With comic book films, you get varying degrees of fan service. Every one has at least a little, some more than others. But there is good fan service and there is bad fan service. Take Guardians of the Galaxy for instance. When they are in the Collector ship, there is a cocoon in one of his display cases. The uninitiated see that cocoon as just another curiosity in the Collector’s collection. The old-school comic book fans, however, recognize it as the gestation chamber of a classic Marvel character named Adam Warlock. If you don’t know this information, it does not affect your enjoyment of the film. If you do, it adds a bit of coolness to the scene. This is an example of good fan service.
You would have to expect a lot of fan service form Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I mean, the whole film is one big exercise in fan service. Whether Batman would beat Superman has been an argument topic for comic book fans since the days before the Internet. But this film is full of the bad fan service. What’s worse, since Zack Snyder and the powers that be think they are doing us such a favor by giving us so much fan service, they figured they could skimp on giving us an actual film. Well, an actual film that works on its own, that is.
The destruction of Metropolis at the end of Man of Steel, a plot point that I’d imagine Snyder and company would have just ignored if it hadn’t become such a rallying cry for critics of that film, has many people questioning Superman (Henry Cavill) and what his place in society is. Is he a friend? Is he a danger? Can he be controlled? Should he be controlled? If so, how?
Two people have definitely made up their minds about Superman: Bruce “Batman” Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). Both consider Superman a threat to humanity. Luthor wants to tear Superman down, thinking that if people see his flaws, he wouldn’t be as dangerous. Batman’s approach is much simpler than Lex’s. He just wants to kill him. Both have the opportunity to enact their goals when Lex finds a piece of radioactive rock that was once part of Superman’s homeworld, namely, what we call kryptonite. All of a sudden, the fight between Bats and Supes becomes a whole lot more fair.
But what about that “bad fan service” we talked about earlier? Well, I have three egregious examples.
- The dream sequence that was in the trailer, where Batman is in a dystopian future. He sees an Omega symbol, fire pits and Parademons, all trade marks of the DC villain Darkseid. Any excitement at possibly seeing the biggest bad guy of the DC Universe live and in person is dashed because we find out this world is controlled by Superman. Why? How? Is he working for Darkseid? With Darkseid? We never find out because…
- He jumps out of that dream sequence into another one. This time, we see The Flash (at least I think its the Flash. It could also be the parking garage attendant from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off who was somehow accidentally fused to Cameron Fyre’s dad’s car), back from the future, who spouts some gibberish about “Lois Lane being the one” and Batman “being right about him.” The scene as a whole echoes a similar scene in Crisis on Infinite Earths #1.
- The third comes just before the climax when Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) opens a file Luthor had on other superhumans. She sees herself, Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg.
These three scenes all share the same quality: They do absolutely nothing to set up the story at hand. The first is a redundant rehash of Bruce’s motivation, which by this point we have already had drilled into our heads, the other two set up future films and are scenes that Marvel usually puts at the end of the credits. Comic fans are supposed to squeal at seeing these, but even the hardcore comic fans will ask why they are seeing them instead of the movie they pulled us out of.
The inclusion of scenes like these, and there are more of them in the film, are part of why some people say the film is too long yet not long enough. And Snyder’s directorial style also adds to this criticism.
I don’t know if it is because he is trying to sell these characters for the legends they are–that these are important cultural icons that should be treated with reverence–or that he is just simply in love with the way he directs a scene, but the film is filled with scenes that should take maybe about two seconds to get the point across but instead take two minutes or more here, often scenes shot in glorious slow motion so we can bask in the awe and grandeur of either the information being presented or the way it is delivered. This becomes overbearing and boring, and at times you’ll wish the theater had a fast forward button on your armrest. This makes the way the film belabors the points it is trying to make even more hard to bare. Because, wow, when the film wants you to pick up on something, it really makes sure you know about it. You’ll probably be hearing the name “Martha” in your sleep after seeing this.
But at the same time, a lot of the characters don’t get the development they need. Lois Lane’s (Amy Adams) main function in the plot is literally to be the damsel in distress that Superman needs to save. At least two plot points are kickstarted by Supes rescuing her. Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) basically yells incredibly bad headlines at his staff, asks where Clark is or why he isn’t doing his assignments, and has one rant where he yells that its no longer 1938, which is another way Snyder subtly addresses his critics (because,see, Superman debuted in 1938, so if you wish this Superman was like the old Superman, well, its not 1938 anymore! See how he got ya!?!). And Holly Hunter’s character is basically a bunch of corn-pone colloquialisms in a fancy suit.
But the character that suffers the most from this lack of characterization is Lex Luthor. It seems Snyder and company forgot that they were reintroducing Lex for the first time in the new franchise. I’m not the biggest Jesse Eisenberg fan, but, bless his heart, he gives it all trying to make Lex a consistent character. There are a couple throwaway lines that explain his backstory, but not nearly enough as to establish his character’s motivations fully. I mean, Batman has about 5000 dream sequences, including two featuring the time-worn tale of the death of his parents. Couldn’t he lend Lex a couple to help flesh the character out a bit? If they had just one flashback to show how Lex got to be as crazy as he is, he’d be a really great character. But they went the lazy route with him and the film is poorer for it.
But Lex isn’t the only villain who has gotten the short shrift here. As the trailers spoiled, Doomsday is in the flick. And, not to get too spoileriffic, but, well, if Doomsday makes an appearance in a Superman film, everyone, comic fan or not, should know what that means. But the character being tacked on as a b-plot at the end of the film gave me flashbacks to X-Men: The Last Stand. Both that film and this one took seminal and defining storylines from the character’s comic book history and shoehorned them in to films almost as an afterthought. I know that Warners is chasing Marvel with their superhero slate, but if there’s one movie they don’t want to be compared to, it’s X-Men: The Last Stand.
Of course, what’s most annoying about this, what’s wrong with this film could have been easily fixed. Have a tighter hand in editing and write more definitive motivations for the characters and this could have been a far better movie. And that’s just disappointing.
The film is setting all kinds of box office records, so the lack of quality shouldn’t be hurting it too much. But, man, it makes me weep for the future of the DC Extended Universe. Not just because the characters they are adapting will suffer, but also because we will be in store for more crappy movies down the line.