Man of Steel was the warning shot in 2013. Now director Zack Snyder takes citywide destruction and wonky superhero world-building to the next level with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Snyder isn’t aware that nuance is an option, looking to create the biggest, baddest event film possible. Even with a 150-minute runtime, Batman v. Superman feels claustrophobic. The helmer digs into his shallow bag of tricks to bring two iconic characters to life, but instead of storytelling, he gets lost in his own limited ambition, frequently relying on noise and violence to make sense of a poorly written, poorly acted, poorly edited effort.
During the Battle of Metropolis, where Superman (Henry Cavill) defeated General Zod (Michael Shannon), billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) struggled futilely to rescue his staff trapped inside the Wayne Financial building, watching them perish in the chaos.
Nearly two years later, Wayne’s life as Batman has become an obsession, trying to discover a weakness in Superman, whose alter ego Clark Kent is navigating a tricky relationship with top journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Emerging as a powerful threat in Metropolis is Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), a rich and connected businessman looking for answers to great mysteries located inside seemingly deactivated Kryptonian technology.
With Bruce and caretaker Alfred (Jeremy Irons) putting the pieces of Superman and Luthor together, the Man of Steel fights to define his life, soon targeted for condemnation by Senator Finch (Holly Hunter).
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.
Batman v. Superman isn’t aware that subtlety is even an option.
Batman v. Superman has origin story business to tend to before the anticipated clash begins, quickly flipping through Bruce’s formative years, when he witnessed the murder of his parents and discovered an obsession with bats after falling down a well. These are familiar sights, and Snyder doesn’t linger.
The action eventually returns to the climax of Man of Steel, only instead of the Superman/Zod massacre, we remain with Bruce, who speeds into the heart of the city, only to discover a bloodbath he blames on the Kryptonian visitors. This is where efficiency ends and Batman v. Superman suddenly sets out to establish a fresh franchise.
The titular heroes are only a small part of this new DC Universe that Snyder is in charge of, and confusion is common. A major subplot involves the Man of Steel in Washington, where he’s spent the last two years saving lives and helping humanity avoid disasters, after stopping Zod from taking over Earth.
The screenplay, by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, concocts a painfully vague accident as a reason to shut down Superman’s global presence, despite his stellar crime-fighting record. The threat never feels like a priority, though Snyder turns an easily solvable situation into an extended battle, rehashing ideas from Man of Steel.
Luthor is the real troublemaker, with his maniacal pursuit of Kryptonite the primary motivation for the tale. Interested in Luthor’s discoveries, Bruce uses sloppy spy work to discover the businessman’s evil deeds.
Unfortunately, Luthor isn’t anywhere near a viable threat, coming off as a jittery brat whose secret weapon is accidental timing. Eisenberg commits to a weird Robin Williams impression, delivering a flurry of tics and stammers as he fights to compete with his co-stars.
Without a real villain, Batman v. Superman is left to Bruce and Clark, who are handed fairly conventional character arcs as the loners discover their true place in the world. It’s a shame Cavill is such a bland actor, as Superman has a little more to do this time around, including a sexual side with Lois, journalistic instincts, and pained recognition as he tries to save everyone in need.
The surprise of the picture is Affleck, who doesn’t make the best Batman, but he scores as Bruce, putting real venom behind the tycoon’s ego. CGI and extensive stunt doubling do Batman’s real work (the fight choreography is weirdly stiff, and cinematography by Larry Fong strangely favors complete darkness), but Affleck fills the suit without embarrassment.
Batman v. Superman is crippled by excessive length, superfluous dream sequences, and supporting characters in need of trimming. There’s extensive fan service as well, with a slew of DC Universe heroes stopping by for a visit, including Wonder Woman, with actress Gal Gadot physically, if not dramatically, perfect for the part.
Of course, all these awkward additions are meant to pay off down the line in spinoffs and sequels, leaving little time to develop the rest of the feature, which climaxes with yet another smash-em-all fight in Metropolis. Snyder loves to destroy things, and that’s essentially all Batman v. Superman has to offer, more interested in deafening the audience than trying to thrill them.