Director Zack Snyder has inherited the throne of the DC Comics film franchise and for detractors of his works, rest assured, he isn’t going anywhere. Surprisingly, despite the quality or artistic merit of his movies, they make money and this in turn makes the studio (Warner Brothers) very happy. But it is Snyder’s stylish direction and familiarity with the comic book world that has brought him to such projects as the long-thought “unfilmable” Watchmen and Frank Miller’s 300.
After 2013’s Man of Steel, Snyder now takes on both Batman and Superman in his newest foray into the comic book genre with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Warner Bros’ and DC Comics joint venture to replicate the success of rivals Disney and Marvel’s success that simply buckles under the weight of superhero angst and lackluster film-making.
As if the nightmare of Man of Steel wasn’t enough the film begins with an after-thought appendage that incorporates Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) into the callous destruction of Metropolis by Zod (Michael Shannon) and Superman (Henry Cavill) from the previous film. Wayne Tower is demolished and Mr. Wayne is none too happy about the demigod’s power and presence. Similarly, Clark Kent isn’t too fond of the enigmatic Batman enacting vigilante justice in the grimmer Gotham City. In this world Bruce Wayne has been the Batman for roughly 20 years, and yet the screenwriters found it necessary to allude to the redundant death of Wayne’s parents in a stylish intro (I’ll give it that). But this Batman is much more bleak and cold-blooded; a vigilante who is unafraid to take out goons and even brand them in the process.
The Bruce Wayne/Batman narrative is just one of the many planes and dimensions the film covers, with ubiquitous rudimentary skill. Batman concocts a well-planned battle plan to fight the man of steel and at the same time covertly attempts to uncover information about Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), while the mysterious Diana Prince / Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) has similar aspirations, independently investigating Luthor.
On the other hand, Superman deals with the events that transpired at the end of Man of Steel and copes with his bipartisan celebrity status that has caused a chasm in the public sphere. Metropolis is split as to whether Superman is actually a benevolent alien or a “false god,” a slogan defacing an erected celebratory statue of the man of steel illustrates.
Furthermore, Lex Luthor has become increasingly and obsessively curious about Krypton and and under the noses of everyone manages to concoct a plan to bring down last Kryptonian. Meanwhile, Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) holds hearings that debate the merits and responsibilities of keeping Superman’s powers in check.
The first 90-minutes or so consist of this meandering and messy narrative that slowly escalates to the third act, which is where the fun (is supposed to) kicks into high gear. But Snyder’s action always struck me as boring and overdone with its slow-motion and dizzying action scenes that end up being unmemorable. Snyder saves his action, once again, for the final act, when the long-promised titular battle finally happens. But it turns out to be short lived and lackluster, only to segue into yet another battle: the battle of against popular Superman baddie Doomsday (hardly a spoiler, given he’s in the trailer).
Therein lies the film’s overall problem: biting off more than the filmmakers can chew. This is where I’d normally light my torch and bring out my shiniest pitchfork to skewer Zack Snyder’s credibility as a filmmaker. Don’t get me wrong: his direction is messy and unfocused, but scribes Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s dark and grim script is a clunky mess that deserves most of the blame. I’m certainly a cynical person, but the film feels forcibly dark, perhaps in an attempt to stand apart from Marvel’s lighter fare. The result is a dull and laughless 151-minute hodge-podge of corporate expenditure that conjures up a mess of hallucinations, nightmares, narrative, and clueless characterization.
It also feels like a crass attempt to accelerate and capitalize on Marvel unparalleled blockbuster movie successes. The filmmakers involved find it easier to cram what is, at minimum, roughly between five and seven different movies into one giant spectacle in hopes that no one would notice or care. The film can’t find a focus and settles for covering a series of disjointed vignettes and a multitude of characters with a disregard for characterization, while incorporating brainless action – that is anything but enjoyable – instead offering poorly thought out narratives, that get too tangled in its own grandiose self-anointed epicness.
There is very little to say about a product from the money making business that audiences gobble up without a care to its integrity. However, special mention is required of Ben Affleck’s version of the Caped Crusader as he stands out as a depressing and melancholy Bruce Wayne who harbors a monumental weight of trauma and loneliness on his shoulders. The villainous and deeply disturbed mogul Lex Luthor is excitingly played by Eisenberg with his trademark mumbled awkwardness that comes off as unsettling at times. In comic-book fashion, this male fantasy underused and marginalizes both Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman (as an object to be observed for her beauty) and Amy Adams’s Lois Lane; the latter used as a benign narrative object with very little purpose.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice too often fails to entertain or make a point. The film is a labyrinthine narrative of jumbled trajectories of loud sounds and explosive visuals that, ultimately, amounts to very little. The title promises an epic clash, what the ticket buyer paid for, and yet the meandering story that crescendos over a meager attempt at thrilling entertainment is anything but. Most disappointing is the lack of heart or passion, made for the short-term memory audience member that celebrates the film as a masterpiece, and yet, in a year’s time will be largely forgotten. Yes, film is entertainment, but it can also be an art, and many forget the latter.