Comic book films have graduated from being “fanboy shout-out” machines to being full fleshed pieces of good to outstanding filmmaking. Yet, look at the best two examples: The Dark Knight and Marvel’s The Avengers. They are both complete opposites of each other. One is a gritty parable using the Batman license to give a poignant, albeit obscured, message on the duality of law and crime. The other is more akin to Indiana Jones meets Seven Samurai: a diverse cast of characters using their charm, wit and personality to coincide with excellent action, suspense and thrills. It’s the ultimate popcorn movie.
And while the Marvel Cinematic Universe is trucking along nicely with diverse movies that scratch different types of itches and somehow remains profitable, we have the DC Comics Universe. In fairness, the “Universe” has two movies: Man of Steel, which was a decent rethink of the Superman mythos even if it has to completely throw out some of those tried and true staples.
The other is Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, a title that so bloated it could have filled three movies.
After watching the movie three days ago, there is one thing that is clear about the film: it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it continuing the retooling of Superman that Man of Steel started? It is, sort of, but not really.
Is it introducing us to a new vision of Batman: a gruffer, meaner, older Bruce Wayne who’s shelled himself in so tight to his cape and cowl that Bruce may not as well exist? Yes and no.
Is it a trojan horse for the eventual Justice League movie? Of course, but they created a 3 minute, throwaway sequence in the middle of the film and introduced Wonder Woman at the end of the film. So, yeah.
Before we get into whether Affleck is good as Batman, Cavill is good as Superman, Gadot is good as Diana/Wonder Woman, should Zack Snyder really be directing this, one big stone has to be pushed off the mountain whilst it slides itself back to the bottom.
And it’s this question: What was it supposed to be? A set-up for Justice League? A movie to get to know Batman? To further Superman’s development? Because for any of these questions, the movie doesn’t answer them well.
In fact, since Iron Man and the like have been released, this is the first comic book movie that feels like a “fanboy shout-out” flick that have now since been derided. Films filled with clever quips and visual flourishes that only the fans will get and see, the rest of the movie going audience be damned.
Throughout, the feeling of “I thought this pandering was over, already” kept going through my head.
And before you ask, yes, I’ve been a comic book fan for nearly all of my life. I preferred Marvel, but DC has had it’s strong characters too. For proof of that, look at the excellent TV series of “Arrow,” “Flash,” “Legends of Tomorrow,” and “Supergirl”. All stay faithful to the characters while giving them personality and ways to attach yourself to them.
In BvS: Dawn of Justice, the characters are in clear stasis. Superman still has the same problems he did in the first movie, while battling the fact that he’s looked upon as a God and it causes some problems. But after one scene in the film, his story shuts down.
Batman has no deeper dynamics than that has been seen before, especially when compared to Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. In fact, it’s a checklist. Parents died, sees a bat, becomes a recluse, fights crime as a vigilante. That’s it, I just told you the entirety of his story arc (sorry about the spoilers).
Diana, otherwise known as Wonder Woman, is played like a mysterious woman who dazzles in every scene she’s in, before finally revealing who she truly is in the end of the film. This is probably one of the more satisfying, and yet more disappointing parts of the movie. Literally, the greatest female superhero of all time, introduced as a flirtation cameo, though somewhat redeemed by her eventual WW reveal.
And how the plot moves forward is suspect at best. Let’s just put it this way, the movie comes up with some of the worst reasons to get a plot to move forward. Or for an arc to finally turn.
When it comes to story, BvS is that one guy in high school who had tons of potential and personality, but ends up being an Assistant Manager at Wal-Mart when you see him at the reunion. It’s not bad, but there could have been so much more.
And this story and screenplay hampers the performances of the characters as well.
It just wouldn’t be fair to criticize the performances of the actors involved in the film since they were given such a lackluster piece of script to work with.
I’ll still do it, but it should be pointed out.
Henry Cavill has the most to work with since his character his pulled in many directions throughout the film. It was interesting to see him go dark, then light, then dark, then light again. Yet, the performance didn’t seem entirely authentic and genuine. It just seemed like he fit the emotion that was right for that spot and that’s it. Call it a sadly serviceable performance.
Ben Affleck’s performance can be summed up in one word: brooding. Apparently, Zack Snyder called for brooding and intensity for Affleck and he got it, to a faulty extreme. This may have more to do with the lack of actual Bruce Wayne scenes in the film (the few scenes as Bruce reminded me of his old romantic comedy days), but angry and hostile is essentially all you get in his performance. It’s good, but it’s limited.
The other performances were there: Amy Adams as Lois Lane was good because it’s Amy Adams. Jeremy Irons as Alfred was good because it’s Jeremy Irons. Laurence Fishburne does a great impression of a newspaper editor in the 50’s and 60’s, though it’s set in present day.
The one puzzling, confounding performance in the film was Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. Really, where to begin with this. There seems to have been a fine line where Eisenberg was given a script to read from, then was told that you can ad lib, and suddenly turns into the corporate Joker for no apparent reason. Other than the fact that it helps the plot of course.
Luthor as a side character would have been an interesting choice. As the eventual main villain who spouts out mindless dribble in the middle of dialogue, meaning to show “eccentricity” just shows him to be “comic book lunacy”. The monologues for him in this movie are cringe inducing as well. Especially the final one.
The one positive performance that can be given for this film is Gal Gadot. She plays the mysterious, electric femme fatale very well, but when she dons the Wonder Woman costume, she’s absolutely perfect. If there is one thing that this movie did so right, it’s get this woman as Wonder Woman, which has me curiously excited for the feature film.
But let’s get to what is the main problem with the film: Zack Snyder. Just a question really:
Can Zack Snyder make a film where obvious CG doesn’t cornerstone key sequences in the film? Can he do that, please?
It’s more than abundantly clear that Snyder’s out for visual flourish, not substantive storylines: that’s fine.
But when a car chase sequence, a good one at that, is bombarded with over-the-top and obvious computer generated imagery, it takes the punch out of the damn scene.
It’s understandable with Superman’s sequences, to a point. But great action films, including the one’s mentioned at the beginning of the review, use CG sparingly and try to make effects practically wherever possible.
Snyder has no feel for pacing, character arcs, foreshadowing and dissonance of tension. Nor does he really know what he’s doing with mood, shot composition or anything involving framing a scene.
The movie has close-ups, one-twos, overly dark motifs (for no reason, because this movie isn’t dark in the slightest) and the scantest feeling of emotional resonance that is whisked away by an overly stylistic, completely heartless way of framing this film.
When characters lack character because you don’t know how to shoot them, or they clash with their personality because you wanted to make a cool montage or dolly shot, you have a director who would rather ejaculate his presence on a camera than give an auteur’s vision of how a character should be handled.
Quite frankly, since 300, he hasn’t made a good movie since. And 300 was a simplistic movie in terms of character arcs and development.
So, what do we have with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice? We have an entertaining throwback of what comic book movies used to be in the late 90’s, early 2000’s when comic book fans had to be okay with “OHH, he mentioned Deathstroke!”. This is coupled with distracting CGI and a lackluster script and direction.
It’s funny, as much as Batman v. Superman is a step back in pivotal ways, there’s a sliver of hope that Wonder Woman or Ben Affleck’s directed Batman will be better than this. There is potential in this Universe, after all.
But the only time to sit to see potential is if its your family member playing a sport for 3 hours. Not the hope that we might get some semblance of a good film universe.