The night before Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice came out, two of my friends tagged me in separate Facebook posts linking to a review from Ars Technica declaring BvS “the Showgirls of superhero films.” Knowing my friends know me so well is deeply touching, and since somebody mentioned Showgirls, I was undeniably intrigued despite my better judgment.
Sure, I had a feeling this review couldn’t be trusted, because it mentioned Sex in the City 2, not Sex and the City 2, and that’s a straight man’s mistake when talking about a gay man’s sensibility. Still, I figured I had to approve or disprove the comparison to the Greatest Movie of All Time, so I saw it Saturday morning, and to quote Nomi Malone, “
It’s a Versayce You don’t know sh*t!” Batman v. Superman: Definitely Not Showgirls is definitely not the Showgirls of superhero movies, or of that matter anything.
What makes Showgirls what it is (the best) is a question of taste, poor taste in particular. There are plenty of failed satires about the entertainment industry, but only one of them looks like a million bucks yet acts like the opening act for a Tijuana donkey show. Its vulgarity and awfulness are legendary, but its artistic ambitions and sentimental moments are totally sincere.
Added to that, everyone involved seems deeply committed to making this vision happen. It’s the 42nd Street let’s-put-on-a-show ethos, but everyone’s putting on a ping pong trick. So, for example, when Henrietta Bazoom laments that Nomi Malone is “the only one who could get my tits popping right,” it’s meant with lots of heart and zero irony. This
trash bag earnestness is joyful and sublime
The problem then is that calling anything “the Showgirls of…” whatever it is you’re talking about is that it reduces Showgirls to shorthand for “The Worst Movie Ever,” and that’s only a partial understanding. Not all bad movies are also camp movies, though, and Showgirls is so singularly camp it’s also an unequivocal masterpiece. So while you might have found a movie that fails as thoroughly to Showgirls, without sufficient camp excess, it ain’t Showgirls, and Batman v. Superman ain’t Showgirls.
To be clear, and despite all the nice things I had to say about it, Batman v. Superman: Oh No You Better Don’t is a very, very bad movie. Like, f*ck this movie for being terrible, and f*ck me for wasting my time when I already knew better. I don’t think the performances are as bad as everybody is saying (if nothing else, Jesse Eisenberg as the Fiona Shaw of BvS), but they’re definitely in the service of a wholly questionable final product. It’s not just that the story–from the central conflict down to individual character motivations–doesn’t actually make any damn sense, or that the dialogue is often bad but never memorably so, or that the movie is dark and desaturated and drab to look at up until the last hour, in which it’s dark and desaturated and drab and incomprehensibly blurry and also very brown, like a pile of sh*t.
The problem is that this is a superhero movie with a single scant montage of barely-there superheroics and a laundry list casually plotted cruelties and that include Martha Wayne’s murder stylized to remind you of fellatio, wanton death and destruction in Metropolis, point-blanc executions, the implied murder of an entire African village, Asian sex trafficking, branding criminals so they’ll be murdered in prison, wanton death and destruction on Capitol Hill, photos of Martha Kent’s kidnapping stylized to look like Polaroids from a snuff film shoot, and more wanton destruction with less wanton death in Metropolis, because it’s after business hours. This is a movie that rubs your face in human ugliness for two-and-a-half hours before concluding, See? This is why you need heroes, as well as a sequel.
In this sense, Batman v. Superman is the self-parodic end result of this “Nolanization” of comic book movies. When Warner Brothers rebooted Batman under Christopher Nolan’s helm, it was a conscious decision to make something anathema to Joel Schumacher’s high camp take on the material. The gritty realism felt befitting it’s source material, but its massive success has made it the tonal template for “serious” superhero cinema, and Dawn of Justice is its cynical, sadistic endpoint.
By contrast, Showgirls is more in line with Schumacher’s approach. It’s chockablock full of neon lights and bold colors, and it trades Batsuit nipples for bedazzled nipples. It’s sleazy, for sure, and it has more casual nudity and sexual content than most softcore pornography, but its trashiness is counter to conservative sexual values, not basic human decency. Showgirls wants to turn you on, but Batman v. Superman wants to find out if you bleed, and I’m not talking about checking for Nomi’s period.
It’s this fundamental difference in world view that keeps Batman v. Superman from being “the Showgirls of superhero films.” Yes, both movies are very bad, and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is an unequivocally terrible superhero movie, but it’s terrible in all the ways great camp movies aren’t. Camp is about having fun with a thing regardless of quality or taste, but if you’re having fun with Batman v. Superman, I shudder to think about your idea of a good time. This is a movie that’s tedious and stupid and cynical and lacking any discernible human empathy, so if anything, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is the Donald Trump of superhero movies.