With the release of the Extended Cut of Suicide Squad out now, I thought it would be fun to look back on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice now that some months have passed and both films can be viewed with clearer eyes. I'll be doing a Fanboys Fix It for Suicide Squad once I rewatch that movie, but first, we have to backtrack to the film that preceded it as we've already done an edition for Man of Steel.
For those who haven't seen my previous reviews of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I'm actually a big fan of this film. Sure, there are flaws we'll be talking about here, but I feel like it gets significantly more flack than it deserves. It had a gargantuan task and on the list of 100 things it needed to accomplish, I think they knocked 80 of them out of the park once you view the Ultimate Edition, as that was an immense improvement on the theatrical cut.
With that being said, how do you fix Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice?
Core Problem #1: Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor
This was just a terrible idea. There's nothing redeemable about his performance and that's not to blame things wholly on Eisenberg, because he can be a great actor when he's given the right material and the right direction. Unfortunately for him, he was wrongly cast in a part that was written wrong. Lex Luthor is supposed to be charismatic and not twitchy. He's supposed to be bald, yet for some reason every goddamn movie wants to make him wear a wig or have hair, which I'm convinced now is entirely due to actors not wanting to shave their heads or be put in a bald cap, which is ridiculous. Lex is also supposed to be a physically fit guy who everyone should be envious of because he seems to have it all—good looks, money, fame, intelligence, charm, etc. He shouldn't be a nervous schizophrenic wimp who looks like a trust fund douchebag better suited to run a TMZ-style blog than a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Basically, Lex should have been the exact mirror image of Bruce Wayne, but with a more likable persona on the outside and no hair. That way, they could reflect each other where Bruce appears to be a playboy jerk but has a heart of gold and Lex seems to be the more trustworthy but is evil inside.
Rewriting the character is the biggest problem, but in doing so, you also have to recast the part, as Jesse Eisenberg just doesn't fit that appearance. He would have been a great Jimmy Olsen, but he's no Luthor. I know a lot of people thought Bryan Cranston would be great, but he's too old for it. Lex should be roughly the same age as Clark and Bruce, so you'd have to go for someone between 35-45. Some names I think would have fit perfectly for the role are Bradley Cooper, Jude Law, or maybe Jon Hamm.
Core Problem #2: Editing and Pacing
For a little bit, there was a rumor going around that this could have been split up into two films entitled "Batman v Superman: Enter the Knight" and "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice". While I don't like those titles, I do think if they added just a little bit more to the story and reworked a few angles, they could have gotten two films out of this, and it would have been interesting to see them released 6 months apart. Even if that wasn't the case, I think the Ultimate Edition proves that the theatrical cut was hacked to pieces and it made everything feel off.
At times, it's slow, but it also seems like those slower moments need to go on longer to allow them more room to breathe. It's weird how they have both problems happening at the same time. I'm not too sure how to get around that issue, as I'm not a professional editor by any means, but I think it might be a byproduct of trying to cram too much setup into one movie just to catch up to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This suffers from the same problem as Iron Man 2 where albeit a fun movie, it's mostly entertaining because it brings in Black Widow and it starts building up the Cosmic Cube and all of the other elements that would pay dividends later. They essentially threw it all disjointedly into that movie to be able to skip forward and that's what happened with Dawn of Justice.
It's hard to ask people to sit through a 4-hour movie, but maybe that's what we should have gotten in order for them to tell the full story that needed to be told. Or, alternatively, maybe there should have been one movie to focus solely on establishing Batman and having him look into Superman while setting up Lex Luthor as the big bad, then they fight, and the end of the film has them being friends again, while the second film released a few months later would consist of the trinity, Wonder Woman's backstory, looking into the metahumans, fighting Doomsday (and possibly someone like Metallo) and doubling the box office by having two 2 and a half hour movies come out instead of one that really needed to be at least 3 and a half hours long. Then, you can even have some more fun with fleshing out other elements like having Batman talk to Commissioner Gordon, maybe throwing in the scene where The Joker kills Jason Todd to help set up Suicide Squad, and so forth.
