It was just three years ago when the Internet went ballistic over the news that Ben Affleck had been cast as Batman/Bruce Wayne in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” What the majority of those complainers most likely did not take into consideration was the fact that the film was to be directed by Zack Snyder, the same person who brought us the pretentious and overall disappointing “Man of Steel” that same year. And Snyder is also the man behind the equally disappointing “Watchmen” adaptation, as well as his only original film, the god-awful “Sucker Punch.” Original is used very loosely in that last sentence.
Sure, Affleck has had his share of duds, with most people linking “Daredevil” to their belief on why he shouldn’t play another superhero character. But to where Affleck has grown in his acting career, and has also proven to be a pretty solid director at that, Snyder seems to have kept himself in neutral and does not see the point of really changing for the better. And “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which opens nationwide on March 25, is just further proof of that.
“Batman v Superman” begins with yet another glimpse at Batman’s origins. At this point, with Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy ending four years prior and Fox having “Gotham” on television, this almost feels like a completely unnecessary refresher course. But then we see how the final battle between Superman and Zod in “Man of Steel” affected Bruce Wayne, and it all makes sense. Yet the way the film does this take on Batman’s origins comes across as overly pretentious.
That’s another problem with this film. It is soaked in pretension. Now, Snyder is a visually talented director. He’s proven that with his “Dawn of the Dead” remake; his adaptation of “300”; and even the aforementioned films that weren’t good – except “Sucker Punch.” But like “Man of Steel,” he relies way too much on making the film super serious and poetic and dark and gritty that he forgets to add substance. His style, once again, is like a cross between Terrence Malick and Christopher Nolan. And when a lot of the action kicks in, it sort of becomes Michael Bay territory in that it is loud, unegaging, and just dopey all around.
It’s a good-looking film, but Snyder’s direction is messy, as is the script from David S. Goyer (“Batman Begins”) and Chris Terrio (“Argo”). “Batman v Superman” tries to show that both of these beloved heroes are at a point in their respective lives where they’re both uncertain about their place in the world. Superman (Henry Cavill) was once well-liked, but is now hated by many residents of Metropolis, leading them to question if he should be considered an illegal alien, since he’s from another planet. Batman is getting up there in age, and he’s gotten to the point where he’s fatigued and broken. He constantly has nightmares and horrific flashbacks, and is a shadow of his former self.
That right there sounds intriguing, and, for the most part, it is. Both of these heroes aren’t what the people of the world once saw them as. Batman is seeking vengeance against Superman for the collateral damage caused by his fight against Zod. Goyer and Terrio surprisingly give the viewers a politically-infused take on the whole story, which is a nice spin on the comic book movie genre. But then there’s also the fact that, in addition to Batman facing Superman, this is also a setup for the two-part “Justice League” movie, which Snyder is directing.
Not only that, but we get another subplot involving Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), and how he’s got some sinister plan up his sleeve. It involves some big CGI monster that looks like it was created at the last minute.
It becomes too much to digest in its two and a half hour-runtime. Even with the three-hour director’s cut that’s coming, it is not going to change the fact that this film is already bloated, overlong, incoherent, and most of its characters are underdeveloped. And it’s not going to change the fact that Snyder just cares about making the movie look pretty and loaded with explosions.
Oddly enough, most of the positive elements of “Batman v Superman” involve Batman – which so many feared after the announcement that Affleck was cast in the role. He’s actually the best thing. This new take on Batman is different than what we’ve seen before, and for the better. Affleck is superb at capturing the feeling of loss and uncertainty that Bruce has at this point in his life. He’s not the charmer he used to be, and he knows it. It’s the perfect role for Affleck’s debut into the DC world.
The other great thing about “Batman v Superman” is the introduction of Wonder Woman. Though Gal Gadot is given little to work with, her presence is welcome when she appears onscreen. She’s tough, and is certainly the Wonder Woman that the DC Universe deserves.
The rest of the cast, all solid in previous films, aren’t quite as intriguing to watch here as Affleck and Gadot. Cavill is still just OK as Superman/Clark Kent. There are times where his acting is stiff, and his story here is not as engaging as the one involving Batman. Adams doesn’t get much to do this time around, other than be a damsel in distress. Jeremy Irons as Alfred is fine, but it almost feels like a miscast since there isn’t much of an age difference between him and Affleck in real life like there was with previous actors who played the roles of Alfred and Bruce Wayne. If Irons had been given more, he might have done better with the performance. The same can be said about a lot of the other actors here, too.
But the biggest miscast in the whole film is Eisenberg as Luthor. In a film that’s supposed to be dark and gritty, Eisenberg’s performance is borderline campy. There are some scenes where he excels, but he’s mostly just a goofy villain, and not one that you would expect to be menacing. It doesn’t fit into the Snyder/Nolan world.
“Batman v Superman” comes across as being less about that and more about its “Dawn of Justice” subtitle. That’s where Snyder’s film goes off the rails. It’s too meandering and unfocused on exactly what it wants to be, and the setting up of the “Justice League” movies feels forced. The cinematography looks fine, but the action scenes aren’t as breathtaking as they should be, with some resorting to unsettling shaky cam. Hans Zimmer’s score sounds like rehashed material from “Pirates of the Caribbean” and other films he’s composed – just with hints of Junkie XL’s guitar riffs. Granted, Wonder Woman’s intro music was the perfect choice, it just sounds like something we’ve heard before.
The disappointment of “Batman v Superman” doesn’t automatically mean the DC Cinematic Universe is in trouble. It’s just more of a rocky start for it. Gadot and Affleck do give it some hope for their future projects. But there is some tweaking that needs to be done if it wants to be a strong competitor to Marvel.