Batman v Superman

It was a dark and stormy fight...

By Louis Balzani
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  • You’re a die-hard DC Comics fan hellbent on supporting their “cinematic universe” endeavor.

Another day, another superhero movie. This time around, we’re looking at one of the most controversial and closely-scrutinized entries into this genre in some time. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has a lot riding on it – its success or failure will essentially determine the viability of DC Comics’s own “cinematic universe” going forward. It’s the first real opportunity for the company to try and match Marvel’s juggernaut of a movie business with their own tone, plot, and characters. Can two big-time comic book film franchises co-exist? If Batman v Superman is any indication, no, they cannot, but DC’s sure as hell going to give it a shot anyway.

A year and a half after Superman’s clash with General Zod performed population control on Metropolis, there’s tension in the air. As the public embraces Superman as their personal savior, some push to hold him accountable under some form of law should he ever go rogue. Chief among them is Bruce Wayne, who feels that Superman is directly responsible for the wanton destruction of the city, and that he’s dangerous as a result. As animosity builds between the two, LexCorp mogul Lex Luthor conspires to pit the two against each other, but he also wants to unleash some Kryptonian demon beast, and…honestly, I’m still only vaguely sure of what happens in this film. The haphazard script explains plot points, introduces characters, and conveys conflict so poorly that I had to look up a plot summary after the fact to even start making sense of it all. Lots of cheap tricks rear their ugly head: dream sequences, jump scares, forced misunderstandings, you name it. The fact that everything essentially amounts to a teaser for the upcoming Justice League movies frustrates most of all since it never feels like the film earns it; it sort of assumes it won you over along the way, which is pretty presumptuous considering these films have a mere fraction of the goodwill that Marvel’s do.

Looking beyond the script alone, Batman v Superman takes Man of Steel, the filmic equivalent of a furrowed brow, to a whole new level – this movie is grim. It’s dark, moody, and depressing at nearly every turn. There’s nary a laugh in the entire script, and I honestly lost track of how often it pushes its relentless tone of hopelessness. It replaces the typical, fantastical style of superhero violence with dramatic gun battles, hundreds of buildings getting destroyed, and Batman branding his symbolism into the bare skin of his victims. The end result is a superhero film that, for the most part, stays very much grounded in the serious reality it so painstakingly tries to craft; there will be no shrink-suits or enormous green rage monsters in Metropolis. I appreciate the focus on the more practical side of this well-worn genre, and I’m personally very much on board with its decidedly melancholy tone.batman-vs-superman-ew-pics-1Here’s the problem with that, though. Batman v Superman is so melancholy, so dark and brooding, that it rarely takes the time to give audiences something they can truly enjoy. Whatever your thoughts on Marvel’s omnipresent cinematic output, there’s no arguing that those films consistently manage to thrill and entertain even in the face of heavier subject matter. This one seems all too content to linger on pointless exposition, angry expressions, and hollow back-and-forths without any humor or liveliness to balance it all out. People look forward to being entranced by these kinds of movies, so if it takes your film nearly two hours to arrive at any captivating material, I think you’ve sort of missed the point.

One of the biggest consequences of this lack of watchability is that it lets the film’s primary actors down. Henry Cavill puts in another physically commanding performance as Superman, lending even more credence to the theory that he’s one of the best to don that suit and cape. Though many a commenter grew concerned about this particular casting choice, Ben Affleck impresses as both Bruce Wayne and Batman, channeling the anger and frustration of both characters to great effect. Unfortunately, the script never gives them the opportunity to explore their characters’ deeper motivations, a common complaint among director Zack Snyder’s detractors. Thankfully, they both perform admirably in their respective action sequences, and their inevitable punch-up proves lengthy, visceral, and quite satisfying.

Funnily enough, neither Batman nor Superman actually even serve as the highlight of their own movie – that honor falls to Gal Gadot and her phenomenal portrayal of Wonder Woman. Her sensational entrance into the film’s climactic conflict sets off what’s easily the best part of the movie, when it finally lets go of its preoccupation with brooding and turns its heroes loose. Her theme’s echoing guitar and pounding drum line provide some much-needed time away from Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s never-ending operatic strains of despair. The filmmakers even manage to build her character without making her feel like just another token sex object, though any sort of explanation as to why she’s present in the first place would have been nice. She’s every bit the hero Batman and Superman are, and thus far she’s practically the sole positive justification for the DC Cinematic Universe to continue development.Wonder-Woman-Gal-GadotThe rest of supporting cast are not afforded the same treatment, sadly. As the only other noteworthy female character, Amy Adams’s Lois Lane gets little to do beyond appearing worried about Superman and making boneheaded decisions. Even worse, Jesse Eisenberg feels woefully out of place as the erratic Lex Luthor. Every so often, a scene will allow the character’s genuine menace to shine through, but by and large his jumpy quirkiness comes off as corny and forced. Laurence Fishburne yells a lot as the head of the Daily Planet, and somehow, the fantastic Jeremy Irons fails to make any sort of impression as Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred. The film never manages to work up any consistent or recurring themes, though if it did have one, it would likely be squandered potential and talent.

This film is getting critically pummeled, and in a way, I feel bad for piling on to whatever extent this review counts as a pummeling. A lot of people clearly worked very hard on this film, but it just wasn’t enough. For every high Batman v Superman achieves, it slogs through several dispiriting lows, and there simply isn’t enough entertainment value in the overall product for me to recommend it. While the visuals are stark and the action is intense, it’s also overlong, overwrought, and labored in all the wrong ways. It’s a shame, too, because once in a while a scene will crackle with tension and energy, and you’ll catch a fleeting glimpse of what might have been. The most hardcore DC fans will likely find something to gush over here, but for everyone else, it’s a pretty tough sell. I’m a fan of the general direction and feel of DC’s films, but going forward, they need to do a lot better than this.