It’s the cinematic matchup that comic book fans have been waiting for for decades: the Caped Crusder vs. the Man of Steel. It’s a pairing that has unlimited story potential, one that could dip into the vast mythology and background material that comes with each of these characters. Just saying those two names together in one title should be enough to get anyone excited about the possibilities. As far as who should be put at the helm of such an ambitious picture, there seemed little doubt that director Zack Snyder was the right choice. While “Man of Steel” was a bit of a stumbling block (not a bad film, just one that needed to tone down the mindless action), he brought us brilliant adaptations of Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” and Frank Miller’s “300,” so in terms of vision, he was a solid choice. Pair him with screenwriters like the great David S. Goyer (“Batman Begins,” “Dark City”) and Academy Award winner Chris Terrio (“Argo”), and it made us all feel like absolutely nothing could go wrong. Oh, how wrong we were.
The film begins by taking us back to events that occurred during “Man of Steel,” that being the epic final battle that left much of Metropolis in ruins, including a building run by Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck). We see the events from Wayne’s point of view as he desperately tries to get there to help, but he’s simply too late. Back in the present day, there is a Senator (Holly Hunter) who is holding hearings regarding Superman (Henry Cavill) because she is concerned that his power is going unchecked. Meanwhile, Clark Kent is growing concerned about a “bat vigilante” who also seems to be going unchecked, causing him to give a stern warning to Batman via his superhero alter ego. At the same time, Bruce Wayne is investigating a young CEO, Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg), under the suspicion that he may be trying to bring a dangerous weapon into the city. However, Bruce’s butler, Alfred (Jeremy Irons), doesn’t completely accept that explanation, believing instead that he is looking for a way to go up against Superman. Eventually all of this comes to a head, forcing the two superheroes into an epic battle, but little do they know that an even bigger threat is looming.
You can probably tell right away what one of the film’s major issues is just from the synopsis above. This is an extremely cluttered movie, filled with half-baked storylines that are thrown together into one big mess that tries to include far too much. This leaves too little time for each of them (yes, even for a film that runs for two and a half hours), turning what should have been a thrilling and unforgettable experience, into one that’s extremely dull and almost entirely forgettable. That’s no small feat for a film that contains what many consider to be the two greatest superheroes ever created, but somehow, they’ve managed to take these beloved characters and leave them stranded in a film that just doesn’t know what to do with them.
Director Zack Snyder doesn’t seem to blame (the film is at least well-made) so much as screenwriters Goyer and Terrio. The screenplay is very weak as it tries to combine all of these strands together, leaving behind important elements like character and story development in favor of mind-numbing action sequences, including the titular battle. That’s not to say that the matchup is all bad, but it does become rather monotonous pretty quickly. However, that doesn’t even begin to describe the numerous mistakes made in the film’s final act. I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say that it was an interesting decision to add in a cave troll from Middle-Earth to threaten all of mankind. It’s a battle that goes on and on and on, one that you quickly realize is completely unjustified in its length, a complaint that can easily be made against the entire film’s bloated and unnecessary 153-minute runtime.
There’s also the problem of the film feeling like little more than a big setup for the “Justice League” film that is due out next year. After the forced confrontation of Batman and Superman, we also get the completely random addition of Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), who ends up serving little purpose in the film except to say that she’s in this universe. There’s also small cameos from a few others, but that’s spoiler territory once again, so we’ll leave that be. All this is to say that a lot of this film feels like “coming attractions” for next year’s film, when it should have been concentrating more on bringing the two titular superheroes together for a more creative and better-thought-out adventure.
As far as the film’s more positive elements go, Ben Affleck does a great job as Bruce Wayne/Batman, giving the character an incredible sense of gravitas as he fights for what he believes in. Henry Cavill once again does an admirable job as Clark Kent/Superman as well, though it’s sad to have to say that both performances will probably be overshadowed by the dreadful film itself (a result that’s probably best for the miscast Jesse Eisenberg, who overacts every scene like he’s in a completely different film).
This is the kind of film that should have been an event, one that the fans could get behind and cheer as their favorite superheroes finally clashed on the big screen. It should’ve had us invested in it all the way, especially as the real threat emerges, forcing our heroes to rethink their stances. It’s a terrible shame that what we ended up with instead was a meandering mishmash of garbled storylines and action sequences. It’s a massive disappointment that, if things stay the way they are, could spell outright disaster for the upcoming “Justice League” films (if Terrio found it this difficult to put just a couple of superheroes together, how well do you think putting together several of them would go?). Well before the film came out, people were making their bets on who they think would win, but as it turns out, it didn’t matter in the least. We all lost. 1.5/4 stars.
Starts tonight at theaters everywhere.
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