Brace yourselves. Go eat, take a shower, get comfy. You’re in for a long, sad ride. You have been warned.
First, please note that aside from the image next to these words, there will be no other pictures with pithy captions. Also, there will be no tags at the bottom of this piece. I know that’s the way we usually do it around here, and there’s a possibility RTK himself might woodshed me about this. But I have my reasons.
We’re going to have a nice, long talk about Zack Snyder and Batman v Superman: The Ultimate Edition.
I know RTK wrote an article earlier telling you folks his feelings about the movie. And he is 100% correct in his assessment. But my only problem with his review is this: he didn’t go far enough. I don’t think it was fear of anything – if you know RTK, you know he’s virtually fearless; he will stand at the lip of a volcano to save someone’s life just as surely as he will berate them with some of the most beautiful foul language ever spoken for getting themselves in that kind of situation – I think it was because, after watching it, he was so traumatized by the whole thing that his only reliable recourse was to lash out at it, and Zack Snyder, in the only way he knows how. You can read it here. For my part, I was sorely disappointed to hear that so much money and time was squandered on a movie that got such bad reviews. And then I was enraged when I found out that there was going to be an R-rated cut for DVD.
My whole point then was that you do not, you fucking well do NOT, put the Man of Steel in an R-rated movie. Ever. I felt that way then, and, after having seen… what I have seen… I feel that way now. But now, there is a difference. I am stunned and traumatized. I watched it last night, and actually, truly, for-real had bad dreams about it. I haven’t been this squicked out by a movie since the first time I saw a snuff film. Having seen this… thing… I feel like Kevin McCarthy at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, wanting to run through the streets, screaming and ranting, warning people not to buy this DVD and further encourage Snyder to make anymore movies, or encourage Warner Brothers to let him.
If you haven’t already known this fact, I’ll reiterate it for you: As much as RTK loves and reveres Captain America, I feel exactly the same way about Superman. I have loved this character since I could walk.
My earliest memory in life was having my mother tie a towel around my neck, and jumping off the arm of the couch, catching a fleeting second of flight through the air, singing “Supermaaaaaan!” every time. When I was a kid, I watched every last television show that featured the character. I saw the old George Reeves series, I watched reruns of the Filmation animated series done in the 60s (and which I now have on DVD), I ate up SuperFriends because he was right in the middle of not only the action but the show’s logo as well. When I was 14, my (then) lifelong dream of seeing him in a movie that was big enough to deserve him – Richard Donner’s original film – was fulfilled. I remember standing on my porch in the cold December twilight, waiting for my best friend and his dad to come pick me up so we could go see it. I remember distinctly standing there, waiting, with my Mego action figure with the “S” crest nearly falling off because of the shitty adhesive and the cheap red boots being held together with Scotch tape, but holding onto him, raising his arms, lifting him up and “flying” him around, until my friend and his dad showed up. When they arrived, I put the toy inside my coat – because a 14 year old boy should have greater things on his mind than playing with his toys – but secretly opened up my coat and showed my friend who I’d brought along. He rolled his eyes, then smiled. He knew. I can’t remember much about the viewing experience – and I think it was because I was so rapturously overjoyed to “believe a man could fly” that all other memory of that night is eclipsed by it. Christopher Reeve so perfectly became the hero I’d worshiped practically my whole life, that it was as if he was sent down by the gods to do nothing else but be Superman for us. The movies afterward, featuring him, progressively lost quality quickly, but even so, Reeve so perfectly captured the essence of the hero that it would be the bright, shiny spot in an otherwise horrid, lackluster joke of a film.
I remember when Kenner came out with the Super Powers figures, and I eagerly and greedily bought all I could find and afford. But the crown jewel was… not Superman. No, there was another figure available, but you had to cut out six UPC codes, mail them in with a check to cover shipping, and in six weeks, you got a small, plain, unmarked white box in the mail. Opening it, I was greeted by the very first ever Clark Kent action figure. As much as I’ve ever loved Superman, I had just a smidge more affection for Clark.
I remember the Crisis on Infinite Earths, where the old Superman from Earth Two and the contemporary one from Earth One, fought to preserve the DC Universe from the evil Anti-Monitor. I remember the iconic cover of issue #8, with Superman holding the lifeless body of his cousin, Supergirl, and wailing, screaming, his eyes, flooded with tears of the kind of grief we only experience when someone close to us dies before their time. I remember Alan Moore’s engrossing, affectionate and entirely appropriate “goodbye” story to the the version of the character I had come to know so well, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” that was penciled by Curt Swan – the definitive artist on Superman for decades – and inked by George Perez and Kurt Schaffenberger (the above image comes from that story). I remember John Byrne’s stellar relaunch of the character, revising and updating him for a new age, and with almost no false notes, succeeding brilliantly. I remember in 1988, the 50th anniversary of his first appearance, getting together with friends to watch the original Reeve film from ten years earlier on videotape. I baked a cake and spent a lot of time making sure that the icing was the exact shade of blue, and that the crest was done as well as my unpracticed hands could do, and brought it with me. I remember my friends giving me a good-natured ribbing about it, but then slicing into it (red on one layer, blue on the other) and telling me how good it was.
