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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

2016-03-24 10:04
 

What it's about:

Following the events of Man of Steel, Superman is hailed as a hero by most but three powerful individuals are less than convinced by the alien's motives. Senator Finch questions whether Superman's interests truly align with the country she has sworn to serve; genius billionaire Lex Luthor sees Superman as both a demonic force and something to be exploited for his own ends and Gotham City's longtime vigilante, Batman, sees him as an unstoppable force whose unchecked powers could lead to the destruction of the human race. When these three forces combine, Superman comes face to face with a force more deadly than even a despotic dictator from Krypton could ever hope to be.

What we thought:

Easily one the of year's most anticipated films, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is a hot mess of a film and an abject disappointment right from the off.

As a lifelong diehard fan of these characters and this world, I have a lot to say about this particular film but, to be absolutely clear from the beginning, Batman V Superman is a failure as both a representation of the two most iconic superheroes ever and as a piece of filmmaking that is meant to appeal to audiences far beyond its niche fan base.

But first, there are some good things to be had and it would be churlish not to mention them, even if they are engulfed by the sheer rubbishness of everything else. 

Aside for a far too cavalier attitude towards killing, Batman comes across quite well in this film. This older Batman is as hyper-competent as ever but he's far more battle-scarred and world-weary than most interpretations of the character outside of the Dark Knight Returns, but it's a particularly smart move to try and contrast this version of Batman against a relatively inexperienced Superman. Affleck is excellent in the role and he has wonderful chemistry with Jeremy Irons' particularly caustic Alfred. Even on a visual level, this is by far the best – and most comic-book-faithful – version of Batman we've had in any live-action iteration.     

Even better is Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman – but this is already indicative of all the problems with the film. With very little screen-time and next to no actual characterisation, Wonder Woman works specifically because we know so little about her and because Gal Gadot is so perfect in the role. She looks great, of course, but she delivers a perfect reading of a highly confident, heroic Amazonian warrior queen with effortless grace and glee. After Batman V Superman, I may have next to no real hopes for Snyder's Justice League films but Wonder Woman looks set to be something of a treat.

Sadly, aside for a few individual moments, that's about it for the good stuff. 

Before getting into the more fan-rage part of this review (and believe me, that's coming), a word or two about Batman V Superman as a piece of blockbuster filmmaking. There really is no way around it: Zack Snyder is, very simply, an utterly terrible director and David Goyer is becoming an increasingly worse writer – though it's especially disheartening that Goyer's co-writer, Chris Terrio, could follow up the excellent Argo with something this incompetent. The scattershot plot is horribly paced (and made all the more so by the peripheral way in which the future members of the Justice League are introduced), the dialogue is humourless, pompous and cheesy, the characterisation is jaw-droppingly bad (more on that in a bit) and the film seems to go on for far longer than its already ludicrously self-indulgent 152 minutes.

It also looks like crap because however much Snyder can set up cool-looking individual moments, the dull, dark, grey-blue colour palette that runs through the film is a ghastly fit for a superhero movie and looks even worse in 3D. The action scenes, meanwhile, are solidly choreographed but are over-edited to within an inch of their lives and have none of the physicality of Christopher Nolans best set pieces in his Dark Knight trilogy.  Even Hans Zimmer's score is completely incompetent with every scene of Batman being accompanied by this grinding, industrial noise that felt banal when Nolan used it but is used to extraordinarily grating effect over here.      

But none of this comes close to capturing why I hate this film as much as I do. It's a fairly bad film, yes, but it's an absolute abortion as a Superman story. Now, I'm not going to mince words here: I, without any irony or cynicism, just absolutely love and adore Superman. He's not as “cool” as most other heroes but that's only because he is so utterly timeless, so perfectly conceived, so much the superhero that mere “coolness” would undersell his greatness. 

Here is a modern myth as a paragon of virtue; an alien being who so utterly embodies all that is good about humanity that rather than being corrupted by his awesome power, instead uses it selflessly in the service of humanity. And that's not even touching his Mosaic origins or his clear parables to the immigrant experience in America. Or even his representation of the inner superman in even the meekest of us; our own secret identities that we hide from the world but make us who we are.

And if you think any of this is present in Batman V Superman, you clearly haven't been paying attention. That the film neglects all of the thematic richness at the heart of Superman is one thing – though somewhat surprising considering how much it hammers home the Christ imagery and telling-but-not-showing us how Superman is a symbol of hope – but Snyder and co do not get Superman on even the most basic of levels. Henry Cavill may look the part but his Superman is an icy, staggeringly dumb and ineffectual figure that is about as inspirational as a dead sloth. The world surrounding the Man of Steel ranges from good (Laurence Fishburne's Perry White) to awful (Jesse Eisenberg's woefully ill-conceived Lex Luthor) but without an even adequate Superman to centre it all, none of it adds up to anything at all.        

Honestly, until Warner Brothers abandons Snyder's pathetically inept vision of the cinematic DC Universe, you would do far better just to stick with their TV shows if you're looking for a live-action representation of these enduring characters. Supergirl, in particular, may be very flawed (though constantly improving) but it gets the Superman feel exactly right and in Melissa Benoist, it not only has the perfect Supergirl but quite possibly the greatest superhero casting since Christopher Reeve. Last week's Red Kryptonite episode, especially, did everything that Batman V Superman tries and to do, but did it a thousand times better, in less than one-third the time.

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