A sunset on any hope that we might have had for future DCU instalments, especially ones led by Zack Snyder, and a dark warning for the superhero genre in general.
After two years of excitement coupled with slight befuddlement, it’s finally here: an explanation for why Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice is called Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice. It’s not because the film focusses on the conflict between Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent and their caped identities, although it certainly does at some point. It’s not because the film is about the birth of the Justice League, although there’s glaring attempts at that. It’s not even because nobody showed Zack Snyder the word “VS” in a dictionary (for which there is unfortunately no textual explanation).
It’s because this is not one film. It’s at least two, slammed together, containing a trailer for a third.
The plot, as many as there are that hang about like strangers at a party where the leader hasn’t turned up and everyone’s wishing someone else will talk first, is this: nearly two years after Man Of Steel, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is out on the streets of Gotham City as Batman, working brutally to uncover a ruthless gang, while he chinningly broods about his parents’ deaths and the threat posed by the alien everyone calls Superman. Meanwhile, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), the aforementioned Man of Steel, wants to pursue the crimes of Batman as a reporter, while worrying about his place in the world as Superman. A government hearing board has been established to deal with the fallout from his latest escapade, which occurred whilst he was saving his girlfriend Lois Lane (Amy Adams) in Africa. If that wasn’t enough, billionaire philanthropist Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) works in secret to create a weapon that can destroy the godlike kryptonian, and no, it isn’t his hair.
There’s also a bizarre investigative journalism story thrown in, involving a mysterious “Woman” only ever addressed as “Ms. Prince” (Gal Gadot) who wants something from Lex, and a dream sequence that never once plays into the story.
Rather than feeling like a mess of compromises and cuts, this could not be more of a Zack Snyder picture. There has never been a superhero film with this much visual pizazz. Even the tone-deaf opening, featuring the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents (again!), as unintentionally hilarious as it is, is gorgeous. Immediately following it is the film’s most viscerally exciting sequence: Bruce Wayne’s fresh POV on the destruction of Man Of Steel, racing through Metropolis as cars explode and buildings collapse. You’lI genuinely be unable to remember what comes next however. Snyder bravely refuses to even attempt to join the multiple plots together. We cut back and forth between characters off in their own stories, with zero connective tissue, and virtually no reasons to care. This disregard for basic editing techniques hobbles the film completely, and no amount of gorgeous action can save it. Likely, this began with a bad script, that an Oscar winner’s spruce-up jobs (hello Chris Terrio) couldn’t salvage.
For a film so fundamentally broken and infuriating, it’s astonishing that so many of its elements are any good. Hans Zimmer’s and Junkie XL’s score is muscular, over the top, but plays spectacularly. Cavill equips himself gamely to portray a brooding intensity that Superman should under no circumstances possess (it’s clear that Snyder simply does not understand, and does not like, the most iconic superhero of all time). Whilst the film can’t pull itself together enough to make you care about their relationship, he has good chemistry with Adams’ Lane, and the few moments of him fighting figuratively for what’s right, or cracking a grin, are good. Eisenberg’s having a blast as Luthor, even though why he wants to do exactly what he does remains a mystery. Meanwhile, Gadot’s great charisma shows promise for her future solo film, despite the lack of any discernible characteristics at all in this film’s vision of Wonder Woman. She is fighty and dress-wearing.
The biggest redeeming factor here is Affleck’s Batman. He makes jokes, flirts, investigates, and brings the pain unlike any previous Caped Crusader. He also gets the film’s only clear arc, the only one that appears to have any bearing on the themes at all. Of course, he also breaks the ‘one rule’ about not killing with careless abandon, but as the film hates Superman, it’s not surprising they have a little too much fun with Batman.
If you had a tough time with Age of Ultron or Iron Man 2 for their obvious attempts to set-up future instalments, Dawn of Justice will break you. None of the set-ups, barring the eventual unification of the lead trio of heroes for a smackdown, have any bearing on story or plot. They exist only to tease, yet will crush all the excitement out of you.
This is a mess that doesn’t have any of the meddling, compromise, or cheapness of films like Fantastic Four. Yet for all the beauty and noise, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice will make you feel nothing but regret and anger.
Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, directed by Zack Snyder, is distributed in the UK by Warner Bros. Certificate 12a