Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the sequel to 2013’s Superman reboot Man of Steel, is as clunky and cumbersome as its title suggests. It’s awe-inspiring in its wrongheadedness – the tone is sour and grim, its “heroes” are vindictive, and most offensive of all, it merely exists to propagate its confusing, crummy mythology; a mythology that will presumably be expounded on in future sequels. It’s an anti-film. It’s anti-story. It’s a two and a half hour plea to buy into something that…I’m still not sure what the fuck exactly.
Let’s dive into this mess.
Director Zack Snyder begins the film by reintroducing us to Batman’s origins. Parents, bang, bats, blah, blah, blah. You know. Snyder imbues this, by now, cliché sequence with opulent theatricality and dark beauty. It’s pretty damn weird and artsy – Snyder knows how to grab the audience’s attention alright, he’s consistently knocked it out of the park in that regard.
We then flash-forward to a title card that reads, no kidding, “The Day Mankind Was Introduced To The Superman.”
We’re now in the climax of Man of Steel, during Superman’s titanic, city destroying struggle against General Zod. It’s here that Bruce Wayne witnesses the destructive capabilities of The Man of Tomorrow, the aspirational figure of hope and decency, as he recklessly smashes through buildings that crush hundreds of bystanders. One of these bystanders tearfully prays to god right before the end.
This is a laughably overwrought attempt to set the stage for an angry Batman to try and kill Superman.
Superman is a complete non-entity in his own film. He’s an utterly passive, permanently pained Christ-like male model who exists solely to propel the plots of other, more interesting characters. This Superman stands for nothing, has no real interior life or motivation. It’s continuing the tradition set by Man of Steel of dragging this aspirational icon through the mud in the name of making him ‘relatable’ and ‘vulnerable.’
This Superman is neither relatable nor vulnerable; he’s ineffectual, myopic, and an asshole.
There’s also a seemingly over-caffeinated, jittery millenial Lex Luthor, played by a gives-no-shits Jesse Eisenberg, as he tries to manipulate the two heroes into a death match. It’s a convoluted scheme that ultimately boils down to Lex blackmailing Superman into killing Batman.
Why, though? It’s not enough that he’s a famous Superman villain, movie. There has to be actual reasons that people do things. There’s some lip service paid to an abusive dad and a god complex, but that’s all there is. He also, for reasons the movie doesn’t bother to explain, has files on all the metahumans – The Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg. These files consist of, no kidding, twenty second trailers for their upcoming movies. It is literally the cheapest, most inorganic, most insulting way to set up the Justice League.
And there’s the debut of Amazonian warrior Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot, which might have been an enticement if she wasn’t used to set up future Justice League films, slink around mysteriously in Gucci and Prada, and then fight a poorly rendered cgi monster. Gal Gadot is…fine, I guess? Nothing is asked of her other than to look good against a green screen.
Ben Affleck plays a Batman with twenty years worth of Batman lore greying his well-maintained sideburns. He’s lost a Robin, his Gotham City is still a shithole, and he seems fine with having abandoned his code of honour; this is a Batman who kills and maims with impunity and barely concealed glee. Batman has had an interesting cinematic life – many directors have stamped their particular vision on the character and Gotham City. Take your pick from Burton’s gothic fairy tale, Schmumacher’s neon camp fest, and Nolan’s no-nonsense verisimilitude.
I don’t think Gotham City has a single establishing shot in this 2 and a half hour long film.
This Batman moves and looks like a Batman ripped straight from the comics. His introduction to the film is magnificent – truly unsettling and awe-inspiring.
It’s a faithful Batman as far aesthetics go, but this emotionally stunted man-child is a sacrilege to the compassionate, zen-like warrior who can be found in the best of his comics. It’s a mixed bag Batman, but count me in for any future solo Ben Affleck Batman films.
They got a flawed foundation to be sure, but there’s something here.
But how about the showdown between Batman and Superman? Well, the best way to describe it would be perfunctory. It’s acceptable as far as the visuals go, appropriately apocalyptic and violent, aided by a thunderously operatic score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL.
But the conceit of this battle lies not in a clash of ideologies or a legitimate rivalry, but a misunderstanding between two easily manipulated, unnaturally powered knuckleheads.
The resolution to this fight has to be seen to be believed. It may be the most unintentionally funniest moment in a superhero film – made even funnier because it’s played as the emotional climax to whatever story they’re trying to tell here.
It’s at this point the film lost me completely and I passively awaited for the incoming cgi maelstrom of Act III to pass. Mercifully, it was brief.
In the end, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a poorly constructed set up movie that can’t even satisfyingly deliver the boneheaded promise of its own title. It’s not just a bad film, it’s a hateful adaptation that worships heroes not for their virtue, but for their ability to bring destruction. Even the few kernels of pleasure to be found in this mess are buried deep inside a shitpile of cynicism and misanthropy.