I remember videotaping the Ruby-Spears animated series every Saturday morning because I had to work Saturdays, and coming home to watch the latest episode each week, like a treat for myself. I remember Dean Cain and Terri Hatcher’s chemistry on Lois and Clark. I remember the day issue #75 of Superman came out – sealed in black plastic, with the crest in dripping, bloody red, with, among other things, a black armband with the crest on it, which I wrapped around the arm of my leather jacket and wore until it came off and got lost forever. I remember how the news channels were seemingly caught completely unawares at the idea that a comic book storyline could have such a wide-ranging cultural impact. I remember how the comic sold out within an hour of being released at my comic book shop (and how, if I didn’t have a pull list with all the Superman titles on it, I would have missed out – and how the guy at the comic store somehow “messed up” and put two copies into my monthly pickup, so I could open one and preserve the other. I remember people coming into the convenience store I worked at, looking for a copy, any copy, of that issue and being bitterly disappointed when we had to tell them we never got that issue in.
I remember when, after the success of Batman: The Animated Series, they finally got around to doing one for Superman, and how fantastic it was to see mature storylines for the character that weren’t so adult that a child could watch along with a parent and enjoy them just as much. I remember episodes that didn’t shy away from showing the death of a major character and its aftermath. I remember how respectful was the treatment of the Man of Steel. How gratified I was that he and I finally met each other as adults, and how I fell in love with him and Lois and Lex Luthor and Metropolis all over again. I remember the Justice League series that followed after, and how he so perfectly fit into the team scenario.
I remember Smallville, and how Tom Welling embodied young Clark Kent from high school, through college and finally to his famous occupation at the Daily Planet. I remember the closing shot of the last episode of the series, and how it gave me goosebumps.
I remember when Superman Returns came out, and how my nephew and I went to see it at the theatre and have Mongolian grill (his first time) afterward, he wearing a t-shirt with Superman emblazoned on it, and saying to him “your mom made you wear that shirt for me, didn’t she?” And him nodding solemnly, because she had made it clear to him how important this character was to me. I remembered the joy I had at finally seeing the “Richard Donner Cut” of Superman II, and marveling at how much better it was than the Richard Lester version released in theatres. I remember seeing all of the Christopher Nolan Batman films, biding my time, knowing that eventually, sometime soon, they had to come back and revisit the Man of Steel again.
I have gone through this long-winded trip down memory lane to illustrate fully, and without a shred of irony, how long and how deeply I have loved Superman.
And how, in 2013, I felt that love betrayed for the first time.
That was when Man of Steel came out. I heard Zack Snyder was directing it. The last two films he had done – an adaptation of Watchmen that I have a laundry list of problems with, and Sucker Punch, which I’m convinced no one but me is a fan of – did well at the box office, and weren’t too badly beaten up by critics. But this was the guy who did a fabulous remake of Dawn of the Dead for his motion picture debut, and an adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300 that was as stylish as it was empty of any depth or emotion. But he was flying under the radar a lot in those days. Back then, as now, the big punching-bag of Hollywood directors was Michael Bay. Explosions, shots that rarely lasted longer than a few seconds, empty emotional notes that either rang false or not at all… Bay was easy to pick on. And we did, everyone, mercilessly. Did he deserve it? Yes. He’s an overpaid hack with a bag of tricks you couldn’t put a dollar’s worth of quarters in.
So Zack Snyder’s style of filmmaking flew under the ack-ack being lobbed at Bay and his monstrosities, and managed not to attract too much negative attention. And when they were looking for a director for yet another relaunch of the Superman film franchise, Warner Brothers, still mistakenly impressed with his work on Watchmen, pegged him to helm the next Superman film.
And in 2013, Man of Steel was released. And the first thing that should have perked up my radar was the title. True, it was following the pattern set earlier by Nolan with The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, making the nickname of the character the title of the film. Man of Steel had a nice ring to it. It sounded… mature. Adult. It sounded like a movie that would restore the dignity of the character that was lost in the film franchise after the first movie, so long ago. It sounded like they were going to take the character seriously, and remake him into an icon of the 21st century.
