Coping with ‘Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice’ (2016)

Somethings in life catch you off-guard. Like when you’re driving safely down the motorway, and a tyre blows. When you get a phone-call from a sobbing relative, and you can hear the hospital announcements in the background. When your boss calls you in to tell you that there’s been another complaint, and this time Legal’s involved. Actually, I should probably have seen that last one coming.

Other things, though, don’t surprise you. Like when the vet tells you that it would be the kindest thing to do. Or when you get the letter through the door with the big red “Final Notice” stamped on the front. Or when your wife books in an appointment with her gynaecologist after her work trip to Las Vegas with that rock-climbing guy from her office.

And the weird thing is that the unsurprising moment can be just as hard to deal with as the shocking events. Sometimes more so. The fact you had time to emotionally prepare doesn’t make life any easier when it hits that critical point.

The truth is, we all knew that ‘Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice’ would be the cinematic equivalent of cot death. To review it normally would be to perform an autopsy on a pet cat that had been run over by a sixteen-ton earth-mover – and the cat itself had always been an asshole that would piss all over your laundry pile and scratch any guests who foolishly tried to stroke it. The fact is that you know it’s dead, the cause of death is pretty straight-forward, and its loss isn’t actually that big of an inconvenience to you in the long run.

It still hurts, though.

It’s still difficult to deal with.

As such, I’m not going to review ‘Murderer vs. Moron: Other Stuff Happens Too’, and instead I’m going to try and help. I want to help the people who saw this movie, like I did. Those people who thought maybe, just maybe, this film would surprise them. That it might have possessed hidden genius, that it would exceed the expectations set by its own trailer and produce an actual worthwhile viewing experience. People who knew it would be bad, but still held out hope, because hope is at the very heart of human nature.

I can’t make this film good for you. All I can do is help you through it.

As with other forms of grief, there are a few stages to getting through Zack Snyder’s latest release, and I’m going to take you through them sequentially. This isn’t going to be easy, but we’ll get there – together.

Spoilers ahead.


1 – Delayed Acknowledgement

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The film has started.

You’re half-an-hour in and there are already eight different plot lines going, seemingly in different directions. You don’t have an emotional response yet, because you haven’t had time to form one.

Like with sudden, enormous catastrophes, all you’re doing right now is watch it happen whilst your mind tries to wrap itself around the awful metaphors and clumsy set-ups and sporadic pacing. Like a spectator to the Hindenburg, you only barely register that something bad is happening, because the scale of the awfulness is beyond your brain’s emotional capacity.

This is the calm before the storm. Your brain races to anticipate each story arc, tries to figure out how it all might tie together, how this sequence of seemingly unconnected events will build into one climactic resolution – but there’s so many trails to follow, so many threads that need tying that your primitive intelligence can’t envisage any kind of solution, so you calmly rest on the assumption that the director knows what he’s doing.


2 – Confused Vexation

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The film’s been running for what feels like the last three hours. You’re pretty sure you’ve followed most of it, but there’s now twice as many story threads as there were a few scenes ago, and that entire bit with all of the visions and dreams completely – wait, was that a time travel plot? He was just dreaming? So was he actually visited by a time traveler or… what the hell’s going on?

Right now, the critical-thinking part of your brain is taking a hammering. You want to keep on top of everything that’s going on, you reckon it might be building up to something big, but there’s been a few sequences now that defy explanation. The main villain is definitely up to something, but it’s difficult to determine what that might be because he doesn’t actually seem to want anything.

Just try and maintain your composure through this step. The better you cope here, the smoother the ride will be later on. Stay strong, because the worst is yet to come.


3 – Stunned Disbelief

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You’re still going. You’ve made it over the initial hurdles. But now Batman has just out-right murdered about six people by crushing their cars into each other, using some startlingly improbably physics to do so. Hell, he just machine-gunned the back of a car he was chasing, and whilst you don’t explicitly see the mangled corpses of his victims, you’re pretty sure nobody lived through that. And you can’t accept it.

You can’t accept that the film is this cretinous, that it is so disloyal to its source material, but worse, that it’s just stripped away the most interesting aspect of its chief protagonist. You can’t, and indeed won’t, believe it, because nobody could get it this wrong. Superman just stopped Batman in his pursuit of deadly criminals, allowing the criminals to escape with a weapon that could specifically be used to kill Superman. Lois Lane is pursuing the origin of a mystery bullet, but it’s taken three scenes and half an hour for us to reach the revelation that it was made by Lex Luthor, surprising nobody and adding nothing to the story.

You’re stunned. Things are happening without explanation. Characters are acting without any clear motivation. You are asked to accept developments in the story – indeed, that the film even possesses a story – and your brain is rebelling. It is rejecting this particular sequence of events, refusing to process them, to make sense of them. You can’t believe that such an experienced and talented production crew could have allowed such a flawed product to be released.

My advice is to pinch the skin on the back of your hand, or clench the arm-rests of your chair, or just slap yourself around the face a few times. Tell yourself that this is real through actual solid interactions and stimuli. Remind yourself that you are sat in a cinema, watching a film that was actually made and released to the public. Maintain your grip on reality.


4 – Mental Collapse

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You’ve seen Superman allow the entire U.S. Capitol Building be destroyed along with everyone inside it because he failed to perform even a cursory examination of the room. You’ve found out that the whole business with the mystery bullet amounted to nothing, and worse, so have about half of the other plot lines so far revealed, including that stuff with the people smugglers and everything Lex Luther has so far done in the entire movie. You can’t figure out why he needed to get permission to bring the Kryptonite into the U.S. if he was just going to smuggle it in anyway, and every interaction he had with Helen Hunt’s senator has led to nought after he simply blew her up.

