“The world only makes sense if you force it to.”
More often than not, film criticism is quick-witted and reactionary writing, like that swelling and bloating feeling after a big meal. That’s a fair comparison, and is usually what you read in regard to a review. The response is immediate. So I made sure to avoid intentionally taking the iconoclastic route. To not head straight for my laptop and start cranking out the words. And after some gestation, reflection, and back and forth inner reasoning, I came to the conclusion that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice might be one of the most visually stimulating superhero movies I have seen to date. And that it is also the lump sum of the dwindling genre’s degrading parts. The powers of the daunting figures make for an intensely grim, joyless, scattered film that’s been combined into three separate motion pictures, all haplessly edited into one slogging battle of the bulge.
To begin, director Zack Snyder chooses to continue from the waining moments of his previous film Man of Steel through Bruce Wayne’s (Ben Affleck) point of view. He sees the destruction, can’t help but run towards the chaos, witnesses Wayne Financial and its employees crumble in the wake of Superman’s (Henry Cavill) tilt with General Zod (Michael Shannon). There’s a glare to Bruce’s eye; a look usually reserved for petty criminals and thieves through the mask of his hooded headgear. The Bat wants to expel the alien because of his power. The immortal, as the bespectacled Clark Kent, wants to expose the vigilante for who he really is. And neither man ever has an outright motive that is wholly their own. Each is driven to prove honor to their father and the surnames they’ve been given. Both cherish the guidance and assurance of their respective maternal figures. But there’s no outright reasoning for their actions. They’re the bricks to this franchise, and Snyder builds them with the strength of Elmer’s glue.
Kent acts on impulse, usually selfishly, choosing to save those he loves while sacrificing the faceless. Wayne seems driven by his appropriated fear for power rather than protecting the residents of Gotham and Metropolis (which is, apparently, only a stone’s throw away…the geographics of it all could not matter less to Snyder). That’s the Achilles Heel of Batman v Superman. No world is created or maintained, let alone pruned. We get a flashback opening, then an 18 month fast forward. Then shipped off to the Indian Ocean, swept away to the deserts of Africa, reintroduced to Superman’s home city. Movies this big seem to find justification in going global when, in fact, there is so much to see and discover in the immediate and intimate surroundings. It takes away structure and value, all while displacing the rest of the supporting cast. They might as well be refugees in crisis. Wanting to be heard, rescued, in search of salvation. But they’re left on the outside desperately looking in.
The supporting characters are flat-out overwhelming. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is wasted pursuing a pointless goose chase. Daily Planet leader Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) plays joking jester to the serious court. Actor Scoot McNairy bridges the gap between Bat and God. And then there’s Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. Eisenberg feels terribly off in a role that mimics the Joker while failing to distinguish itself in the canon of big movie bad guys. He’s there, without motive or purpose or an answer to his devious scheming. The picture is easy to look at even though the insoluble material never quite goes down right. However, at a staggering 2 and a half plus hours, Snyder’s movie lacks the fiber or the substance to not run right through you. And his obsession to make amends for Man of Steele’s biggest complaints, reminding us that the fights put no civilians in harm’s way, is as apologetic as it is unforgiving. I think it says a lot about how forgettable a film this is when the sparingly used Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) gets the most applause of the night (and for good, rightful reason). Look out for Gadot in her future leading lady effort; she’s perfect for the role.
20 minutes before my showtime, a woman directly behind me began to choke on popcorn. I was turning up the aisle to deliver the Heimlich before another moviegoer – appropriately donning a Superman tee – stepped in to deliver the blow. With her young son beside her, it was a terrifying, bizarre experience. And one that, for better and for worse, mimicked the overall effect of the movie some three hours later. Perhaps it would have been more successful strictly from Batman’s POV, and would have benefited from cutting Snyder’s hedonistic dream sequences that harp on stylistic action while taking the story way off course. We didn’t need a Justice League intro. Or a CGI monster. And definitely not the fractured script/score. What my audience deserved – intensely applauding following a rescue and tentatively clapping during the credits – was a movie as impassioned with the same love for these characters that they hold so dear. Batman v Superman becomes a tough DC pill to swallow. A jawbreaker that looks like candy but, beneath the layers, unwraps itself as a franchise cavity in desperation of needing filled before being pulled.
“Ignorance is not the same as innocence.”
Rating: 1 out of 5