I usually discuss my thoughts on superhero films because it’s in the centre of the Venn diagram of this blog, namely comic books and movies, and especially when I go to the cinema to see them. However, my reaction to seeing Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice was along the lines of, ‘Oh dear’, which doesn’t make for a fascinating or interesting insight. Several weeks after seeing it, I felt compelled to get the thoughts out of my head so I no longer had it ruminating in there.
I can’t tell what was more annoying while watching the film: the lack of thought put into the story, or the two kids behind me constantly talking through the action of the last third after their bored silence of the first two-thirds. At least they weren’t traumatised like the younger children sitting further down the aisle from me, asking their mum in tremulous voices about what was happening on screen …
The problem for the film is that the only creative motivation behind it is that Zack Snyder loved the fight between Batman and Superman in the Frank Miller comic book, The Dark Knight Returns, and wanted to make a movie about it; however, he doesn’t seem to understand that the fight in the comic book was earned by the previous issues and the characterisation given to the protagonists – the film comes across as a dreary and unengaging build-up that doesn’t have any of the weight required to justify it. The entire film is constructed to set up this conflict, but it’s not believable and, anyway, Snyder doesn’t care – he got to film the fight, and that’s all that matters to him.
The film fails because it doesn’t serve any of reasons for making it – it doesn’t provide an entertaining film in its own right, it doesn’t serve as a sequel to Man of Steel because Superman is not the protagonist of the story, and it doesn’t serve as an exciting launching point for the raft of Warner Bros. films based on DC Comics characters. It exists as an exercise in putting two of the most famous fictional characters from comic books into a live-action film together for the first time. I don’t usually care about the box office numbers, but here they speak volumes: the huge opening weekend shows how much people wanted to see Batman and Superman on screen together; the huge drop-off in the second weekend shows how disappointed all those people were and told their friends not to bother.
I wonder if Marvel Cinematic Universe films have spoiled us – even the average MCU films (Iron Man 2, Thor: The Dark World) were better than this, and all of the films developed the character and the story to earn the final act climaxes, and more importantly remembered to be entertaining at the same time. I counted three jokes in the entire 2.5-hour running time, and two of them were in the trailer – the Nolan Batman films, more serious and complex than BvS:DoJ, were far more entertaining and had far more humour in them.
Let me leaven my own darkness here with some of the highlights: Wonder Woman was great – her arrival injected energy and spark, and it was great to see a superhero who knew how to smile. It was slightly depressing that the best thing about a Batman/Superman film is Wonder Woman, but there you go. Gal Gadot looked and acted the part, so that’s a good sign for the standalone film. I thought Ben Affleck was great as Bruce Wayne – he had the right tone and attitude, when he wasn’t just being grumpy about Superman. I liked his Batman – the scene where he fought a bunch of goons was extremely well done – but not as much as his Bruce, and I’m glad that a voice modulator was used for the Batman voice instead of trying to do a Christian Bale growl. I wish that Jeremy Irons had more to do as Alfred because he had a great spiky energy in the role. Amy Adams was her usual great self as Lois Lane, even if she was wasted for the most part (and was it really necessary for that scene for her to be in the bath?). I think that Henry Cavill might make a good Superman/Clark Kent, if he was given the opportunity – here, he spends most of the time looking sullen and serious, with very little chance to do anything interesting. In contrast, Jesse Eisenberg is given plenty to do as Lex Luthor but seems to be in a completely different movie to everybody else, all crazy ticks and excessive dialogue compared with the general sombre tone, with no motivations for his character: he’s just there to act as the plot engine for the whole film.
Luthor is also the plot engine for the hoped-for Justice League set-up – instead of an organic introduction to Aquaman, the Flash and Cyborg, we discover that he has files on them; not only that, Luthor has asked a designer to come up with a logo for them (including Wonder Woman) as well as naming them (the name is part of the video filename). Because that’s what would happen. It’s typical of this film – things happen for no reason apart from they have to be there for something else. There are lots of dream sequences – the film starts with Bruce dreaming about his parents being gunned down and discovering the cave with bats, because nobody knows Batman’s secret origin; he has another one about Superman being a fascistic leader at some point in the future that suggests the world is controlled by Darkseid, although it seems that this dream might have been a warning from a future Flash about what may happen if they don’t trust in Lois Lane; it’s hard to tell because it was all rather confusing.
Fair play to Snyder, the fight between Batman and Superman is well done, even if the way it ends involves a maternal coincidence that I confess hadn’t thought about before, and would have made for a decent ending to the film. But then we get the bigger fight, the one that was ruined by showing the antagonist in the bloody trailer, and it’s a return to the bigger-is-bigger-is-best approach employed at the end of Man of Steel, where things are moving so fast your eyes can barely keep up. Marvel films do this better – like in comic books, you have to show the fight in a way that people can follow it and enjoy or there’s no point; seeing as superhero fights are the USP, it’s kind of important.
I left the cinema after watching this film with the feeling of a wasted opportunity – we could have had an entertaining cinematic meeting between Batman and Superman; instead, we got a sombre, slow, dull, uninteresting, plodding, unengaging 150 minutes that will probably be the only time we get a film billed as a Batman and Superman film. I didn’t care about the ending, I didn’t care about a potential Justice League film, and as someone who copy-edits and proofreads for a living, I was appalled at the lack of punctuation in the headline of The Daily Planet at the end of the film – you’re film isn’t a success if that stays in the mind instead of the supposed spectacle around it.
[Explanation of my updated film rating system]