Why can’t we be friends?
Director Zack Snyder set the tone for the DC on-screen universe with Man of Steel in 2013, one that would firmly follow the leanings of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy by emphasising the ‘gritty’ aspects of super heroics, lacking the joy of the best that the Superman character has to offer. With the addition of a combative Batman into the mix, the darkness of the universe is sealed. While both names are on the marquee, tonally and dramatically, this is Batman’s film, even if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at times.
The setup is simple for BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, as it’s all in the title. Following the destruction of Metropolis 18 months earlier, the world either worships or is terrified by the Superman (Henry Cavill). Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) in particular has taken umbrage with this super-fellow, and in his nighttime activities as the Bat Vigilante of Gotham City, just across the river, his investigations dovetail with the megalomaniacal Lex Luthor’s (Jesse Eisenberg) machinations to create a Kryptonite weapon and bring down the Man of Steel. It’s all leading to a fight between the titans, along with a journey through the back-catalogue of DC Comics’ trade paperback collections.
As a film, BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE should have been a slam-dunk, with audience numbers to date indicating that the public was hungry for this. Yet David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio’s script takes the long way around to the inevitable, elongating the pace with a whopping 151 minutes of exposition that still doesn’t explain the gaping plot holes and convenient contrivances. Snyder’s heavy-handed style over substance approach sees him fall into the same traps of his Sucker Punch, pillaging references from a variety of comics and mixed-media, but never stopping to understand why they worked in their original context. Extended dream sequences, or ‘Knightmares’, place Batman in particular in a variety of Elseworlds costumes, these alone ensuring a long line of toys from the production cycle. Yet Batman is also somehow envisaging moments from future franchise entries, catching glimpses of the bigger story at play.
As exciting as these Easter eggs are as previews, they are also devoid of context and meaning in this film. Beyond these extra costumes and toys, Snyder can’t even really escape the massive influence of Nolan’s aesthetic, outright aping it at times. Jeremy Iron’s Alfred is the only real point of difference to an otherwise dour interpretation. Meanwhile, Amy Adams is sidelined to a cheerleader role, while Jesse Eisenberg certainly gets to clap his hands profusely.
The Internet is rife with rebuttals to all of these arguments: if you’re a “fan”, the convoluted non-sequiturs are par for the course in the language of comic books. This is absolutely right, but in the comic books, readers have almost 80 years worth of history to back them up. Here it’s a case of too much too soon, perhaps desperately trying to catch up with the scope of That Other Superhero Franchise in time for Justice League. There is, after all, a sequence in which the perfunctory Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) literally sits down to watch teaser footage for The Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman and her own film on a laptop. Indeed, if the first part of the BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE title is the main event, and ultimately a let down, then the second part of that title is as much of an afterthought as its subtitle status would imply.
If Zack Snyder’s messy franchise entry had picked one film and stuck to it telling it well, the critical response to this film might have been very different. As it stands, it will be a massive commercial success, with audiences ransacking the Great Hall of Critics and placing their heads on pikes as a warning to future naysayers. It’s just a shame for these wonderful comic book characters that, at least for the foreseeable future, both DC and Marvel have ensured that the kitchen sink approach is the only viable way to tell a story.
2016 | US | Dir: Zack Snyder | Writers: David S. Goyer and Chris Terri | Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishbone, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot | Distributor: Roadshow Films | Running time: 151 minutes | Rating:★★½