Back when the swell fella who would become my boyfriend and I were in one of those strange middle grounds where we were on our way to becoming a couple and very, very aware of it, our first sort-of-date was when Tommy invited me to go see Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice on its opening night. I, of course, accepted, somewhat reluctantly. I can’t remember if I was expecting the film to be good or bad, though I’m sure before then some of its abysmal reviews had been public. I was also nervous about the whole “oh my god this is probably sort of a date isn’t it”, especially since at the time I didn’t know him all that well. This would be the first of many dates at Ze Cinemah, although after this we’d be perfectly, happily aware that they were all dates. Even better, I think, is our immediate discussions after the film is over, and how eager we are to talk about it and discuss what we’ve just seen. We’ve seen plenty of films together, and maybe I’ll talk about other ones we’ve seen someday, but I can already feel a pit in my stomach drop at having to talk about this stinking pile of steamingness. All said, Batman v Superman is one of those truly atrocious films, like The Judge or The Danish Girl, that works like so much manure and makes me start sparking and frothing with how horrible they were. It’s an energizer more than it is a depressive, though it for sure is both, and there is one thing about our date in particular that haunts me every day. It’s not even something the film did, but something I did, or almost did, but could have done more of. Something that perhaps could have changed the screening for the whole theater, or as Anthony Hopkins keeps saying in the trailers for the new Transformers movies “change the tide of human history itself”. I wonder about it every day and every night, as I sleep and as I wake, and especially as a type this story to you, The Void, and now I must share the tale of my screening of Batman vs Superman with you to get it of my chest, to free myself, and to see where the tides of human history itself shall take me. Also: I’m going to be very mean to this film, and am very not interested in hearing about how wrong I am from random eggs as I and many others I know have been on Twitter. I hate it, don’t care if you love it, for fuck’s sake leave me alone.
It didn’t take the two of us long to find a pair of seats, though we immediately moved to the row behind us because our view was partially blocked by the structure of the stairwell. We warned the couple who ended up taking those seats about it, though I can’t remember if they moved too. And the film starts. Zack Snyder has the gall to open the film by reminding us that Batman’s parents died in front of him during a robbery gone wrong. He also seemingly cannot hire Jeffrey Dean Morgan to do much beyond die in the openings of his films, though I remember he had more to do in Watchmen. The visual of Martha’s(!!!) pearl necklace snapping in the gun’s safety as the trigger is pulled is sort of fascinating but also pretty grotesque, all things considered. Batffleck is saying something, though I cannot remember what. We see the funeral, little Bruce running into the woods in sadness during the procession, only to fall into a well or pit or some such hole in the ground. The score, I’m sure, was going crazy.
And then, it happens. Baby Bruce is levitated out the pit by seemingly hundreds of bats flying around him like a tornado, floating him towards the light. This is how we are abruptly told that this is a dream sequence, and reader, I laughed. Not the cackle it deserved, but I couldn’t stop it from escaping completely. I chuckled, giggled, whatever; I’m pretty sure Tommy hit me on the arm to calm me down and get me stop but I’m not quite sure. The giggle is what counts, though, and it haunts me. What if I had just burst out laughing at a moment that the whole theater was palpably flummoxed by? Batffleck wakes up but I am still reeling from the horseshit prologue we have been subjected to. It is not the most nonsensical thing we are going to see in this movie. It is not even the least plot-relevant indulgence that Zack Snyder will take us through, nor the least inexplicable jump of energy or plot logic that we’ll be forced to sit through. Academy Award winner Holly Hunter will be forced to stare dramatically, in close-up, to a jar of piss before she and dozens of other people are killed in an assassination plot meant to frame Superman, whose own close up registers at the subtle, bottomless despair and discomfort of sitting on the can and realizing you’re not quite done shitting, except Henry Cavill also registers as remarkably bored. Jeremy Irons reads every line as Alfred Pennyworth with such bitchy, subtly nasty inflections that I actually found the character an unwelcome presence, though if anyone found this a life raft of something enjoyable happening on screen, particularly Irons, then by all means savor him. Amy Adams will throw a Kryptonite spear into an underwater pile of rubble and, with no indication that Lois Lane has been told why the heroes need it to vanquish the rock monster that is Doomsday, dives into the water and nearly drowns recovering it. Batman slaughters – in fact, he often guns down – dozens of criminals on screen, brands sex offenders, had one montage that’s just him training to become even beefier and another, completely bizarre dream sequence that may also be a warning from another dimension’s Flash where Superman is technically Hitler, and Barry Allen screams about Lois Lane before Batffleck wakes up at his desk, which is meant to convey that this May Have Been A Dream Or Is It Ooooooh. This scene has no narrative impact and is never referenced again, though it is not as patently stupid as is the sight of Superman, wielding that Kryptonite spear, deciding to kamikaze himself by killing Doomsday with the knowledge that he cannot survive any assault the giant may bring on him while he is in such close proximity to said spear, ignoring the two superheroes who have been helping him fight Doomsday this whole time.