Batman keeps having confusing visions which tell us less about his character and more about the fact that Zack Snyder has some kind of weird directorial ADHD, incapable of making a film with a single setting and insisting on using overly-long dream sequences to wedge in scenes that look like they’re from a different film entirely. Lois Lane continues to do nothing of significance but is apparently very important, and Wonder Woman is around, too. By which you mean, she’s there. She’s present. Her appearance has been noted.

You’re now no longer sure if your incomprehension of what’s going on is because the film has failed to explain itself properly, or if your brain is simply shutting down. Your cognitive abilities are becoming weak, strained. Like a marathon runner, you’ve hit the wall: it would be so much easier right now to just switch your brain off entirely and sit out the rest of the film quietly dribbling into your popcorn tub. But you’re better than that. Stay strong. Stay with me. We can do this.


5 – Self-Destruction

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You’re past the point where you can cope solely with your own resources. Drink, drugs and other forms of escapism are the lifelines you now need to maintain a grip on sanity. Lex Luthor sets Superman up to fight Batman, so that he can – well, you’re never really sure what Luthor’s getting out of any of this, he just seems to be doing things because the actions themselves are inherently villainous.

You want to like this version of Luthor, you’re desperate for a credible enemy for the two most famous superheroes of all time – but he is so completely unlikable that you spend every minute of his screentime waiting for him to leave. You’re reminded of Kevin Spacey, Gene Hackman, and their intense, charismatic portrayals. Of how they seemed to have goals, objectives, motivations. You’re saddened, because Jesse Eisenberg is doing a fine job as an unpleasant psychopath, but at no point do you feel like you’re witnessing the machinations of a fiendish and calculating intellect. You rather more feel like you’re watching a failed pilot for a show about a time-travelling Joffrey Baratheon in the modern world – but with much less charisma.

None of which particularly matters as you tighten the belt around your arm and tap the inside of your elbow to locate a vein, desperate to detach your mind from your body and so seek a new reality where any of the characters have any kind of motivation. Where Superman doesn’t just wander from scene to scene, occasionally talking about how the Batman is a vigilante and consequently ripping the doors off of the Batmobile so he can make vague threats to the Caped Crusader before fucking off back to… somewhere.

I can’t stop you from turning to narcotics and alcohol by this point, but I can implore you to keep a friend close by, to turn you onto your side and safety-pin your tongue to your cheek. You’re most of the way through this ordeal now, there isn’t much further to –

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Two and a half hours? I – I’m sorry. You’d better have another drink. We had all better have another drink.


6 – Inevitable Despair

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In your final moments your head is filled with thoughts like sparks in the air above a bonfire. Thoughts such as “This cost $250 MILLION to make?” and “How did they fail to explain the story when they had 150 minutes to play with?” and “Seriously, what the shit was up with that time-travel bit?” You realise that this film is so irrevocably flawed that there is no way out – except one.

As you press the solitary brass casing into the chamber, confident that you will at last find release from this particular horror show of melodrama and ineptitude, you struggle to figure out what went wrong, but deep down, you know the answer.

Fucking Nearly Everything.

You know the acting wasn’t terrible. You know the effects were fine, but you also know that they always are these days. You felt the pacing was sporadic at best, especially in the final few scenes. The script was obtuse to the point of being baffling – Batman remarks that he “failed [Superman] in life, he won’t fail him in death” – but how he failed him is a mystery you will never solve.

The story itself is bizarre, the action scenes go far beyond the limits of your suspension of disbelief. For a moment you wonder how it occurred that Batman in a cloth costume could survive a fight that took the life of the invincible Superman, but that wonder is quickly swamped by all of the other nonsensical elements of the plot. You’re still not sure what Lex Luthor was trying to achieve – or indeed Wonder Woman.

Lois Lane never contributed to the story in any way, beyond saving Superman from Batman’s wrath – and even that scene was absurd, as Superman whispers his mother’s name, which just happens to be the same as Batman’s dead mother’s. And so you wonder – did Batman spare Superman’s life purely because their mothers shared a name? Is that honestly enough to quench two years of burning anger and hateful reason?

But it doesn’t matter. None of it matters anymore. Zack Snyder won’t be able to hurt you ever again. You’re past that. It’s clear now that there will never be a good Superman movie ever again. ‘Man of Steel’ failed, ‘Dawn of Justice’ has failed. Whilst Marvel romps on with its colourful, over-the-top exploits, you know that DC have put the final nail in their own coffin.


7 – Ultimate Acceptance

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It’s easier this way. There will be people around you who haven’t seen the film, who won’t understand. But I do. I know your pain. You sat through two and a half hours of dreary tedium, of meaningless action, forced emotional drama. You endured, you persisted, but now you know that the only true solace will be found in that great undiscovered country. Only there will you be free of the overwhelmingly depressive nature of Zack Snyder’s particular brand of “entertainment”.

Depressing not because of its subject matter, but because of its execution. Lazy writing, ridiculous plot development, despairingly shallow characterisation. You want to call it stupid, you want to brand it dull. You want to excoriate it for its lack of loyalty to the source material, but that would ultimately do it too much credit.

No, there is one simple solution. A narrow but safe path to release ahead of you. Walk that path. Walk it with me. Do the sensible thing.

Before they make another one.

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