Film Review: BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Laurence Fishburne
Written by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer
Directed by Zack Snyder
Produced by Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder
Cinematography by Larry Fong
Edited by David Brenner
Music by Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL
Alas, and it’s a big alas, Warner Bros.’ overdone, overblown, over-reaching, dreary, drabby, dour, downer and overall depressing and disappointing $410 million-budgeted (including advertising, marketing and publicity) “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”–despite the best intentions and talents of a talented, hard-working cast of praiseworthy actors and equally talented and hard-working special effects artists, stuntmen, action sequence directors, production designers, costumers and make-up artists–ends up seriously falling flat and ends up being simply a big average movie, as the film suffers terribly from major script, story, dialogue, story development, character development problems, and, even in the midst of its inherent fantasy and science fiction realms, also suffers from major believability and credibility problems. In short: it’s a big, huge, resounding average movie.
When superhero-, comic book-, animation- and video game-based movies like “Batman v Superman” and many of the other big-budget movies in these genres in recent years fall flat, and end up being just average and disappointing, all an exasperated, sighing and fed-up public can do is sigh and continue its pleas for Hollywood to, once again: Please step back, stop, relax, take a deep breath, and really think about putting to a deserved rest for a long, long time the continually increasingly stinking pile of unoriginal, cluttered, trashy, horrible average and, much of the time, literally unneeded retreads, remakes, rehashes, reboots, re-imaginings and other re-s that continue to come off of the Hollywood assembly line like so many industrial, form-fitting widgets, gidgets, gadgets, gizmos, nuts and bolts. Because, overall, it’s not working. And the public knows this. And they have spoken, repeatedly, about the unoriginal streak that Hollywood studios continue to throw up into the multiplexes.
Yet, here they come, again and again, like a movie business cancer or virus or some other dreaded disease: In the coming months of 2016, what do moviegoers yearning, pleading, crying, begging for originality have to look forward to? Another “Independence Day” movie—really, who on earth was crying out for that? Were you? Please tell me that you weren’t. Another “Alice in Wonderland” movie. Really? We haven’t drained that poor story for all its worth yet? If there was an Alice, you’d think she’d be living in that rabbit hole, scared to every come out again because of overexposure. There’s a live-action remake of “The Jungle Book.” Well, there is some interesting advance buzz on that for its special effects, but—it’s still not original. A fifth Jason Bourne movie. Really? Looking back, there really is only one “Bourne” film that really matters—the first one—and that poor, troubled series should have stopped there, after the first one. Another X-Men movie. Not even X-men fans asked for that. More Captain America, Avengers, Marvel characters. A “Big Fat Greek Wedding” sequel—the first one was pleasant, but who’s betting the second will capture that quirky magic again? Not many. A “Barbershop” sequel, another “Huntsman” movie, another “Neighbors” movie, another “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie, another “Conjuring” movie, a sequel to the terrible “Now You See Me,” which not even magicians were asking for, another “Purge” movie, and, lawdy mamma almighty, yet another Tarzan movie. Edgar Rice Burroughs is likely down in that rabbit hole with Alice, thinking very dire, dark thoughts about what Hollywood has done to his creation.
The point is: “Batman v Superman” falls into this mess, by being just another unneeded, unoriginal sequel that ends up just simply disappointing fans and prompting moviegoers to please ask for more original programming in the theaters.
Additionally, “Batman v Superman” marks the twelfth feature-length movie (including one animated film) featuring Batman since 1943, already, and also marks the tenth feature-length film featuring Superman since the 1948, already. And this not counting other live-action and animated Batman and Superman short films, and numerous animated and live-action television shows. Sigh. Do you see the problem? The problem simply is: At this time, or perhaps any time for a long time, there is no need for another movie featuring Batman or Superman.
And the last disappointing, polarizing, very average Superman movie, Snyder’s own flat “Man of Steel,” was only released three years ago, in 2013, to generally disappointing results, too.
