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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Movie Reviews

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

A morose and unpleasant movie that cynically lays the groundwork for a new cinematic comic book universe.

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Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is not only an absolute mess, it also follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, Snyder’s Man of Steel, by being morose and unpleasant. Given the root word of the phrase “comic book,” I find this upsetting. What happened to the days when comic book movies were simple and fun? When they weren’t cynical? When there was a clear line between heroes and villains? When they stimulated the imagination rather than mirror the horrors of reality? When they inspired admiration instead of condemnation? Watching this movie made me feel angry and depressed. I hope I never see anything like it ever again.

There are so many things wrong with it, but let’s begin with Snyder and his screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer making the dread mistake of using the film, initially, as a platform for politicizing and philosophizing. In the innately romanticized world of the comic book – the Batman and Superman comic books, at any rate – there’s no justifiable reason why the Superman character, once again played by Henry Cavill, has to be the subject of such intense moralistic scrutiny. In the film, his superhuman alien abilities become controversial, pretty much to the extent that some view him as a threat to humanity.

Let’s move onto the depiction of Batman/Bruce Wayne, now played by Ben Affleck. The character has been a brooding loner, and in turn something of a vigilante in Gotham City, but never have these traits been taken to the extent they go in this film. He hasn’t been less likeable, and in spite of an incredibly padded batsuit and a microphone that turns his voice into a menacing rumble, less like a superhero; he’s a disturbed and unhinged monster, his need to stop Superman seeming less like his civic duty and more like a psychotic obsession. He’s capable of unsettling dreams in which mausoleum walls bleed and unknown men can suddenly appear in a flurry of lightning bolts cryptically shouting, “Am I too early? I’m too early! You have to stop him!”

Now let’s focus on the character of Lex Luthor, who has an even bigger and more unsettling need to bring Superman down. He’s played as a young man by Jesse Eisenberg, who’s typically engaging but here is just off-putting. I don’t know whether his acting style, Snyder’s direction, or both are to blame, but he plays Luthor not as a criminal mastermind but as fast-talking ADHD basket case, with every line delivered as if he was on the verge of a debilitating nervous breakdown. He also makes Luthor a condescending know-it-all, and he has the needlessly philosophical, overly intellectual dialogue to go with it.

When the filmmakers finally get off their soapboxes, at which point specific characters make the most instant and miraculous of turnarounds, they allow the film to devolve into a loud, garish stunt and special effects spectacular. This is where the process of IMAX 3D really comes into play, which isn’t a compliment in this case; with its fast cuts and bright images, it doesn’t want to immerse you so much as make your eyes water in pain. The sequence involves the title characters and none other than Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) fighting against a CG monstrosity called Doomsday – and if you’re at all familiar with the Superman comics of the early 1990s, you know exactly what this means.

By the time the fight sequence ends and the epilogue begins, I realized that all the film’s moralizing wasn’t the point, that the real intention was to lay the groundwork for a series of interconnected superhero films a la the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How cynical, to order up a series of movies just because popular opinion is currently in their favor. How horrible, to advertise to audiences by having them sit through something so unpleasant. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is unbecoming to everyone involved, the filmmakers especially. The fact that any of them thought it would work indicates a serious lack of insight.

About the Author: Chris Pandolfi