I’ll keep this short (950 words short…) because I just can’t see myself bringing much new to an already overflowing table of negative responses to DC comics latest lumber-fest.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a weird movie. In fact, its clusterf**k of CGI-drenched scenes, desperate world building and grumbly performances barely constitutes a movie at all.
Now, I’ll turn to the broader comic book know-how of Chronicle and American Ultra scribe (and well-known Superman nut), Max Landis, for starters. In his video response to fans calling for his two cents on the film, Briefly Regarding Justice – SPOILERS (below), Landis hits the nail on the head: ‘it’s not a DC comics movie’. I’ve only read a handful of comic books featuring these two superhero heavyweights (and even less featuring Wonder Woman), but I didn’t recognise these two contorted creations. They’ve got the badges on their chests, but a dishwater dull and totally unforgettable Superman? A murderous Batman?
Now there’s nothing wrong with taking a total left turn with big screen adaptations, per se, but these revised ‘heroes’ are zero fun. Ben Affleck’s fine in the role he’s given, but it’s not a role I ever cared for. It was fun to see the Arkham games-inspired combat, but Zack Snyder’s (director) hyperactive camera means its ultimately kind of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it.
Henry Cavill is less fine, and any off-screen persona is bled dry to forge this glum ‘false god’. Gal Gadot comes out of this the best and, as others have discussed, Synder and co. still leave this character a mostly blank slate for the upcoming Patty Jenkins-helmed solo film. Gadot pulls the same kind of Batman’s-met-his-match party stunts as Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman did in The Dark Knight Rises, but it’s when she throws her glowing gauntlets into the mix that she really adds something to the Trinity.
She livens up an otherwise drab final smash-smash-smash-em-up with a heroic, crowd-pleasing entrance and I’m looking forward to seeing where the character goes from here. The rest of the star performers are decent enough, and just about manage to survive the material.
That material is where the whole thing really comes unstuck. Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s script is an absolute mess. The narrative beats keep coming, but there’s no rhythm to them, no arc, no progression, no pacing. Just stuff… two and a half hours of it. Things happens, people get angry, the angry people do things, other people get angry and do some more things.
The plot is both overly simplified and utterly baffling. I was left floundering at muddled motives and unwieldy transitions. The editing doesn’t help. Snyder’s promised an extended version with the home entertainment release, which adds half an hour and boosts the certificate up to an R-rating (/BBFC 15, we can presume), and this theatrical cut feels barren, even at 151 minutes. The only problem is, how many people are going to be able to handle three hours of this stuff.
Or should I say, how many people’s eardrums could survive? Now, Man of Steel was a famously loud movie, but this turns things up to 11. Which brings me to Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s score. I love Zimmer’s work on Man of Steel. It’s one of this decade’s great blockbuster soundtracks and his grand religiosity did so much of that film’s philosophical and emotional heavy lifting.
I’m disappointed to say the same can’t be said for their work here. Gone, for the most part, are Man of Steel’s stirring pianos and, in their place, come Inception-like brawrmmm-ing percussion and Wonder Woman’s psychotic strings. Both of these guys can still pull off majesty at this volume level (think Junkie XL’s Mad Max: Fury Road score), but it’s the low-key cues that hit the hardest here (Track 01, ‘Beautiful Lie’, is a great start).
That track accompanies Snyder’s stunning Thomas and Martha Wayne murder scene. Taking visual cues from Frank Miller’s massively influential The Dark Knight Returnsrun, Synder and his ace cinematographer, Larry Fong, somehow breathe new life into Batman’s done to death (no pun intended) inciting incident. It’s a beautifully shot sequence that’s lensed and lit to perfection, but their visual splendour sours as they run out of things to do with it. Moments sing, but there’s too much muddy green screen and computer-buffed punch-ups to take the breath away on more than a couple of occasions.
This is a scary time for the DCU and Warner Bros. I really don’t know where this leaves them. I was mixed on Man of Steel, but it did have moments of real wonder and the visual barmy-ness was a unique selling point. Repeat viewings have sent that first outing up in my estimations… if only it weren’t for that final act smashy boredom.
But, in comparison, Batman v Superman hit crazy soft, both with me and with much of the theatre I was in, it seems. The Batman, or whatever Batfleck’s solo movie ends up being called, may prove a draw for some, but I couldn’t care less at this point. I’m still holding out hope for Wonder Woman, but a single victory just isn’t enough for Warners at this point. They didn’t need Dawn of Justice to be a critical darling, but they did need a reasonable level of audience response to at least ensure they’ve got a solid enough foundation on which to build. The problem is this high-rise is already halfway done and I don’t know how much higher they can keep building this thing before it crumbles.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’s cacophony of mind-numbing face thumping left me longing for the relative delicacy of Man of Steel. Not fun… not fun at all.