In the review of Deadpool on this newsblog, the author noted the slump comic book movies have been in since Marvel has hit their stride. Some may have queried as to why the lack of mention of DC properties in the post-Nolan age. Well, at that time, the public had only been exposed to one entry in the now-expanding DC Film Universe, and that was the terribly flawed Man of Steel. For the past three years, fans and critics alike have been arguing and dissecting Zack Snyder’s vision of Superman with venom, online screaming matches, and shallow low blows, in print as well as in conversation. The film caused a rift between fans of the material, one that still hasn’t quite recovered at the time of the release of the newest entry, also helmed by Snyder.
What does this mean for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? Well, it really depends on who is going to see it. Short version, if you didn’t like 300 or Man of Steel, you will most likely take issue with this film’s continual lack of actual character content in place of EXPLOSIONS! If you just want to see Batman and Superman duke it out mano-a-Supermano, you’re going to be in for a long sit since the climactic battle has a lot of setup. And it gets chaotic narrative-wise long before the anticipated battle.
After a brief prologue recounting Bruce Wayne’s tragic family life, the opening scene plops us back into the climax of Man of Steel, where the now retired from crime-fighting Mr. Wayne (a super-serious Ben Affleck) has arrived to evacuate his Metropolis outlet of Wayne Enterprises. Unfortunately, Superman and his nemesis Zod melt the buildings beams in course of their battle royale and a fair share of Wayne’s employees are killed or maimed. To be frank, the 9/11 imagery is strong with this sequence. Director Snyder seems intent on trying to access some emotional recall by referencing this horrible day in American history like his own version of the Easy Button from Staples. We get it, man! ‘Twas a day that shall live in infamy. Enough!
Anyway, cut to 18 months later, where Bruce Wayne has returned to the mantle of the Batman, beating sex traffickers and the like to bloody, broken pulps and branding them with Bat symbols as a warning. Across the bay in Metropolis, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) finds the unlimited reach of the vigilante to be worrisome and strives to editorialize his concern at the Daily Planet, but his editor Perry White (a caustic Laurence Fishburne) is having none of it. Meanwhile, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is recovering from a spat in a desert country with some terrorists who seemed set on icing the Man of Steel. She discovers a unique brand of firearm was used that, of course, doesn’t match any on record. She heads off to Washington, all while a Congressional committee, headed by a fiery Holly Hunter, is gathering to call out Superman for his selfish and catastrophic actions.
Anywho, billionaire lunatic Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is out to discredit Superman and inspire Batman to rip the Man of Tomorrow a new one in one fell swoop. He discovers in the wreckage of the Kryptonian battleships from the previous film a substance that could prove weakening to Superman. Batman also discovers this and steals said item in order to further his own vendetta against Superman. Thus, a titanic conflict is ignited between the Bat of Gotham and the last son of Krypton. Who will emerge victorious? Do audiences actually care?
There’s a strange sort of moral ambiguity at play that rivals the Batman titles helmed by Tim Burton almost thrity years ago. In those movies, this reviewer likens them to movies of “Batman as played by The Punisher”, seeing as Michael Keaton’s incarnation had no obvious qualms with dropping petty criminals off roofs and blowing up whole factories of bad guys. While not as outlandish as those films stylistically, Batman v Superman still doesn’t hold our heroes to the high standards of previous characterizations.
Superman outright causes collateral damage to the citizens of Metropolis people in the leftover footage from Man of Steel, and then he enters this film by flying an arms dealer through a rock wall and to his screaming end because the poor schmuck pointed a pistol to Lois Lane’s noggin.
Batman also causes some questionably over-powered damage to some henchman using crashed vehicles as missiles and outright blowing some poor villains up with their own weapons of choice. Note that it is not necessarily bad that these two anti-heroes don’t quite have a “no-kill-code” in these iterations, but we as audiences need to have such qualms or lack of established early on rather than popped on us halfway into the film.
As with most movies of the genre, there are great things as well as crummy things in this adaptation of the World’s Finest mythos. Ben Affleck is smugly inspiring as Bruce Wayne, and downright terrifying as Batman. I would argue he makes a better Caped Crusader than the previous titleholder, Christian Bale, if only for the fixing of the Dark Knight’s voice to be more like that of Kevin Conroy’s voice modulations in the classic Batman the Animated Series.
Henry Cavill is passable as the Man of Tomorrow, still struggling with issues held over from the previous film including the death of his Earth father as well as his destructive battle with General Zod. Amy Adams is pleasant to watch, as always, as Lois Lane, lover of Superman and the American way. Holly Hunter is also enjoyable in her brief screen time as seemingly the only person in the country who will say no to both Superman and Lex Luthor.
Speaking of, onto our primary villain of the week: Lex Luthor, as played by Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network). Ho boy, where to begin. To put it plainly, he is awful. We’re talking as-directed-by-Joel-Schumacher levels of badness. He is trying so hard to be quirkily evil, he comes off as spastic and idiotic rather than intimidating. He practically cackles his lines like Caesar Romero would have in the 1966 Batman TV show. He is clearly meant to inspire fear, since he is basically Bruce Wayne with an even more-so misguided savior complex, but since he is so goofy and has only one real sinister moment (involving a jar of urine, of all things), audiences are going to question why this performance is in this movie when it does not mesh. It’s jarring and inspires cringes for all the wrong reasons.
The music in the film is a curio in and of itself being from the same composer as the Dark Knight trilogy as well as Man of Steel, Hans Zimmer. But he brought in industrial composer Junkie XL to work on the Batman half of the score, since Zimmer didn’t want to be tempted to reuse material from the Nolan movies. Aside from some outright theft from classical Profokiev in the crafting of Luthor’s theme, the new music melds well with the chaos onscreen. The scenery has a smidge more color than the previous DC entry, which is a plus. And then there’s Gal Gadot’s glorified cameo as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. Every time she appears, you want to know more about her, which can only mean good things given we will eventually get a Wonder Woman movie out of this. In addition, Jeremy Irons as Alfred takes over well from Michael Caine in previous installments, giving a biting repartee to the relationship between Master Wayne and his loyal butler and confidante. This gives hope that Affleck’s now in-production solo effort as Batman will be a solid step up from this tripe.
Interestingly, for the past week, super-fans have been loudly and venomously reacting to Rotten Tomatoes’ collection of negative reviews against the film, where the film currently sits at a certified Rotten 29% score. These fans are not realizing that RT is not the source of the bad reviews. RT only collects and aggregates the reviews. It is not a grade like in school environments, it is a measurement of how many critics recommend and liked the film.
In short, there is just too much happening in this movie. There are at least 15 storylines crashing together in this film desperately trying to stick in order to set up the Justice League movie in 2017. And it all lands with a dull flop as audiences try to keep track of motivations and actions and catchphrases and ugh! It just gets to be too much, and director Snyder is not skilled enough to streamline the elements into the movie smoothly.
The film still looks grim and bleak, which is fine, but he needs a change in style and aesthetic for a while. He’s not great at comic-book adaptations. He needs a change, to give some other director a chance at saving DC’s cinema properties. But what do I know? The movie’s still going to break the box office and set up sequels simply because of brand recognition. The average moviegoer doesn’t care about quality at this point, they simply want big, bad, superhero brawls, and even then, this movie will skimp on that in the end.