DIR: Zack Snyder • WRI: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer • PRO: Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder • DOP: Larry Fong • ED: David Brenner • DES: Patrick Tatopoulos • MUS: Junkie XL, Hans Zimmer • CAST: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams
Is anyone else slightly surprised that this film has actually even come out? It feels like we’ve been hearing about it for years; between the announcement, the various controversial casting choices, the ever expanding and contracting list of characters, delays, late title reveals, rumours of it being split in two, etc. It almost felt like this was some mythic property we’d never see. And that’s to say nothing of the hype train that’s been on a runaway course straight towards disappointment and backlash terminal. In any case, the film is here, it’s long and as a human on this earth, you are encouraged to give your opinions on it.
In as much as it is possible (or even worth) summarising, the story goes… In the wake of Kal-El’s (Cavill) battle with Zod (Shannon) at the climax of the previous film, the world is divided about how to feel about his existence. To some he is a hero, to others he’s a threat to planetary safety. Enter BatFleck (BenAfman). We see the destruction of Metropolis from his ground-level viewpoint in a genuinely tense and engaging opening sequence (after the contractually obligated retelling of Bats’ origins during the credits), that does far more to convey the true horror and damage of that fight than the previous film. From here we jump 18 months ahead to the present where a seemingly endless number of characters with overlapping motivations and plotlines flit from location to location at breakneck speed in order to force all the pieces into their positions of the board so that we can see The Dark Knight repeatedly punch The Big Blue Boy Scout. At something approaching the centre of this swirling nexus of screenplay is Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. Nominally the mastermind behind what’s going on and with bigger plans of his own, can the Caped Crusader and The Last Son of Krypton put their differences aside and thwart him? And set up a League of some sort? And Wonder Woman. She’s here too and steals the movie as well as Bruce Wayne’s little computer box.
From the outset, two things are worth saying: yes, this film is a bit of a mess; being simultaneously too short and overly complicated yet needlessly long and childishly simplistic. But there’s a lot to enjoy provided you’re already on-board with some of the elements. Ben’s Bat is a more enjoyable onscreen presence than Bale’s, a tantalising step closer to an approximation of the live-action Kevin Conroy Batman that this city both needs and deserves. And on a visual level this is the best Batman we’ve yet received in live action. The suits are great, the way he moves (CGI augmentation and all) is perfect while the fights are mesmerizingly fast and brutal. Maybe a little too brutal, especially for those who thought Superman’s neck-snapping antics felt out of character last time around. Still, it’s nice to see a realistic depiction of what a man hurling blades and firing gas-powered grapples at squishy mortals would look like. This reviewer laughed a lot.
In fact, the cast in general is one of the stronger elements (aside from Amy Adams who sadly continues to simply be a person in a film). Cavill is (a little) more fun and likeable this time around, while they finally stopped wasting Laurence Fishburne and just let him play Laurence Fishburne and it’s as amusing as expected. Eisenberg’s Luthor is inevitably going to be a divisive one. While he’s not very Luthor-y in a lot of obvious ways, they actually managed to get the character fairly spot-on in terms of his villainy, cruelty and penchant for poor foresight in regards to mad science. His tics and mannerisms may annoy some but if you were okay with how Matt Smith played the Doctor, you’ll probably like this. On the Bat-Family side of proceedings, Jeremy Irons is exactly as delightful an Alfred as we all knew he would be (for my two cents, I still think he was born to play a properly over the top Ra’s al Ghul but Alfred will do for now); he’s funny, quick witted and a nice dose of sanity for Wayne as he descends into another of his blind-rage crusades. Gal Gadot really steals things though. Anyone who saw her in the Fast and Furious movies would have been rightly worried that she might vanish into the background but Gadot really commands a presence on-screen, even in her civilian guise. And once the swords and lassos come out, she’s a sight to behold in battle. Not screwing up a live action Wonder Woman is the most important thing this film could have achieved in terms of the DC films going forward and I’m happy to report she’s great (even if her screen time and dialogue are irritatingly limited). If nothing else, this is great trailer for her upcoming film.
As surely as Bruce Wayne’s parents have to be killed however, so must the bad follow the good. By now it’s been widely reported that we’ll be getting a bum-numbing three hour cut of this on home-media. Watching the film, it’s easy to see why. The first half or so especially, barrels through plot and locations while Amy Adams’ scenes feel distinctly cut down and likely in service of a sub plot that was hacked into near non-existence. At the time, those involved quickly quashed rumours that splitting this into two films was ever an option but seeing the finished product, it gets a bit harder to swallow. While the second film may have suffered a little from Battle of the Five Armies syndrome, two ninety minute movies would have made far more sense. And speaking of more films, it is quite disheartening to see that DC have taken a more Amazing Spider-Man-franchise approach to character setup than that of Marvel. Our glimpse of the future Justice League members is depressingly functional and lazy in its inclusion. If they could have introduced them all the way they do The Flash (in one of the better, of a surprisingly large number, of dream sequences), it may have felt slightly more organic as a method of introducing these characters.
The problem is ultimately Snyder. The man shoots a great action scene but he struggles to get these people to convey dramatically compelling or even convincing interactions. A rooftop standoff between Lex and Superman is fun, a flirtatious encounter between Diana and Bruce is exciting, a veiled conversation of threats between Wayne and Kent draws you in, but any attempt for Bruce to be emotional, or Lois and Clark to discuss their relationship like humans and the film drags to inert halt. There is also likely blame to be laid at the screenplay’s feet and the above is far from its only fault. Contrivance is everywhere, motivations are vague or non-existent and at least one major plot point (in the many ways, THE plot point), hinges on an almost hilarious idiotic coincidence that doesn’t hold anywhere near enough weight to justify what it’s used for.
In the end this film isn’t as bad as the initial backlash would imply but nor is it anywhere near as good as its own hype promised. It’s certainly not unentertaining and is actually quite funny (it certainly has a better ratio of jokes to not-jokes than the more recent Marvel movies). The big fights are well staged, it’s surprisingly brutal and violent and the Batman action scenes are genuinely great. You’ll probably get more enjoyment out of this as a Superman fan than the previous outing and there’s a lot of Batman to like (especially, if, like yours truly, you kind of hate Batman and enjoy seeing him be an ineffectual idiot in places). Wonder Woman is the standout and this bodes well for her film and indeed any future DC movies not helmed by Snyder and his passive-aggression toward film fans. Oh yes, all the belly aching about civilian casualties did not fall on deaf ears. Indeed, if you are going to see it and find yourself in need of a drinking game, a shot every time someone mentions an area being free of civilians or something to that effect, should make for a lively second half.
Please let Suicide Squad be better…
12A (See IFCO for details)
Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice is released 25th March 2016
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