By George Haigh
I’d like to think of this post as more of a ‘Constructive self-discussion’ rather than a conventional review that I’m used to writing. Therefore, I will inevitably be covering some spoilers. Everything interesting to say about the film has already being commented on, and therefore, I am using this as an opportunity to construct the various issues with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, with the hope that it will allow me to express my reasons for disliking the film.
By now you ‘ve probably heard that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, isn’t a very good film. Whilst it’s breaking records at the box office, the general consensus for Warner Brothers latest pawn in their ‘DC extended universe’ is that it is overlong, overstuffed, and somehow pretty boring. This is immediately a huge problem for the film.’Boring’ isn’t what you would expect to hear in a film which pits together American’s two most iconic heroes in the follow-up to 2013’s Man of Steel. When I mention Man of Steel, I would firstly like to clarify that whilst it’s a film with apparent problems, it isn’t necessarily a bad film, for most of it anyway. It actually deserves something better than the spectacle-heavy third act that is infuriatingly disconcerting to the interesting ideas director Zack Synder infiltrated into the majority of its lengthy run time. You’d come to think then that 3 years later, recurring director Zack Snyder would have learnt from the backlash against his Superman origin story, and become super self-aware of not making the same mistakes.
After a hackneyed effort at showing the deaths of a young Bruce Wayne’s parents (sigh). The opening sequence features the destruction of Metropolis at the end of Man of Steel from the POV of Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne, who is obviously angry at the situation. It’s as if Snyder is attempting to allegorise Bruce as one of his critics, frustrated at the dehumanising impact of Superman’s battle with General Zod. That would be the case if the exact same thing didn’t happen later on in the CG-heavy battle at the end of this film (which I’ll come onto later) that’s intentions appear to be as loud as possible rather than engaging. Anyway, Bruce Wayne’s building is smashed to smithereens and sees Superman as an unnatural, ‘alien’ threat to humanity. Of course he’s an alien Bruce, but by now we all know America loves nothing more than a pumped up handsome man like Henry Cavill running about in skin-tight spandex. Marvel have been getting away with that gag for a decade now. Bruce is angry at Superman causing havoc, and Superman is angry at Batman for beating people up and ‘bat branding’ them. The two men spend the majority of the first hour of the film sour faced and stalking each other, outweighed by a string of different sub-plots and inconveniences that delay the confrontation far later than it eventually comes. The two leads are everything you’d probably expect, Cavill neither terrible nor spectacular. Ben Affleck’s take on the caped crusader is completely fine. I’m not too sure that the Christian Bale-esque bat growl is necessary, but he adds a sense of physicality to the role that is fundamental for the many action sequences he features in.
Superman won’t be winning any popularity polls here, as it’s not just Bruce Wayne who hates him. The American Government (basically Holly Hunter and a few background characters) try and decide whether Superman is a threat, or whether his actions should be moderated. Whilst I was invested in the metaphorical suggestion of Superman being a god like figure and the debate surrounding his role in humanity, the film spends way too much time dwelling on the idea of Superman being on what is essentially a government leash. It doesn’t just damage the pacing of the storytelling (there’s plenty more of that), but it’s tonally jarring as well. After all, defenders of the film keep saying it’s made for fans, and for a younger audience, but are kids really going to want to see a political drama? Didn’t we learn that from The Phantom Menace?
I almost forgot to mention that perhaps the biggest hater of Superman is Lex Luthor. Luthor is played by Jesse Eisenberg in what is perhaps the worst miscast in superhero movie history. This younger, more psychotic version of Luthor isn’t the bald business mogul you’ve seen from Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey. In fairness, I actually respect the producer’s decision to approach the character with a different attitude, but not when it’s one that feels like Mark Zuckerberg on a cocaine binge doing impressions of Michael Jackson. Luthor never really feels intimidating, just annoying and twitchy. What makes this even worse is that so much of the screen time is dedicated to Lex, so much that the title might as well be ‘Batman and Superman v Lex Luthor’. This is where the film steps in its biggest flaw, and Luthor is a beaming example of the film taking pre-existing, interesting characters and simply using them as plot points.
Whilst the narrative is far too generous to Lex’s story, the script that Amy Adams’ Lois Lane works with quickly becomes exhausting. Lex Luthor’s plot points are far from satisfying, but nevertheless, they attempt to entertain. Lois Lane on the other hand, is simply uninteresting. There’s only so many times that a moody looking Superman can come and save her from falling off a roof, or being in a hostage situation. How can the writers expect audiences to invest in that? It’s somewhat criminal really to see such a brilliant actress have to work with this kind of lacklustre script, especially when she’s probably tied down in a contract to perform as Lane for another 3 films or something.
