Ever since the clash between the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns in 1986, everyone has been waiting thirty years to see this confrontation happen on screen. Going into the film was nerve-racking, considering that both Batman and Superman are without doubt some of my all-time favourite superheroes ever. To me, they are as important as Ghostbusters and Star Wars, becoming real cornerstones of my childhood, adulthood and who I am. Zack Snyder and his team did such an excellent job setting up Superman and his mythology in Man of Steel (yes, I enjoyed it!), so this film had to do a lot to accomplish in continuing that story. Batman v Superman was important to, but it left me numb. It’s a mess of a movie, and it really kills me to say it. It’s very much a mixed bag, with lots to love, but a lot to hate.
To start with the positives, most of the cast were all pretty solid, giving real committed performances. Ben Affleck was a subject of controversy when he was cast as Batman, but frankly, he delivers the best onscreen Batman to date. This Batman is world-weary, darker, brutal and a hell of a lot scarier than ever he was before when portrayed on the big screen. Affleck nails both the Bruce Wayne and Batman aspects of the character brilliantly, and he is quite possibly the best part of the whole film. Henry Cavill is still a solid Superman and he does bring more emotion this time around, even if the film doesn’t do Superman justice and doesn’t get quite as much love here as Batman.
Gal Gadot, surprisingly, is fearsome as Wonder Woman; she lights up the screen whenever she comes into play and her big entrance is incredible, however she isn’t on screen enough to make a huger impact. Amy Adams brought more depth to Lois Lane than before, and Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne and Jeremy Irons offered superb support too, even if they are ultimately underused. The action sequences are incredible, being some of the best yet seen in a superhero movie, and the titular fight between the two heroes looks as if it is ripped straight out of The Dark Knight Returns. Larry Fong’s cinematography is gorgeous to behold (unsurprisingly considering that it’s a Zack Snyder movie), and the score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL is phenomenal.
However, there’s so much wrong here, it’s really hard to ignore. Snyder and co. seem to have squandered all the progress they made with Man of Steel by taking a few step forwards, but taking many huge steps backwards. The editing is terrible, and the pacing is atrocious by being incredibly slow and ponderous one moment and incredibly fast the next, almost as if the film can’t decide which direction it wants to go in. Despite having a talented writing duo in both David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio, the script is all over the shop by cramming in so many elements and plot devices that it lacks cohesion, consistency and focus. The film starts in spectacular fashion with a bravura opening sequence where we see a retelling of Batman’s origin, which is then intercut with the destruction of Metropolis in Man of Steel’s conclusion except this time seen from Bruce Wayne’s perspective. It’s a phenomenal opening that really packs a punch, being both exciting and fresh, and while the film occasionally reaches those levels (maybe three or four times), they are far and few between. The rest feels like padding and at worst, exposition-fodder.
It’s all incoherent as hell; it’s as if there’s five different movies happening all at once: the semi-Man of Steel sequel, the Batman vs. Superman conflict, the Dawn of Justice by setting up this extended universe, the Lex Luthor subplot, and the Doomsday storyline (which is unforgivable). You do get the sense that Snyder, Warner Bros. and DC Comics are trying to cram in and rush everything as a means of getting the forthcoming Justice League movies out the door quickly in order to compete with Marvel and their Avengers movies, which they shouldn’t have to do but they have. It’s just like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 all over again, and we all know how that turned out. Also, if you’ve seen THAT controversial trailer, you’ve pretty much seen the whole film, and that’s not a good sign.
And don’t even get me started on Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor. Never have I seen a villain on screen that has been more annoying and pantomimey than this; it’s like Johnny Depp doing an impression of Jim Carrey’s Riddler from Batman Forever. This is meant to be not just the biggest enemy Superman has ever faced, but he’s also one of DC Comics’ most iconic villains, and here, he’s given no pomp or circumstance. He’s NOT the iconic Lex Luthor we know and love from the comics, instead portrayed as a Mark Zuckerberg-on cocaine/Joker-knockoff that is tooth-gratingly annoying and completely lacks in both intimidation and menace. Plus, we never once truly got a sense of what is driving and motivating Luthor, which makes his ultimate, grandmaster plan completely stupid and without merit. He pales in comparison to Michael Shannon’s General Zod, who remains a much more intriguing villain with real depth and complexity.
As it stands, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is one of the biggest disappointments of the year. Despite having great performances (excluding Eisenberg!), superb action, beautiful cinematography and a pulse-pounding score, the film rarely lives up to its amazing opening sequence, as well as its huge amount of hype. It’s storyline is muddled and confused, its potential shot to heck, the pacing and editing was poor, and it tarnished one of the greatest comic-book villains ever. It’s definitely not a terrible film by any means, but it certainly isn’t what we were promised.
Dir: Zack Snyder
Scr: David S. Goyer, Chris Terrio
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot
Prd: Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder
DOP: Larry Fong
Music: Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL
Run time: 151 mins
Batman v Superman is out now in UK cinemas.