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Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – “Squanders its enormous potential”

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Hype is a terrible thing. There were tears when Ridley Scott’s eventual Alien sequel, Prometheus, emerged to a lukewarm reception, but even that can’t compete with the buzz that finally places Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman on the big screen together. Magical, right?

Well, not quite, especially when you’ve got questionable helmer Zack Snyder in charge. His filmography, and I’m being generous here, is something of a mixed bag. His 2013 attempts with Man of Steel was divisive to say the least, and here we see that yet again Snyder’s somewhat incapable of hitting all the high notes he should be, having been put in such a position of power and authority.

Around 60 minutes into Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the two-and-a-half hour epic, a realisation hit me that not only did I really not know what was going on story-wise, but there wasn’t much of a narrative, or indeed structure to speak of. How can you be an hour into the most anticipated film of 2016 and not know what the heck’s going on or where it’s going? That, my friends, is the hallmark of a Zack Snyder movie.

What’s clear is that far too much is crammed into a single feature. We see around four or five separate beginnings in the opening half hour, as core characters are established and – for reasons unknown – a heap of back-story and yet more on the origin of Batman. And, in a similar way, the film finally ends after it could have done three or four times already. (Remember rolling your eyes at Peter Jackson’s inability to tie off a Lord of the Rings in less than an hour? It’s reminiscent, to say the least.)

batman v superman

One big issue for me is the questioning of character motives. As per the title of the film, we’re all expecting a monumental square off between Bats and Supes, but the set-up for why they so vehemently despise one another is weakly conveyed. Instead, both parties comes across as a little arrogant in what turns into a penis measuring contest, especially when it comes to how Amy Adams’ Lois Lane fits into the chaos. She’s little more than a pawn in the increasingly macho, dangerous arena whereby she either pokes her nose in and fucks things up, or plays the damsel in distress and it’s a chance for either hero to see who can save her first and do a celebratory helicopter dick.

Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor is perhaps the low point of the cast. Somewhere down the line, and presumably after watching The Dark Knight far too many times, he opted to incorporate a skittish Heath Ledger-esque impression of The Joker. Why? His characterisation grates the more we see him and, funnily enough, it’s only his intentions that we’re privy to for most of the film.

Yet strangely, as much as I berate many, many elements of Dawn of Justice, there are some aspects I like, even enjoy. That moment Gotham’s savour meets Metropolis’s is one of the film’s high points. It’s handled well and thrills just as it should. The climax is also satisfying, even if it is the conclusion of a paper thin two-hour build up. And that’s the problem you get when you hire Zack Snyder; he’s a director that is all about visual style and slapping together a competent, large-scale action sequence, but simply forgets to include any character development or emotion we can connect with.

Ben Affleck’s take on an older, gruffer, more heavy-set Bruce Wayne is so-so, but its his efforts as Batman that’s suitably badass and inspired by the work of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Brutal fight scenes where Bats slugs his way through hoards of enemies and the way he disposes of many is a much darker take than we’ve seen before, but the same can’t really be said for Henry Cavill’s Superman. Clark Kent’s always been somewhat of a wet blanket, and while Snyder tries to spice him up with minor outbursts and the idea that he has empathy for humanity, there’s no chance he can be painted the tortured, flawed soul that Batman is. Superman is, and has always been, a clean-cut, squeaky clean example of a hero; that’s why he was created almost 80 years ago. So changing that is virtually impossible.

batman v superman

 

Wonder Woman, however, is but a ray of light on this gloomy, overcast day. While Gal Gadot flutters in and out for a large portion of the movie, her role is electric when she’s introduced as her hero persona. Her on-screen time as Wonder Woman isn’t, as one might expect, overly sexed-up either. Instead, the impact she has is what you wanted to see during everything that precedes, so it’s all too little too late.

It’s apparent that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice overwhelmed Snyder in his attempt to deliver to fans what they craved. It was the same case with Watchmen: a visually stunning depiction of Alan Moore’s legendary graphic novel which failed to include the emotional dexterity that made the source material such a page turner. There’s simply not enough depth with the amount of characters, back-stories, future film set-ups, and on-screen relationships, rendering it a bit of a meaningless mess and slog at times.

Dawn of Justice will entertain with its grandiose spectacle and stunning CGI visuals, but the rest is sadly lacking, meaning this cannot be considered a great movie per se, but merely a watchable blockbuster that squanders its enormous potential.

3-out-of-5

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is in cinemas now.

Words: Mike Williams

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