Review: Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice And The Perils Of Super-Sizing


Writer’s Note: Disney did not pay me to write this review you are about to read.

The dream is always the same. But it’s not of a young Tom Cruise going to the neighbors’ house only to see a mysterious woman taking a shower. Nor is it Val Kilmer standing in some sort of sun god robes on a pyramid with a thousand naked women screaming and throwing little pickles at him. Instead, it is of a young Bruce Wayne watching his parents gunned down by a thief, followed by the funeral and running hurriedly through the woods that outline Wayne Manor only to fall into a cavern full of sleeping bats now awoken by the thunderous crash. Those who know the origins of Batman need no further illumination of his genesis of donning the cape and cowl and prowling the streets of Gotham City inflicting his brand of vigilante justice.

This serves as the opening to “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” a film that will push the DC Comics Extended Universe (DCEU) to full-tilt mode as studio Warner Bros. Pictures is reserving at least two dates a year for superhero movies for the foreseeable future. The dream sequence is a great little opening, even if we have to see Martha Wayne’s pearl necklace break for the umpteenth time. Label him a hack if you want but director Zack Synder knows how to make eye candy. The question is if the candy is sweet or sour. Seemingly entrusted with forging the DCEU after past studio successes “300” and “Watchmen” and the most-recent retelling of the Superman mythos in 2013’s “Man of Steel,” his latest pits the most noteworthy of comic heroes as enemies. And had it just been Batman versus Superman as the title implies, Synder would be given the keys to the kingdom. But he’s more of an emperor with no clothes – or in this case, no cape.

I am no comic fanboy. I’m of the belief that superhero movies have killed off traditional action heroes that were a Hollywood staple in the 1980s and ’90s. Sayonara Austrian Oak, Italian Stallion, and Muscles from Brussels. You’ve been replaced by a reformed drug addict (Robert Downey Jr.) and his motley crew of acting thespians, not action icons. But while the movies of Marvel Studios may be formulaic they still carry a sense of fun and frivolity. Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of the Batman character was great – the first two, anyway. And I’ll happily join the vocal minority that enjoyed Snyder’s take on Superman.

To the complaints levied against “Man of Steel” and Superman (Henry Cavill) doing un-Superman things, you have to understand he had yet to find the universal code that would define his actions. He was still learning his powers and interpreting the consequences of his acts when General Zod made his arrival to Earth wanting to terraform the planet to establish Krypton 2.0. Those who remember that climatic battle may recall the city of Metropolis being ground zero as thousands of nameless and faceless citizens perished as Superman and Zod do-si-doed knocking each other through buildings that would collapse and implode.

In “Man of Steel” we had a bird’s eye seat for the proceedings. For “Batman v Superman” we are on the ground with Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) racing to one of his office buildings only to witness it break in half, billowing dust as it comes tumbling down. The sequence is Snyder assuaging complaints from those who were horrified by such destruction. Glimpses of this human side were seen previously with Perry White and his “Daily Planet” staff but you get a greater sense when Wayne stares up to the skies and sees the harebrained acts by a hero that is characterized as being faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive.

That’s the setup to Batman wanting to tug on Superman’s cape, as Jim Croce once sang. Is his rationale all that sound? Not entirely but I’ve seen worse reasons to start a fight. In turn, Clark Kent sees the Dark Knight of neighboring Gotham as a dangerous vigilante. To level the playing field Kryptonite is introduced. Then the narrative overstuffs the plot by mashing together essential comic book source material and setting up the Justice League superhero team. The film actually has little to do with Batman’s fight with Supes. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is plotting his own vendetta against Superman yet we’re never given a clear-cut reason why he’s got beef with Kal-El.

None of the actors are given cues on elevating their performances. Cavill’s Clark Kent is egregious (yet the talented actor looks the part of Superman). Ben Affleck’s Caped Crusader is just a vessel to spur conflict. Underdeveloped he may be, there’s something about this take on Batman that I want to see more of. Affleck is a grizzled vigilante that is like Charles Bronson but with a better personal trainer. Seriously, the only thing Batman’s training montage lacked was a Junkie XL rendition of “Untitled Self Portrait” from “The Lego Movie.” Amy Adams’ Lois Lane will have you rolling your eyes at some of the choices she makes. For a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist it’s amazing how she finds herself as a plot device as a means to fix a story problem or serve as a believable explanation for something. Sort of like Rob Lowe’s explanation to Aaron Eckhart about smoking in an all oxygen environment in “Thank You For Smoking.”

Then there’s Jesse Eisenberg as the infamous Lex Luthor. Ever since the groan-inducing casting announcement was made skeptics were expecting the worse. Me, I withheld judgment as those same skeptics probably balked at Heath Ledger’s casting as The Joker in “The Dark Knight.” Having seen Eisenberg’s Luthor the good news is that his interests don’t pertain to real estate a la Gene Hackman in the original “Superman” (1978). This Luthor is more like Mark Zuckerberg meets Edward Ngyma. An exercise in lab coat-wearing histrionics, this character pontificates about mythical gods and comparing Superman to a devil from above. (This is just but a few of the numerous religious allegories placed in the story.)

The script may be credited to Chris Terrio (winner of the Academy Award for penning Affleck’s “Argo”) and David S. Goyer, but this feels more like Goyer’s handiwork than a joint collaboration. His track record is all over the place, too – “The Crow: City of Angels,” “Dark City,” three “Blade” movies and story credits on multiple projects, including Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Without proper restraints, Goyer and Synder look to win big by stacking the deck instead of betting short. Thus, this bridge that goes between “Man of Steel” and “Justice League” is a rickety mess, revealing the Doomsday Machine that is state of blockbusters when budgets are greater than the GNP of most nations. Bigger is not always better.

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is one of the event films of 2016 and easy fodder for water-cooler conversations. It is a beautiful disaster that looks incredible on IMAX. That’s a backhanded compliment but that’s to be expected when you have a visual director not a storyteller pulling the strings. The action sequences are tops but action for the sake of becomes restless and tiresome, especially when things get super-sized in the last act.

Shaving thirty minutes off its bloated 150-minute run time wouldn’t fix the problem, either. “BvS” is a narrative quagmire and a slog to get through as it incorporates dream sequences; a haphazard reveal of future Justice Leaguers; Wonder Woman (who gets the best crowd reaction – even by those guys who bought a ticket to “Orphan Fight: The Movie”); and an ending that is more of a missed opportunity, cheating the audience.

Zack Synder may have delusions of grandeur when it comes to the perception of comic book movies being junk food for the masses. It’s too bad his vision of spectacle is about as rich and rewarding as the popcorn flick he burnt in the microwave.

Director: Zack Synder
Writer(s): Chris Terrio and Davis S. Goyer
Notable Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Jesse Eisenberg, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Diane Lane

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