BY JERRY DEAN ROBERTS | March 24, 2016
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is 500 pounds of movie heaped on a 10 pound story. This is a clunky, misguided, unhappy and ultimately exhausting experience that runs on for 2 hours and 33 minutes wherein it repeats it’s themes over and over and over with overcooked imagery that must have cost a million dollars a minute. When it’s all over you aren’t surprised by the absence of a credit cookie because by that point there’s nothing left to say. Even its title is too bulky – for my purposes, I’ll just call it BS.
What can be reported is that while it’s a narrative mess, it is certainly more coherent than Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (of which this is a sequel) which was edited so clumsily that you didn’t know from one minute to the next which part of the story was being told. There is a lot of that here but it’s not quite as jarring. Maybe I’ve just gotten use to it.
The story opens with the gazillionth retelling of the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne by a mugger as witnessed by 10 year-old Bruce, followed by the trauma of falling down a hole and encountering a massive flock of bats. Then we cut to the end of Man of Steel in which Bruce (Ben Affleck) arrives in Metropolis just as his Wayne Tower is destroyed in the fight between Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon). In the destruction hundreds of Bruce’s employees and friends are killed. This scene actually gives weight to the persistent complaint that the third act of Man of Steel was a senseless morass of thoughtless carnage.
Bound up in rage and hungry for vengeance, Bruce decides that he must do away with this alien element lest he either bring more dangerous entities to Earth or decides to destroy it himself. His rage is fueled by the notion of Superman as a thoughtless false god who takes careless joy in letting human beings die. So he spends a great amount of his time attaining the kryptonite necessary to do away with him. What is interesting is that Bruce is the focal point here. The title suggests that both will get equal time but the movie really belongs to Bruce and his pointy-eared counterpart. As played by Ben Affleck, Batman here is a rough, uncompromising man who goes to great lengths to make his war with Superman happen. I was never among those who joined the howling last year when Affleck was announced for the role. He’s a very good actor and here he affects a presence in Bruce and in Batman that makes you feel for him. Yes, he’s wreckless, but there’s a method to his literal madness. When he scowers the earth looking for kryptonite we understand the weight of his anger even though we are always aware that he would do well to do some research on The Big Blue Boy Scout first.
This, I should tell you, is the best thing about the movie. The rest of BS is about 19 different subplots and about 26 different characters rolled into a movie that can’t settle down long enough to focus on any of them. Every single scene, every single fight, every single conversation is ramped up to feel like an epic unto itself. Scenes that are suppose to be meaningful go one waaay too long until, after a while, it gets exhausting. So too is Zack Snyder’s misguided direction. He has so many balls on the field at once that he often doesn’t know where to go next, and often cuts to a scene that makes no narrative sense. Seriously, there’s a moment here when Batman goes to the desert to find a chunk of kryptonite and is confronted by the Man of Steel himself. I don’t know how he got there or even where this desert is located. I’m not even sure if it’s a dream sequence or ESP. The scene is so arbitrary that it feels like someone tacked on a deleted scene and forgot to take it out.
I’m realizing now that Snyder is not a good storyteller – of course I should have guessed that three movies ago – but his misdirection is becoming a style. While he makes his film look good, he stages emotional scenes as if we’ve missed something and organizes dialogue between characters as if we’ve come into the middle of a conversation that hasn’t even started yet. There is a scene early in the film in which Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Clark Kent talk about their relationship as if they’ve been talking about it before the scene started. If this were a television show you’d swear you’d missed an episode. Their relationship is more or less pointless. We care about them but the movie doesn’t give us an investment in their personal problems.
I was also perplexed by the presence of Wonder Woman, played Gucci perfume model Gal Gadot, who appears in the movie for reasons I cannot figure out. Her purpose in the movie is never really explained and feels like a holdover for an upcoming Justice League movie. Gadot does a fine job, I guess, with what she has to work with but she’s sort of shoehorned in without purpose. Oh! And you are aware that Aquaman and The Flash and Cyborg are part of this movie? Yeah, their individual screentime is about as long as it takes you to read this sentence.
If their sideplots in the movie seemed useless so too does the presence of Lex Luthor, played here by Jesse Eisenberg as if he really wanted to play The Joker. Luthor wants to build the ultimate weapon that will kill Superman. That might have been enough but the movie spends way too much time dealing with Luthor’s attempts to get around congressional block that would keep him from bringing the kryptonite into the country. It’s a subplot that doesn’t matter and takes up at least 20 minutes of screentime in which he has a war of words with a steadfast Senator (Holly Hunter) who doesn’t like Luthor or his methods.
The basic problem here is that this is a movie too big for the story its trying to tell. There is so much going on and so many characters to keep up with that you can’t get your head around it. It might be fair to say that this could have been cut up into two or even three movies. There is no need for this simplistic story to take this long to tell. If you want a great confrontation between Batman and Superman seek out an animated film from 1997 called “World’s Finest” that wrapped up this same scenario in about 90 minutes and told it with clarity and humor.
The basic problem here is that the movie is joyless and sour. Compare that with the Marvel movies which are bright and colorful and even their dark moments have a sense of joy. This movie is no fun. BS is the first of two movies that will be released in the next six weeks that feature superheroes whomping the snot out of each other. I look forward to Civil War because I know it will be far more coherent. It would almost have to be.