There are plenty of other absurd, delicious, amazingly shitty one-offs. Michael Shannon is credited for appearing in the film for the three seconds General Zod’s corpse floats in the remains of his spaceship. The President of the United States decides to nuke Superman in the middle of his fight with Doomsday after the latter threw the Man of Steel into the Earth’s orbit (a safe enough distance to nuke him, I suppose). Diane Lane is duck taped and tied to a chair, threatened to be burned alive as Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor throws photos of her with “Witch” written on her face, and all of this is tied into some mythological asinine crap that is Luthor’s motivation for wanting to kill Superman and create Doomsday in the first place. Eisenberg spends the whole film as some combination of Edward Nygma and a meth addict’s impersonation of Heath Ledger’s Joker, and it is by far the biggest trainwreck in the whole film. I think I also resisted laughing once “MARTHA!!???!?!?!?!!!” happened but in truth, I blocked that out of my memory. The sheer joy of seeing Wonder Woman, and hearing the score come alive as she roars into battle, literally, at some points, is all that is keeping me from giving this film an F grade, though perhaps I just can’t rate an Amy Adams film that low. Gal Gadot is at least enjoying herself, which is in even bigger contrast to the stark constipation that Cavill and Ben Affleck are constantly exuding. The film has ideas about literal hero worship, about what Superman could mean or stand for, and wants to have real conversations about his necessity, but it jerry-rigs them through Christic imagery and working hard to undermine the criticisms of genuine challengers and the critics themselves. Bruce’s hatred and suspicion of the Man of Steel seems completely arbitrary, banking on the fear of Superman turning on humanity in spite of his big coming-out party as a global entity being the eradication of his home species for the sake of mankind. Horrific as the collateral damage was, it’s not in line with anything Superman does in the film, is shown as doing, or is framed as doing by Synder himself, who doesn’t pretend for a moment that there’s actually anything wrong with Superman. He’s content to make the man a misunderstood martyr, a golden boy whose death inspires the formation of The Justice League and the warming up of Batman’s glacial, inherently distrusting heart. Superman is basically fridged on behalf of Bruce Wayne, and it’s clumsily executed as Smallville himself is.
