There is something to be said for simplicity, especially when it comes to comic book adaptations.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has got to be the most plot-driven superhero film I’ve ever seen, and by that I mean, it is weighted down so heavily in plot and too-clever-for-its-own-good ideas, that each scene just becomes less and less important, and increasingly more nonsensical. This becomes ever more apparent as the film goes on, and eventually, you get the feeling that writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer became so concerned with trying to explain each plot beat in the film, until they just stopped caring, in the hopes that the film’s lengthy CGI action sequences would be enough for you to forgive them for their laziness.
Unfortunately for them, the idea of seeing Batman and Superman onscreen together is not enough anymore. In a world before the Marvel Cinematic Universe or even Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, it might have been. Unfortunately for the Dawn of Justice filmmakers, we are living in a world where we can expect more from our comic book adaptations, where we should expect more. So when Batman eventually teams up with Superman at the end of the film, it’s not for any logical reason or to pay off any storyline, it’s because this is the moment in the story where the two heroes are supposed to team up, and therefore they will, and we’re better off just leaving it all alone and not questioning it. Otherwise you might end up like me, with both middle fingers raised at the movie theatre screen during the end credits.
Aside from all of the obvious passion that will be behind everyones’ reactions to this highly-anticipated film though, Dawn of Justice is an inherently bad movie all the way around, with a structure that feels just as discombobulated as you’ll probably begin to feel when you start to try and figure out each characters’ actual motivations during a specific scene. Beyond all of that though, including the paper thin character work (we’ll get to that later) and the rushed plot developments, this has got to be the most horribly edited superhero film I have ever seen.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a spoiler-free example of a certain sequence of scenes in the film:
The first is the scene we saw from the trailers, in which Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne lives through the awful 9/11-esque day at the end of Man of Steel, during the battle between Superman and General Zod, which left the city of Metropolis shot at both knee caps, struggling to remain standing up. You might think that the next logical scene to follow would be of Batman right? Wrong. Instead a crazy time jump takes place, and you watch a group of fishermen somewhere in the Indian Ocean, and then you cut to Lois Lane interviewing a group of terrorists in the middle of a desert village. These tonal shifts and pacing oddities continue on for the rest of the film as well, until it devolves into a CGI slugfest that will make Man of Steel haters likely want to tear their eyes out. This coming from someone who to this day enjoys the 2013 Superman reboot.
One of the few shining lights in the film is Ben Affleck’s Batman though, who very much has the possibility to become the best onscreen Batman we may have ever seen. Balancing the Bruce Wayne and Dark Knight personas beautifully onscreen, his character is the only one who seems to have much dimension at all, and manages to bring some subtlety to what is from the beginning a heavy-handed film. His relationship with Jeremy Irons’ Alfred Pennyworth is a joy to see, and if there’s one positive thing that I left Batman v Superman thinking, it’s that I cannot wait to see what Affleck’s solo Batman film will be like, even if it’s just two hours of him and Alfred talking to each other through microphones, which a number of their scenes here are designated to.
It’s even more heartbreaking when you can see the clear amount of passion and effort that Affleck brings to every scene he’s in, and out of all of the problems in the film, he’s not one of them. Unfortunately as well, it will make you cringe when he begins to struggle to keep his Batman alive during the film’s troublesome third act, in which all of the characters take strange, thin and plot-required turns. If I were Warner Bros., I would be doing everything in my power to make sure both he and Irons are coming back to reprise their roles in the future films because they manage to bring a legitimately fun, realistic relationship to the film, even when they’re surrounded by wooden and artificial ones.
Other than that, no other character in the film really excels all that highly. Gal Gadot impresses as Wonder Woman, although she’s not really given much to do for a majority of its run time other than act like a femme fatale to Affleck’s Bruce Wayne (which is legitimately surprising and fun to watch), and then being a screaming, kick ass female heroine in the film’s climactic Doomsday battle. I have a feeling her standalone film next year will be a notable improvement for the character though, under the supervision of a much steadier-handed director like Patty Jenkins, rather than Snyder here.
