Where on earth do I begin? Full disclosure: I wanted to see this out of morbid fascination, and wasn’t expecting much, but wow – Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice will, despite all the money it’s making, remain one of the worst superhero films I’ve seen (and I’ve seen Daredevil – poor Ben Affleck). Not even the new Batman, the best thing about this dirge, can save it.
After the events of Man of Steel, in which Superman (Henry Cavill) inadvertently destroys Metropolis and kills thousands (!), the world wonders whether the alien should be revered or held responsible. Over the bay (conveniently only miles away) in Gotham, a world-weary Batman (Ben Affleck) sees Superman as a threat, and egged on by the machinations of Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), the two titans fight, while Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) hovers around and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) tries to understand conspiracies and plots (while being an awful journalist).
Director Zack Snyder, who directed Man of Steel, will also direct two Justice League sequels (think The Avengers but with Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and more), but if DC and Warner Brothers had any sense, they would ditch him. Superman to most people is the embodiment of heroism, a humble man with great power and a sense of good. Snyder ended Man of Steel by having Superman kill the last of his race directly by breaking his neck, and thousands of innocent people indirectly through destroyed buildings – and it only gets worse here!
The film is a mess of half-baked plots, gaping story chasms, a ridiculous final act and a desire to catch up with Marvel in two films, rather than taking the time to build a world with interesting characters over a series. The medium of emails between superheroes is used for world-building purposes Marvel achieved with movies and character development, while one character literally throws away an important item, only to suddenly go back minutes later to retrieve it. Don’t even get me started on the final half hour, with its ridiculous changes of motivation, behaviour and awful plot decisions – and someone’s name is integral to the plot and a ridiculous change of mind. What I guess I’m trying to say is that the plot is utter bollocks.
Ben Affleck, the poor bastard, is brilliant as Batman though. This is a Batman onscreen we’ve never seen: older, jaded and furious, who’s lost people, and is so fed up with criminal scum he now brands them with a bat symbol, ensuring they face retribution in jail. The actor expertly plays the Bruce Wayne and Batman sides as they should be, and deserves so much more than a role in this nonsense – I only hope he gets given a solo film. Cavill tries his best as a Superman riddled with doubt and guilt, but is shafted by the plot’s need to make him unsympathetic, and compared with Affleck, he wilts away, seeming only to grimace (Superman, grimacing – really?); while Eisenberg is too, too much as a hyperactive, mumbly Luthor. It’s like he was told to continue playing Mark Zuckerberg, but if Zuckerberg was the Joker, and it doesn’t work – you can’t look away because it’s one of those awful performances that stops the film dead every time he speaks!
Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is disappointing too, considering how great the actress is, and exists only to remind Superman “you’re OK, I love you, don’t listen to everyone else” over and over, and get captured. Gadot has very little to do except be mysterious until Wonder Woman reveals herself, though she gives the film a boost it doesn’t deserve, seeming far superior to the others and certainly deserving of a solo film next year. The best of the rest include an rarely-seen Jeremy Irons as the latest Alfred, with the actor’s sardonic, dry tones perfect for the butler/armourer/confidante, while Holly Hunter and Scoot McNairy do much with little as a US senator determined to get Superman to answer for what he did, and a Wayne Enterprises victim of Man of Steel with an axe to grind.
Snyder’s direction has been parodied and mocked ever since 300, but here his usual speed-ramping (action scenes constantly sped up and slowed down) is gone, replaced with cataclysmic fights and explosions as heroes collide. In that, he has succeeded, with some of the main fight and final battle quite impressive, but the plot nonsense detracts from the impact, while the godawful cinematography paints everything in shades of grey, dark grey, black and dull white. I hated this – we get it’s supposed to be dark, grim and portentous, but some colour is expected even of a Batman movie, let alone a Superman one!
The music is a real disappointment too – Hans Zimmer is miles away from his superior music for the Christian Bale Batman trilogy, while Tom Holkenborg/Junkie XL seems to have misplaced all the ability and bombast of his Deadpool and Mad Max: Fury Road soundtracks, his Batman theme particularly uninspiring and more like something that The Lego Batman Movie (see more below) would have done as a parody (it sounds like Batman slamming a goon’s head against a keyboard).
Yes, I was expecting this film to be bad, and maybe that influenced my opinion. But I think I was ready to be proven wrong, and finding it was worse than I expected was a surprise. This, like the Transformers series, has made insane amounts of money already to spawn the inevitable sequels, but I feel both Batman and Superman deserve something much better for their first onscreen meeting. The quite-frankly-ridiculous afterthought of a setup for the DC superhero universe also does damage to two future DC movies that might prove to be brilliant in comparison – this year’s Suicide Squad, and next year’s Wonder Woman.
In summary, what a damn shame – don’t see it. Watch this trailer instead, and realise a Lego film might do more justice to Batman than an actual Batman film.