Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

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From the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman to the fact the trailers were a bit boring, years of waiting, speculation and out-and-out hate speech around this movie can finally be answered and people on both sides of all the arguments can finally put it all to one side, right? Unlikely.

 Before writing this review I asked around for view points just to see if what I thought was out of kilter with the popular opinion. Turns out mine was more central than I imagined. Not that I need to justify my own thoughts.

Firstly, I’m a fan of the source material, Frank Miller’s ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ is a seminal work in the comic-book medium and changed the fact of the ‘graphic novel’ forever, ushering in the grown up comic. Also, without this comic, you wouldn’t have had 1989’s Batman and it would have been a lot longer ’til we got to where we’re at where popular culture is awash with A through to Z-list characters getting their own films and TV series.

The first scene is a one we’ve seen so many times: Bruce Wayne’s parents being confronted and shot in front of their son. Quite why we needed to see this again is anyone’s guess, this is a film following hot on the heels of the most successful Batman-based films ever in which we saw this. We also saw it in the Joel Schumacher abominations and the Tim Burton versions. We know. I’ll have this exact same rant if, in three weeks Marvel do the Spider-Man origin during Captain America: Civil War, we all know about it and we don’t need to see it again. That five minutes could have been cut, if not made way for some much-needed dialogue later in the film.

Ben Affleck as Batman is the best thing about this film, his take on the Dark Knight is one who has been there, done it and is tired of the relentless bad guys he’s faced in his career. So much so, that if you were telling the story through Superman’s eyes Batman would be a terrifying villain who tortures and brands his victims.

The problem is that you can’t see things through Superman’s eyes. He’s a virtually indestructible alien with almost unlimited power, which is why he’s such a hard character to get right and why he hasn’t been handled well in recent years, possibly ever. It’s a shame that Henry Cavill (and Brandon Routh before him) is given so little to do other than mope.

Batman’s hardly a barrel of laughs either, but at least that’s expected. But that means that your leads are just pouting men having a bit of a strop and are angry at each other for effectively doing the same job. The light to their shade is provided by Jessie Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. The villain. Possibly the most annoying character this year and a complete miscast. Eisenberg chooses to play Luthor as another damaged orphan but instead of being imposing and in control with anger issues (like Wilson Fisk – Vincent D’Onofrio – in Daredevil) he plays him as an eccentric brat who has more in common with Heath Ledger’s Joker than a future President of the USA. Don’t even get me started on the bell tolling monologue. The repetitive chanting reminded me of the final scene for Ray Liotta in Revolver, one of the few films I’ve been tempted to walk out of.

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is fine, but criminally underused. It feels as if Zack Snyder decided he needed a female character that wasn’t a wordless henchperson or a damsel in distress. One of her scenes includes the most clumsy shoe-horning in of supporting characters of future movies ever seen. For a start, it looked like it was shot for TV and secondly, why on earth was Lex Luthor giving the future members of the Justice League names and logos?

There are some interesting scenes, the best of which feature Batman; the car chase with the new Batmobile was thrilling; the introduction to the Batman was scary and clearly based on ‘Year One’, another Miller classic; and the flight between the titular heroes was just how you wanted it to be.

These scenes were outweighed by the boring or ludicrous. The first 40 minutes was relatively boring, even though Snyder decided to get out of his own way and seemed to be shooting a proper film that had an interesting case-building story involving Lois Lane, Superman and Batman all trying to get to the bottom of what each other, and Luthor, are up to. It all starts to crumble with a bizarre dream/premonition that if you don’t really follow what’s going on or know what’s coming from Warner Brothers/DC films over the next decade you just wouldn’t understand. I know this for a fact, I asked people. And the final scene is just as destructive and CG heavy as anything in Man of Steel, something Snyder seemed so desperate to put a different spin at the beginning of this film. But hey, at least the island was uninhabited, right? What about the city’s power supply that was destroyed and anyone who must have been working there?

This film is a mess. It’s not necessarily all Snyder’s fault, the script is clunky and the dialogue is lazy, but that’s not even the problem, we don’t expect Shakespeare from superhero films. The real problem the film has is that it’s trying to do about four different things; it’s a sequel to Man of Steel (kind of); it’s a brand new Batman film (kind of) and it’s setting up the incoming Justice League (horribly) while also giving us insights into what’s coming way down the line in the WB/DC universe (I think. Time travel is tricky – ask the X-Men and Terminator). The film is never given time to focus on any of these elements for as long as they deserve because if it had the running time would have been closed to six hours rather than just under three.

I really wanted this film to work and to some it has, but there’s something about the Snyder films that leave me cold. I don’t now if it’s the fact I don’t really like Superman, the washed out colour palette of the film or the mopey tone they are setting but something doesn’t sit right with me and I can’t get behind them. I hate to compare them to Marvel films, but what else are you supposed to do? There’s a certain magic with Marvel, they’re fun and although they’re equally as ludicrous when you boil it down (Thor is a virtually indestructible alien and a lot of their big villains are CG monsters) at least they give you a laugh and wink at you because they know they’re a bit silly.

Not everything didn’t work, rip everything but Batman out and throw in any of the Suicide Squad as a villain and you’d have a great Batman film.

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