And, to add to the defense, the excellent, quite praiseworthy and, it should be noted, quite original Christopher Nolan trilogy that Nolan produced, directed and co-wrote just ended only four years ago—in 2012. And the first film in that series, “Batman Begins,” was only released in 2005—just eleven short years ago. So it’s too soon to bring Batman back—people are still watching and enjoying and talking about that trilogy, to its benefit. It’s still quite there in the public, moviegoing and fandom zeitgeist. And, to illustrate just how unoriginal BvS is in storytelling, “Batman Begins” starts with an introduction sequence that is oddly, weirdly and strangely presented yet again at the start of “Batman v Superman”—which is completely repetitive, overdone, unneeded and just simply ridiculous. Why did that introduction sequence—which brings absolutely nothing new to the storytelling–need to be in this film? It didn’t, and thus begins one of the many problematic issues with the overall story, script, dialogue, story development and character development that plague “Batman v Superman.”
“Batman v Superman” is one of those films, as mentioned, that obviously spent tons of money on actors, special effects artists and companies, production designers, costumers, make-up artists, stuntmen and set designers—but somehow forgot that script, story, dialogue, characters, story development and character development really drive a good, quality film. BvS is sorely lacking in all of those latter areas.
First, the basic premise of the entire project is flimsy—the film simply fails to come up with and present a wholly satisfying, reasonable reason why the crimefighting superhero known as Batman, who is also the very human alter ego of endlessly and wondrously rich industrialist and playboy Bruce Wayne (played quite nicely, strongly and confidently by an enthralling Ben Affleck, it should be noted positively), needs to pick a playground fight with fellow crime fighter Superman (played equally well by a decidedly understated, cool and quietly confident Henry Cavill), a decidedly non-human alien from the planet Krypton in a galaxy far, far away and who is—and the viewer clearly knows this—like Batman, dedicated to truth, justice and the American way. Oh, yes, don’t worry, there is an attempt to explain why Wayne becomes anxious, worried, suspicious, angry and then downright psycho about why he feels that Superman is a threat and must actually be defeated and put away, or something—but, with all sincerity, intelligence, analysis, and thought, the premise for this story point that is presented in the movie ends up being nothing more than unbelievable, flimsy, weak, reaching, lame—and distracting and disappointing. A major problem, too, is that it’s all weak because you’re pitting one good guy against another good guy—and the viewer knows that both are good guys. So it’s simply not enjoyable to sit there, twitching, and watch two good guys argue, bicker, spat and pitter and patter at each other like spoiled brats who are upset because someone took their ball or knocked them down at recess. Despite all of the bombast and explosiveness of their fight, and despite the attendant special effects, the show-down between Wayne and Superman ends up being nothing more than an irritating playground fight.
And in cinematic, filmic areas, the actual throw-down between Wayne and Clark Kent, Superman’s adopted human name, is so overdone, it’s exhausting to watch. There’s much bashing, beating, hitting, throwing, glaring with lighted eyes (Wayne and Kent), punching, kicking, dragging and, well, to be honest, the entire fight sequence is horribly average, unoriginal and disappointing. It’s just there—but loudly so.
Second, the overall story of the film is weak and unoriginal, as well. There’s something about Wayne being upset about Superman’s action at the end of “Man of Steel,” when Superman fought unoriginal alien enemy General Zod and destroyed some of Wayne Enterprises’ buildings and people—but the viewers and even the public know that Superman was trying to save Earth, kill Zod and save the planet. So Wayne’s enduring irritation doesn’t make much sense. There’s also backstory and subplots about Lois Lane’s investigative work on overseas terrorism, Superman’s suspicious actions in fighting terrorism, Wayne’s investigative work on the suspicious doings and actions of also crazily wealthy industrialist Lex Luthor (a fidgety, tic-engulfed, caffeinated, druggy and wholly watchable Jesse Eisenberg, doing justice in one of the few unique and original characterizations in the movie), and something about Luthor wanting to destroy Wayne and Superman, for reasons, again, not wholly satisfying even in a fantasy context. There’s more subplot and more backstory and more double-dealings—all piling up to present a story that’s cluttered, fighting with itself, and overdone. There’s simply an attempt to do, present and pack in just too much—the script, story and characters needed to be stripped down, simplified (not dumbed-down, not made less intelligent, but simplified in terms of storytelling), and presented in a more clear manner of exposition.
