Comic book heavyweights Batman and Superman engage in the purported battle of the century while the conniving genius Lex Luthor seeks a way to acquire power of his own in the latest film in DC’s quest to catch up to Marvel.
I’ve already made clear my feelings about superhero films in my review for Deadpool, so, if I’m honest, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (heavens, the title gore) was in an uphill battle from the beginning to win my favour. Factor in that the two subjects include a character that I have never, ever even remotely cared about and another whose last cinematic appearance still leaves me bitter and frustrated, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Some might see this as a negative bias that clouds my judgment. I’d prefer to consider it an artistic challenge, the chance to take something mundane and make it fresh and interesting again.
For what it’s worth, I did try to keep an open mind as the film started rolling, and I have to say that the first impressions weren’t so terrible. The opening credits depict the already well-known origins of Batman with a welcome brevity, preventing it from being overbearing in an already overlong film, and done with a slick, Zack Snyder-y style featuring slow-motion, shallow depth of field, and all sorts of semi-thoughtful movement in frame. This quickly gives way to high-octane action riddled with jarring continuity jumps and shoddy CGI, but a firm first step can help hold things up, at least for a little while.
I have a stubborn soft spot for Zack Snyder, and even after this and Man of Steel there is still a part of me that wants to defend him. 300 and Watchmen specifically are stupendous achievements in art direction, feeling more like living comics than nearly any other film I’ve seen. The man has an eye for some stunning visuals, and there are moments in his last two films where this part of him squirms its way to daylight. Unfortunately, I believe the rest is weighed down by the weighty hands of the studio, trying to keep control in its efforts to maintain the profitability of its character rights, grabbing the film around the neck and accidentally asphyxiating it. One hand wants something gritty, melancholic, and “realistic” in the vein of Christopher Nolan’s wildly successful Dark Knight trilogy, while the other wants the more cartoonish flair of Snyder’s early work. The result is muddled, drab, inconsistent, and unfocused, a visually incongruent mess.
The real kryptonite for Batman v Superman (I can barely forgive myself for that pun) is the script, helmed by the Oscar-winning writer of Argo, Chris Terrio, and perhaps my least-favourite screenwriter working in Hollywood today, David S. Goyer, whom I however unfairly blame for everything wrong with this and many other films’ scripts (and whom DC have most unfortunately selected to captain all of their cinematic vessels). In fairness, there’s a semblance of a good idea in this film. The conflict between Batman and Superman is set up in a believable way, Bruce Wayne left picking up the ashes of his company (and what remains of his friends and employees, literally) in the wake of Superman’s destructive battle with General Zod, and Clark Kent seeing Batman as a violent vigilante circumventing the law, using questionable tactics to achieve an unsound justice. They raise some genuine questions about both heroes (though perhaps they go too far…Batman is meant to have a “no killing” rule, and he blatantly dispatches at least two dozen people in this film, which left my jaw on the floor), and I can see and empathise with both sides, which surprised me and made the film at the very least watchable, if not at times engaging.
In fact, on perhaps that merit alone, I found the film simply “okay,” mediocre but inoffensive, until it takes an insultingly terrible turn with around an hour (or what felt like it) remaining. I obviously can’t get into details without some major spoilers, as I know some of the people reading this will see the film regardless of what I say, but at this stage the rickety structure collapses into utter, mind-numbing drivel so thoughtless and absurd that I lost any sense of goodwill the film’s more endearing moments had instilled in me. And now I look back to what came before this odious, dim-witted wrench thrown into the cogs, and I’m a far cry less forgiving of its inconsistent babbling. Heavyhanded references to God and religion, inexplicable dream sequences that illustrate virtually nothing, deus ex machinas galore, line after line that the writers think are witty but are just pretentious and loathsome. Batman v Superman is about as coherent as a five-year-old smashing his action figures together, and every person who sees this film should be offended that Terrio and Goyer have set their assumed bar for your intellect at such a low and condescending level.
Apart from this, the usual superhero film setbacks plague Batman v Superman, that of course meaning balls-to-the-wall action mostly featuring computer-generated figures clashing in rapidly-edited, incomprehensible battles of grandiose magnitude. Again to the film’s credit, I found the action here not nearly so exhausting and nauseating as in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but the visual effects were most definitely undercooked and not at all convincing or impressive. Snyder understands good cinematic action better than many directors in the superhero business (again, see 300 and Watchmen), but most of his efforts here fall flat. One particularly noble effort is found in one of the nonsense dream sequences with Batman in hand-to-hand combat with a horde of minions shot in one smooth take. Affleck’s fighting is unfortunately stiff, which severely detracts from the scene and makes the choreography glaringly obvious.
Speaking of Affleck, his performance really wasn’t that terrible. He makes a decent Bruce Wayne, holding an air of tortured glitz about him, but I honestly feel like we didn’t get enough of him as Batman to make a complete judgment. His obvious discomfort in action scenes certainly doesn’t bode well, though. Cavill, Adams, and Fishburne all do a decent job reprising their roles as Superman, Lois Lane, and Perry White, respectively, while Jeremy Irons earns an equally muted response as the new incarnation of Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred, and Gal Gadot‘s Wonder Woman barely makes a noticeable presence. The real stinker here is the horribly miscast Jesse Eisenberg as Superman’s arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor. Eisenberg, who has a history of playing intelligent and socially-inept jerks, for some reason decided to channel Heath Ledger’s Joker, overdoing the crazy and coming off as more of a court jester than a mad genius. Perhaps he was just making a mockery of the character’s horrendously contrived dialogue, in which case I could let it slide.
In the end, it’s merely one more piece in an unholy showcase of nearly everything I detest about the superhero genre. I was thoroughly bored for the first two acts of the film with a mild hint of confusion, genuinely contemplating walking out from sheer lack of interest (which I most certainly wouldn’t do, rest assured dear reader), followed by deep anger and frustration for the concluding portion. There was a moment or two where I genuinely wanted to get up and shout at the screen, physically manifesting my disgust, but I was regrettably raised better than that. At least Batman v Superman managed to evoke an actual emotional response from me before the credits rolled…I guess.