27 March 2016

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice review

At one point during Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Lex Luthor is tasked with giving a speech. It's not a good speech - despite clearly having certain concepts and themes that he intended to talk about, he seems distracted, unable to really process his own thoughts or communicate his ideas to the audience. He rambles on for a while, trying over and over again to make himself understood, but it's all for nothing - by the end of his speech, we only really have a basic idea of what he was trying to talk about, and any context for those thoughts or meaning behind them is entirely lost thanks to his inability to express himself properly. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is that speech, and director Zack Snyder is our rambling, incoherent Lex Luthor.

The basic story of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is incredibly simple, but you wouldn't know it from reading a full plot synopsis. After Metropolis was destroyed in Man of Steel, both Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor independently decide that Superman is simply too dangerous to be allowed to live. In essence that's it, but there are so many extraneous plot details and unnecessary scenes that the whole thing collapses under the weight of itself long before our two main characters ever even meet.

It's about two and half hours long, but the opening 90 minutes or so are nothing but a sequence of unrelated scenes and nonsensical dream sequences that have no clear narrative or story to follow, more concerned with setting up upcoming films than they are actually telling a coherent story. At one point, Batman wakes up from a confusing dream sequence thanks to the sudden appearance of a character who only shows up to set up the Justice League films - something that then turns out to be another dream sequence, neither of which actually matter to any of the characters in the film or the story being told. I'd like to make a joke about how you can tell Christopher Nolan was an executive producer thanks to the appearance of a dream within a dream, but honestly? There is no way that Nolan had any input into this film thanks to how shoddily put together it is and how resoundingly dumb most of the individual plot points are.

But we've known that Zack Snyder isn't the best storyteller in the world for a long time, so this shouldn't come as a massive surprise. What Snyder is most well-known for is his visual style and his eye for action - so surely Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice must, at a minimum, have some excellent action, right? Well, no. This is a criticism that even I didn't expect to be making, but for the most part the action in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is nothing but visual noise, repetitive and generic CGI nonsense that doubles down on the boring destruction porn of Man of Steel. There are exceptions to this of course (the opening that shows us the destruction of Metropolis from Bruce Wayne's perspective is fantastic and Batman's big room-clearing sequence is really impressive), but the titular showdown and the team-up that follows it are, simply put, loud and dumb and not in any way enjoyable.

Maybe worse than that though is the irrefutable fact that Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is also a terrible adaptation of these characters. This is the first live-action film ever made that shows Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman on-screen at the same time, and I couldn't have cared less. Ben Affleck makes for a good Bruce Wayne when he's given the chance, but like Man of Steel before it, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice simply does not understand who Batman is and what he stands for. The version of Batman we see in this film is a murderer, one who is not only more than willing to kill people directly but even brands some criminals with the bat symbol in order to indicate to those in prison that they should be killed.

I know that Batman has killed in the comics before, and I know that previous films have shown him killing too - but it's meant to be the exception to a self-imposed rule that stops him from turning into the very thing he fights against, not the norm, and the interviews where Zack Snyder tries to defend this aspect of the film truly show how little he actually understands the comics that he has quite clearly taken inspiration from and the character that they are based around. Hell, if you want a good example of how deeply Snyder doesn't understand the mythology of Batman, consider this - in this version of the night that Bruce's parents were murdered, Thomas Wayne attempts to punch the mugger before he is shot to death. Gone is the peaceful, co-operative man who is gunned down despite his compliance, replaced by someone who died thanks to his own ego and bravado. If that doesn't sum up Snyder's approach to these characters and why he is so wrong for these films, then I don't think anything ever will.

There is but one aspect of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice that I enjoyed free from caveats, and that is Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman. With what little time she does have on-screen she manages to make quite an impression, owning the best moment in the entire film (which unfortunately isn't really saying much) and giving the character of Wonder Woman much more personality than the script might indicate. It remains to be seen how she actually fares when she has more to work with than what basically amounts to an extended cameo, but one thing's for sure - I'm looking forward to the upcoming Wonder Woman solo film significantly more than I was before.

The fact that Warner Bros are still pressing ahead with a Zack Snyder led Justice League film after seeing Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is a testament to how badly they want to set up a cinematic universe in the same vein as the more popular and significantly better Marvel Cinematic Universe. In any other circumstances, the current state of the DC Extended Universe would be considered scorched earth, unsuitable for further growth, and Zack Snyder would be quietly dropped as soon as he could be - and quite rightly so.

Because Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is an unengaging, convoluted, edgy, confused and overwhelmingly stupid movie that makes vague references to ideas far too intelligent for it to ever actually deal with in a shallow attempt to seem sophisticated in ways that the film itself doesn't even strive towards. There is no level at which Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice works, no reasonable metric by which it can be seen as anything other than a bad movie, no world in which this shouldn't spell the end of the current iteration of DC films. To adapt a phrase from a previous Batman film, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is neither the film we deserve nor the one we need right now. It is, in fact, utterly without merit.

I may have added that last part myself.

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