Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams
The most difficult thing about all this is accepting the hard fact that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice simply isn’t a good movie. But once that hurdle has been crossed, it’s as if the floodgates have opened. Suddenly, nothing is sacred. All my hopes and dreams were destroyed an hour ago in a giant CG fireball and it left me angrier than a recently orphaned Bruce Wayne.
Batman v Superman is not so much a superhero movie as it is a story about two mamma’s boys measuring the length of their capes, finding that they disagree, and proceeding to poke each other with threats of ‘you wanna go first?’ for a solid two-and-a-half hours.
Don’t get me wrong: The film has its moments, but there comes a point when you can’t justify it to yourself any longer. There is only so much grim brooding one movie can accommodate, and Ben Affleck uses that quota up in the very first scene, which, either on purpose or by complete fluke, foreshadows the self-contradictory nature of this movie.
To go forward we must first revisit 2013, the year this movie’s predecessor Man of Steel came out. Its 45-minute action finale that destroyed half a city and left thousands dead was controversial. Perpetual Boy Scout Superman’s decision to make out with Lois Lane, literally against the backdrop of murder and chaos, was met with quite a few raised eyebrows. Director Zack Snyder promised to address that violence in this movie; a decision I’m convinced was an afterthought, one that struck him two seconds after the realisation that he had, indeed, gone overboard with the mayhem after all.
We open with Bruce Wayne hightailing it to a Metropolis that inconveniently finds itself in the middle of an alien duel. He has friends there, colleagues and businesses that are in direct line of fire. He is chased by loud explosions and an even louder Hans Zimmer ft. Junkie XL score as he rushes to their rescue.
Snyder’s way of directly addressing the criticisms of the previous movie is by stranding you in the middle of the exact same scene in this one. Only this time, we are looking at it from a completely different perspective. The scene is effectively convincing: Not for one second do you doubt Bruce Wayne’s hatred towards Superman, and what caused it. His actions have just killed countless men, women and children. Of course Bruce would consider him a threat.
Unfortunately, this is where the movie peaks. And a wise man once said: It’s never good when a movie peaks in its first scene.
We jump ahead 18 months. Things are getting back to normal. Superman is being tried in a senate hearing for his part in a recent African fiasco. Lois Lane is pretending to be a Vice correspondent, mouthing off to discount Boko Haram warlords. Perry White (Clark’s editor at the Daily Planet) has suddenly turned into J Jonah Jameson, visualising the next big headline on an imaginary page in front of his face. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne has taken it upon himself to investigate Superman, for the first time cinematically, living up to the tag of ‘greatest detective in the world.’ Across town in Metropolis, the psychopathic Lex Luthor is arranging to have a recently unearthed chunk of Kryptonite (the mineral from Superman’s home planet that messes up his powers and plays the MacGuffin in this movie) imported.
Already, there are too many moving parts in this picture. In an effort to give due screen time to these disparate storylines, Snyder and writers Chris Terrio and David S Goyer can never really take their time fleshing out their characters. A lot of their legwork has already been done by history. Both the Superman and Batman origin stories are as well known as the tale of our independence. But Snyder gives you one anyway, probably in an attempt to give a twist later in the movie, emotional impact. It doesn’t. No matter how much of it he decides to shoot in his trademark slow motion, it can’t help but feel unnecessary.
In a way, the needless inclusion of this scene sums up the rest of the film. Too much time is spent on building up to the clash of the titans, only for the movie to pull a fast one on you when ‘fight night’ finally rolls around. I’m being very careful about spoilers here, but let me put it this way: They didn’t leave much out in the trailers.
Oddly, despite being largely messy and mostly incoherent, the film moves at a rather brisk pace. It’s never dull, just disappointing. It feels clumsily edited, with plots remaining half-explored and scenes ending either too soon or lasting too long.
As I watched, for more than an hour, neither Bruce nor Clark spend any significant time as Batman or Superman, and as I tried to make sense of a pedestrian chase sequence that had no business being anything less than spectacular, considering it counted the Batmobile as the vehicle doing the chasing, I wondered: “Perhaps my expectations were too high.”
Batman v Superman is Zack Snyder’s worst film. And this comes from someone who absolutely adores Sucker Punch and considers both 300 and Watchmen to be minor classics. He was always reverential about comics. He treated these crazy characters with the respect that they deserve. But this is a joyless film, much too serious for its own good. Ignoring what was wrong with Man of Steel altogether, Snyder once again defaults to loud, unending, curiously isolated CGI action. What’s confusing is that this isn’t even his default setting.
Ben Affleck’s one note performance doesn’t help. Especially since he spends most of the movie as Bruce and not Batman. Henry Cavill manages to make Kal-El edgier this time, but in doing so, loses the character’s inherent humanity. Clark is supposed to be optimistic, not forlorn. He finds beauty in darkest places. But here, he just seems to be fighting a losing scowling battle against Affleck. Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan need not worry.
And then there’s Jesse Eisenberg’s categorically outrageous performance as Lex Luthor. You thought Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey were deranged? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Eisenberg plays Luthor like a psychotic version of his Mark Zuckerberg character from The Social Network and it sticks out like Spider-Man in the Justice League.
Here’s a film that’ll leave both fans and casual moviegoers unsatisfied. And since it isn’t breaking any new ground story-wise, this is quite unforgivable, considering especially the excellent work Marvel is doing. I still can’t figure out how a movie that liberally takes from both Superman (Death of Superman) and Batman’s (The Dark Knight Returns) most famous comics arcs can be so misguided. But there you go.
The one bright spark, however, is Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. She seems perfect for the role and her solo movie is now just as high on my radar as Suicide Squad. But for Justice League, I’m officially worried.
Acceptance is the first step they say. I’ve accepted that Batman v Superman is not a good film. There are 11 steps more to go until I can put this disappointment behind me.