Thankfully, the same can’t be said for Jeremy Irons’ Alfred, easily the biggest breath of fresh air in terms of character. Irons portrayal of a more cunning, experienced Alfred is a delight to see, shining some positive light on a film that is dark in every single aspect of it. It’s not just the gloomy colour palette that has become trademark Snyder either. It’s easy to compare the tone of this to that of Christopher Nolan’s, whose Dark Knight trilogy perfectly captured the essence of a ‘darker’ take on the superhero genre. Unfortunately, Snyder confuses dark with dismal, and even the promising action sequences feel nowhere near as exhilarating as they should. In the final act, the film throws in a muddy looking rendition of Doomsday (which the trailers stupidly decided to spoil). The biggest issue with this is that Doomsday never really feels as threatening as he is marketed as. Sure, only Kryptonian weapons can affect him but his introduction feels almost intrusive, especially when you remember that the film is already struggling to wrestle with the weight of everybody else involved. Also, he kinda just looks like the abomination from 2008’s The Incredible Hulk , and that isn’t a compliment. I’m sure die-hard fans of the comics will be more than satisfied with Doomsday’s inclusion, and that’s fine. My issue with this is that if the decision is taken to throw in a supervillain nearly 2 hours into the film, at least make him engaging for people who haven’t read the comics.
It’s in this third act that a scene-stealing Wonder Woman shows up (literally when you think about the Justice League files in that notorious email scene). You’re probably wondering why I am only just mentioning Wonder Woman. This is because I am still ‘wondering’ if her character was really necessary until the writers remembered she has her own film coming out next year, so I guess she needs some sort of relevance. Perhaps the real motivation regarding the Wonder Woman character is that she appears to represent an inspiring female presence in a heavily male-dominated world. When the story comes to a halt to rescue yet another female character (hint: this time it isn’t Amy Adams, but it involves Superman), I guess that you could say that such a presence is a priority.
Besides being for the most part, generally uninteresting and boring, the other major issue with the film is a loss of priorities. Most prominently, it feels like a project that has been dragged in 20 different directions, resulting in a thematic, characteristic and storytelling mess. The priority, I assume, was to use this as a staple for the forthcoming DCEU films. Batman v Superman is so obsessed with setting up the Justice League and the DCEU that it actually forgets to, y’know, perform in its role as a feature film at times. It’s quite sad really, how Warner Brothers are completely undermining their audience. Most importantly, it says a lot about the state of Hollywood production. We’re so obsessed with having everything put on a plate for us, linking films together in a fictional ‘universe’, that Warner Brothers decided that audiences are too ungrateful to simply accept Batman against Superman, without shoehorning in all these other characters. Lex Luthor calls it ”The greatest gladiator match in the history of the world”, but really, you’ve seen most of the big showdown if you’ve seen the trailer. Superman, once an ambitious figure that has become significant with the idea of Nietzche’s ‘Ubermensch’ merely becomes a plot composed punching bag for a brooding Batman in what should be the film’s moment of catharsis. The blame will expectedly be pointed at Snyder for this mess of a movie, which, in relation to many of the issues being that of its predecessors, you can’t help but question the direction that the DCEU is choosing to go in. Snyder, whose finest hour was Watchmen in 2009, will go on to oversee the production of Wonder Woman, The Flash and Aquaman. He’ll also direct parts 1 and 2 of the Justice League films. In all honesty, though, I neither see Snyder as the sole malfunction of the film’s many setbacks nor someone who has done a particularly solid job. Snyder has promised that a director’s cut will become available, which clocks in around 30 minutes longer – possibly as means to explain such a disjointed approach to narrative that the film acquires. Not even the supposedly sentimental ending can save this sorry excuse for a blockbuster, it’s as predictable as it is recyclable, serving nothing more than to set up what Warner Brothers have to offer in the coming years. Did Superman’s ‘death’ really feel essential? This whole part of the film was shambolic in terms of its pacing.
For now at least, Marvel can shrug off suggestions that DC is bouncing back, despite the stream of negative reviews not affecting its success at the box office. The battle between DC fans and critics isn’t really something new – Catwoman and Green Lantern were also mauled. The real battle here isn’t the two titular characters either, it’s the two titular characters saturated in a gargantuan script that doesn’t quite know how to tell a engaging story. They’re battling to escape a swamp of incoherent scenes that are overwhelming in style, but severely underwhelming in substance.