This is a spoiler free review of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I’ll be discussing spoilers on an upcoming episode of my podcast Horror News Radio.
Three years after giving the world the first non-Richard Donner inspired version of Superman with 2013’s Man of Steel, director Zack Snyder has released his follow up to firmly establish his larger version of the DC Comics universe. Batman V. Superman: Dawn of the Justice continues threads from its predecessor, mainly in terms of the fallout of Superman’s climactic fight with Zod on both Bruce Wayne and the world at large. Some are frightened by Superman. Others worship him as a savior. Similarly, the “Bat Vigilante of Gotham” is both heaped with praise and feared as a madman. In their own rather blatant ways, these reactions from everyday citizens mirror the divisive critic and audience reactions to Man of Steel, full of fervent emotions that take sides.
The trouble is… we really don’t get that much of a reaction from Clark Kent/Kal El/Superman to any of this. No jeers. No rebuffs. No defending his actions. Just minuscule sighs reminiscent of an absent father who just wants to read the paper and stop his kids from annoying him. Henry Cavill’s Superman is a largely detached alien that shows no genuine emotion for anyone except for those he’s directly involved with. Even one of the few outsiders he saves in this movie is merely one in a faceless horde that worships him as a savior more for the sake of the visual rather than through his typical actions. Superman never gets to actually develop or grow in this follow up, instead regressing to a selfish alien God except for when contrivances of the plot decide to change his decisions on a whim for the sake of repetitive visual metaphor.
Henry Cavill isn’t even allowed to go much farther in emotional range than a face that makes him look like a constipated screaming twat. Given the way director Zack Snyder portrays him and the dialogue of returning Man of Steel cast member Laurence Fishburne, it seems like this universe’s Superman isn’t much more than a means to an end. An end that involves composer Hans Zimmer regurgitating the main theme from Man of Steel to make it seem like this hero is contemplative rather than completely uninvolved god like being. This should, in some way, perfectly bounce off of the modern tech powered and mythology obsessed Alexander “Lex” Luthor. Yet, Jesse Eisenberg portrays the mogul with all the subtlety of a college shut in with severe social disorders and dual degrees in theology & manic giddiness. So, essentially an unrelenting comic book fanboy you’d find in your average comments section. He and Superman clash with all the chemistry of expired peanut butter and battery acid, containing nothing but a deadly poisonous taste and irrevocable damage to the intelligence of those who partake.
So, if it doesn’t work as a Man of Steel sequel, surely Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice should at least work at opening the door with an intriguing take on the rest of the DC universe, right? Not quite. Admittedly, some of the performances from this star studded cast show promise for the future. Mainly, Ben Affleck’s dual take as an effortlessly brazen Bruce Wayne & no holds bar Batman and Gal Gadot’s resourceful warrior Diana Prince/Wonder Woman manage to hold court as the film’s shining attributes. Even as the story confines them to downward ski slope of unrelenting stupidity, Affleck and Gadot show their dedication to presenting the nuance these characters need in a world with a Superman as coldly uninvolved as this one. Much of this can be seen in Affleck’s scenes with Gadot and Jeremy Irons’ Alfred, showcasing a man of the world either meeting his savvy equal or commiserating with a beloved chum.
If only Affleck’s charisma and Gadot’s brutal veracity were enough to make up for Zack Snyder’s thick headed attempts at reinventing either character, which is constantly filled with hypocrisy and contradiction. Batman is a justifiably angry humanist with the mercy of an unrepentant psychopath. Wonder Woman is an experienced self reliant warrior who can’t seem to get around the actions of the human swinging phalluses that are Superman and Batman. Their decisiveness – along with Supes’ empathy – seems reliant on the whims of Zack Snyder’s visuals, which are often framed beautifully, shot with the artistry of a comic book panel and translated to this story with the empty thud of a dolt unaware of how context works. There’s no self awareness or true contemplation of these characters’ implications here. Instead, there’s a passive nihilistic shrug of “Gods will be Gods, lets just get out of the way of the microscope” style acceptance. Oh, and there’s also the universe building for the rest of the DC characters, which ultimately amounts to shoe horned in viral marketing and a perplexingly muddled attempt to seemingly hint at a future somehow grimer and darker than this super serious present we already have.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is never boring. It’s confusing, perplexing, laughable, enraging and even occasionally entertaining. But it’s never boring. It’s a bizarre adaptation that runs for very long, doesn’t care about past continuity for much except visual inspiration and contrives actions for its characters to enact for the sake of spectacle. And I’m not against any of that in theory. Having merely perused through some of the bigger DC Comics stories, all I really wanted was a brand new take on these characters that engaged me within its own rules and story. Yet, that story and it’s consistent contradiction does far more harm than it does good. At its best, Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice is a plane crash that explodes with opulent style. At its worst, it’s a bloated grandiose exercise in masturbatory fan (dis)service excess that doesn’t have the courtesy to give its audience a tolerable progression to lead to and follow up its titular battle.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 Lex Fed Jolly Ranchers
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