After two and a half years of anticipation, three different release dates, and a shambolic marketing campaign, ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ is finally here. At the time of publishing, the film has been stamped with a rotten 30% approval rating and a pitiful average of 5.1/10. The overall reaction is just a tad unfair when you consider that its inferior predecessor, Man of Steel, finished up with an approval rating of 56% and an average of 6.2/10. Note the emphasis on “a tad” because while ‘Batman v Superman’ is an improvement over the first film, it still suffers from many of the same mistakes.
Let’s start from inside the writer’s room. To put it simply, the script could’ve done with a major redraft. Or even better, a complete overhaul of the writing staff. It’s shocking to think that Academy Award winning screenwriter Chris Terrio and longtime DC Comics/Entertainment writer David S. Goyer could produce such an incoherent mess. While the dialogue is far less expository and on-the-nose than in ‘Man of Steel’, the story is all over the shop. The film jumps erratically from one scene to another, haphazardly ticking things off the list. There is no coherence, no clear purpose, it’s just an overload of random events thrown into a blender. Because of all the chaos, the film struggles to develop a natural flow and any sense of urgency or tension dissipates as quickly as it appears.
Thanks to the story structure, or lack thereof, the characters are left wandering aimlessly around Metropolis and Gotham. Their motives and objectives are often unclear or just too weak to justify their actions. For example with Lex Luthor, the procurement of kryptonite, the explosion at the Capitol, the creation of Doomsday and the manipulation of Superman and Batman was said to all be a quest for power. However to just be seeking power is far too broad of an objective to justify the extremities of his actions. Luthor suffers from an almost non-existent backstory that may have better defined his purpose. After two and a half hours we are no closer to knowing what it is that LexCorp actually does and its position of power in the world, or even how Lex Luthor came to inherit the company from his father. Diane Prince is another character who remains a mystery for the entire two and a half hours. All we know is her name, the fact that she’s Wonder Woman, and that she likes to fly Turkish Airways, nothing else was made of her. Perhaps they decided to withhold all the information until her standalone film next year, and if that’s the case then maybe it would’ve made more sense to have left her out of this film completely. Now it’d be too harsh and just a little bit ignorant to heap the blame onto Terrio and Goyer. They are of course just the subordinates to the man at the helm of the whole DC Universe, Zack Snyder.
In typical Snyder fashion, ‘Batman v Superman’ is a cataclysmic explosion of special effects. After all this time and criticism, he is still too trigger happy when it comes to CGI. He is like a kid on a sugar high that desperately needs calming down. There is no rhyme nor reason to it, it’s just style over substance and very questionable style at best. There were times when he scales it back, and I must say the aesthetics of the more understated scenes are the best of any superhero movie since The Dark Knight Rises. The colour palette used in those scenes has a beautiful balance between light and shade and the imagery, while at times are forced and overdone, add some much needed depth. Unfortunately such scenes are few and far between. He struggles to find a balance and displays a dangerous level of incompetence when it comes to telling a story. For a director, Zack Snyder lacks direction and self-control.
Despite all its flaws, there are some elements of ‘Batman v Superman’ that give us hope for the future of DC films. The dark tone, while a criticism of many, I feel is one of the DC Universe’s strongest qualities. It separates itself from the formulaic, light-hearted structure of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and sets up a universe that has the potential to ground itself in some realism and explore the notion of good and evil in the world.
Tasked with bringing all of this to life is an A-list cast that does fantastic job in trying circumstances. Ben Affleck silences the critics with a performance that perfectly captures the war-weary and cynical demeanor of a middle-aged Bruce Wayne/Batman. The erosion of his moral code is difficult to watch at first however given his twenty years of crime fighting, Batman has clearly grown tired of taking the high ground. Jesse Eisenburg may be guilty of overplaying Lex Luthor at times, however his portrayal as a maniacal sociopath will only become more threatening and well-round if utilized properly in future films. Gal Gadot is an absolute standout in her scenes as Diane Prince/Wonder Woman, especially when you consider some of the on-the-nose dialogue she had to work with and the absence of character development. Amy Adams is perfect as always as she manages to spark some chemistry between her and the wooden Henry Cavill (but then again maybe that’s the point of his performance, perhaps alien and wooden are synonymous). And Jeremy Irons makes the most of the little screen time he has, putting his own spin on Bruce Wayne’s most loyal confidant Alfred.
If you were to take Zack Snyder out of the equation, what you are left with is an accomplished cast and some of the most iconic characters in pop culture. It has all the pieces of a critical and commercial success, it just needs someone with the competency to put the jigsaw together. Perhaps Suicide Squad will be that film…
Verdict: The all-star cast worked well with the error-ridden script, dispelling any concerns over the casting. However Zack Snyder failed to fully learn from the mistakes of Man of Steel, and still operate under the ethos that more is always better. Reality check: it’s not. Perhaps Warner Bros. should start looking for a new captain to steer this ship.