Film Review: Batman V Superman – Dawn of Justice

Posted on:

The Blockbuster's Guide to Depression 

Warning: this review contains spoilers.

If you have a moment, I’d like to talk to you about Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s not an easy thing to do because the unremitting bleakness of Zack Snyder’s film atrophies the brains of those attempting to recreate the experience of watching it using language. In effect, Snyder decimates the critical vocabulary just as his heroes lay waste to discernible motivation, infrastructure and audience goodwill. From the rubble of cinemas crawls the survivors, wells of blood in their eye sockets, Bruce Wayne’s vintage claret pouring from their ear canals. Man of Steel taught us that Superman’s “S” meant hope. How funny that seems now.

There’s not a lot of hope in BVS you see, nor levity nor pause. It’s a version of comic book lore that assumes the sources to carry the same foreboding weight as the Old Testament. The New Testament also gets a look in, the story turning on Superman’s God-like status, his mission on Earth, death and (likely) resurrection. The kind of solemnity that’s calibrated for biblical verse, especially the lines describing acts of sin and sacrifice, is repurposed for teenagers and dropped into the mouths of earnest characters, all of whom are suffering from clinical depression.

Alfred, once a wry check on Bruce Wayne’s nocturnal mood swings, is reborn as Jeremy Irons channelling Sylvia Plath. He tells Ben Affleck’s Dark Knight, who’s moved to Michael Corleone’s lake house following a fire at Wayne Manor – a cruel nod to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, that his actions are suicidal. He makes long speeches about corrupting influences, of the kind no one drops into conversation, and knocks back bourbon on the job. If people still smoked in movies he’d be dragging on fifty a day, willing on cancer. You expect Batman’s world to be a dark place of course, but this sombre? The Killing Fields had more laughs.

Why did the Batman portions of this movie make me think of Joel Schumacher? On first glance this nihilistic take on DC may seems the inverse of the camp maestro’s approach, but look again and you’re reminded of the Batman and Robin director’s 8mm; affected seriousness. Forced fun and forced earnestness are flip sides of the same coin, you see. Neither convince and both are skin deep. BVS is highly stylised and punctuated with directorial flourishes – some so overwrought they’re hilarious. The slaying of the Waynes is enlivened by a bullet shattering Ma Wayne’s pearl necklace, for example – an adaptation of panels from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, but on screen the effect is overstatement, recalling Alan Moore’s contention that stories cast in one medium can’t simply be literalised in another. Snyder’s film may be composed like a comic but at no point does it have dramatic integrity; tone is maintained at the expense of characterisation.

No where is this more apparent and infuriating than with the treatment of Henry Cavill’s Superman. You’ll recall that in the hands of Christopher Reeve, Clark Kent and the Man of Steel were joyful, decent characters – one sweet and bumbling, the other charming and resolute; an indefatigable champion for justice. In Snyder’s movie Superman is a sinister lost soul, viewed mostly through a fearful Batman’s eyes and not enough using the end of the telescope that the rest of the world peers into. When we’re told “most people” think he’s a hero, we have to take it on trust; his heart doesn’t seem to be in it.

We endured Man of Steel so Clark could finally feel he belonged with us, but if he were at ease and universally accepted, as Superman used to be, then Batman would have little cause to fear him. A movie written backwards with a battle promised in the title demands a fight be contrived. It requires the Kryptonian retain emotional distance for the new movie’s duration. Perhaps the idea was that Superman remain enigmatic and cold so Batman’s beef, the idea he could turn on humanity at any moment, be plausible, our sympathies in flux, but the effect is to make a former bastion of decency and kindness look demonic, vacillating and creepy. In short, the only way to meet the brief and have Superman be inducted into Batman’s world (movie running order be damned), is to make the former more like the latter. If Christopher Reeve were alive he’d be suing for character libel.

Of course everyone attending BVS understands that the characters will reach an understanding long before the end, after all their mothers have the same Christian name, they’re practically brothers. But even with that cast iron certainty you’d expect the movie to work harder in establishing the central conflict’s credentials. Batman’s post Metropolis 9/11 paranoia seems fuelled by dreams and flying envy, rather than any concrete evidence, or plausible misunderstanding, pointing to Superman’s dishonourable motives. Meanwhile, Superman, hypocritically irked that a disguised vigilante’s dealing with dangerous criminals in an urban jungle, apparently sees the Caped Crusader as a villain, despite being aware of his city sanctioned signal. This contest was always going to be a tough sell, but the contortions required to make it work here, snap the movie’s spine. By the time Jesse Eisenberg’s twitchy irritant Lex Luthor, portrayed as a malfunctioning synthetic from the Alien universe, has brought on the movie’s long climax by kidnapping Martha Kent in a bid to blackmail Superman into killing Batman (who he’s implausibly manipulated into suiting up for battle), the premium on audience patience has gone through the roof.