For all of you that were worried about Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor as well, I don’t think it will come as much of a surprise to say that your concerns were well-founded. What could be a well-written villain, even though he’s the most psychotic version of the iconic comic book character that we’ve seen, is wasted as Eisenberg seems to literally skip across the screen giving monologues that, much like a number of the film’s scenes, don’t really amount to all that much other than just trying to sound and look cool. Eisenberg fills his expressions here with constant twitches, and his voice breaks through practically every sentence like a teenager transitioning into puberty for the first time. Teased as the puppet master of the film, his motivations are never really explained and he seems like the film’s ex machina way for the plot to move forward. Much like the rest of the film, his Lex is all show and no muscle, and his reasons for making the film’s titular battle happen in the first place will leave you confused, or worse yet, annoyed.
But where the film’s biggest misstep lies, is in its treatment and care for Henry Cavill’s Superman, or should I say, the lack thereof. Condemned from the beginning for only caring about himself, causing more destruction than he prevents, and needed regulation, this Clark Kent never defends himself, and you get the feeling that he doesn’t think he needs to either. It’s clear that Snyder and co. felt the need to show both sides of Batman and Superman’s war, but if the only one defending his stance is Batman, and he’s also the only one that seems concerned with finding answers and helping people on a consistent basis, then you fail Superman as a character. There is no fight for truth, justice, or the American way here. There is only quiet and brooding selfishness that leads to me believing Zack Snyder made this movie just because he really wanted to see Batman beat up the Man of Steel. I fear we won’t get to see Cavill truly shine as the character, who clearly has the potential to be great, until he is released from the director’s vice-like, misunderstood grip.
Which brings me to the biggest, fundamental problem of the film though, and that’s Zack Snyder’s direction, who despite having a long career in the entertainment industry at this point, shows about the same level of storytelling ability as a pre-schooler trying to write an essay about astrophysics. The story of the film does not work, and despite the script’s clear flaws, it’s never even given the chance to defend itself because Snyder’s editing and use of storytelling is so flawed and jumbled that all this ever amounts to is 2 hours of separate scenes that only seem connected by the people in them.
The entire movie looks gorgeous and the ideas here are intriguing, but with poor execution and an overbearing score from Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL (who like the rest of the film’s cast members are completely wasted) the film ends up feeling just as thin and shallow as its characters. Where it strives for deep and poetic meaning, Batman v Superman instead finds itself with nothing more than half-finished sentences, and cool, hollow one-liners. Worse yet, you get the feeling that not only did Snyder and co. ignore the warnings of the fans, but that they didn’t feel the need to either because in case we weren’t aware, they’re the ones making the movies, so therefore, they know better than us.
There’s no excuse for the many mistakes stuffed into the film’s two and a half hour run time (which manages to both feel too long and not long enough), and would you believe me if I said the film’s action sequences aren’t even all that well done? The Batman and Superman fight lacks the buildup or reasoning behind The Dark Knight Returns battle it is so clearly stealing from, and the Doomsday battle feels more like a really expensive light show than anything else, with poor editing and pacing, and even poorer character work. The villain’s creation is shoehorned into the film in the exact way the filmmakers had promised us he wouldn’t be, and Dawn of Justice manages to make an already uninteresting villain, feel even blander by creating him from poor CGI effects and leaving him to do nothing but cause destruction in his wake. Where his role in the Death of Superman might have felt impactful at the time, he feels the opposite here.
This movie baffled me. I truly have no idea where exactly it all went wrong, though I feel like given all of the fundamental problems in its story and script, it was very early on in the three year filmmaking process. This is exactly everything I had feared it would be, and I feel like someone who had just spent the past three years giving ignored warnings to a very good friend of mine about their health. Like usual too, this comes with a very bittersweet “I told you so.” Because you see, there is something to be said for ambition, but when the ambition becomes cockiness, and a comic book adaptation is created by those who inherently misunderstand their lead characters, then you get nothing more than a self-confident disaster. You get Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will hit theatres on March 25th.
Make sure to keep checking back for more updates — right here on GeekNation.
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