Review: Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
PLOT: Almost two years after the partial destruction of Metropolis, the world is pondering the pros and cons of having an all-powerful entity such as Superman around. In addition to the Senate committee investigating his exploits, Gotham's caped crusader Batman is keeping a close eye on the Man of Steel, determined to put a stop to him before the alien potentially turns against humanity.
REVIEW: For a movie called BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, I sure thought it could have used more Batman and Superman. That is to say, Superman doing things we recognize as being Superman-esque, ditto for The Dark Knight. Here's a film that spends almost an hour getting to its first real action sequence, and most of that keeps Batman detained inside his batmobile, while almost all of Supes' deeds are relegated to montages. But characters sure do talk about these two a lot.
Yes, there's a lot of talking in BATMAN V SUPERMAN; a lot of exposition and reminiscing, much theorizing and debating. The characters in this film like to argue about the Man of Steel and the Bat of Gotham more than we fanboys, but what I wanted to see was these guys in action. I wanted to be thrilled and excited by BVS, and as devised by screenwriters Chris Terrio and David Goyer and director Zack Snyder, these characters are more worth pondering over than actually seeing do the things they're famous for. I don't need wall-to-wall action, but it's worth noting BATMAN V SUPERMAN is exceptionally light on it for almost half its run time. There will be a lot of chapter-skipping when this thing hits Blu-ray, I guarantee you.
After a familiar prologue introducing us to Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) - you knew his parents were murdered and he fell down a bat-infested well as a kid, right? - and a fairly exciting look at the climactic MAN OF STEEL finale from Bruce's perspective, the film picks up 18 months later after the destruction of Metropolis by General Zod and, in part, Superman (Henry Cavill). A senate committee has been put together to investigate the actions of Superman, figuring out whether or not he should be put in check. How does one put Superman in check? With kryptonite, of course, and some has been recovered from General Zod's destroyed ship. Interested in weaponizing the kryptonite is billionaire Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), an eccentric with an obvious god complex who is completely intent on ruining Superman's existence. Why he hates Superman so damn much in this film isn't really explored by the screenplay; it expects us to know Lex is Superman's eventual mortal enemy, so we'll just have to roll with it.
While not as maniacal or conniving as Lex, an older and more bitter than ever Bruce isn't far behind in the thinking that Superman must be stopped. Nursing a personal grudge after the Metropolis chaos destroyed his offices and killed some of his employees, Bruce is now convinced Superman is more of a threat to the Earth than a savior. While his brutalizing of lowlives hasn't stopped Gotham from being a cesspool of crime and corruption, Bruce appears to believe his new purpose is making sure Superman is put down before he does to the rest of the world what he did to Metropolis.
Lurking around the edges of all this intrigue are MAN OF STEEL's other central characters, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), the former worried about her boyfriend's increasingly unpopular public image, the latter just wanting Clark Kent to focus on his menial Daily Planet work and not his crusade against Batman. (Deflecting in a big way, Clark/Superman is attempting to convince the city that it's a vengeful vigilante like Batman who's the real problem.) There's also a mysterious woman (Gal Gadot) who keeps popping up and stealing long glances at Bruce Wayne, her purpose in this plot all but pointless except for the big revelation that she's... well, you know.
The first half of this movie is a major bummer. It's ponderous and takes its sweet time building any tangible energy. Senate hearings, news briefings, heart-to-hearts in bland interiors; BATMAN V SUPERMAN is truly boring for about an hour and change, until the first real action sequence of the film goes down. Sadly, it's a rather unexceptional car chase that kind of goes nowhere. (Not that we have to compare them, but look at how Christopher Nolan staged any of the chase scenes in the DARK KNGIHT trilogy for a primer on how it's really done.) The main showdown between our two heroes takes approximately an hour and a half to get to, and while that's probably the best sequence in the movie, it still left me wanting. Perhaps because I was waiting so long for it, perhaps because it's mostly set in a dingy, abandoned building that provides next to zero visual flair. Saying these two titans going toe-to-toe should be more epic in scope is an understatement.
When the movie finally seems to have gathered some steam, it goes for broke in a garbled, foolhardy way. We're introduced to Doomsday, a Kryptonian monster the movie brings in to destroy some cities. (Can't make one of these without obliterating a city, can you?) This character is disheartening because he's just another unimpressive digital creation. That Batman and Superman - two iconic characters some of us have waited to see share the big screen for a long time - are pitted against this ugly and uninspired monstrosity is a real shame. (For the record, I'm not necessarily speaking about Doomsday himself, but this movie's rendition of him.) He's certainly not a memorable villain, despite all the growling and smashing, and he sadly leads Batman vs Superman's big finale into more of the same blurry, computer-generated mayhem we're subjected to from big action films time and time again. At least you could make out what was happening during the conclusion of MAN OF STEEL - here the action is very messily presented.
There are positive things about BVS. I liked Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne; the actor is the right age and has the appropriate look for this world-weary iteration of Bruce. I also still think Henry Cavill is well-cast as Superman, although I'm not sure these movies are using the actor to his potential; but maybe it's that Zack Snyder doesn't truly understand what makes Supes a unique and enjoyable hero. (He's not enjoyable in this movie; in fact, we've never seen the Superman character presented so joylessly.) Gal Gadot makes an impression despite her limited screentime as Wonder Woman. She doesn't show up until near the end, but when she does it's an exciting appearance; it makes me wish she were in it more.
As for Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor, it's an interesting take on the infamous villain. He's twitchy, hyper, weird in the extreme; he's so overtly evil that he's not fooling even the people he's supposed to be acting sly with. Eisenberg feels like he's been directed by someone else; his scenes are out of tune with all the others. His peculiar, motor-mouthed performance does indeed become annoying after a while, but in a strange way it's nice to see someone in the movie bringing some oddness to the proceedings. If nothing else, Eisenberg is the only person who isn't constantly frowning. (Jeremy Irons is having an OK time and makes for a decent Alfred, come to think of it.)
But by far my biggest complaint about BATMAN V SUPERMAN? It's just not fun. It may please the superhero fans who prefer their movies brooding and depressing, but for me I wouldn't mind if there were at least a few moments of levity here and there. Every event is glum, almost everyone is humorless and solemn. Even Nolan's famously dour Batman movies had some bounce to them; the action provided pizzaz, and they weren't afraid to bring optimism to the forefront every once in a while and ease off the bleakness. BATMAN V SUPERMAN left me feeling depressed and uninvolved, and far from excited about what's the come in the many (many) movies to follow. I wanted to like this movie, was rooting for it, and it didn't deliver.
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