"The greatest gladiator match in the history of the world."
It is hard to think of a film that is more hotly anticipated than ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’. Apart from ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ that was released just a few months ago, or ‘Captain America: Civil War’ that will be released just a few months from now. What I am trying to say is that we are not just dealing with regular blockbusters anymore, these super-hyped, franchise juggernauts are in no short supply so it’s up to the likes of Zack Snyder to make one that can stand above the rest and go head to head with J.J Abrams and the Russo Brothers.
Following the devastatingly destructive battle of Metropolis, Superman (Henry Cavill) finds himself under scrutiny from both the public and the government, as well as billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck). Wayne is secretly the vigilante known as Batman who views Superman as an alien threat that must be dealt with. When young entrepreneur Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) becomes involved the two heroes are set on a collision course.
The main problem with ‘Batman v Superman’ is that it is actually six movies attempting to be one. It is indeed a film about the conflict between Superman and Batman, but it’s also trying to be a sequel to ‘Man of Steel’ that deals with the repercussions of that instalment as well as being a solo Batman movie while also trying to act as a Justice League origin story and a Lex Luthor origin story at the same time, as well as supplying you with an introduction to Wonder Woman. You would think that so many subplots would be far too many for one film to contain and the whole project would collapse into an incomprehensible mess. Well you would be right.
While there are many impressive and interesting set pieces within this film, there is no substance or depth to any of them. What Zack Snyder has done, as he has always done, is create a movie to define the term ‘style over substance’. There is nothing to tie these various elements together, overall its storytelling is not only incoherent it’s simply poorly executed. The film starts with Wayne witnessing the collateral damage from the end of ‘Man of Steel’ and that sequence is thrilling, fascinating and spectacular.
The two hours that follow however, are not. The plot jumps about almost irrationally as it attempts to establish every scenario and even if it does latch on to something that is worth devoting a film to it moves away before it can be explored, preferring to set up more further films than craft a solid one in the first place. Then just to add to the confusion it throws in various dream sequences and visions and future spectres which when you’re also trying to juggle a hundred other different elements does not make for a cohesive story. It ends up becoming far more complicated than it needs to be, don’t think of me as someone that isn’t adverse to some complex storytelling, but knitting together the fragments of a dozen other stories is not how you create a compelling movie.
To make this specific film compelling all one would have to do is establish a real reason for Batman and Superman to square off, but they really do that. Without delving into spoilers I can say that while they establish a difference of ideologies it’s never thoroughly explored and ultimately abandoned as the actual motive for their fight is far from satisfying. But the same can be said for the final act, remember that mass destruction from the end of ‘Man of Steel’? Well there’s even more of that here, its massive spectacle that we don’t care about because you haven’t earned any established character or story. While it’s visually impressive there is no motivation or emotion behind it.
DC could not have made it look more like they trying to play catch up with Marvel if they had tried to. They are so intent upon setting up their own world that ultimately the hints and Easter eggs towards future characters are just so blatantly obvious that they took me out of the film. They are so utterly lazy in how they shoehorn in each reference and hint that I found it beyond frustrating. Their attempts to create an immersive universe are ultimately what made this universe much less immersive. Certain plot details are also horrifically annoying, again I won’t spoil anything but once you’ve seen the movie hopefully you will understand what I mean when I say that DC really blew their load on this.
I never thought I would say this, but the best thing about this film is Ben Affleck’s Batman. Okay now I have to spoil one thing, this version of Batman kills people and I’m conflicted about it. Although it makes sense for the character’s attitude and where he is in his career as Batman, I would have been far more accepting of it if it had they explored it more, addressed why exactly he feels this is necessary, why has he given away that last shred of morality that was for so many years the defining characteristic of Batman? We don’t know and that simply isn’t good enough Mr Snyder. But for what it’s worth Affleck is still mightily impressive as Batman, one of the best big screen versions so far.
Henry Cavill on the other hand has virtually nothing to do. There are some hints of Superman’s inner turmoil but yet again they are never thoroughly explored. The same can be said for Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, she’s good in the role but she never has enough time to really cement her position in the franchise. It seems as if the film was looking for excuses to include the likes of Amy Adams and Jeremy Irons, who pop up every now and then to remind us they are actually in the movie. But none of this compares to Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. Oh dear. Well if you looked at those trailers and went “wow, he looks great” then good news, if not then you’re screwed. He may be the single most annoying screen villain in recent memory. He’s not threatening or menacing he’s just irritating. On top of that his character is just so poorly written and the motivation behind his actions is so thin that he’s basically the villain because the movie needed a villain, and that was the best they could do.
I also have to condemn the marketing of this film, particularly that second trailer, because it really did give away everything. Every story beat, character relation and overall framework of the movie is ruined right there. Even the piece of garbage that the filmmakers say is supposed to be Doomsday, I hope you liked how he looked in that trailer because that is in fact the final design.
Also (yeah I’m not finished yet) let’s talk about Snyder. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m one of few people that has never liked his style of directing or his method of filmmaking. ‘Batman v Superman’ is no exception. For starters the editing is just so sloppy and all over the place that it only serves to make the film even more incomprehensible. As well as that he has created a film that has absolutely no depth whatsoever, it’s all spectacle with no deeper meaning to it.
‘Batman v Superman’ is more focussed on where it’s going rather than on what it’s doing. Yet again Snyder defines the ideology of style over substance.