But then, I remember, before its release, hearing rumblings that maybe this movie wouldn’t be up to snuff. That it was a big, expensive dud. There was worry. For myself, I was concerned at some aspects of the casting – Russel Crowe as Jor-El, for example, and for the kicker, Amy Adams as Lois Lane. If one were to look at pictures of Amy Adams, the first thing one would notice is her hair. It is red. If one were to look at pictures of Lois Lane, one would notice that her hair may have been many shades between blue-black and brown, but never red. Even Kate Bosworth, famously blonde, wore a dark wig to play Lois in Superman Returns. They did not have Amy Adams color her hair.
This sounds like a small, nitpicking point, but to me, it was the chink in the armor. And there was also the issue with the red shorts, and how “they don’t work for this generation’s Superman”. And so we were presented with a Superman wearing what looked like armored long johns with a CGI cape.
Small things… things that somehow didn’t ring true. Things that, for no reason I could discern, got me worried.
But then, the film was released, and I went to see it on opening weekend.
And I came away feeling beaten and betrayed.
If you haven’t seen it, spoiler alert, but the big climactic action of the story is that Superman (whose name is never, for some reason, mentioned but once in the whole movie) and General Zod lay waste to Metropolis fighting each other. Lots of people have carped on the horrific body count and titanic property loss this fight produced. I won’t go into that. After the first fight in Smallville, which made me cringe as I watched that town being partially destroyed by another fight between Zod and an apparently careless and clueless Superman, I was somewhat numbed to the the battle in Metropolis later.
What I wasn’t numbed against or prepared for was the way that battle ended. Zod, turning his head to aim his heat vision at a family that, somehow, survived all the previous carnage, is being held by Superman, who, somehow seeing no other possible option, kills him by nearly twisting his head off. And then he did the whole cliché of literally dropping to his knees and yelling NOOOOOOOOOO!
That, ladies and gentlemen, was when the spell broke. When my belief that the people in charge of furthering the legend of a character that had been, at that time in the public consciousness for 75 years (and this movie was timed to be released as part of the commemoration of that anniversary), was shattered.
That was when I felt betrayed.
The Superman I know would have never let a battle with a superpowered bad guy lay waste to half his hometown. The Superman I know would not have let a second battle level most of Metropolis. The Superman I know, the one who, in the 1980 Christopher Reeve sequel, saw that Zod was deliberately endangering the lives of innocent citizens, and yelled, pleading, almost begging, “Don’t do it! The people!” The Superman I know would take a battle between himself and someone of equal power and strength as far away from people as possible. Because, as Zod, (in the 1980 movie) said “He cares. He actually cares about these Earth people.” The Superman I know would pause in the midst of battle to save the denizens of his adopted home from being crushed or killed. Because he cared.
This Superman, the 2013 model, didn’t seem to give one goddamn who got hurt; he was willing to accept massive collateral damage and death as a byproduct of battle. Because that is the kind of “hero” Zack Snyder and screenhack David S. Goyer seem to think fits well with the 21st century. This was the Superman they introduced to a new generation of fans.
Except, inexplicably, for one family in a train station, cornered by Zod and his heat vision. The Superman I know would have, in this scene, leapt into the sky with Zod, taking the family and anyone else there out of immediate danger, and fought him somewhere that no one else could get hurt. The Superman I was presented with just stood there, saying “don’t do it, don’t do it” until, “having no other choice” flat out murders his opponent right there. His actions immediately afterward rang false. Oh, he was forced to kill Zod to save four people, after a battle that resulted in thousands dead, and that is what he got upset about. The aftermath was supposed to show that he immediately felt remorse about it (thus the kneeling and grand opera-style yelling). But by that point, the shock had not worn off from what we, as an audience, had just seen.
Superman murdered a man, when there were about a million alternatives available to him to stop the battle, save the populace and win the day.
I had somewhat liked the movie until that point. I saw the approach Snyder was taking with the character and rolled with it. Surely… surely he wouldn’t do… that. But he did. And, in doing so, sullied the character.
