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Movie Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is incoherent, a disjointed, jumbled, muddled, confusing mess of a film.
Aisle Seat, Rob Slack

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Directed by Zack Snyder

In Theatres

"I'm not a lady. I'm a journalist."

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is incoherent, a disjointed, jumbled, muddled, confusing mess of a film. It is incomprehensible and baffling, an unintelligible and humourless mess. Badly edited, badly shot, badly written, and, for the most part, badly acted, Batman v Superman is an assault on the senses and an insult to anyone who ever enjoyed any of the source material. I wouldn't be surprised to discover that nearly everyone involved in the making of this thing hates the source material.  

For most of its running time Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy worked, not only as comic book adaptations but as entertaining films. There was some reverence for the history of the characters. Where the Marvel Cinematic Universe deals with dark issues by bringing lightness and colour to the forefront, Nolan's films seemed to revel in their darkness. But they were usually quite fun to watch. And Zack Snyder's Man of Steel seemed like a fresh take, a good first step in a new franchise that would compete with what Marvel had going on. For all of its lack of subtlety and heavy handed symbolism and questionable plot contrivances and other issues that have been dealt with by people much smarter than I am, Man of Steel is an entertaining fun blockbuster film about a guy that can fly. 

This new film, though, commits some of the greatest sins a comic book adaptation could. It's not fun, it is painfully boring and takes itself way too serious. The story is just a mess that makes no sense. It's nihilistic. And it seems to have some serious contempt for its audience. 

Future franchise characters are clumsily and awkwardly introduced. Hell, the footage of Cyborg, Aquaman and The Flash looks like it came from a YouTube fan film. Established characters behave in ways that are head scratching bizarre. Remember in The Dark Knight when Eric Roberts tells Batman that "everyone is onto your game, you won't cross that line" and the Joker is all "you wanna stop me? You'll have to break your one rule" and they were all talking about how Batman won't kill? The Batman in this film wouldn't need that lecture. 

The movie begins with Bruce Wayne's parents being murdered yet again. How many times have we seen them die on film? Five? Six? Anyway, the film begins with the murder of the Thomas and Martha Wayne, again, and young Bruce falling down a well, again, and being helpless as thousands of bats descend on him, again. Except this time he's lifted up by the bats, raised back to the surface in some kind of first year film student's idea of impressionistic film making. And lo, the latest blockbuster to hit the cineplexes of the world begins with a dream sequence. The first of five dream sequences. There are dreams within dreams within dreams. It's like Batman v Superman is trying for some kind of Inception thing at times. Not one of the dreams adds anything to the story or to the characters or to the film in any way. Each of them could have been edited out completely and other than the film having a more manageable running time, nothing would have changed in the story telling. 

Anyway, after the first of way too many dreams, the story jumps to the end of Man of Steel, as Zod and Superman fight and Bruce Wayne watches helplessly from the street as one of his office buildings is destroyed and hundreds of employees are killed. And so ends the only excitement in this film for the next two hours. For the majority of the running time we get to watch as characters brood and grimace and story lines are dropped and others are brought in and then dropped unceremoniously. Scenes begin, are dropped and then are picked back up hours later. Characters mention things that weren't in the movie and do it in a way that definitely gives the impression of missing footage. Characters suddenly change motivations for seemingly little reason. Some pieces of the film feel like they were sewn in from other films. Heck, Batman v Superman, at its best, feels like at least six films jammed into one. The way this thing is edited together is a mess. Zack Snyder and his team may feel like they're playing with the conventions of story telling with time manipulation, but instead of making a superhero Pulp Fiction, Batman v Superman just comes across as disjointed and baffling. 

It should have been a no-brainer. Batman wants to beat up Superman because Superman was careless and thousands died as a result and Batman doesn't trust Superman and then they fight. Instead, there are politicians doing politician things and Holly Hunter is a Senator and there is terrorism and Superman is being blamed for the murder of dozens of people in Africa even though they were obviously killed by bullets and not by a guy with superpowers. Kevin Costner shows up in a dream to keep harping on the pointlessness of doing good and Superman saves people with increasingly messianic overtones and Clark Kent is told to cover sports and high society parties. There is a scene of Ben Affleck looking all sad at the Batman suit and then closing the closet door and walking away and we feel your pain, sir. This is the Batman movie with the least Batman in it. There is so little Batman in this movie it should have been titled Batman v Superman: Dawn of Bruce Wayne's Ennui. 

And then there's Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor. Mr. Eisenberg may have been going for Kevin Spacey's manic take on the character or Gene Hackman's scenery chewing performance but instead his Lex Luthor just comes off as a truly annoying coke head. That guy at the party who slipped away for a minute and returns with Howdy Doody jaws and a conviction that everything he is thinking is the most important thing that has ever been thought and should, no, needs to be said in the loudest and in the most arrogant way possible. This version of Lex Luthor is more 80s record producer than super villain. Mr. Eisenberg's take on Mark Zuckerberg was a warm ball of relatable human emotions compared to his interpretation of Lex Luthor. 

Henry Cavill, who before this weekend I was singing the praises of, who I was thinking could one day could play James Bond if Idris Elba isn't available to replace Daniel Craig, Henry Cavill who was so, so, so good in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., is just bad, bad, bad in Batman v Superman. If he isn't looking bored and constipated, he's giving line readings that feel like they're from rehearsal footage. Even Amy Adams comes across as bored with the whole process. Any chemistry between the two from Man of Steel is missing from Batman v Superman. Where there was little question of their mutual attraction in the first movie, this time around you can't help but wonder where did the love go. 

There are some moments in Batman v Superman that are enjoyable. I think Gal Gadot's an amazing presence and will make a great Wonder Woman. She occasionally throws this little smirk that is so, so, so endearing and she really seems to be having some fun. And Ben Affleck has a great take on Bruce Wayne/Batman, older, more cynical. Christian Bale's public Bruce Wayne was clearly an act, something he put on like the Batman suit. Affleck's Bruce Wayne is tired of that game, there doesn't seem to be much of a difference between the different Bruce Wayne personas. He's a high functioning alcoholic, a billionaire who also dresses up as a bat. There are a couple of moments that are enjoyable, but, really, Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot deserve a much better film. They both bring their A-games but are let down by the awfulness of the proceedings and their fellow performers. 

Batman v Superman is a mess. A mess of Biblical proportions. A mess that will be studied by film makers for years. It's a $250 Million missed opportunity. It is packed to overflowing with fan service, with references to The Dark Knight Returns, Killing Joke, Death of Superman, and the Dark Knight trilogy. This is a movie that has way too many villains and superheroes to be manageable. The filmmakers seem to be contemptuous of their audience, they have no respect for the eyeballs looking at the screen. There are flashback scenes to scenes in the movie, where no new information is given. That is just short of Zack Snyder coming to your home to tell you that he thinks you're stupid. And there are now two superhero films with gratuitous nudity. The other was the R rated Deadpool.

Was the movie ever salvageable? How much of the blame lies with the studio or with the director or the script? At what point was the decision made to just put it out in this shape, without any regard to the audience's enjoyment? It feels like a purely cynical decision, made with contempt of the audience. Spend hundreds of millions of dollars on marketing, fill the theatres on the opening weekend. The comic book fans will pay the ticket price to see this thing, they'll push the box office up and up and up. So as long as there are butts in the seats and tickets have been sold, who cares if the movie is actually any good? Is this how the thinking went? I don't know. 

I was looking forward to this, I was hopeful and full of innocence. Damn, I was wrong.