The cumulative effect of jarring scene on jarring scene, then, is a film that looks and feels overstuffed and underwritten; a product of studio impatience and bad planning; and that’s before all the additional elements – Doomsday, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman (who, in a move symptomatic of the film’s backwardly conceived bent, is introduced before her standalone origin flick) – are folded into the noxious mix.

Seldom has a movie this superficial been presented with such self-importance, and never has the need for humour and character advancing asides been more keenly felt and necessary. In the end it’s no longer Batman V Superman, rather Snyder V audience, and as the end credits roll and the last blackened strip of a withered soul peels off and is carried away on the farts of patrons full of cola and butter popcorn, it’s clear the public have been defeated. Yet the biggest losers are surely Warners Bros.’ suits. They’ve bet the house on a series to rival Marvel with two torrid and joyless flicks. It’s quite a thing to have invested so much in an expanded universe no one wants to spend time in. Perhaps that explains the movie’s funereal atmosphere. It’s a requiem for a dream.

Directed by: Zack Snyder

Country: US

Year: 2016

Running Time: 161 mins

Certificate: 12A for the movie's central romance being etched in two short scenes, Batman's anger and politics being washed away by his mother's Christian name, and Jesse Eisenberg.

21 Responses

  1. Alan says:

    (Note: I haven’t seen it yet..)It’s a shame that, on the basis of this review, DC/Warners can’t produce a decent movie featuring their three best ,best-known characters. That doesn’t presage well for any planned films with lesser-known DC properties such as Flash and Aquaman. The existence of Superman and Batman would certainly present political, social, maybe even religious questions, but then, they don’t really exist, and they couldn’t. Under these circumstances, the effectiveness of a grimly realistic approach is limited, and a leavening of humour is needed. Maybe I’ll feel different after I’ve seen it…..

  2. Towhidur Razzak says:

    See it for yourself and judge it based on what you see. These critics did not even understand half the references that were provided in the movie. The style is very similar to how a comic book runs, something that is quite new and sort of being pioneered by Zack Snyder.

    People hate what they don’t understand. Once this style is more widely accepted these critics will eat their words and praise the beauty of these films. The present day critics are too narrow minded and gets agoraphobic when they see something new and revolutionary.

    • Robert says:

      No they won’t. The film shouldn’t need a lifetime of comics to be enjoyable for everyone. Fire Zac Snyder, he is the most overrated director today.

      • Towhidur Razzak says:

        Learn to READ before you WRITE son. I never said you need to read tons of comic books to enjoy the film. What I am saying is that you need to widen your perspective to enjoy the movie and once you get used to this style it will trump the current more-conventional style. But even in the first viewing you should be able to join the gaps (unless you are retarded).

        • Debbie Xansmom says:

          <>

          I was interested in the dialog until that comment. You went too far. Now when i read the other DC/WB Snyder apologists I will think of you.

          The only thing I enjoyed about BVS? Jesse Eisenberg played a great Joker.

          • Towhidur Razzak says:

            What about Batman? What about the great visuals? You are just being intentionally ignorant. When you can’t argue properly, just say that the comment went too far :)!

    • O.Johnson says:

      “The style is very similar to how a comic book runs?” Huh?

      The jumping around, the lack of context, bad script, wooden characters, forced “home video” cameos, inexcusable/unbelievable choices? That’s not a comic book. The movie’s problems isn’t its style.

      Whitfield is complaining about the story. The formula for a good story has remained essentially unchanged for centuries. Check Bible, check Shakespeare.

      I think BVS is simply a story poorly told. All the elements are there…its just jumbled up so badly, its hard to no which trail to follow. Its just really embarrassing. I guarantee you some heads are going to roll at DC. It may not be Snyder to protect the brand…but just watch and listen to see what DC management does to save face and convince the public that the ship has been corrected.

      They can’t afford to sack Snyder. He may be gently moved to an executive producer roll or someone else may fall on the sword.

      Forget the critics, fan acclaim for the film is souring each day, which is always a bad sign.

      • Towhidur Razzak says:

        To me the jumping around did not cause any problems for me to follow the story. I agree at times things should have been explained better for the general audience (like the omega symbol = Darkseid). But I don’t think the characters were wooden. They had some problems with the motivation and the video footage cameo part, I agree. Look the movie is not perfect, but I think it is pretty well-made film. Films are subjective so I don’t think i can persuade you to change your opinion.

        Story structure does not always have to follow Bible or Shakespeare (check out Memento).

  3. Mike says:

    What a wussy critic. I laugh at the people who get too sensitive and complain about a movie. If you can’t handle Zack Snyder just don’t see his movies.

    • DRO says:

      “If Christopher Reeve were alive he’d be suing for character libel.” This one line is really dumb, as if Christopher Reeve were the creator of Superman. Either was he the owner of the rights? What am I missing?

      • O.Johnson says:

        You’re missing the joke, that’s all.

        Reeve was the embodiment of both characters, Clark and Supes. He was remarkably believable as both. As Clark, he was a mouse but as Supes he was also a beacon of hope.

