Alibi V.25 No.12 • March 24-30, 2016 

Film Review

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Superheroes battle to see who can cause the biggest explosion in unnecessarily dour franchise filler

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
“Ladies and gentlemen, llllllllllet’s get ready to rumble!”

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Directed by Zack Snyder

Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amuy Adams

Occasionally stars align, egos swell and famous musical artists feel the urge to combine their talents for the greater good in something called a “supergroup.” Sometimes, lightning strikes and you get an act for the ages like Cream. Other times, you just end up with Damn Yankees. For every Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young team-up, there’s at least an unequal and opposite Chickenfoot. Movies have occasionally tried to pull off the same trick, stuffing two franchises into one, but the results are often less than the sum of their parts (Freddy vs. Jason, Alien vs. Predator). With all the comic book superheroes now flooding the cineplexes, team-ups suddenly seem like a natural progression once again. So it is that we are faced with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a film mashing up two beloved superhero series. The results are somewhat less than beautiful music and a bit more like two loud, lumbering objects crashing into each other in the dark.

The film, directed by Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Man of Steel), picks up right where 2013’s much-debated Superman opus Man of Steel left off. It tries to give some contextual reasoning for that film’s bleak ending. (Which, if you’ll recall, had Supes breaking the bad guy’s neck and destroying half of Metropolis.) Seems that Bruce Wayne, aka Batman, was there watching it all go down. This got his vigilante blood boiling and set him on a collision course against the super-powered being capable of causing so much collateral damage. This more or less sets up the conflict at the heart of Batman v Superman.

Our Batman for this go-around is Ben Affleck, who acquits himself fairly well as the now-aging, world-weary crimefighter. (It’s kind of a shame that silver fox George Clooney already had his shot. Now would have been the perfect time to bring him in.) Bats has apparently been fighting crime for some time now in Gotham and is facing down a whole new paradigm with the introduction of invulnerable flying men from outer space. (Kinda makes the Penguin look like kids’ stuff.) Jesse Eisenberg also joins the fray as our new age Lex Luthor, a manipulative scientist/businessman egging the Batman/Superman fight on for reasons that aren’t really explained. (Something about his daddy hitting him when he was a child?) Eisenberg’s take on the character is less calculating genius and more twitchy, babbling lunatic—the Joker crossed with his Mark Zuckerberg imitation from The Social Network. As the trailers have already admitted, Wonder Woman is also in the mix (in the form of Israeli model Gal Gadot). But the film is so overstuffed, there’s hardly any time to spend with any individual character. It’s a two and a half hour movie that feels like it was cut down from a three and a half hour movie.

Rest assured, there’s plenty of action to be ogled. But the fight scenes are frenetic to the point of distraction. In one almost cartoonish sequence it seems as if every citizen in Gotham is armed with a rocket launcher. Par for the course, the cinematography is dark to the point of blackout. At times it’s hard to see which concrete-colored hero is punching which concrete-colored villain. The script (by Chris Terrio of Argo and David S. Goyer of Batman Begins/Man of Steel) is loaded down with crowd-pleasing moments. Most of this is predicated on dozens of tiny Easter eggs and winking references to famous comic book story arcs. It’s fan service deluxe, and comic book nerds in the audience will hoot and holler over every little name-drop. But the majority of the audience will spend most of their time wondering what all the shouting is about. The film, as you can probably tell from the title, is just a setup for a series of upcoming Justice League films. It’s hard to imagine what those films might actually look and feel like, however, as Batman v Superman teases more than a dancer at a truck stop strip club.

The main problem with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is that it falls into the same one-note stylistic trap that has dogged DC Comics movies since the success of 2005’s Batman Begins. Great as Christopher Nolan’s trilogy was, it provides a poor roadmap for future superhero projects. Whereas crosstown rival Marvel Comics realizes not all superhero movies have to look and feel the same (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy and the “Daredevil” TV series, for example, couldn’t be more divergent). DC and their movie partner Warner Bros., on the other hand, have tried to weld the same “grimdark” look onto all their films—a decision that holds up particularly poorly on a sunny character like Superman.

Batman v Superman provides us with an epic, anticipated showdown between two characters who are essentially the same. Both are grim, brooding vigilantes operating outside the law. There’s not enough contrast now to provide the right level of friction. It’s no longer a conflict of ideologies: the boy scout vs. the bat. It’s now just a bunch of people terrified of Superman based on his ability to murder the entire human race. The one thing sorely missing here is a sense of fun, of escapism. The film’s script tries even harder to bum us out, referencing touchy modern-day concerns about terrorism, xenophobia and political inaction. Real-life news commentators like Anderson Cooper, Soledad O’Brien and Charlie Rose are even brought in as guest stars to add to the uncomfortable realism of it. Way to destroy the fantasy, guys!

To allay a few fears, Batman v Superman has a number of moments that work. Everybody looks the part. The concept design is impressive and frequently faithful to its source material. Plus, there’s rarely a dull moment. The EPM (explosions per minute) count in this film is astronomical. As mentioned earlier, fanboys and fangirls will feel well-serviced. But the non comic-book-reading public, not so much. This cinematic clash of the titans plays out like a heavyweight fight in Las Vegas—with all the attendant hype, excitement, action, flash, sizzle and inevitable post-event disappointment.