Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jess Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot
Director: Zack Snyder
Runtime: 151 minutes
Release Date: 25th March 2016
Matt C: Several years in the making, the movie that has been billed as the titanic clash between arguably the two most iconic and recognisable superheroes in the world finally arrives with the weight of hype and expectation tempered with no small amount of trepidation. While Man Of Steel was a divisive movie that put many off with its lack of identifiable heroism and unparalleled scenes of destruction, there was enough groundwork laid to suggest that a sequel could build on the best elements and course-correct others to positive effect. But a straight sequel featuring Superman soon morphed into a film called Batman V Superman, indicating a desire on Warner Bros. part to catch up with the wildly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe, which was further compounded by the addition of the subtitle, Dawn Of Justice, basically a statement of intent that showed they wanted to get to Justice League far more swiftly than Marvel got to The Avengers. But perhaps this was just the cynical view, and maybe director Zack Snyder et al had come up with a way to make things work in an organic fashion, one that didn’t feel like it was being forced.
As it turns out, those initial misgivings about how the film appeared to transform from a Man Of Steel sequel into a Justice League prequel turned out to be depressingly on the money. While there are ideas that seem sound on paper here, they're delivered in an almost nonsensical, illogical manner that often lapses into complete stupidity throughout the course of the movie. Boiling down the plot, it’s Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent setting their sights on their respective superhero identities (for different reasons) while Lex Luthor plays them off against each other without any solid motivation or comprehensible plan. Clark has been getting concerned with the Bat’s near psychotic treatment of criminals in Gotham while Bruce is clearly shaken by the destruction that occurred in Metropolis when Superman battled General Zod. Which is all well and good until you realise that eighteen months have passed and Gotham and Metropolis are separated only by a river here, meaning both Superman and Batman have been operating in spitting distance of each other for all that time. The plot holes don’t end there though, and begin to stack up in a way that’s impossible to ignore, rendering any suspension of disbelief moot.
But the problems aren’t just with the storytelling (and overall, this is a bad example of cinematic storytelling); they extend to the treatment of the two central characters. Superman continues not to act like an aspirational hero, spending the majority of the film moping with a furrowed brow, doubting himself and his chosen career path (again). When we see a montage of Superman doing supposedly heroic deeds, he generally looks pissed off, as though he wishes he were someplace else (it’s a largely thankless role of Cavill). Batman is closer to the canonical representation, but it’s the version that's still stuck in the shadow of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (now 30 years old!), only a much more amplified take, one that doesn’t have any problem with guns and killing. Saying that, while Ben Affleck caught a lot of (unnecessary) flack for his casting, he does a pretty good job on the whole (even with the inexplicably prophetic dreams). Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is fine too, but there’s not much character building going on (a highlight is when she gets to watch a few trailers for forthcoming DC movies!) and essentially her appearance is nothing more than a glorified cameo. Meanwhile, Eisenberg’s take on Lex Luthor is way off base, not helped by the fact that he’s been written as deranged and unhinged rather than a genius and suitable nemesis for the Man of Steel, prone to doing things that don’t further his (vague) agenda in any way, shape or form.
It’s difficult to know where blame should lie for the film’s repeated missteps. Snyder and screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer are obvious choices, and their inability to see beyond Miller’s celebrated tome doesn’t help matters. With the ludicrously overblown score from the Junkie XL and the usually reliable Hans Zimmer, there are moments littered throughout that almost warrant a title card saying “Look! This is SERIOUS! And IMPORTANT!” because there’s such a determination to get the audience on board with that sentiment. But, without clear and plausible motivations from various characters, none of that sticks, and there’s nothing that clicks emotionally, especially the supposedly pivotal moment when the titular smackdown finally gets underway. Synder handles the action well, but for a director known for some stunning imagery scattered throughout his oeuvre (yes, even Sucker Punch), Batman V Superman is drab in comparison, with an overreliance on staples like Superman’s repeated ‘superhero landings’ (as recently mocked in Deadpool). It often feels like this is far more studio driven than anyone dares to let on, so intent is it on setting up multiple spin-off franchises alongside Justice League, revealing that this probably isn’t really going to be the ‘filmmaker-driven’ universe Synder has tried to sell it as.
The film could probably get away with some of its perplexing narrative decisions if it wasn’t so damn dour, because the lack of any kind of levity means there’s no distraction from the thuddingly relentless misery that seems to exist in this universe that Warner Bros. are placing all their chips on. There’s nothing wrong with taking a darker look at these characters, but there needs to be a better understanding of who they are before thrusting them into the gloom. Overall, Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice is a joyless, soulless affair, one that feels like it’s pushed the DC cinematic universe beyond a grim point of no return before it’s even had a chance to properly get going. 4/10