Film Review | Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

This bloated mess is little more than an exercise in franchise building... hardly a surprise, but Zack Snyder's follow-up to Man of Steel is even messier than expected

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
4 April 2016, 7:30am
Super friends: Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck are Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman in DC Comics’s latest franchise-building block of a film
Super friends: Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck are Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman in DC Comics’s latest franchise-building block of a film
 

The fight of the century, they called it. Or rather, it’s what Jesse Eisenberg’s woefully miscast Lex Luthor calls it. I guess he hoped that his overacted enthusiasm would end up being infectious. That Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice would live up to its meaty heavyweight battle of a title, and deliver a bloated carbohydrate attack of adolescent entertainment that jolts us all back to the time we were young, dumb, and excited-to-bursting at the prospect of two of the world’s most coveted fictional evil-bashers duking it out against each other.

And it may very well be that director Zack Snyder – veteran of DC Comics adaptations, with Watchmen and Man of Steel under his utility belt – came into this project with the full intentions of transmitting the sense of childish glee and abandon he feels towards these characters. That, however, is not the problem. The problem here is that what we end up witnessing is not a nostalgic escapade into superpowered fantasy land – something that would be regressive, yes (bear in mind that comic book superheroes are marketed largely to arrested-development adolescents, not kids), but ultimately excusable as a piece of entertaining fluff.

No, what we end up witnessing as we wait for the ‘fight of the century’ to assail our eyes in its full 3D glory, is that nostalgic reverie colliding violently with the exigencies of the contemporary Hollywood blockbuster. Following up on Zack Snyder’s baffling, critically maligned Man of Steel (2013), the ‘fight of the century’ is being used as a prop to further DC Comics’s plan to catch up with their rivals – Marvel – in creating a cinematic ‘shared universe’ that matches their comic book counterpart.

The problem is that DC are a bit behind the curve, with Marvel already gearing up to their third big team-up movie with this season’s Captain America: Civil War.

It’s no surprise, then, that the ‘fight of the century’ undoes itself before it even begins, since it’s forced to play placeholder for future franchise-building.

After the cataclysmic events of Man of Steel, during which an extended Kryptonian family scuffle led to substantial loss of life and property damage at Clark Kent/Superman’s (Henry Cavill) new home of Metropolis, the blue-and-red alien has become something of a polarizing figure in his city, a situation capitalized upon with glee by The Daily Planet’s editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) who unbeknownst to him counts Superman himself among his staff, as well as his new girlfriend Lois Lane (Amy Adams). But a snarky editorial piece every now and then is the last thing Kent needs to worry about right now.

Because Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) – a multimillionaire from neighbouring city Gotham who moonlights as crime-fighting vigilante Batman – is also turning his guns on Superman after members of his staff were also decimated during the events of Man of Steel. It’s around this time that things start going out of whack… because the aforementioned Lex Luthor also steps in to pontificate against Superman and hatch some kind of high-powered plan against him, and Holly Hunter’s Senator June Finch is after finding a ‘democratic’ solution to all this, and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is also slinking around playing Bond Girl/Selina Kyle, and there are strange foreshadowing dreams involving dystopian deserts…

"Tell me, do you bleed?" The fight of the century turns out to be something of a dud
The film has of course more than made its money back on strength of brand recognition alone, but its critical standing is brittle at best, with many bemoaning Zack Snyder’s juvenile visual aesthetic and reliance on macho storytelling, seasoned by the ‘grimdark’ approach made popular by Christopher Nolan during his take on the Batman mythos.

But perhaps it’s screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer – the latter in particular something of an unrepentant hack in the field of comic book adaptations – who are more to blame for this unwieldy mess. Taken in isolation, the action sequences are fine as they are – if a bit on the ‘safe’ side of CGI-rich and predictably choreographed superhero melees – but all the fun is dampened by shoehorned gloom and plot points that will only come to full fruition in future installments.

Really, it’s difficult to pinpoint the worst sin of all, here. Is it the fact that Lex Luthor has no real discernible motive, save for the fact that he’s just a bit crazy and that all will be revealed in a future film (if it’s the latter, then that’s no excuse at all). Or is it how the female characters are only ever used as bait? Save for Gadot’s Diana/Wonder Woman… whose apparent main concern is tracking down an old photo? Or is it that the supplementary superheroes we can expect to see in future films from the DC stable are teased at… via computer screens?

Whatever the case, this is an overlong missed opportunity. There is far too much of Snyder’s fetishisms getting in the way – exacerbated or not by Terrio and Goyer – and corporate concerns to allow us to simply sit back and enjoy this.

It may not be the ‘fight’ of the century, but in the way it merely uses a story as padding for more stories, it’s certainly representative of our current cultural climate. 

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...