Batman and Superman are two of the most iconic comic book characters of all time. In addition to countless comic escapades, award winning graphic novels, and seminal TV shows, the two superheroes have been portrayed time and time again on the big screen.
After Christopher Nolan’s defining “Dark Knight” trilogy ended and most everyone had moved on from the mediocre “Man of Steel,” filmgoers ranging from diehard comic book fans to blockbuster seekers were interested in how Batman and Superman would be cinematically captured next.
It’s a shame, then, that “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” fails them — and fails as a film in general — so spectacularly. It feels like a hammer swing to the head: heavy-handed and overblown, offering euphoria only in the form of relief from it all.
Director Zack Snyder and screenwriters David Goyer/Chris Terrio are not ones for subtlety. Working together, they’ve created one of the most offensively obvious superhero movies in recent memory. Snyder and Goyer’s previous collaboration, “Man of Steel,” pushed the religious imagery of Superman without any nuance. In “Batman v Superman,” they force the themes of absolutely everything to the foreground far too heavily.
Characters constantly answer their own rhetorical questions. Narrations over montages flat out explain the movie’s themes to the audience. It’s not for lack of trying- the filmmakers have a lot of points they want to make about the nature of heroism, the difficulties of maintaining virtue, and the ugliness of power (and a billion other things) — but they end up overstuffing the film with ideas so blatant that it’s overwhelming. Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s soundtrack only exacerbates the problem with overwrought, sweeping sonic signposts for every little event.
The movie’s dialogue does not fare any better. The actors need to actively fight against words thrown together into sentences that no humans could naturally speak. Most triumphant in this fight is Ben Affleck as the new Batman. Affleck is not given much to work with as Bruce Wayne- and even less as a suited up Batman- but he manages to craft a fresh version of the character from the fragmented script.
This Batman is much more jaded and frustrated than previous iterations, and Affleck captures this perfectly through both raw physicality and commitment to the unapologetically brusque. If he were given better material, Affleck’s unwavering Wayne might give Christian Bale’s Batman a run for his family fortune: but for now, we’ll have to settle for a Batman we want to see more of.
Gal Gadot is fine as Wonder Woman, but she isn’t playing a realized character yet. Henry Cavill is, again, nothing more than serviceable as Superman. Most unfortunately of them all, Jesse Eisenberg leans full force into the awkward idiosyncrasies of how Lex Luthor was written, and ends up giving an embarrassing performance. Conversely, Jeremy Irons’ Alfred is immediately wonderful, and perhaps the most welcome addition to the cast.
“Batman v Superman” is often too concerned with its dour tone and themes to develop its title characters, but when it does, it betrays them. If fans were angry about Superman’s newly grim outlook in “Man of Steel,” there might be riots in the streets over a jarring change to the Dark Knight. Beloved characters changing with the times makes sense, but it must be earned- and earn this movie does not. As such, the controversial changes are nothing but random and infuriating.
The only exciting aspects of the film are the action scenes (the ones without CGI overuse) and the hints to the growing DC Universe. Snyder and Goyer/Terrio don’t handle these any differently than the rest of the film: they’re shoved in our face, bombastic, and refuse cleverness in order to hold nothing back. But concerning the larger than life fights and references to upcoming films, getting more than we need actually works.
★½ (1.5 out of 5)