In the mid-2000s, there was a series of parody films that would try to satirise current pop culture (Epic Movie, Meet The Spartans et al), but they were aggressively unfunny. What made them disastrous (notwithstanding the poor acting or the lack of engaging plot) but that their jokes and humour were derived from pointing out something from pop culture, proceed to tell the audience what the item is, and then hope that the audience laugh for recognising the object (Pirates of the Caribbean and celebrities such as Kardashians were notable examples). They, time and again failed to interrogate, investigate or invest into their jokes or characters, leaving audiences bored and disinterested at best, or aggressive and wronged at worst. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the superhero action equivalent of this failure, a disappointing opus that feels longer than it’s two and a half hour run-time, without the necessary development nor investment into strong singular themes, a gripping evolving narrative, engaging acting or even make the editing coherent to even follow what’s going on. They had the golden opportunity to do something special, but instead it’s just another boring bash-up between two Comic Book titans to set up another film franchise.
The story of Batman v Superman is about the ramifications of Clark Kent/Superman’s (Henry Cavill) existence and how mankind should treat him: Is he God? Is he Satan? Where does his motivations lie? Who has his loyalty? And one who doesn’t want to test the limits of this is Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck), a witness to the destruction witnessed in the third act of Man of Steel, and knows the destructive and emotional impact of the Last Son of Krypton. He allows his paranoia and Lex Luthor’s (Jesse Eisenberg) machinations to fuel his hatred for Superman, whilst Superman comes to see the true cost of his actions, culminating in this match-up of these cultural icons. And then there’s Luthor’s Doomsday waiting on the sidelines, Lois Lane’s (Amy Adams) mission to uncover a mysterious plot against Superman, and Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) wants…
To finish the last paragraph would go into spoiler territory, but really, it’s because there is no need to further prove how convoluted the film is. Plotlines are mainly tangential and overly abundant, resulting in a complete rejection of everything is going on by the audience losing their sense of disbelief. The film feels like Zack Snyder cobbled together a collection of drafts by Chris Terrio and David Goyer, shuffled some page and started from there, without an investment into decent character arcs or anything particularly astute in the proceedings. It is incredibly cruel to say this, but then that it is the only way to justify having multiple dream sequences (yes, multiple) in the first act, the expense needing to hire Laurence Fishburne and the entire The Daily Planet to barely even see what Clark Kent and Lois Lane’s relationship is like, and multiple nonsensical character motivations. The film confuted the core tenants of Superman and Batman, making them into grumpy nihilists rather a reflection of our reality or even an idealised one. It’s Nolan in tone, replacing intelligence with gunfire and brutalism.
Time and time again, Snyder has proven that his film-making technique is based more on the composition of the shots (the enactment of Bruce’s parent’s death was quite inventive admittedly), than on the composition of the main story suffers from scenes jump incoherently from one character’s story to the other. For Snyder, there is no time for brevity, levity or any sense of gravity of the characters actions. It is trying to be it’s own film, a franchise starter and a Hollywood blockbuster, but his true calling seems to be a comic-book artist. However, even when excusing the narrative failings, for such a bombastic action film it remains dull and boring, not at least best exhibited in the bland design that went into Doomsday. While a film can survive an over-abundant story, over-abundant and repetitive action sequences made this dreary and pointless.
We have had countless years of Batman/Superman stories in the comics and animated films, and yet for this newly invented story, this one remains one of the most inert conflicts that a film could be anchored, leaving the battle between Batman and Superman is highly reductionistic. With simplistic emotions only at their disposal, and their intelligence relative to when it is needed in the plot, that when there is an opportunity to investigate the moral lines that exist between them and the world, it is taken away and replaced with a cheesy quip and an explosion for good measure. I stated in the introduction, what is meant by comparing Friedberg/Seltzer’s output to Snyder’s is that Snyder uses news anchors, senators (Holly Hunter was wasted) and Neil DeGrasse to present thematic points, and hopes that the audience will connect to these icons from past iterations, in lieu of investing in a real dramatic conflict. Jesse Eisenberg’s Luthor unpredictably perplexing character can espouse theological debates, but that’s telling us what to think, not see what we should actually feel, especially when the reason for Luthor hating Superman is both non-existent and pretentious.
If there is a positive to be said about this mess is that Ben Affleck and Jeffrey Irons will be a great Batman and a great Alfred when Affleck starts production of his own solo fare, and that there is promise in Gal Gadot’s Captain America-aping Wonder Woman. However, if this film is a reflection of DC’s future, this is not a future that audiences will not want to particularly invest in. Undercooked in every way, maturity is not development, darkness is not refinement, and fun is persona non grata.
RATING: ONE AND A HALF STARS.
Addendum: Daredevil Season Two (Netflix only) sets Daredevil to go against The Punisher to determine the limits of vigilante justice, and where the moral line of retribution exists. Not only is it a better conflict, it’s just a far better use of your time.