Film / Theatre Reviews - Reviews

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice


Do you believe in Superman? Judging by Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Zack Snyder doesn’t. Indeed, the Man of Steel sequel/Batman reboot/shared-universe kickstarter (breathe!) doesn’t seem to have much faith in anyone or anything. It’s a superhero story with little story and even less heroism.

We’re now two films deep with DC Comics and Warner Brothers’ marquee film franchise, and they’re still embarrassed by their frontman. Superman is such a phenomenally over-powered alien-god that his stories require an equally rich sense of humanity for his struggles to connect. How can Clark be good? Can he inspire Earthlings or is he doomed to endlessly save us from ourselves? How can he relate to the mortals in his life? How does he deal with guilt and anger? Even a minor attempt to address these questions requires some respect for the character’s inner life, a curiosity which Dawn of Justice shows no evidence of. In fact, channeling the dark-hued deconstruction of Snyder’s Watchmen, it seems to openly despise Superman, morphing him into a moody asshole hated by the public, getting peps talks from mama Martha about how he doesn’t owe the world jack. Justice serves us nihilism and calls it depth. Its creators are people whose idea of mature storytelling is giving Batman a machine gun.

It takes near-superhuman levels of incompetence to screw up a pairing of two pop culture icons, whose personalities are so clearly defined, but Snyder, screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, and WB’s suits have managed it. The first half is a baffling mess of scenes seemingly edited in at random, a structurally haphazard knot of plotlines. After yet another gun and pearls origin scene for Batman, we see MoS’ destruction of Metropolis from his perspective, as a grown-up Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) outruns debris and cliched 9/11 imagery to save idiot office workers who stayed at their desks while the skyscrapers around them were decimated. Bruce glowers at the sky for a bit, and after a jump-forward we get the scowl in a cowl patrolling Gotham, literally branding criminals’ flesh with the Bat symbol like a lunatic Frank Castle. Then there’s a time travel dream-inside-a-dream-sequence, some messy subplots with Lois Lane (Amy Adams, doing her best with a non-role), Congressional hearings that don’t make sense, scheming industrialist Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg) and an ominous jar of piss.

Eisenberg’s Luther behaves like he’s had a few too many cups at the Mad Hatter’s tea party, babbling in manic riddles; a chirpy, interminable thematic communicator. His endless rambles about God and Man and The Nature of Power, spewed forth like a Red Bull-buzzed philosophy first-year, highlight one of the film’s key problems: a terminal case of self-obsession. The screenplay folds the fan controversy over Man of Steel‘s wanton destruction and execution of General Zod into dialogue about the responsibilities and dangers of having someone like Superman around. Which is all fair material, but it’s never actually integrated into the experiences of the characters, dispersed instead to crowd scenes, monologues and cable news talking heads. It doesn’t matter what Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks about Superman’s place in our world; it matters what Superman thinks. He’s the one in the title of the movie! Kal-El is sidelined by over-busy plotting, franchise building and pointless flashbacks/forwards, barely getting the chance to express a point of view or actual emotion. And when he does show up, Henry Cavill is so distant and aloof he may as well be on Krypton.

There are some bright sparks. Jeremy Irons’ Alfred has a silkily sarcastic drawl and a weary father-assistant relationship with Bruce that is fun to watch. Affleck is maybe a little handsome to be believably broody, but he’s an enjoyable and sturdy Bruce, and at least has an arc (even if the logic behind it doesn’t always hold up). Wonder Woman doesn’t get that much to do or say, but Gal Gadot handles it well. Her appearance in the third-act is a spot of fresh air; a small, merciful break from the slog of watching two dour superdudes wailing on eachother Because Plot. And Snyder, working with regular photography partner Larry Fong, can produce the odd gorgeous image; a left-field shot of Supes dragging a shipwreck across the Antarctic is legitimately surprising and beautiful.

Marvel’s movies have problems, but they have the sense to build stories from the characters out, making sure the audience gives a shit about what happens to them. What is so hard about putting these characters in a room and have them talk to each other for five minutes? Is the studio afraid that if their heroes express things like people then teenagers won’t think they’re cool anymore? All I wanted was to understand why what was happening was happening. Instead, the din and confusion bulldozes forward, building to an exhausted finale in which the heroes fight a big dumb CGI troll. Also the 3D sucks. Conor Smyth



Conor Smyth is the Film Editor at The Thin Air and regular Banterflix contributor. Follow him @csmythrun.