Back in 2008 when Marvel Studios took a gamble and hired the director of Elf to bring Iron Man to the big screen, most of the film industry dismissed Marvel’s master plan as wishful thinking. Eight years on and Marvel has set the pace for all other superhero franchises with every studio looking to launch their own shared movie universe.
I was in the small portion of the population that liked Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, it might have been a teary-eyed love letter to the Richard Donner classic, but there was a lot to enjoy about the romanticised approach. Man of Steel was a perfectly serviceable origins story, the third act descended into the usual “city being destroyed by a giant MacGuffin”, but it kinda worked enough for me to look forward to the sequel. For now, it appears as though that sequel will never be made as this cheat sheet of a follow-up is as disappointing as it is incoherent.
Snyder’s movie starts off strong; we get a previously on Man of Steel recap as seen through the eyes of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) who picked a bad day to visit Metropolis. You’d think that this is reason enough for Wayne to harbour concerns over the godlike Superman, but Snyder throws in some dodgy plotting with Lex Luthor (a troublingly miscast Jessie Eisenberg) needlessly manipulating the situation to force the two titans to fight. There is already enough rant fuelled reviews out there for this movie, so I’ll try to remain constructive with the diet can of disappointment I’m about to open.
Perhaps the biggest sin of Snyder’s movie is its overall gloomy tone; we knew we weren’t in for Marvel levels of banter, but Snyder’s superhero world is void of any lighter touches and it’s perpetual melancholy weighs the whole thing down. I’m all for bleak superhero movies (Snyder’s Watchmen is so underrated it should be a crime), but I wish that Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s script had included a little humour. Even a poorly timed out of the blue knock knock joke would have been something.
After a pensive Superman in Man of Steel the last son of Krypton is no cheerier here, in fact, he’s borderline depressed, maybe he’s down in the dumps as he’s not allowed to be the star of his own franchise. Either way, this version of Superman isn’t the figure of hope and all that is good. I didn’t count them, but I think Superman has less than 50 lines of dialogue in the whole thing. They say a hero is only as good as its villain; arguably we have two of the greatest superheroes of all time so the bad guy must be a right bastard. Nope. Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is a douchebag you want to slap, and the cave troll Doomsday is a CGI mess that stumbled in from the extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring.
In a desperate bid to catch up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Warner Bros has packed so much set up for future films that Dawn of Justice feels like an elongated trailer. Marvel might be guilty of giving too much prominence to foreshadowing (see Age of Ultron), but each movie still feels like its own thing in a wider world. Maybe in years to come once more DC movies have been made BVS will make a bit more sense. While that might be over optimistic thinking, I’m just finding it difficult to accept that a movie on this scale actively works to confuse its audience. Another frustrating habit is the inclusion of pointless foreshadowing dream sequences. Snyder lets the whole overloaded ship grind to a halt for no other reason than to set up future movies, any momentum gained is lost and the narrative struggles to get going again. Full disclosure, I did fall asleep for about 15 minutes in the middle, it could have been my body’s way of protecting itself from what it was seeing or it could have been because I didn’t sleep the night before. I guess we’ll never know.
While there’s no shortage of things that don’t work, there are positives to found beneath the rubble of its messy narrative. Ben Affleck’s take on Batman is surprisingly impressive, and those who doubted he could pull it off should enjoy that slice of humble pie. Affleck’s Batman is an older more jaded incarnation than we’ve seen before, his moral compass has shifted dramatically, and he exhibits all the signs of a serial killer. Jeremy Irons’ Alfred is no mere servant as he rolls his sleeves up and plays a more active role in Batman’s operation. Some reviews have highlighted how poorly the female characters have been written, while that’s true (Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Holly Hunter you deserve better) they’re no more poorly constructed than the guys they just have much less screentime.
Gal Gadot’s brief screentime as Wonder Woman is another highlight and her entrance in full get up is well executed. That said if you’ve seen all the trailers you have effectively seen most of her appearance. The rest of the cameos from the Justice League aren’t as well handled, none of them interact with other characters and feel needlessly tacked on. The trouble with comic book movie adaptations is the balancing act between fan servicing and creating an accessible film for the casual cinema-goer. Snyder takes influences from many of DC’s most iconic comic book stories, but in an attempt to appease the fans he has made a cold movie that’s difficult to love and at times see.
Batman v Superman is effectively the cinematic equivalent of eating a Pot Noodle when you’re drunk, it might provide a few seconds of satisfaction, but ultimately leaves you feeling cheap and unfulfilled with a lasting sadness that haunts your waking life. Weighed down with the burden of setting up the rest of the DC film slate, Snyder’s movie is too preoccupied with what’s to come that it fails spectacularly in building a solid foundation. No pressure Suicide Squad, no pressure.