Fast forward to 2016…
Batman fans, still flush with the boners they got with the previous Nolan trilogy, creamed themselves in anticipation of the battle royale, the fight of the century, between Batman and Superman. Back in 1986, Frank Miller wrote and drew the seminal Dark Knight Returns, the climax of which is a fight between Superman and an armored Batman . And Snyder said in interviews that many of the elements of that battle would be seen in the new movie. Stills of Batman in armor, facing down a hovering Man of Steel, were released to bear this out. When the first trailer came out, the most oft-quoted line in the film was heard: “Do you bleed? You will.” Which echoed the sentiment depicted by Miller thirty years ago. And also, just to throw a little spice into the mix, we were promised the first major big-screen appearance of Wonder Woman. And cameos by other people who’d eventually come together to form the yada yada yada…
I was not in any way, shape or form interested in paying a cent to see this. My heart had already been broken by Snyder and Goyer three years ago. I was not going back to them. I didn’t trust them to do justice to any of the characters. And then trailers were released that showed a brutal, savage, sadistic Batman killing and destroying criminals at will. This only reinforced my desire to avoid this movie. There were some casting choices I was sorry to see made for this movie, mainly because I was embarrassed by the actors who’d have to portray them. Most of the cast of Man of Steel returned for this one. Added to them were – I dearly hope to such embarrassment to them that they don’t put this movie on their résumés – Jeremy Irons as Alfred, Holly Hunter as the “junior Senator from Kentucky” (another gut punch right there; like we don’t have enough to be mortified about), Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, and, topping the list, Ben Affleck as the Bat.
See, every time Snyder does a film of questionable merit, he fills his cast with name actors to attract the audience. His casting is like a No-Pest Strip for moviegoers and superhero fanboys everywhere. Sometimes he stumbles into some undeserved good luck and manages to snag a Billy Crudup for the role of Doctor Manhattan, a Scott Glenn in Sucker Punch, a Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Ma and Pa Kent (say what you will, I liked Costner’s performance; it was the only thing that really rang true for me). Actors who rise above the material given to them and make the rest of the movie pale and flaccid and useless in comparison.
His big “get” in this one was, of course, Affleck as Batman. I won’t go into the whole dustup about how bad he was in Daredevil, mainly because I think I’m one of the ten people on the planet who actually like that movie. But at first, people were worried that he’d bring that kind of bad mojo to the Bat. And then the teaser stills released by Snyder came out, and people started messing their pants again in gleeful anticipation. “Affleck’s gonna be great in this!”
Time passed, the movie was released and… guess what… it got horrible reviews. It topped the box office the weekend it opened, but then dropped 69% the next weekend. The second highest drop in movie history. Even though the movie turned a profit, it was considered a bomb and was skewered by the critics and – as proven by the second-week drop – audience word of mouth as well. People were apparently turned off by miles and miles of exposition, confusing battle sequences and a plot that overall didn’t make sense. Or so I heard. Once again, I was not prepared to drop one dime on this movie. Once bitten…
The movie was released in March and, adding insult to injury, was thoroughly and deservedly trounced by Captain America: Civil War on the latter film’s release. Civil War, hands down, was the better film. It was a fantastic film even without the stench of this movie still wafting through the theatres before it. I won’t say too much about it. RTK has said plenty, and I agree wholeheartedly with him.
And then, to add further insult, Snyder stated that the home release – called the Ultimate Edition – would add back in 30 minutes of deleted footage… and would receive an R rating. Mostly for violence. And of course, not at all as a reaction to the unexpectedly (and deserved) huge numbers the R-rated Deadpool brought in. Nope. Snyder contended that this was always the plan for the home release. He promised no nudity (a lie – you see Affleck’s naked ass in one scene), no sex, just additional violence. Which, of course, would clarify and further the plot immensely.
And again, I swore not to drop a single dime on this abomination. Because you could power a city the size of Metropolis from the spinning of Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster and Christopher Reeve in their graves. I would not dishonor their work, or my love of Superman, by spending money and further “vindicating” Snyder’s decisions regarding the “adult” treatment he felt this film deserved. My only two options, for this plan of mine to work were either for someone to give me a copy of it as a gift, or to download it. I chose the latter (and I have heard that Warners is aggressively going after people who have done this, and I may be one of their number soon… why, I don’t know, unless it’s to try to make more money to justify the costs of making and marketing this thing).
And last night, I finally saw it.
First, we are treated to yet another retelling of Bruce Wayne’s parents being murdered before his eyes, complete with the broken pearl necklace motif that was first depicted in Miller’s Dark Knight books and done to death since. We’re then given a whole bunch of exposition about how the coming of Superman threatens to unbalance the zeitgeist of the world. If a virtual god appears among us, what of us? He has been doing good deeds (probably to make up for destroying cities), but the worry is, what would happen if someone with that kind of power used it against humanity? Which is a stupid approach, given that in Man of Steel, we are shown exactly what that would entail because this kind of thing was explicitly shown by Zod and his soldiers in that movie. Apparently everyone on Earth missed that. Or forgot it. Or clumsy-ass plot device. Take your pick, any choice is equally stupid and inept, and shows just what a shitty screenwriter David Goyer has become since Blade and Dark City (a film I actually liked). How far have fallen the mighty.
