‘The film is a real opulent mess, devoid of any real identity or direction‘ – Thomas Parkes on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
During my viewing of Batman v Superman I felt like I was watching the last days of Rome; some event on the cusp of a cultural cataclysm where all the money in the world won’t be able to save the film studios from the inevitability of jaded audiences and dwindling interest in these films. The film is a real opulent mess, devoid of any real identity or direction and given that it spends much of its running time setting up future films rather than being a satisfying film in its own right it ultimately comes across as nothing more than immeasurably cynical dreck dressed up as a fan service.
The film acts as a reboot of the Batman series and also as a direct sequel to 2013’s ‘Man of Steel’. Bruce Wayne, now played by Ben Affleck, witnesses the destruction of Metropolis city first hand during the battle of Superman and General Zod and vows vengeance, believing Superman to be a danger to all humanity. The world itself is torn between those who believe Superman to be a positive force and those who think his god like powers and unaccountability are a potential menace. This is where the film succeeds – albeit briefly – as I always found the idea of a world or society dealing with the reality of ‘Superman’ more interesting than the character himself. In the brief moments of paranoia and dread that the film does conjure up in a couple of scenes there is perhaps a nugget of an idea that could have been fleshed out by a more capable director into something satisfying, but instead the film clumsily stumbles around itself breaking away from plot threads prematurely in order to set up characters and events that won’t have any real significance until subsequent sequels are released in the future.
Some of the characters in this film feel really miscast also, with the two biggest examples being Jeremy Irons and Jesse Eisenberg in the roles of Alfred and Lex Luthor respectively, both of whom are actors I like but here they just feel out of place. Jeremy Irons lacks the warmth and fatherly wisdom that Alfred has always represented in the Batman series while Jesse Eisenberg’s over the top, almost ‘Martin Shkreli’-like portrayal of Lex Luthor jars tonally with the rest of the film. Ben Affleck impresses as Batman surprisingly enough, with other noteworthy performances from Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman (for the little time she is actually on screen) and Amy Adams.
But the real problem here is the direction. Zack Snyder is no stranger to comic book adaptations with his previous experience of directing 300 and Watchmen. But just like those previous films Snyder seems to place more stock in reverently realising these comic book worlds visually on screen rather than figuring out how to make them work as cinematic experiences. There’s plenty of spectacle in Batman V Superman, and if you like fetishized scenes of destruction and countless shots of city skylines being decimated ad nauseum then there’s that at least. However, despite the money and effort that has been put into these explosions there is never the sense that the stakes are high as I never really cared about any of the characters. At least in Christopher Nolans Batman trilogy time was spent with the characters, fleshing them out into somewhat believable human beings that meant when the spectacle did finally arrive, you as a viewer were invested in it to the point where it meant something. Snyder’s attempt at making you care about the characters is by using portentous slow motion shots of them walking away as a means to ‘fake’ emotional depth rather than actually trying to achieve it. Snyder is a director who seems oblivious to the concept of subtext or layered narratives. But it’s hard not to compare this film with the previous Nolan Batman films. The consensus after 2005’s ‘Batman Begins’ was that the character and films were finally back on track after Joel Schumacher had his way with them in the late 90’s, but despite Affleck’s decent performance as Wayne/Batman this feels like a bad ‘first outing’ for the new Batman and Justice League franchise as it seems more rushed and obvious in its execution than Marvels expanded universe films which have been around for quite some time now.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Marvel’s films are just as cynical as this in terms of setting up future films constantly, but at least the Marvel universe’s comparatively lighter tone and sense of fun makes them more palatable than this ocean of depressingly grey sludge. When a film is this unapologetic in using itself as a vehicle for advertising future movies without trying to engage the audience with something substantive and worthwhile, coupled with the release schedules for both DC comic films and Marvel films over the next 5 years you can’t help but shake the feeling that the bubble is going to burst on all of this soon, and when it does not even Superman can save the day, because he’ll be off walking somewhere in slow motion.