Core Problem #3: Batman Shouldn't Kill
Under no circumstances should Batman kill. There's no excuses. I don't care if he's at a darker time in his life and he's disillusioned with the world. Batman should never do anything to kill someone no matter how bad they are.
Sure, he's inadvertently done things to lead to the death of different people, monsters and so forth in the comics, but it's always as a result of inaction or something you can get around. For example, it's okay that at one point in this movie, someone throws a grenade at him and he bounces it back. That's not Batman hooking a bomb to a clown and tossing him away to explode to death like in Batman Returns. I'll even argue that it's okay he shoots the flamethrower to stop KGBeast, as nothing definitively says he would die (or did die) as opposed to being burnt to a crisp. But why is Batman blowing up cars with people inside where it's impossible for them to have survived?
That's the line Batman refuses to ever cross, so you can't have him cross the line and then go back to acting like life is precious and should never be taken, which means now that he's killed people, there's no reason why he shouldn't just kill off The Joker for all he's done. With some slight tweaking to any of those potential deaths, the same story can be told without implying that Batman has murdered people. You lose nothing by having him not kill, you only gain respect because it's one less things the fans can complain about.
Core Problem #4: Motives for Fighting / Save Martha!
Here's a doozy, so strap yourselves in, as this section is going to be a long one.
It's made clear why Batman considers Superman a threat, so there's no problem there. Why Superman has a problem with Batman, though, is still problematic. The Ultimate Edition helps it a bit by showing Clark researching Batman's vigilantism and thinking that he's a menace, but it all feels contrived. There should be a scene somewhat early in the movie where he flat out states to Lois or someone else that after the events that transpired in Metropolis in Man of Steel, he feels personally responsible for policing the world and the more he looks into different threats, the more this Batman character seems to be a burden rather than a benefit. There's a perception that Batman is a killer and the discussion should be put out there that people are now comparing the two, saying Superman is the same as Batman, except he's more powerful and operates on a more global scale, which makes him even scarier. Clark, in an effort to prove to people that he isn't a corrupt vigilante, wants to take Batman down to show that he's there to stop people from getting hurt instead of imposing his own brand of justice. That should be explicitly stated and not just subtext hidden under multiple deleted scenes.
Clark is a great reporter and with his heightened senses, it's justified that he should learn who Batman is at that party scene, just as Bruce should figure out who Clark is. Also, as smart as Lex Luthor is, he shouldn't be able to pull the wool over Batman's eyes as much as he does. Bruce should somewhat know that he's being manipulated, but he's okay with it to an extent as he thinks it's all just leading him to the same goal he's trying to achieve, which is to stop Superman. He doesn't trust Lex by any means, but he trusts the enemy he knows more than the enemy he doesn't, and if push comes to shove, he thinks he and Lex can be a more united front against Superman because they're both human. Lex is an egomaniac and a bastard, but he's got some good points as far as wanting to protect the human race.
Lex holding Superman's mother hostage is a fine element. Clark holding it back against Bruce during their fight makes sense, too, because no matter what, he shouldn't be looking to kill him, only take him in to be arrested, but he also believes it's better for the optimistic arrest where Bruce turns himself in rather than to be dragged kicking and screaming. Right off the bat (no pun intended), he should also make it clear that Lex is playing puppet master, but Bruce should be too stubborn to want to listen. This is similar to what happens in the movie, but it's not emphasized enough. Clark should be saying things that are vague, which leads them open for misinterpretation. For example, instead of starting off the conversation with "Lex has my mom hostage and wants me to kill you", he should say something like "Lex is the real evil here, not me. I need your help. It's our job to keep people safe." which Bruce could then assume is a standard villain plot of "Join me and we can rule the galaxy together" in a way. Bruce is a dick. He doesn't like other people to be in charge and he doesn't trust Superman at all, so why would he want to listen to what he thinks is the sweet talk to convert him to the dark side?
And then there's the elephant in the room: the fact that the fight ends with the Martha name. It bugs a lot of people, and I can see why. I'll go on record in saying that I absolutely loved that they acknowledged that connection they had, since it's something I've wanted them to address for years, but the way they executed it was definitely flawed.
