batman_v_superman_3Year: 2016
Director(s): Zack Snyder
Writer(s): Zack Snyder
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1, some scenes 1.44:1 in IMAX (70mm and Laser versions)
Rating: PG-13
16mm, 35mm, 65mm, Color, 151 mins

Synopsis: Batman and Superman eventually fight, but what’s the point?

It’s hard to even know where to start with Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. As a consistent admirer of Zack Snyder’s singular aesthetic, I’ve always been able to appreciate his visual talents despite the frequent storytelling issues. With his latest however, I can barely find anything to defend – it’s an unmitigated disaster of a film, one that fails at base level to satisfy even as an entertaining movie, and worse, blatantly disregards the symbolism behind its iconic characters. In attempting to play catch-up with Marvel’s sprawling cinematic universe, Snyder plays fast and loose with Batman and Superman, throwing their disparate worlds together in meaningless ways, retroactively ruining anything good about Man of Steel in the process. There are definitely some interesting ideas scattered throughout, but nothing holds any weight, as the film repeatedly turns into a grimdark parody of grimaces and half-lit, testosterone-soaked confrontations, effectively sucking the life out of its heroes and all they stand for.

The film begins during Man of Steel’s climactic battle, this time from the perspective of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck). As a giant alien craft uproots the city, Bruce rushes into the rubble and ruin to try and save as many of his loved ones as he can. Helpless in the face of such destructive power, he sees Superman (Henry Cavill) and Zod battle from afar, wreaking havoc around him as everyone Bruce cares about dies in the wreckage. Almost two years later, Wayne uses his Batman alter-ego to try and find a way to put an end to Superman, searching for an artifact that may hold the key to his destruction. The wildcard in the mix is genius tech mogul Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who watches the two characters from a far, mining resources from Kryptonian wreckage to pit Superman against the Bat, engineering a plot to make them both answer to his twisted whims.

On one hand, the film feels like a Batman reboot, on another, an attempt to explore the collateral damage from Man of Steel – but the most egregious aspect is that it’s a clumsy Justice League prologue. The most successful story is Batman’s, with Snyder tipping the scales to his side during a breathtaking opening sequence – in an instant, we feel empathy and understand his hate for Superman, the “false god” (those are the film’s words not mine) who came in and recklessly destroyed a city during a careless fight. The Superman portion deals with how the fallout of Metropolis’ destruction affects the troubled hero, but he’s curiously left without any voice. Snyder goes out of his way to only show the character through the perspective of those who hate and are afraid of him, and a sequence in which he appears in court, doesn’t even give him a chance to defend himself before something tragic happens. As such, Superman is unfairly painted as a blithe, disconnected villain, with any goodwill unable to penetrate a film that’s constantly working to tear him down. The Justice League elements are terribly forced in, each feeling like trailers sandwiched in-between other sequences, as Bruce investigates stolen computer files with rumblings of metahumans. The team is finally revealed in the most cringeworthy way, something that feels like a post credit sequence, but shoved-in before a climactic battle – in the end, there’s no clear or immediate reason why they even need to unite. Needless to say, there’s no cohesion or clear through line, and with so many plots vying for attention (including a structure riddled with flashbacks, flash-forwards and dreams within dreams), the film rarely feels like its building up to its promised title fight (nor do we even care that it’s going to happening). Instead, we get a long montage of unconnected scenes, ones that sometimes are hard to tell if they’re even real, as characters shuffle about aimlessly.

batman_v_superman_2Even Snyder’s trademark visuals can’t save him here – most of the film is dialogue based, resulting in endless half lit interiors with characters talking and frowning to each other with less than a handful of short action sequences buried throughout. For a two-and-a-half hour film, the thrills are slim, and when the final battle does happen, it’s inside of a giant crater without any real stakes. The big battle with Doomsday sees every frame steeped in dust, rubble and thunder, making it a one-note exercise in CGI monotony. As Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman pummel Doomsday, they don’t even really get much of a chance to work together, mostly taking turns rather than strategizing as a team. I have to admit though, the Batman elements are great. He has an incredible car chase, and a rescue mission which is the closest thing the film has to an emotional beat or moment of true heroism.

The worst part of the film however, is that it just totally misunderstands and continues to lead these characters down the wrong direction. If you liked Man of Steel as a revisionist introduction (I certainly hoped they’d course correct thematically), you’ll be saddened to find that Snyder’s objectivist Superman is still the same, and hasn’t learned anything from his fight with Zod. He still struggles as to why he needs to be Superman, leaving any heroics to feel obligatory. To star Henry Cavill’s credit, he looks and can sometimes talk the part, but the script doesn’t understand his character, continuing to treat him like the bad guy. At two films in, he’s reduced to something smaller than the symbol of absolute goodness and power that we love, and the only way they can figure out how to get him in each scene is to damsel Lois (this happens multiple times). Even more, his big act of heroism is based around a one-dimensional, selfish romance, so we hardly care about the sacrifice it requires. As mentioned earlier, Batman comes out better, having a valid reason to hate Superman, but most of his arc is sidetracked by a procedural that has him tracking down future Justice League members – the motivations of this is never fleshed out, and it leaves him looking like a pissy baby who misuses his resources. Ben Affleck in execution is great however, and I really hope he gets a better film next time. Wonder Woman, even with such little dialogue and no real reason to be in the film comes out mostly unscathed. She’s the only character who seems to be acting objectively and with selflessness, rushing to aid simply because it’s the right thing to do. I’m now excited for Gal Gadot. With Wonder Woman’s success however, comes the failure of Lois Lane. The film just doesn’t know what to do with her, throwing her in a series of useless investigations before intermittently using her as Superman bait (poor Amy Adams, who could be great with the right role). Lastly, Lex Luthor is a great idea in concept – a millennial who is privileged and jealous of power he can’t have. The movie however wastes him on dumb contrivances, whether it’s trying to frame Superman in the most cumbersome way, or fulfilling the generic supervillan quota without any real motivation, reducing Jesse Eisenberg to a series of annoying ticks and eccentric vocal deliveries.

What destroys the film from the inside out, is that it just doesn’t know what kind of story it wants to tell or what kind of film it wants to be. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is essentially three disparate films packed into one. It’s a joyless exercise of tedium that mistakes grit for depth and substance, removing the line that separates Superman’s “day” from Batman’s “night” and transforming operatic ambition into a series of unfinished, unresolved thoughts. It’s fair to say that this film is mistitled, misguided and just a giant mistake, building the DC cinematic universe on sinking ground. That Snyder and crew (including writers David Goyer and Chris Terrio) seemed to have learned nothing from Man of Steel’s failures is troubling, and all I can think about are the fans that have waited so long to see these characters on screen, only to have them bicker in an unearned way. If there’s anything that’s certain, it’s that Zack Snyder hates Superman, and that if the DC Universe keeps going along this direction, it may be doomed before it even begins.

SG