Film

REVIEW: ‘Batman v Superman’ (2016) Only Makes Sense If You Force It

6 Apr , 2016  

Not long after the first trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice dropped, my dad asked me, “Why are they fighting? I thought they were friends.”

Yes, in the first cinematic meeting of the world’s most famous superheroes, why are they fighting? Turns out there is an answer, it’s just not very satisfying. But first let’s back up a little and talk about what Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is and how that becomes part of the problem.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a Batman film. Apparently, by design. It begins with Bruce Wayne, and it ends with Bruce Wayne – which means it begins and ends with Ben Affleck. Affleck’s Batman is a superhero on the edge; he’s quick to judgement, prone to brutalizing criminals, and interested in offense as opposed to defense when it comes to crime-fighting. This, coupled with Bruce’s presence the day Superman fought Zod, leveling portions of Metropolis in the process and toppling Wayne Financial, is meant to explain his bizarrely extreme plan to deal with the threat he sees in Superman. Bruce’s search for an answer to the all-powerful alien leads him to Alexander “Lex” Luthor, someone just as obsessed with the Kryptonian as he is. As Bruce closes in on some answers, a mysterious woman arrives, looking for something that belongs to her.

Oh, who am I kidding? You’ve seen the trailer. It’s Wonder Woman, Diana Prince. It’s important to say that now because Wonder Woman, hands down, is the best part of this movie. Gal Gadot’s first appearance in costume ready for battle, coupled with her hard driving theme from Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, was a moment of genuine excitement that had people leaning forward in their seats.

The script, however, by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, appears to have been stripped of complexity – either that or it was never there to begin with. Instead of battling ideologies – between Batman and Superman, Superman and Lex Luthor, the government and superheroes (or metahumans, if you prefer) – the film is reduced to a series of misunderstandings and platitudes, with a topical but hastily drawn and quickly dismissed immigration parallel. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, who by name alone you probably recognize as villainous, jumps from wacky to evilly unhinged. The women, not named Wonder Woman, are present to be victimized and/or saved. The big bad monster is a cross between Godzilla and a cave troll in the midst of the film’s final set piece, a blinding, bombastic CGI assault on the senses. But instead of two Kryptonians trading punches across Metropolis, it goes a little more like this. Even the emotional gut punch Snyder tries to deliver has little resonance for a reason that is painfully clear. Mindful of spoilers, I can’t say what, but I’ll give you a hint: franchise.

The film is long, too long to sustain with such a lack of emotional depth and intimacy. The actors try, Affleck, Adams, and Eisenberg in particular, but are given little to work with and asked to make authentic some very questionable decisions. On one point, though, Snyder heard the critics loud and clear. I counted four explicit responses to counter the blatant disregard for fictitious human life in Man of Steel – “the port is abandoned,” “the workday is over and the downtown core nearly empty,” “cleared the city,” and “that’s uninhabited.” Still, Snyder does himself no favors re-visiting the destruction porn that was the last half hour of Man of Steel. Snyder, again borrowing 9/11 imagery as cinematic shorthand for trauma, shows buildings sliced apart and toppling down, dust clouds billowing through the streets, shocked people, etc.

I could say more, very specific criticisms, but they veer toward spoiler territory. But, after all that, after the too serious, too dark world Snyder always creates, even he can’t eclipse the power of seeing these heroes on screen. You may not like it but Snyder can make an action movie, no question, and I’d see Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice again in a heartbeat, so that does count for something.

Insult to injury though (and maybe it’s just me), but as the lights came up I couldn’t help but wonder, are we six weeks away from seeing a better version of this film? I’m more excited than ever to see Wonder Woman and Captain America: Civil War, but that’s probably not what Snyder and co. want to hear.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams, and Jesse Eisenberg, is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality.

Originally posted on BroadwayWorld.com

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