Storytelling Failures – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gritty Sepia and Other Choices

I’ll be glad to be done whinging about this thing so I can start whinge about other things. So, the final part of my series explaining how this movie failed to tell a good story – structure.

Overall, this movie did follow the three act structure – set-up, conflict, resolution. However, there was just a lot wrong with the execution. As I stated in my introduction to this category of entries, events need to build coherently on each other. Each scene or event should contribute to one of the other three criteria. I’ll also add as part of this criterion at no point should any scene, event, or line of dialogue break the audience’s suspension of disbelief.

1) Director’s Choice – I know that the director’s work tends to have a particular aesthetic. I’m not surprised the movie is run through the “Gritty Sepia” Instragram filter. Some of the other choices, though, did surprise me, but perhaps those are part and parcel of the director’s style as well (I’m not exactly a fan of his work, after all, so my exposure is limited). If that’s the case, I think the movie would have benefited greatly from a different director, or if someone had reined in his signature style.

a) Slow motion. Yes, I am aware this is one of the director’s trademarks. I thought the use of slow motion was to emphasis dramatic moments. Instead, the slo-mo is used for people walking no where important, Bruce working out, water splashing out of a bathtub, and for some reason a horse. Why draw attention to moments that just aren’t dramatic?

b) More destruction porn. The opening scenes of the destruction of Metropolis as viewed by Bruce Wayne seem like the only purpose was for the director to get back at people who complained about the destruction porn in Man of Steel. The audience knows Metropolis was destroyed (and apparently rebuilt in record time); we don’t need to see it again. The scenes are pointless filler.

Also, trying to pretend there’s no death toll associated with fighting in major city by saying no one is in Downtown past 5:00 PM is insulting.

c) What the hell is with the direction of Lex Luthor? Besides being a twerp, the manic energy is completely at odds with the flatness of everyone else. I’m not saying a flat performance would be better, but it least it wouldn’t throw off the tone of the movie every time he’s in a scene. I’m not saying I like the tone (see below) but the characters should at least be tonally consistent.

d) Also, what the hell was Bruce Wayne driving at the beginning? No, no, no, while this older Bruce Wayne may be past the days of smashing up Porsches, there is no way in hell he’s driving something that middle-class. Come on, people, how about a Mercedes-Benz S-class Coupe? I could totally believe an older Bruce Wayne would drive something like that (yes, I am a big fan of Top Gear and looking forward to The Grand Tour; why do you ask?).

e) Where is everyone? I mean, seriously, are we in Gotham? Metropolis? Is this a flashback? Is this a hallucination? Apparently the director forgot what an “establishing shot” is for.

f) Why why why does this start with Batman’s origin story? Anyone who’s been even slightly aware of the existence of Batman since about 1989 onward knows the origin story. There is no reason to go into this again, and in slow motion no less. The key to the big “twist” at the end could have been handled with a single line of dialogue.

2) Literal Tone – Normally the musical score should enhance the movie. That’s the whole purpose and modern movies have every single moment accompanied by music (to the point that I notice the lack of a soundtrack in older movies). Hans Zimmer is usually pretty solid but this score was not good. There were odd, dramatic violin swells when people were just walking to nowhere important. Again, this only served to draw attention moments that weren’t dramatic.

When the movie finally gets to the promised title fight, the score manages to get worse here. The off-kilter orchestra is abruptly replaced by generic industrial rock. The switch doesn’t even correspond to the battle moving over to Gotham City. The music change made that final battle seem more like a video game than a movie. Speaking of that…

3) Totally CGI – The CGI in this wasn’t very good. In fact, in places it was obviously bad and given how much was spent on this movie I don’t expect to notice bad CGI. The kryptonite gas clouds looked totally fake and Doomsday… Good gravy, Doomsday. He looked like an off-spec cave troll from Fellowship of the Ring. Yeah, I know it’s the same special effects company, but that’s not an excuse. Industrial Light and Magic doesn’t make every monster look like Jabba the Hut.

4) Narrative Tone – This movie is saturated with pretentious posturing. The whole point of the set-up is for the pay-off of the title fight. But the pretentious posturing actually detracts from any emotional investment. There’s Bruce Wayne berating Alfred for daring to point out that planning the murder of someone he’s never spoken to is a bad thing, to Lex babbling his nonsense about gods and monsters or whatever, to Superman standing stoically as bad things happen around him. There’s the supposed existential crisis of Superman that includes Superman and Lois having that conversation that weirdly took place in the bathtub about whether Superman is doing any good or not and a talking head montage decrying Superman while juxtaposed with scenes of him saving people. There’s also the blatant placement of religious symbolism in the background, like crosses, angels, devils, and Superman striking a cross pose several times.

5) Overall – The flashbacks/hallucinations don’t serve the narrative structure. Combined with a lack of establishing shots, these scenes are just confusing (at least to me). There is a whole lot of pointlessness in this movie, and considering the 2.5 hour run-time, that’s really unfortunate. So much of the time spent on pretentious posturing goes nowhere. Is Superman helping or hurting the world? None of that discussion matters because it’s meant only to be a framing device for why Batman is mad at him, except that didn’t need to be there. Lex apparently knows enough about Bruce Wayne to manipulate him into the fight. The talking heads and Senator Finch’s hearing are pretentious posturing that does not matter because everyone appears to conclude Superman’s a hero after all.

The build-up to the conflict is a pretentious drag, the conflict itself is mitigated in a ridiculously trite fashion, and the resolution of the movie and Bruce Wayne’s character arc (the formation of the Justice League) feels tacked on and out of place. For spending over two hours on the build-up, the motivation for the title fight is just weak. There’s a whole of style over substance in this movie and a whole lot of time seems to be spent to try to convince the audience that is not the case.

This movie is frustratingly self-important. It’s sleek and shiny and oblivious to its own shallowness. Is the premise fundamentally flawed? No, and with the right team such a premise can and has resulted in an excellent movie. WB/DC did not have the right team for this premise, and it shows.

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S. J. Drew is an aspiring writer who finally entered the blogosphere to shamelessly promote that writing (as evidenced by the title of the blog). Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but S. J. hopes you are at least entertained. And if you're actually reading this, that's probably a good sign.

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