And no one is more concerned with this than Bruce Wayne. Because, flashback: Bruce was in Metropolis during the battle between Supes and Zod, and saw up close the wholesale destruction of the city. He saved one of his employees, Wallace Keefe, who still lost his legs (more on him later), and a little girl, who indicates to Bruce that her mother was in one of the buildings that were destroyed. As Bruce holds and tries to comfort the child, he looks up at the sky and scowls. “I will get you, Superman, if it’s the last thing I do!” his face says.
Next, Lois travels to some unnamed (but obviously middle-eastern) desert hideaway with a man who identifies himself as photographer Jimmy Olsen, to interview some warlord or another. They are taken to the warlord’s compound, where she will interview him for the Planet. However, things quickly go wrong – horrifically, violently wrong – resulting in many deaths (including now-revealed CIA operative Olsen). It seems that a group of mercenaries hired by the warlord turn on him, kill his personal guard, then pile them up and set fire to the bodies with a blowtorch. The only outsider left is Lois, and the warlord, convinced that she brought this upon him, is ready to kill her. And then Superman shows up, tackles the guy, bursts through a wall with him and… well, I don’t know. It’s never shown or mentioned what became of him.
And of course, because this is an epic story, full of sound and fury, the government gets involved. And by that, I mean a Senate investigative committee chaired by Holly Hunter. And somehow, she gets entangled with Lex Luthor, played by Jesse Eisenberg like a twitchy, gabby version of Mark Zuckerberg who’s had far too many amphetamines, who strikes a deal with her – somehow – to get access to the Kryptonian warship that is still sitting in a large, vacant piece of real estate the size of a city block. And about that… this movie keeps hamhandedly attempting to equate the destruction of Metropolis with the terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center, complete with that vacant lot with the last evidence of the attack in an otherwise somehow completely rebuilt city. This parallel is stupid, clumsy, and an insult to everyone who experienced firsthand the death, destruction and tragedy that followed those attacks. I’m surprised that 9/11 survivors didn’t protest both this movie and the previous one. But I digress…
Lex apparently has some kind of leverage which he uses to get access to the Kryptonian ship and Zod’s corpse. And, using a kryptonite scalpel, cuts off Zod’s fingerprints to gain access to the ship’s computer. He slides Zod’s body into a yellow-lit wading pool, cuts his hand and splashes Zod with his own blood because… well, ego, I guess. I dunno. It’s never satisfactorily explained.
In the meantime, both Bruce and Clark – who is apparently now living with Lois – inexplicably get invited to a soiree thrown by Lex. Wayne’s invite seems pretty straightforward. He’s rich and powerful, so is Lex. So of course Lex wants to size him up. I guess. Why Clark is there isn’t explained, either. Unless Lex has read Clark’s articles in the Planet, there’s no reason for him to be there. It would have made much more sense, both narratively and somewhat realistically, to have invited Lois, who has been proven to be the better reporter. But, for the sake of what serves as a plot, Clark is apparently invited so that he and Bruce can have facetime with each other in their civilian identities, and bitch about each other’s cities’ crimefighters. Also, Bruce takes his presence at the party to head to Lex’s computer server room, plants a device that copies files, and is chased out by Mercy Graves, giving her the lame, cliche’d excuse of “I thought this was the bathroom”. And, just to make things interesting, a mysterious, glamorous, dark-haired woman is also at the party as well. Bruce hits on her, because, well, horny, and she brushes him off. Then Bruce goes down to retrieve his doohickey, only to find it gone. He sees that the woman, whom he learns is the antiquities dealer, Diana Prince, has made off with it. He gives chase but she takes off in her car. Later, however, she tells him she simply borrowed and returned it.
Then things get “interesting”. Or they’re supposed to. Bruce links up his high-tech thumb drive to his computer, and it starts the slow, laborious process of decrypting the information on it. While this happens, he falls asleep and dreams of a future wherein he’s the leader of a band of rebels (inexplicably wearing a trenchcoat over his costume) fighting the Reign of Superman. You know this because his group is massacred by a group of masked, helmeted stormtroopers wearing the “S” crest as shoulder patches. He is subdued and chained, along with other rebels. Superman lands (THOOM! This guy can’t seem to land without breaking the pavement.) and kills all the captured rebels with heat vision, except for Batman, whom he unmasks, then kills with a punch through the heart. Bruce wakes from that dream and suddenly is accosted by a vision of the Flash, warning him about “him”, saying he (Bruce) was always right about “him”, and that Lois Lane is the key. And then he wakes up again, just as the decryption is completed. Shades of Inception…
Bruce opens a file labeled “meta-humans” and sees individual files conveniently marked with the familiar symbols of characters which will eventually form the Justice League – an armed robbery of a convenience store foiled by someone who runs fast and sprays lightning everywhere, some guy in an underwater cave who stabs the camera that caught him with a trident, a scientist with about 1/5 of a human being behind him on a pegboard or whatever, who eventually uses what is apparently a Mother Box to reassemble the other guy as a cyborg. And then he comes to the file with the WW symbol on it and starts looking through it. He finds a picture of Diana that was taken in 1918, in full Wonder Woman regalia, standing next to a group of soldiers. He then emails Diana (y’know, because he’s a detective and all, so he figured out her email address) with the picture, which she is shocked that he obtained – which again makes no sense, as since she apparently made a copy of the file, she had to know her stuff was on it.
