Say what you want about Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice — and I have — it’s a film that demands critical analysis.1
A reported passion project of so-called visionary director Zack Snyder,2 the film he helped birth from development hell is in dire need of an exorcism.
A turgid 150-minute slog replete with vague geopolitical commentary3 and overt religious imagery4, BVS5 sets out to be Zero Dark Thirty meets The Passion of the Christ — with all the entertainment value of the latter but none of the artistic merit.5 You could, perhaps, forgive the overweening ambition were the film not so wrong-headed in every other aspect, too. Chris Terrio and David S. Goye’s script is carrying such a narrative burden6, it leaves no room for subtlety or even emphasis.7
The film casts Superman (Henry Cavill) as a solemn martyr8 who Cavill, with his marble statue physique and Plaster of Paris dramatic heft, simply can’t enliven.9 Its more grizzled Batman (Ben Affleck), meanwhile, is a bulky, veiny-suited psycho10 with a penchant for branding criminals11 and crushing bad guy’s cars under the wheels of the Batmobile.12 No wonder Jeremy Irons’ Alfred comes across as so contemptuous.13
Most calamitously, though, BVS’ primary villain14, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), is so intense overwrought — all wild gesticulations and highfalutin invective15 — it’s enough to make you forget how good he was in The Social Network. Only Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) brings any joy or energy to proceedings.16
Also, her theme is the only halfway decent track in an otherwise overbearing score from Hans Zimmer17 and Deadpool’s Junkie XL. Larry Fong’s cinematography, meanwhile, is murky and over-saturated, a blend of gloss and grit; all textures, no depth. The film is ugly. The direction is clunky, the editing choppy, and the tone relentlessly grim,18 and that’s not even addressing the leaps in logic.19
This is a spoiled child banging toys together in a sandbox20 and, worst of all, no one else gets to play with them till Snyder’s done.21 There’s no subtext22, no chemistry23, and seemingly no accountability.24 BVS is a film that brings out the vitriol in both the cineaste25 and the comic fan26 in me. Ultimately, though the film is simply too big — too broad in character, too grand in theme, too monumentally misconceived — too be anything but a correspondingly huge disappointment.
With Suicide Squad now been, gone, and not-good, things are looking bleak for Warners. Still, there is some hope for the future. In Wonder Woman we trust.
1 This review is a long time overdue. Having ranted about BVS so often on the podcast it’s taken me weeks to work up the willpower to put my vitriol into writing.
2 Before Man of Steel — a film I actually quite liked (and which looks like a masterpiece of enlightenment over this) — Snyder had directed only two films that weren’t sequels or adaptations. One of them was Sucker Punch.
3 Superman’s being investigated by Congress for his extrajudicial interventions around the world. it’s like Mr. Smith Goes To Washington; only without the idealism.
4 This Last Son of Krypton has a habit of descending from the Heavens like the Son of God came back to ask for directions. The aftermath of BVS’ last battle takes its cues from Golgotha.
5 An acronym that’s close to IBS but not close enough given how aggravating this film has been. There’s a reason its inspired so much “shitticism” (hence this review’s title).
5 BVS fails on almost every conceivable level of film-making and, on a $250 million budget, it doesn’t even have the luxury of being entertainingly awful.
6 It’s hard to believe this comes from, for one, the co-writer of the Dark Knight trilogy. What that series set up with a playing card it takes this film a bottle of piss and a whole monologue.
7 The film is so grand sweeping, striving so hard for profundity, that the effect is utter monotony. The few occasions on which BVS attempts humour it feels deeply forced. And that’s not even delving into the nonsensical dream sequences and redundant flashbacks.
8 “No one stays good in this world”, says the Übermensch in — albeit muted — primary colours. Remember when Christopher Reeve used to fly around smiling and saving folks? That was nice.
9 Cavill is great when called upon for unruffled charm and light humour à la The Man From U.N.C.L.E., but any attempt at strong emotion registers like a particularly onerous bowel movement.
10 He does love his mother, though. Her name is Martha. Remember that, it’s important; as in, stupendously important. As in, life-saving important.
11 He’s less the Dark Knight we know and love and more of a macho fantasy like Leonidas from 300. The film is also based, in part, on Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, though, unlike with 300 and Watchmen, Snyder can’t just crib his shots from the artwork.
12 If you’ve ever wanted to see Batman shoot people here you get your wish — and may I add, I think you’re missing the point of the character. You should try The Punisher instead.
12 Affleck earns his pay-check. He’s very good as a world-weary Bruce Wayne, smiling that reluctant smile, but BVS’ Batman is so one-note, so defined by rage, there’s not much he can do. Also, when your character is introduced by a pull focus, lurking in the upper corner of a room — less like a bat than a daddy long-legs you expect someone to shoo out at anytime — well…
13 Though Irons has since come out as a critic of the film — or at least understanding of other people’s criticism — so maybe that wasn’t just a performance choice.
14 Its secondary, final-act villain looks like the cave troll from Lord of the Rings got into an altercation with a porcupine because I guess the comic character it’s based on just looked too silly.
15 Instead of Gene Hackman’s avuncular malice we get fire-and-brimstone a creepy bit of business involving a Jolly Rancher, so that’s something, right? Luthor’s supposed to be a genius manipulator; instead he just seems like he needs Ritalin. Also, when he’s upset Eisenberg looks like Rimmer from Red Dwarf having a meltdown, snotty nose and all
16 Gadot’s smirk during the aforementioned battle is like the sun breaking through the clouds.
17 Zimmer is another TDK alum who disgraces himself here. His work on The Dark Knight could be the defining soundtrack of a generation. Here it’s simply overbearing.
18 As a character Superman just isn’t equipped to share the screen with a traumatized amputee (an understandably lairy Scoot McNairy). Whatever happened to truce, justice, all that good stuff?
19 There’s a whole strand involving the bat-brand and an African subplot that only really make sense in the Ultimate Cut and even then aren’t dramatically satisfying. That’s not even addressing all the nonsensical dream sequences. This is lazy storytelling, much as adding footnotes might constitute a lazy review. Still, when a film’s this fragmented…
20 To the tune of $250 million no less. There’s so much “Wouldn’t that be cool?”, like the entrance to the Batcave being under a lake. No, “Where does the water go every time it opens” or “What if Batman misses and has to call superhero AA?”
21 Not that I have a burning desire to see a Batman and/or Superman film at any time in the near future — which is in itself a damning bit of condemnation. This is more devastating to the Caped Crusader than Joel Schumacher’s bat nipples. At least those were only ornamental.
22 Snyder is clearly out of his depth with any attempts as, well, depth. Let’s not forget, this is the guy who set the sex scene in Watchmen to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.
23 Cavill and Amy Adams’ Lois have remarkably little chemistry, but, saddled as they are with lines like “I don’t know how it’s possible… For you to love me and be you”, that’s hardly their fault.
24 Case and point: http://www.pajiba.com/think_pieces/an-open-letter-to-warner-bros-ceo-kevin-tsujihara-about-layoffs-zack-snyder-and-donuts.php.
25 There’s an early dream sequence/possible bit of time travel involving the Flash (Ezra Miller) that may only make sense come the release of Justice League. Films should not require the existence of a sequel in order for them to make fundamental sense!
26 DC tries to do here in five teaser trailers, embedded in the back-end of BVS like corn in shit, what Marvel has spent the better part of a decade doing. It’s offensive crass.
27 While I certainly didn’t dislike Suicide Squad anywhere near as much as its predecessor, it’ll probably take me a while to get my thoughts in order. I’d give it a month.