Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, 2016
Directed by Zack Snyder
Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Gal Gadot, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Scoot McNairy, Tao Okamoto, Lauren Cohan, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller and Callan Mulvey.
Fearing the actions of a god-like Super Hero left unchecked, Gotham City’s own formidable, forceful vigilante takes on Metropolis’s most revered, modern-day savior, while the world wrestles with what sort of hero it really needs. And with Batman and Superman at war with one another, a new threat quickly arises, putting mankind in greater danger than it’s ever known before.
It was always going to be divisive. The very first big-screen mash-up between DC Comics’ most dynamic and revered superheroes has carried the weight of a studio’s plan for almost two years and finally the “greatest gladiator match in the history of the world” is here, staking its claim to be the first of a new expansive cinema odyssey that Warner and DC hope will rival those pesky Marvel kids. And what better way to start than with a Son of Krypton versus Bat of Gotham showdown, a fight to end all fights. Shoehorned? Maybe. Worthwhile? Absolutely. Execution? Sadly lacklustre.
It’s impossible to say Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a bad film but it walks a fine line as early promise falls away, suffocated by Snyder’s need for visual niceties and its over-complicated, scattered storylines. Frustratingly, all the ingredients are here: after the fallout from Superman and Zod’s nauseating acrobatics at the end of Man of Steel, the world is split. Saviour of false god? Bruce Wayne (Affleck) has his thoughts of the arrival of an alien “who could burn the place down”particularly with his first-hand experiences of Metropolis’ destruction (one of few true exhilarating moments). Queue brutal training montages and glitzy parties as the two heroes are drawn closer together by circumstance, politics, fearful public outcry and the maniacal mind of Lex Luthor (Eisenberg) to their inevitable face-off.
Affleck, with a new suit inspired by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns that’s bursting at the seams, is tremendous as the new Dark Knight, more brutal and unforgiving (controversially, mind) than previous incarnations. Butchered and bruised emotionally and physically from two decades rampaging through the streets of Gotham, he is as close to the fine line of vigilante and criminal than he has ever been, his mind fractured from deaths, “freaks dressed like clowns” and vivid nightmares as to what could lie ahead for mankind. His zippy relationship with tech-savvy Alfred (a delightful Jeremy Irons) adds much to proceedings, and if such sequences can be repeated for a new solo Batman film, there many yet be hope for this rushed universe.
Eisenberg’s Luthor is essentially Mark Zuckerberg if Zuckerberg had been the one fired from Facebook, seething with anger and disgust for both Batman and Superman and determined to place himself as puppet master. Like the film, Eisenberg’s tics and nuances leave many irritated and divided over his decisions but his performance works great here, having a whale of time cunning and conniving under his long blonde tresses and white sneakers.
On the other side of the coin, Cavill barely registers: he looks the part more than anyone ever has thus far on film, his frame perfectly balanced against his chiseled charms, but unlike Christopher Reeve he isn’t Superman. His flying saviour looks bored and tiresome rather than stoic and heroic, and is entrusted with simply looking like a hero rather than being one undermining the good work he did in MoS. Amy Adams and Holly Hunter too given the short straws, but Irons and Fishburne add some much needed levity to the film, but like the plot it’s scattered amongst the incoherent mess ensconcing them.
The script, written by Argo’s Chris Terrio and Man of Steel’s David S. Goyer feels like two drafts copied and pasted together such is the mis-match in tones and imbalance of storylines. The editing doesn’t help matters, jumping all over the place like a Duracell bunny without ever deciding exactly who and what we should be following (one scene with Clark and Martha is so poorly placed in the film that it’s inconsequential despite the obvious need for it). Scattered doesn’t come close to describing the majority of the film. Even the actual “versus” showdown and the motives behind it are questionable and almost by itself makes the whole exercise mostly unfulfilling. Perhaps such criticisms are too harsh of Terrio and Goyer as their job here was quite simple really: Justice League/universe set-up and teasing galore while shoehorning in Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman into proceedings. It’s DC’s Iron Man 2 rather than Captain America: The Winter Soldier: fun to geek out on all the new characters, but not much will stay with you afterwards.
And of course there is Snyder and his box of tricks, on full display once again throughout. Visually, he is one of the best purveyors of spectacle there is and he proves it once again here with some spectacular set-pieces (one of the Batman fight sequences is easily the best cinematic example of its kind) but as with his previous works pretty images don’t make a film. Of course we want those thing from a film called Batman v Superman, but not to such dizzyingly frustrating levels as this, which render any emotional response dead on arrival.
While there is some fun to be had in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, particularly from Affleck’s terrific turn as the Caped Crusader, such great moments are sadly few and far between. Buried underneath an overly complex plot that never settles on what it wants to say and some questionable editing choices, Zack Snyder’s big shot at redemption is squandered. It’s loud, brash and blockbusting for sure but such things don’t make for great cinema. A huge disappointment.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★★ / Movie ★★
Scott J. Davis is Senior Staff Writer at Flickering Myth and co-host of The Flickering Myth Review Podcast. Follow him on Twitter.
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