“Be their hero, Clark. Be their angel, be their monument, be anything they need you to be… or be none of it. You don’t owe this world a thing. You never did.”
This line perfectly sums up the convoluted and internally conflicted ideologies that poison and destroy the entire Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice experience. In trying to be everything DC fans could dream of and more, the bloated film ends up being none of it. Director Zack Snyder and co. return to Metropolis via Gotham, to create a bastardised mix-tape of famous tableaus from several DC comic arcs (The Dark Knight Returns being the most prominent source of influence). There is just no story here, just a very long, slapdash advertisement for an eventual Justice League film. For nearly three hours, we’re forced to watch an extended cut of everything we’ve already seen in the trailers play out in painful slow motion. Perhaps more disconcerting than the film itself, is the horrendous trend in Hollywood marketing, who are hell bent on completely spoiling their own films. Everything that works in the film, I was able to quote back in real time from my knowledge of their commercials.
If you’ve seen them, you’ve seen the film. It’s as simple as that and it’s hugely disappointing.
Set during the final stages of Man of Steel and then a further 18 months after said events, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is obsessed, bordering on paranoid, with bringing the Superman to justice for the deaths of so many innocent civilians. His dark persona is positioned as “the devil” earlier on in the piece and it’s a nice Frank Miller-esque touch. To help humanise our older/grumpier/darker Knight further, we’re treated to yet another rendition of Thomas and Martha’s cold-blooded murder, whilst also learning that bats can make small children fly. Clark Kent/Superman on the other hand is struggling with screen time and relevance in a film he co-stars. Sure he’s dealing with the repercussions of his colossal battle with Zod and his divisive public persona, but the bigger problem is how his sequel has been stolen from him (no Man of Steel 2 for you) and transformed into a new platform for launching Affleck’s Batman.
While the first twenty or so minutes set the stage neatly for the titular conflict, things quickly devolve into illogical incoherence as Davis S. Goyer and Chris Terrio throw everything they can from comic book lore directly at the screen in the hope that something might actually stick.
Jesse Eisenberg, whom I admire, grates as the key antagonist from the moment he enters frame to the moment all of his ridiculous plans are revealed. He’s the camp, psychotic merger of the Joker and his own rendition of Mark Zuckerberg, and it comes across as corny and misdirected, rather than menacing. His confusing arc intercuts the main action and mostly involves shipping an alien rock from one port to the next, while he conducts experiments on Zombie Zod with the aid of an alien computer that drivels out exposition.
Quick Side Note: The amount of time spent reading emails and watching videos in an attempt to communicate crucial exposition and propel the story forward is as stupid as it is lazy.
From a visual standpoint, no one can fault the eye candy in Batman v Superman. Synder is well known for his shot composition; understanding how to manipulate his lens with stunning results. The problem is that he proves time and time again, that there is absolutely zero substance behind his flashy panache. Things look and sound epic, but underneath it all is nothing but vacant, shallow space masquerading as grandeur. Hans Zimmer’s thrashing drums and electric guitars do their best to elevate this imagery to operatic levels, but their repetitive chords quickly outstay their welcome.
The best sequence is revealed early on, when we return to the concluding moments of Man of Steel. An ironic comment to make, considering the critical bashing this same scene copped three years previously, but it’s true. This time our perspective is locked alongside a determined Bruce Wayne who heroically storms into horrific 9/11 imagery without hesitation or fear. It’s here that Ben Affleck confirms himself as a worthy successor to Christian Bale and his work throughout is commendable. He does make for a good Wayne/Batman. But this, sadly, is the only time when the script delivers actual emotional stakes, and it has to replicate horrific real-world events to do so.
Second Side Note: What is it with flashbacks and dream sequences that are intended to develop characters further, but do nothing but add unnecessary fluff to an already overstuffed runtime?
A common issue amongst Snyder’s back catalogue, and one of the biggest problems in Batman v Superman, is the thoughtless inclusion of its female characters. Amy Adams’ Lois Lane barely has a smidgen of screen time where she’s not stuck consoling a perpetually pensive-looking Clark. While the long awaited cinematic debut of Wonder Woman is so woefully mishandled, that it serves no purpose other than to appease fans who are beyond sick of waiting. Diana Prince is merely a plot device to keep the tenuous narrative links together. Her total screen time in the film is almost equal to that of the trailers. No exaggeration, if you exclude the scene where she attempts to fly economy coach out of town when the tension escalates. What invisible plane?
If the film’s dour and super self-serious tone wasn’t enough to spoil your evening, the over-reliance on poorly rendered CGI action may prove to be the final straw. While Christopher Nolan aimed for practical effects to ground his Bat-world in realism, Snyder wants to recreate shot for shot images from the iconic pages he’s aping. And while I’m not against his attempts to replicate this true-to-source imagery, the results are often distancing and video game-esque. I just finished playing Arkham Knight recently and I have no desire to watch Zac Snyder abusing the controller in front of me for 180 minutes.
“He has the power to wipe out the entire human race. If we believe there is even a one percent chance that he is our enemy, we have to take it as an absolute certainty.”
The long awaited showdown between the Bat and Supes is severely underwhelming and wholly underserving of its grand title. Much of their quarrel is exchanged through words and slow-motion glares. When their physical face-off commences, the action choreography is nothing more than a repetition of things we’ve already seen orchestrated with far greater verocity (See: The Raid). Of course, who wouldn’t want to see two titans of popular culture beating each other up? Everyone does. But again, as we’ve seen in the trailers (I know I’m forced to repeat myself here), we know that these two team up with Wonder Woman to battle the Abomination Doomsday, so the audience is left with zero investment in the conflict. It’s a misunderstanding. A clashing of differing beliefs. Batman and Superman have no reason to fight. So why are we even bothering to watch this? Bane put up a better fight and we couldn’t understand a word that guy said.
The final frames are a mind-numbing orgy of battling graphics cards, featuring a villain that has been forcibly shoehorned into the film by some studio head to indolently justify a franchise out of this incoherent mess.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is about 4-5 different movies competing for airtime, with none of them prevailing. In one ultimately meaningless film, DC/Warner Bros. have attempted to catch up to Marvel Studios, but without the intelligence, forward planning and patience necessary to build something of worth.
In the end, this much hyped gladiator match was all bravado and no bite.
A super fight this was not.