The most recent DC movie, “Batman vs. Superman: The Dawn of Justice,” expected by many to be a blockbuster hit, flopped in the box office. This movie had potential, with Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, a powerhouse of superheroes and the extensive monetary support of DC. So why did it fail to satisfy audiences? Well, if you look at the wreckage of the movie, you can see the primary rules of storytelling being broken and mistreated throughout the story.
Rule #1 – Set the Stage
When you tell a story, you are creating an agreement with your audience that you will give them vital information when it becomes crucial for them to know. This includes furnishing your story with the primary rules that exist in the world of your story.
It was not uncommon in “Batman vs. Superman” for important information to be withheld from the audience until the story itself moved past the conflict, leaving the audience without an explanation.
A brief list of examples includes: the extended dream sequences with very little relevance to the plot line, the slime Krypton monster and, most importantly, the characters’ all too bland personalities.
The audience is left filling in the gaps to explain why the characters act as they do, relying heavily on whatever prior knowledge the audience has of the classic Batman and Superman figures. This does nothing to humanize them and everything to turn these characters into mere facsimiles of themselves.
Rule #2 – Understand the Sanctity of Small Actions
The movie falls prey to the fatal flaw of many action movies before it: the characters act in accordance to whatever action seems the most visually appealing, regardless of the relevance to the plot or to the rules set in place beforehand. Lois Lane casts the crucially important Kryptonite spear into a pool of water. The U.S. Capitol building is blown up for little reason besides the visual impact, an impact that is never expounded upon or used to the movie’s advantage.
Without respect for how the action of the characters impacts the movement of the plot, the movie has little chance of creating a satisfying story.
Keeping your audience engaged is a matter of calculating your risks and your consequences to ensure that they are balanced. You cannot blow up one of the most politically important buildings in the United States and then pretend there are no consequences for that action. After that action you prove that your stakes are too high for your story to fulfill. Nothing matters if nothing is sacred.
Rule #3 – If You Build Tension, Release Tension
In regards to marketing, DC pitched this story as an inevitable clash between Batman and Superman. Further, throughout the first three quarters of the movie, tension for the fight is built through the characters’ mutual hatred for each other. When the fight scene arrives, however, the clash is disappointing from beginning to end. It’s short, forced and anything but powerful. This leaves the audience frustrated when the superheroes team up for unrealistic reasons to fight a monster that receives the bare minimum amount of time being established in the story before it’s tearing Gotham to the ground.
Rule #4 – Respect Your Own Potential
In truth, “Batman vs. Superman” could have been a stunning movie full of powerful symbolism and awe-inspiring characters. However, as it is, the movie has the utilization of its potential within reach and yet cannot find a way to grab hold of it. This is what was most frustrating to audience members, that the movie was so close to making you care, yet could not follow through on its endless promises.
Abigail is a sophomore English and history major from Greenwood, Indiana.