Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice tries to do everything and amounts to almost nothing. No, it’s not the complete disaster clickbait headlines want you to think it is, but it’s still not a great movie. All it really confirms is that we have had enough of Zack Snyder’s darker-than-dark depiction of superheroes.
Starting off with the zillionth depiction of the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, Snyder and writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer instantly remind the audience that this isn’t going to be Man of Steel 2. They then flash-forward to the cacophony of Man of Steel‘s final destructive battle in Metropolis. It turns out that Bruce (Ben Affleck) was in Metropolis at the time, arriving just to see Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon) destroy the Wayne Tower there. Eighteen months later, Bruce is still pissed and is looking for a way to get rid of Superman.
Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is also planning on destroying Superman. Terrio, Goyer and Snyder aren’t really interested in giving the Mark Zuckerberg-like Lex motivation for killing Superman other than some offhand remark midway through about how his father beat him. Sure, Eisenberg gets all these overbearing monologues about god, power and humanity, but Snyder clearly assumes that the audience knows who Lex is going in, so he doesn’t need to get into Lex’s background. (Could you imagine if he did try to squeeze that in?)
All the build up to these two forces – Bruce and Lex – comes to a head in the middle of the film, and that’s when you can take your thinking caps off. Just like Man of Steel, BvS then completely devolves into action movie mayhem. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) joins Batman and Superman to stop Lex’s Doomsday creation. But during this fight, Snyder forgets all the heady questions about superheroes he asked during the first part. Lex even goes missing because the character has nothing to do once Doomsday is unleashed.
The second half undoes anything good about the first half, like seeing Bruce be an actual detective or Gal Gadot’s introduction. But even the first half isn’t without flaws. The whole movie is more like a collection of scenes, checking off a list of things that has to be done in order to set up the Justice League movies. In particular, the scene of Diana/Wonder Woman going through the Lexcorp files to learn about The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) feels tacked on and breaks up whatever momentum the film had.
One thing that saves the film is the performances. Ben Afflek is pretty good as old Bruce and Henry Cavill does his best to show that Superman has learned something in the 18 months since Man of Steel‘s events, even if Snyder isn’t trying himself. Gadot is the standout though and her solo Wonder Woman movie next year should be good.
On one hand, the DC fan in me wants to praise Warner Bros. for allowing Snyder to make a movie that doesn’t try to copy the Marvel format that has been so successful for Disney. But the issue is that the studio has picked the wrong director to lead this ship. There’s always room for different interpretations of fictional characters, but his obsession with dreariness in terms of Superman shows a misunderstanding of the character. That he actually thought of killing Jimmy Olsen as a joke says it all. Of course you didn’t have time to make him a real character in your saga Snyder, because you didn’t want to make a Man of Steel 2.
I can’t help but think that a Man of Steel 2 would have eased much of the burden thrust onto Batman v Superman‘s shoulders. This new movie had to introduce so much that it robbed it of the opportunity to be a film with a beginning, middle and end.
Yet, despite all the issues, there’s no way to call this a complete disaster. I have seen too many actual awful movies to say that about Batman v Superman. How many 151-minute movies move as quickly as this? Since it has to do so much, it moves far quicker than it has any right to.
After this and Man of Steel though, the DC Comics universe deserves a new filmmaker. Perhaps that’s why I’m looking forward to Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman more than the Justice League movies. Let’s hear what someone other than Snyder has to say about these characters.