Third, the dialogue—which was a reliable staple of excellence in the Nolan trilogy—is continually flat, weak, unoriginal, over-simplified, unfunny, non-clever, and just simply functional, form-fitting and there to move the cluttered story along, drudgingly. Nolan’s films were replete with eloquent, fluid, beautifully-constructed speeches, stories, monologues and passages that were, in their own wonderful way, little filmic segments of their own—like all good filmic, television and theatrical writing should be. Stories within stories, little plays within plays, entertaining tales that tell other stories that support, compliment and dress up the larger story at hand. This was a calling card of Nolan in his excellent trilogy—Michael Caine’s eloquent Alfred’s stories of daring-do and adventures decades ago; the Joker’s, Scarecrow’s and Bane’s tortured, psychological monologues that backed up their psycho actions; and Batman’s, Commissioner Gordon’s and Harvey Dent’s passages that moved those stories along, again, eloquently, figuratively and theatrically. Some of the Joker’s monologues in “The Dark Knight” were just simply crazily, scarily beautiful.
None of that appears in BvS. The dialogue falls flat most of the movie—and that’s strange, considering the film was co-written by David Goyer, who worked as a scriptwriter on Nolan’s trilogy and on “Man of Steel.” But Goyer brings very little of the eloquence that he brought to the Nolan trilogy.
And the script—and the movie itself—is depressingly dreary, depressing, dark and downer, from start to end. There’s very little humor, and what humor is attempted—mainly, Eisenberg’s crazy Luthor—is brief, falls flat or doesn’t resonate enough to lift the story and film out of its depressing abyss, a morass as black and dark as that bat cave that little Bruce Wayne keeps falling into every other movie.
There is not one line—not one line—in BvS that’s as amusing, say, as one of the lines that Luthor—played so deliriously delicious and delectable by Gene Hackman in the still-gold-standard and excellent “Superman” in 1978—hilariously states in his elaborate underground lair. Fed up with the nincompoops surrounding him (the equally hilarious Ned Beatty and Valerie Perrine), Hackman’s Luthor looks at Beatty’s bumbling Otis and says, paraphrasing here, “I’m thinking of the number 200 here. That’s your weight, and my IQ.”
Lo, for there to be just one line as humorous as that comedic nugget in BvS—but there isn’t. It doesn’t matter if the 1978 “Superman” is credited with five writers—at least they came up with some humor to co-exist with the superhero theatrics. To this day, Richard Donner’s 1978 “Superman” and Donner and Richard Lester’s 1980 “Superman II” still remain the gold standards of superhero movies, on all levels.
BvS is so impossibly dark and depressing—not just in script and story, but in tone, photography, lighting, costuming, sets, production design, light schemes. Everything is draped in black, gray, subdued lighting, nighttime, darkness—acting, tone, even characters’ faces. Metropolis must be undergoing a shaving equipment shortage—Wayne, Alfred ( Jeremy Irons, whose character does not appear enough in this film) and other men all seem to walk around with a perpetual five o’clock shadow, which just looks grubby. But the overall tone is just, again, dark. Hopefully, part of the film’s expansive $410 million budget was off-set psychology and psychiatric sessions, to allow the cast and crew to shake off the dreariness and get back to being happy, normal human beings.
Some may quibble that Nolan’s trilogy was equally dark, drab and depressing, and, yes, much of those films were—but they were in a different sense, on a different level, in a different way. Nolan’s films were also brightened by that script eloquence; more clearly-defined, believable and understandable stories; smoother and more confident direction; smoother and better-paced fight sequences; better pacing and timing, overall; and overall better and more original takes on every aspect of those films.
Which leads to BvS director Zack Snyder, who has helmed several big-budget and successful films, but who, still, ends up being polarizing and controversial as to the exact success of his end results. “Man of Steel,” “300,” “Watchmen” and his “Dawn of the Dead” remake—all were successful and made money, but all have their distinct, particular and jarring problems that seem to gnaw away at fans’ and filmgoers’ filmic consciousness. Snyder continues that jarring nature with BvS—the film is heavy-handed, cluttered, confusing, dark, poorly timed and paced, filled with action sequences that fall flat due to overdone directing choices, and lacking in an overall smooth, positive and eloquent tone similar to Nolan’s trilogy or the 1978 and 1980 Superman films.
And Snyder needs to be blamed for BvS’s overdone, messy and disappointing third act, when Wayne, Kent and-suddenly–Wonder Woman, played smoothly and sensuously and in a quite respectful, tough feminist manner, it should be noted, by the beautiful Gal Gadot, battle Luthor’s psycho creation, a towering, slobbering, lumbering pile of goop and loudness named Doomsday who, apparently, can’t be killed by anything except one thing. The third-act is largely a loud, clattering, clanging, noisy battle between the superheroes and Doomsday that is clumsily directed, overbearing and so filled with explosive special effects, the overall affect is just numbness. Not good numbness, but hypnotic, sensory-overload numbness. And other portions of the third act, which won’t be revealed here, are so unnecessary, so convoluted, and so unoriginal, they just add to the overall dreariness.