And then later, Lex visits Wallace Keefe, the guy Bruce saved in the first reel, who has lost his legs and is an embittered yada yada yada in a wheechair, so much so that the guy actually says “what the fuck are you doing here?” So you know he’s mad about stuff. Lex gives him a new high-tech chair that would make Charles Xavier envious. (Side note: use of the word “fuck” in this movie was the one visceral reaction I had throughout the whole movie. I don’t know if it was included in the PG-13 version, but if it was, gosh, thanks for that, Zack…)
And then there is another Senate hearing, and Superman shows up, and even though Lex is there, he disappears. And then the place blows up, and Superman stands amid the burning carnage, kinda bowing his head. And then, after rescuing about four people, he flies off. Later, he calls his mom in the middle of the night and gives with the “oh, nothing’s wrong” speech. Because you call people in the middle of the night and wake them up from a sound sleep for no reason at all. And later she gives him a little speech about how he owes the people of Earth absolutely nothing – which kinda makes sense, I guess, except for all those dead people in Metropolis.
Meanwhile, in the Indian Ocean, where the giant gravity doohickey that Zod brought with him in the last film landed, a couple of divers find an interesting thing, which looks like all the other interesting things lying around the bottom of the ocean, but whatever. The bring it to some white guy, who inexplicably hits it with a hammer to reveal… OMG KRYPTONITE! And of course, Lex gets wind of this and manipulates things in his twitchy, I’m-smarter-than-this-and-all-the-other-rooms-combined way so that he can get the big chunk of rock that was found. Because apparently Lex is characterized as a guy who can get what he wants anytime, without any reason given whatsoever. Even Zuckerberg and Bill Gates combined don’t have that kind of pull. Maybe the Koch Brothers? I dunno.
And Lois, apparently being the only person in the whole movie with a semblance of awareness and knowledge about what’s going on, uncovers the fact that a bullet used by the mercenaries in the desert (you’re forgiven if you’ve forgotten that, because it happened almost two hours ago) was manufactured by LexCorp, and manages to stumble onto Lex’s plan to do something bad to Superman. He has her kidnapped and brought to him on a helipad, where he gives yet more exposition, which at this point means that out of a three-hour movie, there are two hours of exposition, and then pushes her off, knowing that Superman will rescue her. He does, and then goes to confront Lex, who has apparently made some tear gas canisters with kryptonite dust to weaken and immobilize him. Lex reveals that he has manipulated events to frame Superman for the death and destruction he just happened to be a witness to at the Senate hearing, that he has maneuvered both Superman and Batman into wanting to fight each other, that he has kidnapped Martha Kent, and displays the one and only actual smart thing that he has done in this movie: he has deduced the secret identity of Clark Joseph Kent. He gives Superman a choice: try to save Mom, she dies; fly away, she dies; go to Gotham and fight Batman, she lives.
Now let’s back up a bit. While all of this is happening, Bruce finds out about the kryptonite and, after some plot-device detective work, finds out where Lex has hidden it. While in pursuit of the criminals who are transporting it to Lex, Bruce, now in his Batsuit and driving a fully armored and armed Batmobile, chases the bad guys to the site. Before and during the pursuit, he manages to kill most of them, either by cracking skulls open – seriously, there’s a bit where a heavy crate is thrown at a bad guy, smashing his head into a wall, where the guy slumps down with a trail of blood – throwing batarangs into their heads, or flat out shooting them down with their own weapons. Plus there’s all the carnage of the chase, where he flattens a bunch of cars with bad guys in them or mows them down with the mounted 50-cal guns in the Batmobile, or drives right through their cars like butter. I was going to try to establish some kind of body count, but gave up after the fight in the warehouse. Anyway, he steals the kryptonite and makes his own gas canisters and a big spear with a kryptonite tip, with which he plans to kill Superman. And at the same time Lex is telling Superman that, to save Martha, he has to go kill Batman, the Really REALLY Dark Knight, wearing what looks like very uncomfortable and awkward armor, lights up the Batsignal as a way to summon Superman to him.
