BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
FILM REVIEW - BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
Directed by Zack Snyder.
Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams.
A very capable action film that avoids the pitfalls of its predecessor.
We’ve reached peak comic book movie and the only way is down, although you’d never think it from looking at the schedules of the major studios for the next decade. Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool might play with genre boundaries, but for all their edgy credentials, they still stick to the same standard tropes: The hero’s origin must be dealt with, more characters must be introduced than killed off, and someone somewhere has decided that we won’t come away satisfied unless the climax looks like an X-Box end-of-level boss fight.
And, where sequels are concerned, less is never more.
For some reason, comic book movies are praised or damned depending on how dark and “gritty” they are. We might be dealing with superpowered men in capes, but it better be down and dirty. It’s a precedent that makes as much sense as criticising American wrestling for a lack of realism. Warner Bros. should call the fans’ bluff and hand the keys of the next instalment over to Mike Leigh (“Batman v The Welfare State: Dawn of the Neoliberalist Agenda” perhaps?). 2013’s Man of Steel was certainly “gritty”, but God was it boring. Zack Snyder’s first Superman movie suffered from a ton of drab exposition and finished with a blue blur throwing a grey blur through buildings for a good hour. Whether through choice or coercion, Snyder has changed gears for this follow-up.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice sticks to genre conventions, but it’s not blatant. 18 months after Superman’s (Henry Cavill) apocalyptic battle with Zod (Michael Shannon), and humanity is trying to come to terms with a god living in our midst. Heroism is all a matter of perspective and the Son of Krypton is beset by adversaries from all sides.
Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) is establishing a committee to hold Superman accountable for the destruction of Metropolis. Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is developing Superman-busting weapons built on alien technology, and Bruce Wayne’s bat vigilante has deeply personal reasons for dealing with this threat posed to humanity’s future.
There is an unmistakeable whiff of franchise-building, but new characters aren’t introduced with the rabid frenzy of monkeys throwing excrement at a wall. Acolytes will argue otherwise, but for the majority the sole qualification for playing Batman amounts to possessing a decent chin. And Affleck certainly gives good chin. He is more than persuasive in the role, and is helped hugely by the choice of doing away with Christian Bale’s “frog-in-throat” voice. The decision to swiftly cover Batman’s origin over the opening credits comes as a blessed relief (does anyone really need to see this again?). The film is weighted heavily in Affleck’s favour, leaving Cavill playing second fiddle. It’s a smart angle, as Batman is the more compelling character. And Superman without the John Williams theme still doesn’t seem right.
The action is paced at a refreshingly restrained level and Snyder shows a level of controlled moderation absent in his previous work. Only the grand finale – with Supes, Bats and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) knocking seven bells out of an oily anthropomorphic turd – plays like a befuddled tsunami of commotion. But it is hard to find fault with the preceding two hours. Certainly Eisenberg’s giggling sociopath is a misstep. His motivation seems to begin and end with Luthor just being, well, a bit of a dick. Batman v Superman may lack the epic scope and vision of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, but Snyder has delivered a very capable action film that avoids many of the pitfalls that made Man of Steel so unwatchable.