[REVIEW] Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Release date: 25th March 2016

Rating: ♥ ♥

If there’s one thing to take away from the latest superhero outing featuring two heavyweights of the DC universe, it’s this: a lack of communication is the root of all relationship problems. Even in a wholly non-romantic relationship between two superhero antagonists who hate each other based on nothing but misinformation and misplaced grudges.

The theme of poor communication however is such a potent one it transcends the characters and remains the most defining aspect of Batman v Superman; surely not something director Zac Snyder intended. With its multiple narrative arcs, underdeveloped characters and relentlessly dour atmosphere, it feels like something’s been lost in the translation from page to screen and we, the audience, are just not getting it.

With the beginning of this film picking up where Man of Steel left off, the bare bones of the story are this: Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is angry at the vast collateral damage Superman’s cosmic punch-up with General Zod has wreaked on Metropolis, which includes destruction of his own company skyscraper and deaths of several of his employees. Driven by vengeance, he sees Superman as a dangerous and unpredictable friend who could easily turn foe and needs to be taken down. Superman (Henry Cavill) similarly views Batman as a loose cannon, what with his penchant for vigilante justice and unique method of spreading brand awareness, who needs to be reined in pronto. Enter Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), the obnoxious tech whizzkid CEO of LexCorp, inhabiting the role like Mark Zuckerberg on coke – think maniacal babbling, twitchy poses and a godawful God complex – who gleefully sows the seeds of discord between the two, not so much nudging but actively shoving them towards their inevitable showdown. Much to the heroes’ mutual horror, this also includes a mutated Kryptonian monstrosity in a giant amniotic sac which inconveniently births itself amidst the chaos, just to spice things up.

And that’s it. There’s a lot of peripheral fluff that doesn’t add much to the story or the sense of momentum and could’ve been left on the cutting room floor. Hallucinatory dream sequences, flashbacks, especially the several ones that show the murders of the Waynes in slo-mo (didn’t Chris Nolan cover this already?), an unnecessary chase scene – all of this could’ve been jettisoned to leave more time to give the characters some depth, or in Bruce Wayne’s case, a personality. Christian Bale needn’t worry; with a performance almost entirely devoid of charisma, Ben Affleck is in no danger of stealing his mantle as the most iconic Batman. Even Henry Cavill’s Superman, the resolute good guy who’s known more for being an uncomplicated pillar of virtue as opposed to having an engaging inner life, loses some of his sunny, corn-fed charm as he falls into a navel-gazing sulk for a large part of the film. Well before the finale comes around, there’s a foreboding funereal air to the proceedings which never really dissipates and serves to make the conclusion anti-climactic.

To sum up, BvS is a testosterone-heavy, CGI-tastic, pseudo-philosophical, brawl-fest between two hypermasculine macho men, each trying to out-brood the other, that finds no use for nuance, humour, or most disappointingly, women. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) are limited in archetypal female roles, as either the supportive girlfriend/mother when Clark needs his own personal cheerleader, or the damsels in distress, when they’re kidnapped/held hostage/thrown off a building etc. As for the much-fêted introduction of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot)… it’s to be taken with a pinch of salt. Her inclusion amounts to an extended cameo; the moment she appears in her iconic outifit (albeit a vintage version), sword in hand and tiara on head, to help out our embattled heroes could’ve had so much more impact – if she hadn’t spent her screen time up ’til then slinking about seductively in designer dresses. And as for comic relief? There’s little of it to be found, except in Alfred’s (Jeremy Irons) bone dry delivery and sardonic asides to Bruce. Lex could have been funny, but he’s too manic, too zany, too deliberately ‘out there’ to be anything other than deeply irritating.

From an ultra-cynical POV, the whole film seems like an expensive and elaborate ad to promote the new franchise of DC films. The clash between Batman and Superman, the brief cameos by future Justice League members, and Wonder Woman’s presence – all of it seems designed as a scaffold to support the forthcoming superhero sequels coming our way. Which is fine if that’s all you expect from it – let’s hope next instalment Suicide Squad ups the ante a bit – but as a standalone piece of work, it’s a shame the “greatest gladiator match in the history of the world” turns out to be such an exercise in drudgery.

– SS

(Image credit: BGR.com)

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