5.5 out of 10
Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne / Batman
Directed by Zack Snyder
Batman v Superman Review:
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is full. Each of its two hours and thirty-odd minutes is stuffed with story, spectacle, and special effects. It’s loud, brash, and every scene is punctuated by exclamation points. Unfortunately, it’s the old Macbeth speech come round again – just because you’re shouting your message from the rooftops, doesn’t mean you have anything to say. And while there are several huge moments in BVS, their context is all wrong. It’s the equivalent of putting two bugs in a jar and shaking it to see if they fight.
And fight Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill) do. Without revealing who wins the titular battle, the centerpiece is their free-for-all brawl, and from that point on in the film, the spectacle is entertaining. But we haven’t earned those moments, because the getting-there is so tedious and awkward. BVS could have easily shed about half an hour and it wouldn’t have made any difference to the story. Most of that shedding, unfortunately, would have surrounded Superman, because the conflicts that arose in Man of Steel take too much center stage here. Man of Steel is a good movie. And at the end of it, Man of Steel brought the character of Superman to a place that felt earned, and a true beginning. This was a Superman who could assume the burden of being Superman. But at the start of BVS, all those issues and struggles that Kal-El seemingly overcame in Man of Steel come back in a fury. It’s tedious and unnecessary.
Batman, on the other hand, has no conflicts of the soul. Bruce Wayne runs into the fray without hesitation, and this iteration of Batman may be one of the best yet. I would happily see a Ben Affleck stand-alone Batman movie, and most of the audience would agree. We’ve seen this Batman before – zillionaire playboy by day (and it’s interesting that this Bruce Wayne carouses and drinks without reservation, and not just to keep up an image – Wayne deals with his demons the way most people would) and Caped Crusader by night. Alfred (Jeremy Irons) is no less impressive, and Affleck and Irons have that elusive chemistry that makes the audience want more. When we first meet Bruce, he is in Metropolis when the final battle of Man of Steel takes place. This sequence, by the way, is the best action of the movie; while in Man of Steel we had a god’s eye view of the proceedings, this time around we’re on the ground level with everyone else, and Zack Snyder shoots the action with an intensity and a terrifying precision. Watching the buildings come down evokes a primal fear that is difficult to shake – in Man of Steel we are detached from the disaster, but here it is everpresent, and the results are horrifying. We need no further motivation from Bruce Wayne, as he sees his corporate building collapse, and the deaths of thousands of people. As he looks up at the sky to Superman, in rage, it was not difficult to believe that this would be a man who would stop at nothing to defeat Superman, and righteously so.
Except, then the movie keeps going. And going. The audience is given tons of exposition with little momentum, and the world-building at work here becomes boring. Chris Terrio and Snyder are setting up building blocks that frankly don’t need to be set up. We have the conflict, and the whys and hows could easily be explained without so much time dragging. But then we also must endure Jesse Eisenberg’s performance of Lex Luthor, which has to be one of the worst villain performances in a film like this. Every moment he is on screen the film stops cold as Eisenberg titters and stammers away in his customary, Mark Zuckerberg-like fashion. It’s also comepletely wrong for the character – Lex Luthor in the comics is as sure of himself and his righteousness as any superhero – in fact, Luthor considers himself the true hero, and not this alien upstart who shakes the status quo. Instead, this Lex Luthor prattles away about the goodness of men in a world of gods, and BVS never successfully gives us any kind of motivation for Luthor hating Superman except that the plot demands it. Batman’s fury is righteous. Luthor’s is just silly and whoever had the idea of basically transporting Eisenberg’s performance in The Social Network to a comic book movie severely miscalculated. I’m no fan of the Razzies, but for this performance, I might make an exception.
I enjoyed Amy Adams as Lois a lot – always getting herself into trouble, and willingly going into harm’s way to help a friend or get her story. Lois is no victim, and Adams’ work is strong. Sadly, the victim role gets played by Diane Lane’s Martha Kent this time, and she’s used very badly. Much of the supporting cast does good work, but they’re given long streams of exposition and clunky dialogue. Terrio and Snyder don’t write for human beings, and the biggest problem of BVS is that we cannot relate to any of it. Although these are iconic characters, they are written so stuffily, and with so little humor, that we are only rarely invited in. Especially with Superman, and while Henry Cavill’s work in Man of Steel is quite good, here he’s simply outmatched in interest by Bruce Wayne. We’ve seen Kal-El’s conflicts before, and we are supposed to be in a different place now. Sadly, this Superman goes right back to the drawing board. And for those upset about Superman killing Zod in the first film? Let’s just say that BVS will probably make you want to tear your hair out. This Superman (and Batman too!) have no compunctions about killing, so if that is a sticking point, you’re just going to have to get over it. Fortunately, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is every bit the hero we want to see, and I’m very excited to see that character in her own films down the road. She’s terrific.
Batman v Superman wants to be many things. It wants to re-introduce Batman in a compelling way, and on that it largely succeeds. It wants to pull from the vast history of DC comics – the works of Frank Miller, John Byrne, Grant Morrison, Dan Jurgens, and others – and some aspects of those influences work, and some do not. (I think I’ve seen the breaking of Martha Wayne’s pearls for the 457th time at this point.) It wants to create the DCEU on film for later movies, and in that aspect BVS takes far too much time and pacing away from the story. It is entirely possible that subsequent films will find their rhythm and be artistically successful (I’m under no illusions that BVS will make a ton of money regardless of reviews). But Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice meanders, and at times is utterly incoherent plotwise. Characters do silly things with little motivation. The end battle is huge in scale and totally devoid of heart. There is a good movie inside of Batman v Superman, which makes it all the more frustrating that the stuff the movie gets wrong, it gets really wrong. Batman v Superman is cacophonic, rumbling, self-important, but only fitfully entertaining. Warner Brothers should take a long, hard look at the direction they want to go with these movies, because spectacle without joy to it is simply overwhelming. I’ll happily see Ben Affleck take on Batman again. Same for Gal Gadot for Wonder Woman. The rest? Not so much.