Superman arrives, and, for the first time in the whole movie that someone has done this at all, tries to reason with Batman. This lasts all of three seconds, and they start fighting. Superman has the upper hand until Bruce hits him with the kryptonite gas, weakening him to the strength of a normal human, and proceeds to pound the shit out of him. They throw each other around, smashing anything they see with each other’s bodies, and Batman finally gets the upper hand. He has his foot on Superman’s neck and is about to poke him bigtime with the spear when Clark chokes out “save Martha!” And of course, Bruce is momentarily confused by this, because… hang on, here… his mother was also named Martha!
And just like that, the fight is over. Lois shows up with the final bit of exposition, convincing Bruce that Clark is not a threat to humanity. Which is funny, because Alfred spent pretty much all of his screen time trying to do the same, even showing him evidence of all the good Clark has done when wearing the cape. But this woman he’s barely met shows up and turns the whole plot around. He goes to rescue Martha while Clark goes to give a whuppin’ to Lex. And now they’re pals, just like that. Bruce lays waste to yet another warehouse full of bad guys, killing all of them while Martha is inexplicably unhurt by all the bullets and explosions, and rescues her. Clark goes to Lex to discover that Lex has created some beast with his and Zod’s DNA, which he names Doomsday, and releases it to destroy Superman. And again, there’s a huge fight between Batman, Superman and Doomsday, which levels half of Gotham. Doomsday eventually has Superman on the ropes and is about to deliver a final blast of heat vision to kill him when (cue the Junkie XL/Hans Zimmer rock and roll Wonder Woman theme) Diana shows up and shields them both with her bracelets. She quickly joins the fight and somehow manages on her own to do more damage to Doomsday than either Bruce or Clark could manage, actually cutting off one of his arms while holding him with her +5 Lasso of Restraint.
While the big fight is going on, Clark hears an odd thumping noise and goes to investigate. It seems that Lois went to retrieve the Spear of Poking, which was underwater, and during the battle outside, some giant granite walls fell, trapping her underwater. Clark arrives in time to save her from drowning for realsies, and then swims down to get the spear. He comes out of the water, holding the spear and rejoins the battle.
Outside, Doomsday, displaying a regenerative power, grows a big, fat bone spur out of the stump in his arm. Superman, in agony, because kryptonite, flies up and impales Doomsday with the spear, making the creature’s insides all green. But Doomsday also impales Clark with his giant bone spur, so they’re at an impasse, sticking sharp things into each other, when Clark pulls himself further forward on the big bone spur and drives the spear home, killing Doomsday. Finally. But then he falls down dead with a big hole in his chest that, strangely for an R-rated movie, has absolutely no blood squirting out of it.
Everybody changes their mind about what a menace Superman might be and holds a gigantic funeral in Washington that would normally be reserved for a head of state. Crowds line the streets, cannons fire off a 21 gun salute in Snydervision slow motion, and Superman’s coffin is laid to rest. Meanwhile, conveniently, Perry White flips open a copy of the Planet to a page to reveal that Clark Kent also died in the battle (ooh, look, we tied up a loose end!). We cut to a wake, and then a funeral in Smallville, led by – I kid you not – a bagpiper playing Amazing Grace, which, coincidentally, is being played, by bagpipers, in Washington! Lois, who finds out that Clark was going to propose to her, wears the engagement ring and stands solemnly by his grave with a handful of dirt, which she takes her sweet damn time dropping on the coffin, then leaves. In the background, apparently unnoticed by everyone, Bruce is there, along with Diana, and he gives a speech about rounding up the other meta-humans to maybe, I dunno, form a league or something, mainly because of that trenchcoat dream he had and that thing with the Flash, and then they walk away.
Cut to Lex, head inexplicably shaven now for his stint in prison. He gets a visit from Batman, and tells him that he’s been judged insane and won’t stand trial. Batman tells him that insane people go to mental hospitals to receive treatment with care and compassion. I don’t know what kind of mental hospitals the DCEU have, but they sound a hell of a lot more humane than the ones I’ve ever seen or heard of. Anyway, Batman tells him that it’s been arranged to have Lex sent to Arkham Asylum, which, being in Gotham, is a snake pit. Batman then does his Batman thing and disappears, and Lex babbles about a new threat coming from the stars, and pretends he’s a bell.
