BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE Movie Review – Zack Snyder Strikes Again
It seemed like a brilliant idea at the time: Out Marvel-Marvel, skip standalone superhero intros and go straight to the main event, bringing DC’s two biggest, most iconic, oldest superheroes, Batman and Superman, together to do what every schoolboy and schoolgirl imagined when their favorite superheroes appears on the same comic-book page together: A bare-fisted brawl to determine the better man, the better superhero (in a typically juvenile, might-makes-right way, of course). Somewhere along the way, though, probably when DC decided – against all rhyme, reason, and sense – to turn over control of its most popular superheroes to Zach Snyder, the divisive filmmaker behind Watchmen, 300, and the Dawn of the Dead remake (the less said about Sucker Punch, Snyder’s only “original” film, the better), first with Man of Steel, a darker, grimmer, Nolanized reboot of Superman, and now with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, an ultra-somber, hyper-violent, ultimately joyless superhero team-up meant to launch DC’s answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the DC Cinematic Universe (Suicide Squad in August, Wonder Woman and Justice League: Part One next year).
Before we get to the pivotal, “Let’s be superhero bros” moment, there’s an overabundance of expositional ground to cover over Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’s two-and-a-half hour running time. Not content to set aside Batman’s oft-told origin story for another time, Snyder opens Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice with yet another redo of Bruce Wayne’s (Ben Affleck) childhood trauma: Witnessing the deaths of his parents by a random street thug (no Joker here, thankfully). The Wayne/Batman we meet here, however, has aged into a bitter, resentful, reclusive billionaire, seemingly content (if “content” is the right word) to police Gotham City’s rougher neighborhoods and breaking up minor criminal gangs. The loss of Robin – only his costume remains, a sad, sorry reminder, in the Batcave – among other tragic events, has transformed Wayne/Batman into a near-psychopathic, amoral Caped Crusader. He lets men die repeatedly, but since they’re thugs and lowlifes, their lives mean nothing. They mean nothing to Snyder too, dying in massive fireballs that obliterate any trace that they once shared onscreen space with his integration of a ruthless, sociopathic Batman.
Wayne/Batman has also turned his hatred toward Superman (Henry Cavill), the super-pwered Kryptonian who announced himself to the world two years earlier in response to an alien invasion by his fellow Krpytonians, Kryptonians led by the genocidal General Zod (Michael Shannon). Superman saved the world from Zod and his massive terraforming machines, but at a heavy price: The deaths of thousands in the Battle of Metropolis. Wayne lost too. He lost employees and possibly friends in a battle he witnessed in the margins, unable, incapable of doing anything to stop the carnage. Despite Superman saving the day and the world, not to mention choosing his adopted world and his adopted people over the Kryptonians, Wayne still holds a xenophobic-fueled grudge against the super-powered alien. In Wayne’s view, cribbed wholesale from former Vice-President Dick Cheney’s ultra-hawkish, war-first, war-last worldview, even a 1% chance that Superman will turn evil and turn Earth into a fascist dictatorship constitutes sufficient rationale to eliminate Superman before he becomes an existential threat.
Of course, Wayne isn’t alone in his desire to permanently neutralize Superman. Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), wants Superman’s defeat as well, maybe, possibly out of the same fear, but most because his big brain and the big ego that comes with that brain, can’t stand the idea of super-powered alpha male flying around and doing good. Paradoxically an inspired choice and the worst choice imaginable, the Snyderverse Luthor bears a close resemblance to FaceBook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, minus the social and moral conscience, plus the inherited wealth to make him a real existential threat. Presumably, Snyder intended audiences to make the Zuckerberg connection and root for Superman and Batman to defeat Luthor (obviously not physically given Luthor’s slight frame). He’s charmless, socially awkward, and sociopathic (a trait he unmistakably shares with the Caped Crusader). Luthor is also a master manipulator, the master chess player pushing the pieces (i.e., Superman and Batman) to do his bidding and fight each other.
Before we get to that punch-fest or the heavy-on-CGI, snooze-inducing three-on-one battle that follows, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice goes through the usual world-building exercises typical of franchises or series, introducing potential/future Justice League members via cameos, throwing in go-nowhere, wheel-spinning political intrigue, some/most of it involving the junior Democratic senator from Kentucky, June Finch (Holly Hunter), a politician eager to hold hearings on Superman’s actions, including a recent incident in Africa centered on Superman/Clark Kent’s girlfriend and reporter, Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Lane discovers a connection between ultra-advanced bullets and LexCorp, Luthor’s company, but one or two scenes later, she’s relegated to the obligatory romantic interest, fretting over Superman and the mixed response (fear, rejection, worship) his presence on Earth has engendered. Martha Kent (Diane Lane) also makes an appearance, essentially filling the same support role Lane does this time around.
As expected for a superhero film set in the ultra-grim, ultra-dark Snyderverse, the Batman v. Superman battle quickly devolves into an interminable punch-fest. Responding to persistent criticism of Man of Steel’s presumably callous, careless approach to city-wide destruction and civilian casualties, Snyder sets the climax in unpopulated parts of Metropolis and Gotham City (a big win for Man of Steel’s most vocal detractors), but then ruins the little goodwill he earned in the first two hours by turning Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice into an another dull, under-rendered video game cut-scene, with Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (a scene-stealing Gal Gadot), DC’s “Holy Trinity,” uniting for the first time to defeat an unimaginatively rendered, CGI monstrosity. It’s almost as mind-numbing and boredom-inducing as Man of Steel’s overlong, self-indulgent Superman vs. Zod punch-fest and nothing, not even a cynical attempt to extract poignancy from a meaningless plot turn that surely will be undone by the time Justice League: Part One rolls into theaters next fall, can change how utterly empty and unfulfilling Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice all feels (because it is).