A few weeks ago there were rumors that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice made Warner Bros execs nervous. These rumors suggested the film would be divisive, and that the movie wasn’t getting the audience responses they wanted. An unnamed source said that if you liked Man of Steel, then you’d probably like Batman v Superman.
That source was right. I hated Man of Steel, and ditto Batman v Superman.
Dawn of Justice is such a joyless, noisy, disjointed, nonsensical, and overstuffed experience–a grim, gritty, and extreme 1990s Rob Liefeld comic come to life. There’s a difference between operatic and bombastic, and this is a movie that doesn’t really care to make a distinction. (Just listen to that score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL.) What’s more, Batman v Superman takes itself so seriously that it becomes unintentionally silly and doesn’t even realize it, as if every scene has a long trail of toilet paper stuck to its clunky shoes.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Director: Zack Snyder
Release Date: March 25, 2016
Zack Snyder and screenwriters David Goyer and Chris Terrio were given an impossible task with this film: make a sequel to a Superman movie that introduces Lex Luthor and also introduces Batman and that also introduces Wonder Woman and–you know what?–also sets up an entire Justice League movie and cinematic universe. So much to do in 2.5 hours, no wonder the film’s such a garish and unhappy mess. The film’s plot involves a kryptonite sample and experimental weapon technology. It’s pretty boring, to be honest, and long stretches in the middle of the film drag. The plot is just a pretext for two superheroes to punch each other really hard.
While this is supposedly a Superman sequel (made by people who seem to dislike Superman), Dawn of Justice is more of a Batman movie (made by people who seem to dislike Superman). The film’s opening credits even feature the umpteenth iteration of the Batman origin story, with Ben Affleck providing some overwrought narration that resembles the inner monologue of a moody 13-year-old boy. We then relive the destruction porn finale from Man of Steel from Bruce Wayne’s point of view, driving through the city as the fight between Superman and Zod leads to the deaths of tens of thousands.
Affleck’s Batman is brooding and grim, a paranoid psychotic who brands baddies with a bat symbol when he’s through with them. Criminals branded with the bat are usually beaten and murdered by their fellow inmates in prison. Gone is Batman’s loose “do not kill” rule, replaced with a grim, gritty, and perhaps even gleeful bloodlust. The Batman in Dawn of Justice is more like The Punisher (with a little Rorshach thrown in). Batman stabs a guy through the chest with a knife to pin him to a wall, he machine guns goons and blows them up. Batman is a straight-up killer in this movie, a widow-maker and orphan-machine. He’s not particularly heroic, or at least this is not the Batman I’d want to watch movies about or read about (of course, your mileage may vary).
Superman doesn’t fare much better in the heroism department, and Henry Cavill isn’t given much to do but scowl while dealing with his feet of clay. Superman’s trying to atone for the sins of Man of Steel (i.e., all that collateral damage), but every time he acts decisively he seems to do more harm. Superman might not always be around for everyone, and for some reason Clark Kent can’t even write a simple puff peice feature about football, but any time Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is in danger, he’s there in a flash. All that attention paid to his girlfriend, and yet obvious threats and dangers go by undetected. For all his high-minded moralizing, it’s no wonder people think that Superman in these films is a totally arrogant jerk.
Even though she’s just a supporting character, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is probably the only hero on screen that’s actually heroic. She doesn’t do much but stand around until the final battle of the film, but she’s proactive in the fight, and tough, and even gives a wry smile during a break in the action as if to say, “This is why I keep fighting.” It’s a nice Amazonian touch in a movie that’s otherwise so adolescent and boyish. Her brief interplay with Bruce Wayne seems like a Catwoman/Batman dynamic.
Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is a villainy villain, and he plays the great criminal mind as a neurotic twerp obsessed with power and willing to do anything to seize control. Yet he’s a grating presence, and some of his scenes play more like Eiseinberg’s doing a take on The Joker. The sociopath is there on the surface rather than under the surface, but this is a movie about noise and extremes, so the annoyingly superficial nature of his role, like it or not, fits with the superficial mood of Dawn of Justice.
Most of the action takes place at night and resembles an ugly gray murk. Snyder keeps his camera too close to the action too much of the time, obscuring each movement into an indistinct blur. It probably plays better on a small screen, but on a big screen, it’s a garbled mess. There’s an exception in a kooky dream sequence mid-film that takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. During an extended take, we watch Batman, this hulking yet efficient mass of swollen delts and traps, kill people left and right using handguns and machine guns and whatever’s handy. Na-na-na-na-na-na-na, Deathman!
But the reason people are going to Batman v Superman is for the big showdown between our heroes. The set up is built around a contrived ticking-clock scenario, and without saying too much, Superman has an easy out of actually fighting Batman if he just took a few seconds to explain the situation. Yet Superman, like Batman, is kind of a big dumb meathead, so they fight for a couple minutes, leading to a resolution so goofy I had to suppress a giggling fit when it happened.
And that’s the thing about Dawn of Justice: even though it winds up taking major risks with the stories it sets up, it’s ultimately silly. This is the Batman fighting Superman fan-fiction that every angsty fanboy wrote after they finished reading Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. It never aims much higher than that, and even still, it falls on its face.
This might be the most expensive movie ever made, and it’s crummy fan-fiction. Warner Bros is right to be worried.