When I saw Batman v. Superman a little while ago, I went with three friends who are all into films as well, and who mostly are also into comic books. After it was over, we avoided talking about the movie until we had a chance to gather in McDonald’s over burgers, ice cream and coffee and poured out our opinions. And for added novelty, we decided to record the whole thing on my cell phone.
The following is a massively abridged & edited transcript of that conversation, reworked to keep people’s opinions clear, but to make it more readable and to generally avoid repetition and diversions that were present throughout. If nothing else, this exercise taught me to appreciate the well-spoken television film reviewer (like Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel were, nearly every week in my household as I was growing up) even more.
The participants here are Josh, Peter, Hayden, & Ben (myself). Peter & Hayden are in their 20’s, Josh in his 30’s, and I am in my 40’s. Peter & Josh are Australians, Hayden & I are Americans living in Australia (me for many years). We are all into movies, and all into comics as well except for Josh.No promises are made that this will be interesting to anyone, so proceed at your own risk.
Ben: Let’s start with script. Peter, 1-10, no real comments.
Ben: 1? Wow, that’s bold. Hayden?
Ben: A 2. OK, so opinions are coming in loud and clear here. I’m going to give it a 5 after consideration.
Josh: I’m giving it a 3.
Ben: So, the direction of the film, the visual storytelling, and everything that goes with that. Hayden, what would you say, 1-10?
Ben: 2? Really, a 2? For the visual storytelling of this movie?
Hayden: That’s not including the production and design work of this movie? The way the story is told through the editing and the camerawork, and the interpretation of the script? I’d say a 2.
Ben: Wow, I’m going to say 8. It’s not exactly my favorite story, but I think it’s reasonably well told.
Josh: I’m going to give it a 5, I think.
Hayden: Can we get an integer?
Pete: I can’t average that out, so I’m going to give it a 4. They get an extra half point because of my maths.
Ben: OK, wow, strong opinions here. Performances. I’m going to say a 6. 6 for performances. Josh?
Josh: I feel like some of the dialogue is actually hard to deal with, but that’s not exactly the actor’s fault.
Ben: You could argue that it is.
Josh: I’d probably go a 4.
Pete: Jeremy Irons get a 7, and the rest get a 7 for putting up with Zack Snyder.
Hayden: I’d also give it a 7.
Ben: So that’s the first thing I’ve given that’s not the highest score around the table. And the last thing is production design, this obviously includes special effects, which is a big part of it, but it must also include costume and sets and so on.
Josh: I’d probably give it an 8
Pete: I’ll probably give it a 7.
Hayden: I’d also give it an 8.
Ben: I think I’ll say 8. So now, we can open up to specific opinions. We had some extreme scores for script and direction, so I don’t know if you want to start with the ranting, or…?
Hayden: I just felt like in so many ways, it was a mess. As far as script goes, to start with. The film relied on you having an understanding of the inner workings of the DC Universe. It trusted that the audience would know these things. So they would make various references, and they would have shots that were only there to replicate shots from the Dark Knight Returns specifically.
Ben: But do you feel like this stuff is essential to understand the movie?
Hayden: No, I guess not. In some ways there was also this over-explanation. There was one particularly cringe-worthy scene…which scene was that?
Pete: It was the guy saying “Lexcorp”, and Lois said, “Lex Luthor”
Hayden: That was one of them, but there was one where they kept re-explaining everything to the audience over and over again. It was the “Martha” thing, where Lois Lane is explaining, and then they have a flashback on top of that, and then they explain to the audience again, “Oh, by the way, did you know that both of their Mom’s are named Martha?” It was like whoever was writing that was like, “Guys, I found it! I found the biggest gold nugget, I want to show it to this audience from every angle. I want to make sure they understand the mind-blowing thing…!”
Josh: Because they won’t get it, they won’t get it for a start.
Hayden: I didn’t feel the flashback was earned in that, I felt like it was unnecessary. And that’s how I felt, that a lot of that stuff was oddly placed. Some of that might be in the editing, but it was the script especially.