        BVS had to leave Supes unexplained to warrant/substantiate Bats suspicion and attack. So instead of learning more about Clark/Supes we had to relive Bats motivations and history in painstaking detail.

        Whitfield is right, it just doesn’t make sense that “most” believe he is a hero but Bats ignores all that and is 100% certain that Supes has to be taken out?
        Bats is the great detective…where did his brilliant mind go?

        As it stands this is a terrible gumbo of 3 – 4 different movies. They should have broken this up into two movies, a part 1 and part 2.

        C-

        • Towhidur Razzak says:

          Reeve was the embodiment of both characters, Clark and Supes. He was remarkably believable as both. As Clark, he was a mouse but as Supes he was also a beacon of hope.

          Really???? His tomfoolery as Clark Kent was believable?? That sort of behavior did not seem forced to you? Half the time it looked like he was doing in intentionally. By trying too hard to hide himself he was giving away his identity. The Clark Kent in comics is not such a buffon you know!

          • O.Johnson says:

            Agreed Clark hasn’t always been the buffoon. But I can argue that Reeve’s depiction of Supes was and has been the most indelible. Call it big screen bias, but many of us feel like we know who Superman is. We know Him…what he would do and what he wouldn’t do. We’ve been informed by countless comics (and just as if not more importantly movies/tv/cartoons).

            We’ve also been schooled on the philosophical differences between Bats and Supes so well that its allowed many to love both characters in the same place as necessary pieces of a whole.

            I am not arguing that Snyder’s take is wrong, entirely, I am mostly saying its poorly rendered and not properly developed according to the superiority of Superman. I do think that Supes gets the character development shaft in this version, and that ancillary stories built around him are unfulfilled.

            What we’ve come to love about Superman is his certainty (and when there is uncertainty his triumph over it) that restores a sense of hope in the world.

            Its pretty clear by fan reaction that few people (less than most) don’t want to see a disturbed, muddling, uncertain, doubting Thomas Superman.

            Bu honestly, that’s all beside the point: the movie has serious story telling problems – that has pissed off some and disturbed most viewers ability to enjoy the film outright; it has not doubt caused DC execs concern. Let’s see what they do next.

        • Towhidur Razzak says:

          I recognize the fact that this movie is not meant for everyone and to be a force to be reckoned with DC movies need wider appreciation. Although personally, I loved this movie and would like Zack Snyder to carry on, but for the good of the DCCU I think it is time for Zack to step down.

      • Bob Rowland says:

        It was a terrible joke and attempt to be clever. I’m embarrassed for Ed, completely classless.

  4. Alex G says:

    I rarely agree with critics. But this article is so on point it’s not funny. You see I’m a Superman fan from back to my childhood in the 1960s. He’s an amazing character and the first superhero. Yet he’s a character that is treated like crap ever since the 1980s when Frank Miller’s contempt for the character was manifested in Dark Knight. Bruce Timm followed suit popularising Batman’s superiority especially in the Justice League cartoon. Nowadays we have a Superman that’s anything but super. The people that like this movie – which is a sequel to a Superman movie, mind you- are Batman fans and people who have no clue as to comic history. No genuine Superman liker thinks this film anything but lousy. He does nothing super throughout the whole two and half hours. You’re right, critic, he lacks conviction and joy. Even Ma Kent is jaded and cynical. Those who say critics are ignorant of comics, I say you’re ignorant of it if you think this movie is true to comics.

    • Cil says:

      You are so on point. I am a DC fan, grew up with these superheros and it pains me to no end what they are doing with Batman and Sups in the second millenium.

      I still think that the root of Superman problems is the portrayal of his father. While Donner’s Superman and Smallville painted John Kent as a positive force in Clark’s life, guiding him to be the better man in both representations, MoS turned Mr. Kent exactly to the other side. So, Clark didn’t grow to be the better assured man, which would make him a better Superman too. A self assured Superman.

      You don’t tell you son to let people die (and leave yourself to die too). No matter what. Tell that for the fathers who lost their firefighter’s son in 9/11!

      That Batman is screwed up in the head is ok. That is who he is. Superman is not like that. Superman doesn’t live in the dark side. Superman should be hope, not a catalyst for my using prozac! Superman is the other side of the coin that is Batman. That is why Justice League worked so well.

      I am just sad that DC/WB left these superheroes in the hands od people that do not care for them. Could they remove Zack Snyder please?

      • Towhidur Razzak says:

        The reason they changed him is because the good boy-scout version is not working anymore. People like interesting superman who is not all-perfect. Superman Returns portrayed him in the exact fashion you wanted to see him and it was not very well received in the box office.

  5. superboy says:

    Superman Returns was a good Superman movie! To me the new superhero movies rely too much on effects and not enough on character development. Man of Steel was god awful and so was BvS

  6. DC says:

    Superman is the only semi-normal person in this film, and he’s dragged down by the stupidity of Affleck’s ‘Batman’, who, as portrayed in this movie, is as Bat Chit Crazy as little Eisenberg, who should have been handled with a new diaper, and a timeout in the corner.