Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice looks at the list of bad superhero movie traits and says, “Hey, we can do all of those.” A somber tone that confuses being humorless with import; check. Big special effects enemy that sticks out amongst the actual humans; check. A script that opts for a smattering of characters and teases instead of arcs and payoffs; oh, huge check.
Directed by Zack Snyder, he of the equally dreadful Watchmen adaptation, Dawn of Justice manages to screw up Superman (Henry Cavill), which is an easy task, as well as Batman (a freshly scruffed Ben Affleck), a rather difficult one. You see, portraying a person whose desire to do good for goodness sake can be a tricky matter. However, depicting a man overcome by a desire to stop crime at all costs due to his parents’ murders is simple. For Snyder and writing team Chris Garrio and David S. Goyer, Batman is less a hero but a psychopath who spends most of his time plotting how to kill the Boy in Blue. After the massive destruction caused in Man of Steel, which Bruce Wayne saw firsthand, Bats believes that Superman brings more bad than good in the world. Sure Superman has been seemingly helping out throughout the world, not to mention saving Lois Lane (Amy Adams with nothing to do) from imminent death every few minutes, but what if. What if Superman goes, to use the parlance of our times, rogue.
The problem is Batman is seen less as a man possessed but as one unable to reason. Along with his butler turned military expert Alfred, the Caped Crusader never stops to ponder beyond blabbering speeches; machismo oozing into stupidity. It doesn’t help that Affleck doesn’t fit the role well, at least the non-schmoozing elements. As a brooder, Affleck is flat and at times laughable. In terms of Superman, big wiff. More killing. More moping. Plus, a helping of that old, “Maybe I shouldn’t be a superhero” that infects every goodie in their second outings. Building a film around how a world would react to an individual like Superman could be compelling. Dawn of Justice goes the harshest route, sprinkling tidbits and images of save-the-days amidst the misery. We have a protestor here. A person staring in awe there. And Holly Hunter as a Senator asking who Superman answers to over yonder aka Who Supers the Superman?
This is where the script really fails the film. By trying to cram so many characters, set-ups for future films and pseudo plot-twists, everything gets the short-shrift, even at 150 minutes. For example, Superman has been fighting the good fight for 18 months in this film. What has he done? Just save kittens in trees and Lois Lane a bunch? Is it realistic to think that the cross-border shenanigans that kick off Hunter’s investigation into Superman’s motives are the first? Not at all. By going uber-real, all of the lackluster detail and fake physicality sticks out even worse.
So Superman is too thinly drawn, Batman is a bag of angry tics and Lois Lane is probably stranded on a beach; how about the new crew? Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor will split people; flailing arms, high-pitched chatting and with a mind working so fast his mouth can’t keep up. It’s a different Luthor for sure, but a welcome change of tone in a movie drowning in faux-heft. Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman and, though in little of the proceedings, makes a bit of a mark. It’s nice to have someone there without daddy issues; at least that we know of at this juncture. Plus there’s a big-bad made of computer stuffs that punches and growls. Snyder, hailed by some for his action, has no clue how to shoot said nemesis or the battles that overrun the last half hour. Our protagonists going crashing through brick walls and skyscrapers, and what effect they have on them is lost in the debris, particle effects and a color-palette that has a phobia of anything outside of sepia tone.
By the end, Dawn of Justice unfurls a couple additional speeches that have no sway since they’re coming from the equivalent of expensive cosplay by angry teenaged boys. This is a dud for the ages.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice opens in Seattle Friday.