Pete: So I’m going to start from the beginning. So we see Martha (Wayne), and the Comedian from Watchmen…
Hayden: Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Pete: I realized what I was in for when he starts to punch the guy with the gun. So the guy with the gun was already on the edge, and then the Comedian (as I’m going to refer to Thomas Wayne) decides to clench his fist, decides to provoke the gunman, thus getting shot, thus killing his wife, and thus leaving his son an orphan. I want to understand that, and maybe I do. If I put myself in that position…well, I’d guess I’d be frozen solid, but if I was the Comedian in the position of having a gun pointed at him, I supposed I’d try to punch the guy from a considerable distance (maybe)
Hayden: And then don’t forget Martha Wayne also goes after the guy with the gun…
Pete: Getting her pearls hooked into the gun, and it goes off in a very cinematic way.
Josh: Very cinematic.
Pete: In a very cinematic way. With most of the scenes, they tried to set something up, but they don’t commit with what they set up. So, the premise of the film is Batman fighting Superman, and when they finally get fighting, they suddenly backtrack and say no, they’re not fighting, they’re actually trying to work together, and they do this Doomsday storyline. So they had a lot of false starts. Like that time when Superman is going to confront Bruce Wayne because he’s stealing information from Lex, but he suddenly hears someone speaking Spanish and goes off to save a person. It was like he was just going from one thing to the next, and I felt as a movie-goer that that was a story that was distracted by all the things it wanted to be, so it wasn’t it should have been.
Hayden: It may have been the way it was written or edited, but there were times when the scene would change so fast that I didn’t actually register. The cuts weren’t done in a way that I could tell what was going on. It was like I’d look away for two seconds and you’d say, “Wait, where are we? What are doing here?”
Josh: The dream sequences didn’t help with that.
Pete: The dream sequences were some of the most coherent parts of the film.
Ben: There were a lot of dream sequences. There was a fair amount of this movie that we were in dreams. In terms of sheer minutes.
Josh: My biggest concern going into the film was definitely motivation for the characters, and coming out of the film that’s still the biggest issue. I didn’t connect emotionally with the characters. There were moments where I felt kind of bored because I wasn’t connected with the characters because I didn’t believe their motivations.
Hayden: It’s one of those tropes where it could be solved if they just took five minutes to discuss the matter. And Superman goes to do that, and Batman hits him out of sheer pettiness…
Josh: And so they don’t have the conversation they could have had.
Hayden: If I’m watching a Batman film, typically he’s calm cool and collected unless he’s going up something major, and even then he doesn’t become petty. That’s not a trait of Batman, and that’s something that came across so many times in this film, the motivations were almost entirely petty. He didn’t fully research things, he didn’t fully look into stuff before he went for it.
Josh: Yeah, it’s very sloppy of Batman. And that’s why I felt like the integrity for the characters was undermined from the beginning of the film.
Pete: I felt like with Batman’s motivation for killing people, they had a couple of lines of dialogue with Alfred and Bruce, where Alfred says that thing (from the trailer) about “What drives good men cruel?” And he’s talking about Batman, like Batman has changed. He says something about Batman’s moral dilemma in the comics, where Batman has thing about not killing, and then Alfred’s like, “What happened to your code?” but it’s only referenced in one or two sentences.
Ben: I think you’re reading into it because of your familiarity with the story.
Hayden: I think they did put Robin’s suit in there as a way of communicating this is a Batman who has been weathered down, he’s been worn away, and yet because this film devotes so much time to the functional elements of the plot and not the character development side of things, what could have been a coherent film about Batman realizing that he’s been pushed way over the edge, is brushed over. I feel like that’s what the funeral scene was trying to accomplish, where’d he’d be like “Whoa, what’s happened to me? I’ve become something that’s completely different from what I started out.”
Josh: Yeah, we don’t have that arc at all.
Pete: They didn’t commit to that storyline.
Hayden: We don’t have that, and that’s what’s frustrating, because you can see in the broad strokes what could have been there.
Ben: I can see what you are saying in terms of not completely connecting the dots with Batman’s story, but I think Batman’s story is more connected than Superman’s story. But at the beginning, with that whole scene of Bruce dashing through the city as it’s being destroyed, I thought that was really good. For a long chunk of it, I was on board with it. I like the panic of this guy who is also incredibly courageous as he runs into the smoke as everyone else is running out…
Hayden: That was a cool shot.