Cut to the final – are you still with me? – shot, at Clark’s coffin. We see the pile of dirt Lois dropped earlier, and bits of it begin to rise up aaaaaaaaand CUT TO CREDITS.
There. Now you don’t have to see it. I’ve pretty much spoiled 95% of the movie for you. I forgot to mention Clark’s vision quest where he meets Pa Kent, who for some reason is building a pile of rocks in the Canadian Arctic, Lois’ detective work in figuring out where that bullet came from (hey, look, she’s being helped by cut-for-time-in-the-theatrical-release Jena Malone!), and Laurence Fishburne doing his best to sound blustery and loud like the Perry Whites of old. All the patented Snydervision slow-mo porn and breakage of arms and legs, and why, even before Lex got involved, Bruce is so hot to bring down Superman.
Because, like a majority of this mess, it mostly doesn’t matter a damn. This movie could have been good if it were cut down by half, the violence toned down and motives and actions made clearer without a bunch of yakkety-yak in the first two hours of a three-hour drudge-fest. But Zack Snyder and David Goyer weren’t interested in making a good movie. They were interested in essentially destroying the legends that made Superman and Batman what they are today. They were interested in deconstructing these characters so completely and reforming them into their own twisted image of what a 21st century comic book hero ought to be. Superman callously disregards the mass destruction of Metropolis from the last movie, not even, one would think, offering to help rebuild. Batman flat out murders people. With guns. They think that, in order to level the playing field in the fight sequences, Bruce has to be smarter than Clark, which is bullshit, because as a Kryptonian with a demonstrated power of speed, Superman would also, by extension, have a much more advanced intellect and much faster grasp of what was going on. He can overhear the radio exchange between Bruce and Alfred and the thumping of Lois miles away when she’s drowning, but never hears any of the stuff Lex is yammering on about. “I want access to the Kryptonian ship and Zod’s corpse” should have brought him running like his house was on fire. And he’s laid low by the idea that Lex has this magical ability to have Martha killed, so he’d better do as he’s told. Bruce doesn’t fare much better, coming across as a man obsessed with destroying Superman at all costs because, well, there’s a 1% chance of Superman going rogue, and that means it’s a dead certainty. The only characters that have any depth or smarts all happen to be the women of the piece. Lois is brave, smart, willing to do whatever she needs to in order to not only get the story but also do some good in whatever way she can; Martha is Clark’s rock, telling him that the choice of what kind of man he should be is his alone; and Diana steals the whole show during the battle with Doomsday, doing more and getting more licks in than both Bruce and Clark combined. She is literally the one bright spot in this whole fiasco, and her upcoming movie is, as of now, the only one of the DCEU films I actually want to go see.
Aside from that, there isn’t much good I can say about this movie. The script, cobbled together from bits torn from the comics: a little Dark Knight Returns here, a little Death of Superman there, is mostly incoherent, and believe me, I really tried to follow this plot and came up blank in a lot of places. The cast is moved around like chess pieces, with no emotional connection to the audience for any of them. Even the weepy or inspiring scenes fall so flat that you could make foil out of them. I spent every scene Lex was in wanting to slap the taste out of Jesse Eisenberg’s mouth, but I’ve seen him in better movies, so I really am not inclined to blame him for his performance. A paycheck is a paycheck, and even if the director is an incompetent boob, Jesse still wants to make sure he gets his money, so he follows orders. And for Rao’s sake, Michael Shannon gets a screen credit for just lying there dead every time we see him; and I heard that they didn’t even use him, they used a full-body likeness. Kevin Costner is wasted, Jeremy Irons is wasted, Holly Hunter is wasted, Laurence Fishburne is wasted. Henry Cavill spends most of the movie looking confused, angry or confused. I don’t even want to get into the complicated feelings I have for Affleck’s involvement in this debacle.
The thing that makes me both saddest and angriest, now that I’ve seen this thing, is the feeling, the knowledge that this could have been more. It could have been much, much better. Maybe not on par with the Marvel movies, but several levels above what we got. So much wasted opportunity, so much wasted money, so many wasted actors. So much desaturated color. This is not a superhero movie. This is Watchmen II, with more familiar faces. It is numbing and infuriating at the same time. The whole conceit of “god versus man”, a heavy concept that could have been explored so well, barely even touched. Used as yet another shaky pole to hold the tent up.
In making a grimdark movie with Superman in it, a movie so rife with stomach-turning violence that it had to be rated R, Zack Snyder, David Goyer and Warner Brothers should be ashamed of themselves. They owe us all an apology. The owe the people who paid to see this in the theatres and those poor souls who buy or rent the movie on DVD or streaming restitution.
I didn’t pay a cent to see this movie, and even I want my money back.