It’s been quite a journey to this one. I’m not just talking about the long wait, delays and steady build of hype throughout the production of BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, which have all been considerable, but also note that it spans the lifetime of this very blog. One of the first pieces I posted was about who could possibly play a new Batman. Anyway, now it’s out and the verdict is in. As the late great Roger Ebert might have said: Mr Snyder, your movie sucks.
Eighteen months after Superman (Henry Cavill) fought off an alien invasion, the world, and especially the city of Metropolis is still counting the cost. The government pushes for regulation of his seemingly unlimited powers, and two billionaires, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) plan to stop the Man of Steel once and for all for the sake of the safety of mankind and the balance of power, respectively. Soon enough, everything comes down to a clash of heroes with very different ideas of justice.
The plotting of the film is awful, pure and simple. It’s disjointed, laboured and frequently tells rather than shows, all the wrong details. The dialogue isn’t much better and a lot of these lines were probably meant to be profound statements, but end up being characters having internal debates aloud. How was something so clumsy, with lines like “The only way this world makes sense is if we force it” penned by Chris Terrio? That man has an Oscar! On the rare occasion where we’re allowed to keep track of characters’ motivations or values, we are lost all over again by confusing geography, timescales and baffling leaps of logic. When Superman is called to answer for his actions in front of a Senatorial hearing, he is asked what he was doing in Africa where he’s just rescued Lois Lane (Amy Adams) from a battle between terrorists and mercenaries. They might well ask, the only problem is we aren’t told as an audience either why Lois and by extension her man, was there. Batman chastises Superman for his unlimited destructive power but doesn’t hesitate in killing bad guys outright. Superman gives Superman a final warning to retire after a destructive chase in the Batmobile, but we don’t know what brought Superman to Gotham in the first place or understand what gives him a right to lecture Batman on not saving people nicely. Superman’s there in a blink to rescue Lois, but has to see an orphanage in Mexico burning down on the news with everyone else before rushes off to play hero.
Even on the basic level of pure spectacle, objects in the foreground are detailed (clearly where all the money went) but pop out alarmingly against obviously fake backgrounds (where the money ran out). At this level of filmmaking that just shouldn’t happen. Zack Snyder’s trademark slow-motion into “speed ramping” in action scenes is getting pretty stale too following its excessive use in 300, WATCHMEN, SUCKER PUNCH and now here.
The titular fight is polished and diverting enough but apart from the draw of witnessing two icons locked in battle, it doesn’t break any new ground. Like MAN OF STEEL you just get through one monotone fight only to go straight into the next. Also the eventual reason for the two heroes to set aside their differences is absolutely hilarious.
So, to the cast. Ben Affleck does well enough as Frank Miller’s hulking, glum Dark Knight and makes Christian Bale’s look like he was doing a stand-up routine. The character’s origin is re-told in the film’s very first scene, a scene which might be the most Zack Snyder-y scene ever, before Bruce runs around a 9/11 imagery-heavy Metropolis trying to save his employees from the fallout of Superman fighting Zod. Henry Cavill sadly looks a little lost, almost peeved that he has been pushed to one side in his own franchise, though the way he plays a gag in his rumble with the Bat is pretty amusing. I respect Jesse Eisenberg for doing something different with Lex, playing him as utterly deranged and broken, but he does perhaps over-do the physical and verbal tics. Gal Gadot finally brings Wonder Woman to the big screen in fine scene-stealing fashion (complete with neat Junkie XL/Hans Zimmer theme music) but doesn’t get long enough to really shine. Amazingly the best performance of the ensemble comes not from the heroes but from Jeremy Irons as a dry, sleeves-rolled-up Alfred.
I had horrible flashbacks to my all-time most hated superhero movie, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 during a scene that hurriedly tries to set up JUSTICE LEAGUE. Stop showing us tantalising surveillance clips and significant objects locked in vaults and just get on with it! When will screenwriters learn that you can only tell one story (well) at a time? If everyone involved had concentrated on making the project at hand the best it could be, we might not have ended up with $250 million flushed down the proverbial toilet. Justice League has a whole lot of work to do to make this dreck worth watching if it even still comes out when we’ve been told it will. At least WONDER WOMAN looks promising, and less busy… SSP