Ben: Yeah it was a cool shot, but it’s a cool moment, as far as giving us this character and his determination and desire. So at the beginning I was pretty on board. What ultimately ends up being the least interesting is the battle scene between Batman and Superman. It was disappointing, and so I was relieved when it was over. “Oh, OK, we’re actually going to start working together, well let’s get on with that.”
Hayden: Are there any stakes to that fight? Because you know that nothing is going to come of it.
Ben: Well, there are lots of movies that have scenes like that, and in this one, Superman actually dies, so there were stakes that we’re all sort of surprised. The thing that’s irritating (which you’ve mentioned) is how stupid the men are, and Superman ends up as stupider. Batman has been manipulated and turned into this angry raging machine, and I can kind of understand that. But Superman just seems to lose his temper. He punches Batman the first time—ok, fair enough. But after that he just keeps punching him and throwing him through walls and smashing him through floors. And when he gets hit with that Kryptonite thing the second time, I just thought that’s ridiculous. Why, if you’re up to speed now, why would you be hit with this thing again?
Josh: Yeah, you can catch the speeding bullet but you can’t escape the gas.
Ben: When he actually first shows up and says something like, “We’ve been tricked”, I was hopeful for a moment that I was getting Superman the hero, who’s not an idiot, who’s powerful but also brave and smart, coming in and being the driving the force in the story, but then he gets punched once and then he just seems to be in a bad mood.
Now the thing with the Martha thing that you mentioned, I went through the whole movie wondering if they were going to draw attention to the fact that their mothers had the same name, so when it became a plot point, I didn’t mind that. And I didn’t feel like the flashbacks were trying to explain it, but we’re trying to create an emotional awakening for Bruce that is not strongly there so you pad it out and make it more emotional by the slow motion scenes…not that I think it was entirely successful but I think that’s what was going on.
But to go back for a moment, the place where I went “Uh-oh,” story-wise, is when they have the dream sequence at the crypt and the blood coming out the walls, because I felt I just don’t know how long is this movie going to take before we get onto the next part of the story, like we have a lot of sequences like this that are keeping us from moving forward with things. And it takes an awfully long time before we get to their first confrontation, which is kind of the next bit of plot.
Then I have nitpicks after that. Why have Bruce purposely lure Doomsday into the city when it’s so blatantly dangerous? Why not have Doomsday of his own volition just say I’m going to chase that plane that was shooting at me?
Hayden: And you could have given that sense of urgency to it, so that when Batman takes off to get the spear, you have Doomsday coming high-tailing after him and he realizes the gravity of the situation, and you build the scene that way.
Ben: I think even better have Doomsday just start heading into Metropolis and start wrecking the place. Once he’s in the city, lure him to the dock from the city and not from an Island where he’s by himself.
Pete: Then you could have him trying to be heroic by having him try to get him out of the population area.
Hayden: Going back to what you were saying before about this incredibly pacing issue, one thing that comes to mind is where Wonder Woman is watching those videos of the future Justice League members, it was right in the middle of that Batman / Superman fight. If you pace that so that you have two tension-building scenes going at the same time, whether its dialogue tension or two action scenes that are coming to different peaks at the same time, that can really have an effect. But to go from epic action to “click / watch screen” – it brings what you want to see to a screeching halt.
Pete: I remember you mentioning, Ben, that with Man of Steel you saw the trailer and you liked the atmosphere but when you saw the film it was a largely different atmosphere…
Ben: The scenes in the trailers that I liked I liked in the film, it just wasn’t the weight of the film
Pete: Then you said when you saw this trailer, it looked dark and depressing and you were hoping that this film might be hopeful and optimistic …
Ben: It was a joke
Pete: Did that happen?
Ben: No, but I think those elements were better in this film than Man of Steel. I have only seen that movie once…
Hayden: I think the ending of that movie gives it that feeling
Ben: For me it’s not actually the ending. The actual neck-breaking moment is not my biggest problem. The feeling I came away with in that movie is that you have this hero that I don’t have any connecting points to, because they play up the Kal-El last son of Krypton guy more than Clark Kent or Superman. And then you have this massive battle with cities being destroyed, and though I know that Superman is overwhelmed and extremely busy in the middle of this fight, the storytelling makes me feel all I’m seeing is this giant swathe of destruction.
