Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Batman and Superman, Superman and Batman. When it comes to leaping from the comic strip into mainstream culture the two stand head and shoulders above the competition, yet their cinematic outings have been a mixed bag. When Christopher Reeve first donned the famous red cape in 1978 audiences believed a man could fly, and the superhero blockbuster was born. The sequel was solid, the threequel less so, and Bryan Singer’s ill-fated revival, Superman Returns, was underrated but ultimately underwhelming.
As for Gotham’s Dark Knight, the camp farce that is Adam West’s 1966 version may have been popular, but for fans of the character it was a slap in the face. Tim Burton’s vision nailed it, Joel Schumacher murdered it, and Christopher Nolan resurrected it—his more gritty, realistic Dark Knight trilogy setting the benchmark for everything else to come.
So finally here we are, the clash of the titans. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The comic world’s most celebrated characters not only meeting on the silver screen for the first time, but kicking the ever-living shit out of each other. What could possibly go wrong? In Zach Snyder’s hands, quite a lot…
We begin with the regurgitated story of how Batman came to be. Did you know his parents were murdered? Like, right in front of him? Of course you fucking did. A Ben Affleck voice over then informs us that “something something darkness, pain, fall…everything’s shit” and WHAM! We’re in Metropolis, watching Bruce Wayne attempt to save some of his employees from a building as Superman and General Zod knock fuck out each other, and the city. Upon realising he’s walked in at the end of Man of Steel instead of the start of the film he should be in, Bruce is raging. When he saves an employee from a building destroyed by Superman’s super-fight, he’s even more raging. When he saves a wee girl whose mum probably died in said building, he’s properly raging. Ben Affleck conveys this spectrum of emotion by spending the entire film looking absolutely…raging.
It’s an angry sort of film. Angry, gloomy, joyless and, for the majority of its punishing 150 minute run time, extremely dull. The plot is at once crowded, needlessly complicated, undercooked and bonkers. The film borrows heavily from Frank Miller’s masterful graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, particularly in the depiction of Batman as older, worn out by years of crime fighting and mistrustful of Superman. By focusing on this aspect of the story, Snyder could have been on to something, but there’s just too much going on elsewhere. Lex Luther (played by Jesse Eisenberg like a cartoonish special needs child from an Adam Sandler comedy) seems to be plotting about 8 separate plots at once, A mysterious woman is cutting about who we KNOW is fucking Wonder Woman because the promotional material has been all over the place for months and there’s a frankly embarrassing attempt to shoehorn the rest of the soon-to-be Justice League into the film. There are also about 14 different dream sequences. Seriously. Granted one of them is pretty cool, but there’s enough to get through without complicating things further.
The complexity of the plot isn’t helped by the director’s attention span, which doesn’t seem to allow him to make any scene longer than about 20 seconds. Snyder also has a very strange relationship with time and space, seeming not to quite have grasped the concept of how far away things are from each other, or how long it takes to go from one place to another. Since when were Gotham and Metropolis right next to each other? Not that you’d notice the difference between the two, there’s no attempt to bring any kind of character to the two cities, or to dress the set with anything other than carnage.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment in Batman v Superman is in its action scenes. Snyder’s previous films have demonstrated, if nothing else, some artistic flair in their depiction of violence. Here we get nothing but incoherent smashing. It’s impossible to tell what’s happening amid the cuts, special effects and the explosions. Even the showdown on which the whole film was always going to live or die is messy, and far too easily resolved. Despite all this there are, somehow, things to like about the film. Affleck isn’t quite Christian Bale, but his Batman is a valiant effort, and certainly one I’d be happy to watch in a stand-alone film. The sequences depicting the world’s reaction the Superman, and the question of how the world copes with a God who walks among them is interesting. With a hell of a lot of fat trimmed out, and a plot focussing on the conflict between Bruce Wayne/Batman and Clark Kent/Superman, with Lex Luthor all the while spinning his web in the background, this could have been a great introduction to the extended DC Universe.
Instead impatience took over, and in the space of half a movie Warner Brothers have tried to emulate what Disney and Marvel spent several years and at least four movies building towards before The Avengers. I say emulate—I mean rip-off. It’s as if someone pitched the movie by saying “What if we did The Avengers, but quicker and without all the fun bits and good characters”. I’m not saying I have a problem with the movie’s darker tone; if this had been a straight up adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns it would have been spot-on. But if you want to make a child-friendly blockbuster it shouldn’t be too complicated for a child to understand, or too scary for a child to sit through, and if you want to make something completely void of humour it should be either a hard hitting character piece, or a study of the consequences of power. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the worst of both worlds. Too stupid to take seriously, too dull to have any fun with.