Zack Snyder’s second shot at bringing DC comic heroes to life finally proves that the director doesn’t really “get” the characters that he is responsible for shepherding to the silver screen. Rather he’s a magpie that picks “shiny” and “cool” pieces of lore from here and there but organises them in to an unsatisfying whole.
With Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice out it’s become clear that Warner Bros. really have no clue what they are doing with their biggest franchises.
After an unnecessary rehashing of Batman’s origins (Zorro, parents, gunman, pearls, orphan) and a recap of the climax of Man of Steel told from Bruce Wayne’s perspective on the ground, Batman and Superman are set on paths that will ultimately bring them into conflict, including senate hearings on the repercussions of Superman’s heroics, Batman chasing down criminals that are tied to a certain mysterious radioactive green material related to General Zod, Lois Lane chasing ghosts and Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor schemes.
We get glimpses of Batman’s life with Alfred, (which works brilliantly and is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the movie), incredibly sparse flashes of Clark Kent’s life with Lois Lane and a few “cool” action sequences thrown in to up the ante, before all the plot chickens come home to roost for the inevitable conflict at the film’s climax, and the problems start to build up almost immediately.
The Pursuit of “Cool”
From the opening moments Snyder has a tendency to prioritise “cool” imagery rather than filling in the plot or characters, rehashing moments from other, better Batman movies while adding little of his own.
Young Bruce encounters bat’s in the cave for the first time… again, Superman’s feats are shown mostly in montage and this Batman brands his victims, although why he would bother is unclear as he seem to have no compunction to taking lives as evidenced by a Batmobile chase.
Batman is a character defined by his refusal to kill, and a film that explores the reasons why Bruce Wayne would abandon his rule could provide an interesting exploration of the character but you’ll not find that here. He pretty obviously kills guys in that Batmobile chase because it looks “cool”, and Snyder wanted to show off his take on Batman’s iconic mode of transport.
Poor Amy Adams drifts through the movie as Lois Lane, unmoored from the rest of the plot as she encounters information that could help Clark, and even Bruce, if she had bothered to tell anyone and at times it seems like pages of Adams’ script have been torn out, leaving the audience to scream at the screen in frustration.
Lex and Violence
Behind it all lie the machinations of Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, surely the most annoying version of the character to date. Those hoping that the tics and mannerisms shown in the trailers would slowly fall away to reveal “smooth Machiavellian Lex” or “mad scientist Lex” or, my personal favourite a Lex that takes offense to the mere idea of Superman and sees him as an affront to humanity’s progress. Instead we get a Lex who just wants to kill Superman, in the most irritating way.
Henry Cavill’s Superman is more of a plot point that an actual character but it’s not all bad. Gal Gadot glides her way through movie, giving hints of what’s to come in her own Wonder Woman film and Ben Affleck provides a great Bruce Wayne and a mostly decent Batman, even if we are missing crucial pieces of his motivation. Bad dreams don’t make up for purpose however one dream sequence in particular results in a seriously WTF moment that’s there more to hint at future movies than provide any insight on Bruce.
A character in this dream delivers a warning, and even though I follow comics, I had no idea who the character was, nor could I make out most of what he was saying. Non-comic book fans are going to be completely confused. Not that it matters anyway, this cryptic warning is never followed up on again.
Snyder has learned some things from the criticisms of Man of Steel, a massive battle is wisely taken outside the city limits but he seems to learnt the wrong lesson from his experience making Watchmen. While he slavishly followed the source material there (to a point) here he cherry picks moments from all over DC’s canon, but throws them together without any of the concept of what made these moments great in the first place.
Comic Book Collage
A Robin suit covered in graffiti is shown but never mentioned. Could this be a reference to Jason Todd, cruelly beaten to death by the joker with a crowbar or is it another one of the many who have taken on the mantle of Robin? Who cares it looks “cool!”. It’s “cool” to see Batman shoot up bad guys in the Batwing, even thought he is supposed to be rescuing hostages inside, and by announcing his presence any hostages would undoubtedly be dead by the time he finds parking space.
There are also homages to the imagery and storylines of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns however the reasons for conflict between Batman and Superman here are but a shade of that conflict, more akin to minor misunderstandings like the Ant-Man/Falcon fight in Ant-Man.
Further comparisons to Marvel Studio’s movies are inevitable. While the house of ideas has grown their roster of cinematic heroes organically, building them up over time and guest appearances, taken their characters in new directions while remaining true to their spirit (just look at Captain America: The Winter Soldier) DC want to have their cake and eat it, RIGHT NOW, rather than putting in the necessary legwork resulting in unearned moments of emotion and nonsensical plot points.
At times Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice can feel like a failed 80’s superhero movie, but made with modern technology. Your favourite heroes are up there on screen with all their accoutrements, but the soul is missing. It even falls prey to bad 80’s screen-writing habits, creating dumb obstacles out of nowhere for our heroes to overcome and having characters withhold crucial information from each other just to prolong another “cool” fight. When the eventual team-up between Kal-el and the Dark Knight Detective does occur, this pivotal moment hinges on another maddeningly stupid plot point, one that could have been handled any multitude of ways, any of which would be better.
The Endless Journey
Time that could have been spent on solving these issues is wasted on a “cool” shot of bats coming out of a chimney, or slo-mo smoke issuing forth from discharging cannons, or a CGI fight that, by that stage no one cares about. In a movie two hours and thirty three minutes long this is an almost criminal waste of time.
Lest I come off like some ranting DC fan-boy, I usually try my hardest to give films the benefit of the doubt, hell, I even gave Fantastic Four a good review. Neither am I saying that there is no more room for adaptations of these characters. There have been many versions of Batman and Superman over the years and the most popular are those that built upon what has come before, and a respect what worked and what didn’t and added their own spin. Unlike Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight, Snyder rearranges the constituent parts but doesn’t add anything new.
These characters don’t feel like the characters that came before.
Come Monday morning when the weekend box office results are released (or later once word of mouth spreads) it will be interesting to see how the film does and how it will affect DC’s upcoming slate.
Batman V Superman is not the worst superhero film ever made but it is definitely one of the most disappointing.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is released in Malaysian cinemas on 24th March 2016
Starring: Henry Cavill,Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Jesse Eisenberg
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Official Site here.