Batman v Superman – Dawn of Justice – Cultivating Apathy

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Directed by Zack Snyder. Produced by Charles Roven and Deborah Snyder. Written by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer. Release date: March 25, 2016.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the Mega Shark versus Giant Octopus of superhero movies. The title is intriguing – two icons in one film, and fighting each other! – but the result is far less enjoyable. Instead of a battle for the ages, we get a film in which 75% of the time is spent building up to a fight that, by the time it finally comes, it’s not even something we want anymore. The difference between the two comes from perspective; Batman v Superman is seen through the lens of its titular characters, while the Asylum film shows us the views of those from the outside. I think Mega Shark versus Giant Octopus does a better job of establishing its characters, so score one for the film whose budget didn’t exceed the GDP of a small country.

This is a bloated film that’s so filled with hopes, dreams, and to-dos that it’s been trimmed to the bone and yet it still plays for more than two and a half hours. Things like character development – or even simplicities like establishing shots – have been trimmed in order to try to get all of its events in place so that we can have our big fight, and then so that can be ignored in favor of larger battle against a CGI monstrosity that looks worse than the awful lizard creature from the first Amazing Spider-Man movie – something you know if you saw the initial trailer.

The plot has promise, which might be why the result is so disappointing. The collateral damage caused by the climax of Man of Steel was something with which people in the real world took issue, so Batman v Superman addresses that. Billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who dresses up like a bat at night and beats up bad guys, experienced first-hand the destruction that came from the climactic battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon). Superman is stronger than any man, and his presence could be dangerous to all of humanity. So, Wayne decides to take it upon himself to put an end to Superman, setting up the titular fight – even if that’s not how it plays out.

That is an absolutely fine story. It could be told properly in two hours. Set up the motivation from both sides and establish actual characters, and give us a strong 15-minute climax, maybe with a couple of minor action scenes scattered throughout. There’s your movie. What Batman v Superman does is have its characters do almost nothing of consequence, have Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) complicate matters and provide filler, give us inconsistent – at times incomprehensible – characters, and rip any semblance of heart and fun from the production.

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Part of the problem is the attempt to try to catch up to Marvel in just a couple of movies, instead of just trying to tell a good story. The subtitle of Batman v Superman is Dawn of Justice because it’s setting up the Justice League movie that’s supposed to be coming next year. The elements for that are so poorly established here that it’s almost laughable – and the way the plot goes is undercut by us knowing exactly what they’re trying to set up.

The characters feel like shallow caricatures – or perhaps a five-year-old’s idea of what they should be. Batman has apparently been working for over two decades, and yet there’s nothing to him here beyond his parents’ death and his desire to kill Superman. Superman, at least, has a love interest – a historically great character in Lois Lane (Amy Adams) who in this film acts as the damsel in distress no fewer than three times. But otherwise, Superman is just this almost indestructible guy. A good chunk of the first 90 minutes are dedicated to humanity trying to figure out if Superman is good for the world, something that even the most self-confident of individuals would struggle with internally, but outside of one scene, we don’t see any of that in him.

Batman v Superman is a disappointing film that succeeds only in one thing: inducing apathy. At one point, I was genuinely excited to see where the DC cinematic universe would go. After seeing this film, most of that was taken away.

There isn’t any time for that silly character depth, after all! We have to move from one glamorous locale to the next. And set up the Justice League movie. And have needlessly complicated ways to try to get the two superheroes to fight each other – even though they’re already headed in that direction. And then go to another glamorous locale. And block out the sun. And stop anyone from smiling or telling jokes, because brooding and darkness are where it’s at – for the entire time, as levity isn’t necessary in a movie about a guy dressed as a bat does a Rocky-style training montage to get ready for a fight against a human-looking alien in a blue and red suit.

Okay, so it doesn’t get either Batman or Superman – either as their earlier iterations or as new ones for this series – it’s filled to the brim with darkness, it has a needlessly overcomplicated plot, and it tries to rush the whole Justice League thing. Does it do anything well? The action we do get – the last 25 minutes – is at least somewhat enjoyable. Production values keep it at least looking good for most of the time. Batman’s hand-to-hand combat scenes are miles above what they were in the Christopher Nolan films, so that’s something. The problem comes mostly from what happens in the action scenes – there’s almost nothing we haven’t seen before, in better movies – and that the nighttime setting and less-than-stellar cinematography keeps us from seeing everything clearly.

Yes, even its high points come with caveats. Some of its logic and character motivations are absurd and make no sense, but we don’t have time to talk about it because we’re whisked away to the next scene, most taking place somewhere across the city or maybe not even in the same area code. Ben Affleck might turn in the best performance here, but he often looks sleepy when playing Bruce Wayne and, well, you can’t do too much acting behind a mask. Speaking of sleeping, the film has several dream sequences, which add up to almost nothing, except that they feel like the final remnants of a longer cut – like when you purge your DVD shelf, but somehow Eastern Promises always avoids getting put in the Goodwill box. I don’t need you anymore!

Jesse Eisenberg is going to disappoint a lot of people with his neurotic, fast-talking performance as Alexander “Lex” Luthor. He doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the movie for one, but mostly his existence is what causes many of the other plot-related problems to exist. Cut him out of the screenplay and we actually have a Batman versus Superman movie. Maybe then the likes of Holly Hunter, Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons, Scoot McNairy – and even to a large extent Gal Gadot, whose brief scenes provide some of the film’s only joy – would get something interesting to do. Or we could take our protagonists seriously and establish them as more than shallow caricatures.

Batman v Superman is a disappointing film that succeeds only in one thing: inducing apathy. At one point, I was genuinely excited to see where the DC movie universe would go. After seeing this film, most of that was taken away. Only the final half hour does any of that – and the points that do are in the trailer. Mostly, this is a film that’s bloated – but not detailed enough for the bloat to be explored, since even at 2.5 hours it’s been trimmed almost as tightly as it could be – pretty dull, a gigantic mess, and contains mediocre acting, faulty logic, poor characters, and only about 25 minutes at are actually even remotely entertaining.

At least Mega Shark versus Giant Octopus didn’t try to overstep its bounds.

Bottom Line: A bloated film that does nothing for it subject matter other than turn audiences against it, Batman v Superman is a terrible way to start the DC movie universe.

Recommendation: The important elements are in the trailer, so maybe save yourself the 2.5 hours of joyless build-up and just watch that.



If you want more of Matthew “Marter” Parkinson, you can follow him on the Twitter @Martertweet and check out his weekly movie podcast.

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