In this film, besides the fact that Batman is turned into this Tim Burton-esque psycho who likes to machine gun down people (which I think is a little bit of an odd choice) I feel like there’s a little bit more [of that hopeful stuff]. Like we have that montage of Superman saving people, and when he’s fighting Doomsday his first instinct is to try launch him into space, which is a pretty good instinct, actually. It seems like in the context of the other movie, he’s working really hard to get the battle out of this city
Hayden: It’s trying to earn that, where it seems like in the other film they didn’t earn the fact they’re having a fight in downtown Metropolis, where neither of the characters had any motivation for that.
Ben: And also the ending of this film is a heroic sacrifice, where he has to pick up this thing that is going to kill him in and of itself to fight this monster that is also going kill him. I felt like it was…more…hopeful? I don’t know if I’d say “brighter”?
Hayden: It’s more redemptive.
Ben: It’s got something that I can feel better about. And you point out that they haven’t fully earned Batman’s character arc at the end, but the fact that that’s what they are going for, that’s a nicer place to end. It doesn’t make it a better film, but it does make it potentially a less dark and gloomy.
Hayden: I did find the performances overall enjoyable. Henry Cavill tries to bring some levity to the role of Superman. Ben Affleck is a great Batman. I don’t know whose choice it was to have Lex Luthor the way that he was. He lands more psychotic than Tim Burton’s Joker, but less than Heath Ledger. It’s funny that Lex Luthor who’s supposed to be this super-reasoning, Braniac-like….
Ben: Not always, not always. He’s often supposed to be pathologically jealous.
Hayden: This movie has a lot of pettiness to it so of course he’s also very petty. It was interesting, I didn’t hate it. Someone else mentioned that Jesse Eisenberg looks like the only person on set whose having fun, and I guess I agree with that.
Josh: I enjoyed his initial speech.
Ben: Yeah there were some funny moments there, and it’s a very different take on Luthor than I’ve ever seen before. None of the characters feel like a character that I’ve read in the comics, but I was ok with Luthor.
My wife who is not a comic book fan and my daughter who is have both said seeing the commercial, “How can you have Batman fighting Superman? That’s just ridiculous.” But there’s lots of examples of this in comics, you just have to find a way to justify it. But unfortunately the classic way of justifying it is to have Superman be kind of dumb: he gets caught off guard. In this movie the first time he’s caught off guard I can kind of buy it, the second time it’s ridiculous.
Hayden: The problem is that they wanted neither of them portrayed as wrong, and they ended up making them both look petty rather than making them both look like they have a good point to make. Where you look at what Marvel has done staging the big fight between Captain America and Iron Man, because they’ve given themselves a couple of movies to do that, it makes sense. In this one, because we haven’t had time to get to know the characters to say, “O, I can see where they’re coming from. I can see why Batman would forego even talking to Superman and try to reason with them,” or “I can see why Superman would freak and out say even though I’m indestructible, I’m going to beat this guy up.” It makes them both be super-undeveloped and childish.
Ben: I think Batman is fairly well motivated, and I can buy all of that, I think Superman just comes across as random and that he must be really angry. And Batman is clearly wrong. He’s actually wrong, and even when they reveal that he’s been manipulated all the way through, it makes him look stupid, but not unmotivated.
Hayden: I guess that’s fair. But it’s strange that we have a movie where we’re supposed to be cheering both of these guys and maybe feeling conflicted about the fact that they are fighting, we still think it’s awesome, but then one looks stupid and dim-witted where the other one seems extremely petty. And that’s the second act of the film, building these arguments until it erupted into a fight. So that whole part seems pointless.
Josh: I couldn’t understand the relationship between Superman and Lex. I didn’t feel like it was justified, the way Lex seemed to hold power over Superman, when could have just done whatever…grabbed him, or took him with him, or wherever. Why would you leave this guy who knows exactly where the mother is to do his bidding? There were a lot of other ways to deal with it.
Hayden: That’s where the whole lack of character motivation really came to a head for me.
Ben: Maybe a smarter thing to do would be to fly off and watch Lex Luthor until he makes a phone call and then use your super-hearing to figure out where that was…
Hayden: Basically what Batman does in 3 seconds. “I have the solution to all your problems all you have to do is look it up in the phone book….”