Despite all of this, there are good, solid, praiseworthy aspects of BvS, as previously noted—the acting, special effects, cinematography, production design, most of the action sequences, stunt work and costumes, make-up and props. These areas all shine brightly amidst the darkness throughout the film. The elaborately-designed, beautifully-presented, sparkling sets for Luthor’s home, Luthor’s laboratory and research centers, Wayne’s laboratory, Wayne’s home, The Daily Planet newspaper offices (lovingly old-fashioned, it should be noted, which is a plus here), country settings for Kent’s adopted home, downtown urban settings and other locations are all exemplary. The special effects work—from hundreds of talented artists—is also excellent. And most of the action sequences are well-choreographed by an army of talented stuntmen—the credits list at least ninety stuntmen!
And all of the outstanding actors in the cast do well—Affleck is great as Wayne, as noted, so fans don’t have to worry about that; Cavill does well, also; Diane Lane is strong as Kent’s adopted mom; Holly Hunter is tough and also feminist as a hard-boiled U.S. senator; Laurence Fishburne is a solid newspaper editor—believe me, he does a good job of channeling some real-life newspaper editors; and Gal Gadot is fine, tough, steady and beautiful as Wonder Woman.
And then there’s Jesse Eisenberg’s perplexing portrayal of Lex Luthor. A good friend said that Eisenberg appears to be playing a cartoon character sometimes, rather than a real person, or rather than even an evil villain in the context of a fantasy and sci-fi superhero movie, and that’s true, to some degree. There is a cartoonish quality to Eisenberg’s performance that is difficult to pin down. At times, Eisenberg is seductively and eerily and scarily psychotic—as any super villain should be—but at other times, the character portrayal is simply irritating, annoying and cringy. The problem is not even so much with Eisenberg’s acting—again, it appears to be more of a move by the director and scriptwriters to try and present Luthor as some modern-day, over-caffeinated, attention-deficit, drug-addled, psychological train wreck of a person—rather than present Luthor as a smooth, slick, sly and snarky traditional Lex Luthor villain like those so well-played by Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey. Again, Eisenberg’s acting is fine—Eisenberg remains attractive, watchable and focused—but the performance seems to be more problematic due to directing and scriptwriting decisions. So Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor ends up being a double-edged sword—he’s a good actor, you want to watch him, but, yes, in some way, he ends up playing an annoying cartoon character. Again, the movie’s fault lines come back to its writing and direction.
And yet, in the end, surprisingly, there is this caveat: Go see this movie in the theaters. That’s right, after all of that, after a firm declaration that the movie is a big average film, nevertheless, for fantasy, science fiction, horror, superhero, comic book, video game and animation film, book, comic book and television fans, there remains a recommendation to go and see this film for yourselves in the theaters. Why? Because this film deals with diehard, firm, entrenched, established popular culture characters that resonate through the decades—for nearly seventy years now—on all sorts of levels with people. Batman, Superman, Lois Lane, General Zod, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor—these characters mean something to people, are part of peoples’ lives, and they do continue to live on in comic books, books, animated show, television shows, memorabilia—and in movies. So far be it from a film writer to dissuade fans from finding out whether “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” resonates with them—fans at this level need to go out and see this film for themselves. They won’t be ripped off—there’s plenty to see and watch and enjoy, despite the film’s weaknesses.
And the reality is that perhaps the endurance of superheroes and their unique place in society and popular culture surpasses the quality of some individual, particular films—and film critics–and maybe, in many ways, that’s a good thing. We all need something, or someone, to believe in, to support, to be a fan of, to enjoy on a fantasy and imagination level, and to have hope for in life. We all need to believe that there is someone strong, powerful, righteous, courageous, heroic and eternally enduring and endearing enough to continue to fight for truth, justice and the American way. We need to believe that someone is there for us to fight again tomorrow. For when we stop believing in and hoping for such heroes, that’s when the real problems begin. We all need another hero to believe in for another day, another time, and, yes–if done correctly and in an original manner–another movie.