or trust each other.
Even the premise is shaky — legions of people hate Superman because they blame him for the damage inflicted by Zod during the events of “Man of Steel” (2013). Couldn’t he just exonerate himself by simply telling the truth — that Zod attacked earth and he rose to defend it? I’m willing to bet most people would get that.
There are … dream sequences … and/or visions … and/or messages from the future? And … conversations with the dead? Or … not? You tell me.
Why does Superman need a winter jacket?
Why does he refer to his mother as “Martha?” Do any of us refer to our mothers by their first name?
I could go on, but you get the idea. I actually found my attention wandering during this movie.
All of this is a shame, because there are hints of brilliance hiding among the mediocrity. The movie is ambitious. It seems to want to say a lot about weighty themes such as power, unlimited power, its ability to corrupt, and the unintended consequences of unilateral action. There seem to be visual references to real world horrors like 9/11 and ISIS’ terrorism, which I found pretty bold. I’ve never been good with subtext. Were there allegories here that I missed, connected with U.S. foreign policy or the War on Terror?
I will say this — the film isn’t quite as bad as the critics are making it out to be. It isn’t all garbage, it’s just a below average superhero film. And it appears worse because it’s part of a genre characterized by a lot of really good films — Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies were groundbreaking, and most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s titles were quite good. So this ambitious misfire seems far worse in contrast. I myself would rate this movie a 5 out of 10 — even if I might be biased here by my lifelong love for these iconic characters.
I’ll tell you what — why don’t I go ahead and list this movie’s successes? There are a few things that I really liked, and this blog post is so negative it’s starting be a buzzkill.
Postscript: a note to those who might be new to comics — this movie cribs heavily from two famous comic book story arcs. The first is 1972’s “Must There Be A Superman?” and the second is 1986’s graphic novel, “The Dark Knight Returns.” I haven’t read the former, but let me assure you that the latter is incredibly good. It was written and illustrated by Frank Miller, and it was so damn good it actually transformed the medium, by changing how fans and the general public viewed comic books. It’s a masterpiece. The point I’m trying to make is this — please don’t judge the seminal comic series by its putative representation by this film.
Postscript II: has there really been a great live-action Superman movie since “Superman II” in 1980? It’s well known that the third and fourth installments in the 80’s franchise were abominable. I thought that “Superman Returns” (2006) and “Man of Steel” were both good, but they got mixed reviews from audiences and critics alike. Weird.
From first responder John Feal, who is currently leading efforts to secure potentially lifesaving medical care for the surviving 9/11 first responders:
Dec 2, 2015 — I’m outside of Senator McConnell’s office right now and need your help because he’s holding up our bill. Please reach out to Senator Mitch McConnell’s office immediately and tell him to meet with first responders who are outside his office in the Senate Russell Building:
Call: (202) 224-2541 or (502) 582-6304
If no one answers, try again!
All you need to say is “Tell Senator McConnell to meet with 9/11 first responders. As an American taxpayer I expect our government to give permanent health coverage to those who risked their lives on 9/11. Will Senator Mitch McConnell stand with the American people who will never forget? I hope he knows our heroes were there for our nation on that tragic day so we should be for them now instead of playing politics with human lives.”
On Twitter? Click here http://ctt.ec/odsVJ
There’s a terrific set of links and resources over at Mashable.com, and it’s updated continuously:
For a little perspective, we Americans should remember the support and friendship the French people showed us after September 11, 2001.
L’Amérique se tient avec la France.
Please call your representatives in Congress to support urgently needed medical care for 9/11 First Responders. Congress will vote this week on whether or not to extend the James Zadroga Act, which supports potentially lifesaving care for police, fire & rescue, and recovery workers at the site of the World Trade Center attack.
It’s quick and easy. Just dial the Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121, and they can connect you with your Representative and both of your Senators.
Or, you find the numbers for your Representative here: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/
and both of your Senators here: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm?OrderBy=state&Sort=ASC .
For more information on the efforts of First Responders to ask Congress to support this critically needed law, click here for a message from First Responder John Feal:
Again, I am especially hoping that my fellow New Yorkers will take the time to do this. On September 11, 2001, these men and women were there for us. Now it is our turn to be there for them.
If you are reading this now, then you are likely to head to bed soon for the night, safely.
If you are like many today, then you might have said a prayer, or a few words of thanks, for the soldiers, the police, the firemen, and the emergency professionals who have made such safety possible.
You and I will retire to sleep tonight without event. We will awaken in a free state tomorrow. These are rarer things than we often realize, in a frequently ugly world, where despots threaten and madmen make red pageantry in our skylines and in our saddest inner moments. But tonight we sleep peacefully thanks to the ardor of the brave.
Indeed, we WILL never forget.
To all of the especially good men and women whose job it is to keep us safe, often at the highest risk to themselves:
Good luck, Godspeed, and thank you for your service.
A dear friend authored this deeply personal and quite beautiful poem. I am honored to be able to feature it here.
“Things You Don’t Write About 9/11/2001”
by Stanley Anne Zane Latham
It was an ordinary train ride
You, me, Leita, and Dan
We didn’t mean to get separated.
We didn’t mean anything
in those days. We were
in college. It seemed
like we were rebels. Our parents
ate cabbage; our parents. Gosh,
we thought, what happened to them?
We simply got on a train. We didn’t
tell them. We were skipping school,
old enough to be our own.
I have to tell them, you loved me.
Dan loved Leita. I loved you.
We all kind of loved.
It was supposed to be
a simple day in New York.
It was supposed to be
A simple day in New York.
You don’t want me to bring
our life after this back
to this. Moment. There
is nothing like an almost.
In the aftermath, when the train
stopped, when no one was
ever the same again; i mean
the conductor said – Do you remember
what the conductor said?
i remember : it was a morning train
i remember : the birds flying at the windows
i remember : You shrouding me across
i had you. You had me.
Dan had Leita, Leita had Dan.
We were never the same.
Photo credit: “F coming into Smith-9th,” by Error46146 at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Linking here to a great article in 2001 by Peter Steinfels at the New York Times, discussing the renewed popularity of W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939” after 9/11.
I knew the poem was controversial, and that it arguably could have been quoted out of context, as it references the events preceding World War II. But I had no idea how controversial. I can’t believe the famous piece was later so “loathed” by Auden himself.
Here is a link to the poem itself, at the website of Academy of American Poets:
Photo by Jessica Maxwell (U.S. Army Forces Command), September 21, 2009.
“Gen. Charles C. Campbell, U.S. Army Forces commanding general, Col. Deborah B. Grays, U.S. Army Garrison commander and Command Sgt. Maj. Kenny LeonGuerrero, USAG command sergeant major, render salutes to the United States flag as a bugler plays taps during the close of Patriot Day ceremonies held Sept. 11 at Fort McPherson. Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem joined the rest of the nation in honoring the victims of the terrorist attacks that took place Sept. 11, 2001.” — Wikimedia Commons