Ben: But you can argue that that’s what Superman went to talk to Batman about. But that’s where the stupidity of Superman comes up. Well sure, punch him once, and then say, “No, what I’m trying to explain to you is that Luthor is holding my mother hostage and is trying to trick me into killing you but I don’t want to do that.” And if he keeps fighting, you just keep trying to explain…
Hayden: And all that happens before he’s been hit with Kryptonite once, so these things aren’t hurting him at all. So he’s literally just getting annoyed.
Pete: I feel like the whole movie I’m looking forward to this fight, because this is the title of the film.
Ben: It’s clearly the centerpiece.
Pete: And I think this is going to be awesome because Zach Snyder is known for his great visuals in a fight scene, and then I get into the fight but because of editing, you have a grasp of what’s happening but it’s weak. And I feel like that scene and the entire movie could have benefited from a few more establishing shots. It’s like what you said before and you get just thrust into the scene.
Ben: OK, we have to go, but in one or two words, what’s your favorite things about the movie?
Hayden: Ben Affleck
Josh: The necklace shot
Ben: The fact that’s it’s Batman and Superman in a film
Pete: The prospect of future awesome-ness.
Ben: OK, your least favorite thing about the film.
Hayden: The writing.
Pete: Zack Snyder’s use of horses. Why are there horses?
Hayden: There are so many horses! Why?
Josh The lack of character motivation.
Ben: I guess awkward pacing. And the last thing I’ll just mention is in spite of all that, I’m interested in that we have a film where Barry Allen appears to warn Batman about something in the future and we have para-demons.
Now, at this point, our conversation ended and it was time to go home, and I started dropping everyone off at their respective residences. However, it turns out I actually forgot to turn off the voice recorder on my phone! In fact, it went on to record all my going-ons for the next 3+ hours! The upshot of that was it also recorded our more information in the car, excerpts of which I have included here:
Hayden: Oh man, the horses
Pete: I really agree with you about Bruce Wayne driving the car, that was a really well staged scene. But the thing that got me out of it was the horse.
Ben: That didn’t bother me.
Hayden: I like the plot line they had with the disabled guy, without the legs
Josh: You could see where that was going…
Hayden: He was a good character to give an on-the-ground perspective…
Pete: To get the perspective of the people who did get damaged.
Hayden: I didn’t mind the movie, the first act of it, I didn’t mind at all, I didn’t think it was great or fantastic, but after that…I don’t know the specific turning point, but it was probably when the capitol blew up. That’s when it all started going haywire for me.
Pete: I liked the stories, but there were a lot of them, and they didn’t really commit to getting into the stories how I would have liked them too. Batman was the most covered story, and that was nice, I liked Ben Affleck, but each story individually, I would have liked if there were less slub…slubpots…I’m tired, subplots, too many of those. I just remember when he’s talking to Jonathan Kent on top of the mountain. On its own, without the context of the film around it, that scene makes sense. But with the dream sequences that had gone before, and then showing him hike to the top of the mountain…
Hayden: There was just a lot of that, these half-baked ideas that…the scene wouldn’t tell a complete story
Josh: That scene made me wonder how Superman shaved.
Ben: There’s comic book precedent for that. Superman disappearing and then reappearing after the capitol explosion is not a strongly motivated set of events. You know, why does he go away? Because he’s depressed, because he didn’t see it, because he didn’t want to look…what? What are you talking about? And then coming back to rescue Lois when she falls off a tower, which was well done, but in the meantime we have a scene where he’s talking to his dead father in what I hope is the last dream sequence of the movie…
Pete: I feel like in our conversation I came across as hating this movie, but I think that was just processing.
Ben: Now I live in a world where I’ve seen this movie.
Hayden: I am interested in what Affleck will do if he directs his own Batman movie, set in the same universe. I like Ben Affleck as a director.
Ben: It would be interested in someone other than Zack Snyder have a go at this. I guess we have Suicide Squad coming up.
Hayden: Aesthetically I do like this universe they’re set up. And Zach Snyder is a master at hitting those comic book aesthetics, I think, in the way the fights play out, and in the way some of its staged. That carried Watchmen on its own, which I still didn’t love that move very much. What did you think of the last Captain America, the Winter Soldier?
And that’s that, all done with this sort of bloggy-style exercise, which I have to admit, probably sounded more exciting when we talked about it than it actually was.