“For a little over half of the runtime, this really is the equivalent of watching a film about Batman and a film about Superman haphazardly interspersed with one another.”
by Ken Bakely
Here is an exhausting movie, which bangs and clangs and smashes and crashes about for 151 minutes without anything to show for it. The script fails to establish any type of cohesive plot structure beyond a vague set of story setups, and so the film more often resembles a disconnected sequence of scenes, one right after the other, which just happen to cease at some point and transition into a stop-start finale. Invariably, the bleak tone of this movie has brought about comparisons to the Batman films made by Christopher Nolan, who is credited as a producer here. The difference is that Nolan developed characters and did so with reasonable efficiency, while here nothing much ever happens and you just end up rather tired. Recently, I spent nearly twelve hours moving around the otherwise lovely city of Madrid, despite the fact that for three-quarters of that time, I had some varying combination of a sore throat, a stuffy nose, a pounding headache, and considerable fatigue. Yet I’m pretty sure I was more energetic coming out of that day than I was yesterday evening, emerging from my local multiplex after subjecting myself to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
The film is set eighteen months after the events of Man of Steel. It focuses on Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) questioning the godlike status attained by Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), and growing increasingly suspicious of the nefarious results absolute power will bring. Meanwhile, eccentric billionaire mogul Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), already hatching his own evil scheme, sees the growing tensions between the two superheroes as a perfect catalyst, and realizes that feeding off the animosity between Batman and Superman could be used to grow his own prospects. As the two icons are brought together through a series of chaotic events, it’s clear that a showdown of some kind is looming. But when those with seemingly unlimited powers are pitted against each other, the question is not only who will win, but also at what cost?
Before I start my analysis proper, I should reiterate a statement I have been nonverbally attempting to transmit since I started this review – no put-down of Batman v. Superman, especially one written nearly a month after its opening, will affect the movie’s financial future. If nothing else, director Zack Snyder has been appealing to the expectations of the hardcore fans, who have been praising this movie relentlessly (and often melodramatically bashing critics who have dared to say anything negative about the project). Scriptwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, knowing that the title of their work alone is enough to spark explosive reactions, milk everything to the last drop. To borrow a phrase, plenty of things get blowed up real good, both literally and metaphorically.
And that ties things into the bigger problem, which is that Batman v. Superman is not only unstructured, it’s unintentionally hilarious. Snyder, Terrio, and Goyer do not want to make a “fun” movie. Their intentions are clearly more serious (I’ll dismiss the palpable silliness of not wanting a superhero film fun, because Nolan managed to strike a decent balance). But if you want to create a realistic, gritty depiction, you need to develop characters, and do so with some competency. That doesn’t happen. Moments which are supposed to be emotionally potent are overplayed so obliviously that they nearly become the stuff of self-parody. The late-stage introduction of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is handled so abruptly and so cynically (to advertise the upcoming feature revolving around her), some viewers may receive a mild case of whiplash. A terminally bad decision is made by Eisenberg and Snyder, who co-develop Lex Luthor into a high-pitched, neurotic, one-dimensional sketch comedy routine. I am of the opinion that Eisenberg is a very talented man, and you can see that what he does on screen was done with full dedication, but it comes off incredibly out-of-place considering the tone Snyder wants to set.
None of this would matter if the movie wasn’t afraid to establish a lighter mood, or even crack a joke every now and then. Instead, the filmmakers have set a trap for themselves by deciding to make things Very Very Serious™. There’s a depth to the proceedings that is clearly meant to be attained, but there’s simply too much going on in Batman v. Superman for that depth to be reached in one movie. For a little over half of the runtime, this really is the equivalent of watching a film about Batman and a film about Superman haphazardly interspersed with one another. Dare I say that in a fantastical, unrealistic, idealist world, a prestige TV miniseries would have been a more appropriate place to adapt this material? Three or four weeks of Cavill and Affleck, directed by Snyder, sufficiently spread out, all leading up to a grand finale – I’d watch it, and so would just about everyone else. Maybe even on HBO or somewhere like that, where the even grimmer, “R-rated” vision Snyder reportedly wanted to employ could be realized.
But I’m getting off-track. I’m here to talk about what there is, not what I wish could have been. And certainly in what there is, Batman v. Superman delivers its own pleasures. Affleck blends nicely in as a new Batman, with an entertaining, matured spin on the character which should be interesting in spinoff productions. Cavill is fairly good reprising his role, and there aren’t really any major problems in the large supporting cast, save for misguided decisions from Eisenberg. Obviously the movie looks great, expertly shot by Snyder and his regular DP, Larry Fong. The score, a collaborate effort between Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, grows oppressively loud at times, but is otherwise enjoyable. Yet what does that do for you, if nothing else works? Sure, I was dazzled by the big special effects, but I was also turned off by the overpacked-yet-underdeveloped story (which came with two moments in the last 45 minutes so ridiculous that I was biting my lip to keep from laughing out loud in the auditorium). This compilation of proficiency juxtaposed with a foundation of ineptitude stands to make the film’s many shortcomings all the more apparent, showing that a great movie was just beyond the horizon, so close yet so far away.