At the beginning of the movie, I immediately thought it was odd that Thomas Wayne only called out for Martha Wayne and that it might play into the events to transpire later. Just to downplay it a bit so it's more of a surprise for smarter audiences, Thomas should have called out for Bruce first, then Martha. That would justify flashing back to it a bit more as people wouldn't have paid as much attention to the Martha name being so blatantly obvious.
The line Clark says is also incredibly awkward. Why is he saying "save Martha" instead of "save my mother" or "Lex has my mom" or something like that? It's an unnatural way of speaking that nobody ever really does because they needed to have him say the name out loud for it to work. A slight reworking of that could be much less hokey where Batman isn't yelling back "Why did you say that name!?"
Let's take a look at the dialogue in the current version of the film:
"You're letting him kill Martha!" - Superman
"What does that mean? Why did you say that name?" - Batman
"Find...him.....save....Martha...." - Superman
"Why did you say that name?! Martha!? Why did you say that name!?" - Batman
"Stop! Please! Stop!" - Lois
"Why did you say that name!?" - Batman
"It's his mother's name! It's his mother's name." - Lois
First off, Batman should know it's his mother's name, because he's The World's Greatest Detective for fuck's sake. Second, this is exactly the type of screaming lunacy that we make fun of Christopher Nolan's trilogy for having done with some of those lines.
Try this on for size as an alternative rewrite:
"Bruce, stop! It's Luthor! You have to stop Luthor!" - Superman
"Shut up!" - Batman, who punches him in the throat, making it hard for Superman to breathe after all the gas he's inhaled.
"He'll...kill...her." - Superman, who starts to cough uncontrollably by now.
"What? What did you say?" - Batman stops attacking, as he cares about other people potentially being hurt.
"Stop! Please! Stop!" - Lois, running into the scene, yelling from a distance.
"M...moth...er..." - Superman struggles to get the words "my mother" out.
Batman mishears him as saying Martha and has flashbacks, paralyzing him in fear.
"Why did you say that name? Who is Martha? WHERE IS MARTHA?!" - Batman
"It's his mother's name! Martha's his mother's name." - Lois
Is it perfect? No. Is it better? I sure think so. It makes it a little more nuanced with Clark not just saying Martha for the hell of it. I'm sure someone else could take it to an even better level if they spent more than a couple minutes on it like I just did, but I think even on paper, this would have read weird and I'd have taken a lunch break to rewrite it a bit or played around with the dialogue when filming it.
Miscellaneous Extra Flaws & Nitpicking
Basically, those big problems above are the things that would have saved these movies and made them better as a whole, but there are smaller things that could have been changed as well. I'm obviously not going to nitpick every little detail, but a few things that stand out to me are as follows:
- The Emails – I like the idea that Lex Luthor has been doing research on metahumans, but why the hell does he have logos created for The Flash, Aquaman, Wonder Woman and Cyborg? That made no sense whatsoever. Those files should have just been labeled with random numbers or codes.
- The Flash's Beard – What's up with that facial hair on Ezra Miller? It looked awful.
- Have Mercy on Mercy – This doesn't hurt the movie too much, but I was disappointed to see Mercy Graves killed off. She's such a great character and I would have enjoyed seeing her be Lex's assistant in the future.
- Don't Kill Jimmy Olsen – I have never loved the whole sidekick young kid hanging out with Superman idea, but he's as much of an iconic supporting character as Alfred is to Batman. Jenny Jurwich in Man of Steel should have been Jimmy Olsen and he should have made another quick appearance here working for the Daily Planet, rather than being some CIA operative who gets a bullet in the brain. Who thinks of this shit and doesn't realize it will piss off fans of the source material?
- How Many Stayed That Way? – When Bruce asks Alfred how many good people are still left, he should have also clarified things more by saying Harvey Dent turned into Two-Face, Dick Grayson is off in Bludhaven, Barbara Gordon is paralyzed and Jason Todd is dead. It's implied, but why not just say it? Those name drops would get fans giddy.
Well, there you have it—some insight into how I would have changed things in hindsight if I was magically given me the ability to do so. Coming up soon will be Fanboys Fix It editions for Suicide Squad as well as Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, so stay tuned for those!