There are so many vile, absurd, abstracted, unnecessary, horrific moments in this film and yet, I still wonder how much that night would’ve changed had I actually burst out laughing at the beginning of the film. What would’ve changed for the whole theater if some jackass sitting hear the back-left had cackled as a small child is literally lifted out of a scene the filmgoing public had seen at least seventy-eight million times by now, one that kicks off an indefensibly ghastly excuse for a Hollywood spectacle lit worse than even the lowest budge episode of The X-Files and colored like it’s scared that bright shades will deflate how Dour and Serious this Cinematic Experience is? Recounting many of the set pieces I’ve already mentioned back to my sister afterwards I couldn’t help cackling at some of them, though I did so far more angrily with Tommy immediately after, baffled not just that I had paid for this film but that it even existed, that anybody who made this gigantic dumpster fire thought that it was in any way a competently crafted, psychologically or emotionally coherent picture. Could we, as a crowd, as a community, have laughed at this horseshit for what it was? I love that in horror movies the audience always make the pact with itself that fine, this is a lot, you deserve a good scream. This picture was even more upsetting, and perhaps if I’d laughed, having taken the piss out of it so goddamn early, we wouldn’t have had to just sit there and take it. We could’ve fought back and laughed at it (with it?), openly railed against it, or just fucking not be quiet throughout this whole ordeal. I will always be haunted by this inaction on my part, and to this day it shames me.
He did try to defend parts of it, but not much, and for sure stole my comments about how Eisenberg wasn’t even playing Lex Luthor when we starting talking about the film to our RA Josh and fellow hallmate Dylan in the hall that same night. Josh peddled the theory that Marvel people had paid off critics to hate on DC’s live-action features, which I challenged by asking why Marvel would even need to do that. It’s not even that DC’s films are so drastically worse than any of Marvel’s features, but Marvel at least has a brand formula at work. Their knock is never that their bad, just predictable and uninspired, though they’ve been getting a little better at going against both those counts lately, with the Guardians films at least. And I will say this for Batman v Superman: It’s awfulness has staked a far larger claim on my mental landscape than The Avengers or Deadpool or most Marvel fare ever has. I liked Man of Steel fine, was particularly impressed by the early minimalism in portraying Superman’s powers, especially his x-ray vision, and was even playing devil’s advocate with family members I saw it with. I’m semi-interested to return to it, but not passionately so. You for sure couldn’t call this film formulaic, perhaps unworthy of all the bombast it’s applying to itself but worthy of notice the way a burning car is, or how Jeff Goldblum and Laura Dern are seemingly in awe of that giant pile of shit in Jurassic Park. As dubious as literally every aspect of this film is, the sheer magnitude of its awfulness is compelling in such a way that I became anticipatory of the film’s eventual Rifftrax takedown as I was watching it. I don’t know how soon into it this idea started, but once Amy Adams dived in to get that spear I could already hear the befuddled joke about Lois Lane: Plot Psychic that Kevin Murphy would probably hurl at the screen, and it made this mess a little bit better.
All things being honest, I am absolutely going to see Justice League with my boyfriend, though I wonder how much more excited he is than I am. I loathed Suicide Squad but thought it was so poorly edited I stopped caring and would up having something of an okay time, appreciating Margot Robbie trying to find a character in Harley Quinn and relishing that Viola Davis actively seemed to want to be there a little as I did. Of course I’ve seen Wonder Woman, a step above most recent DC efforts in that it’s compelling, competently told and emotionally resonant, though it really shows Gadot isn’t much of an actress. There’s a lot about it I questioned in the moment but I am so, so appreciative of Wonder Woman as a film that exists, and one I mostly enjoyed seeing even as I actively wished for a better version of the film while I was watching it. Maybe I should just not see these given how much I end up railing against these projects, but I love watching movies with my guy (who I also love) and they are great conversation fodder. Plus, we watch lots of better movies together! Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was the first of many, many delightful date night movies, and we weren’t even dating yet! My guy was easily the best part of the film, though it’d be a discredit to it say that it wasn’t a memorable experience, future boyfriend or no. I truly hope I never see it again, at least not sober, but I got a great story out of it, and a great man too, which is more than a lot of movies have ever given me. And at the end of the day, it’s that the biggest reward a person could get? It’s not like this makes Batman v Superman anything more than a gray, ugly, violent, gross, despicable, unpleasant, misogynistic, time-wasting, utterly horrendous, steaming pile of shit. But hey, it counts for something.