Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justsice
I’ve come to dread reviewing superhero movies, not because I don’t like them (though I sometimes don’t) but because they’re so formulaic that they essentially become like reviewing specific episodes of a soap opera.
In and of themselves, singular episodes of soap operas have no hermetic narrative structure; they’re narrative conduits with no planned end that are stylistically and thematically similar from one to the next. Similarly, there isn’t THAT much of a spread between the quality of the very best superhero movie and the very worst. None of them are The Rules of the Game and none of them are Baby Geniuses 2. I fully expected to walk out of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice in the same state I was walking out of Snyder’s previous Superman movie: slightly sore, unenthused but generally upbeat about the whole thing.
That didn’t happen, because Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (heretofore known as BvS) is a game changer. It is the new low-watermark in a genre doomed to eat itself over and over again. It is, quite simply, the fucking worst.
A year and a half after the events of Man of Steel (in which, you’ll remember, Superman — played by Henry Cavill — destroyed everything in order to defeat General Zod), opinions are mixed about Superman. Is he a hero, as some claim, or an outer-space terrorist who has killed hundreds, if not thousands, in order to further his Kryptonian agenda? One guy who thinks the latter is billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who has spent the last 20 years capturing criminals in his free time as the mysterious Batman.
Meanwhile, billionaire industrialist/tech wizard brat Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) has hatched a plan to pair the two superheroes (who already hate each other) in a deathmatch after his attempt at getting a bill passed that would greatly benefit his scientific research is nixed. At some point, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) shows up, because her movie’s coming out soon and it’s a shared universe, after all.
Here is the handful of things that aren’t completely terrible about BvS:
1. It is mildly interesting that the whole plot of the film is predicated on the fact that Superman caused wanton destruction in Man of Steel and apparently no one seemed to care, although this aspect of the plot soon gets lost in the film’s interminable exposition bouillabaisse;
2. Eisenberg’s decision to play Lex Luthor as a fey dandy prone to fits of whooping is fun, even if it belongs in a significantly less broody movie;
3. Once we’re through two solid hours of pouting and brooding and Affleck hitting a giant tire with a sledgehammer, there is a fight between Batman and Superman. It’s satisfying, but not enough to let you forget that you just sat through the first two hours of the film — or that there are another 45 minutes of whirling CGI to sit through after this;
4. Jeremy Irons is in it a little.
I am not a comic book fan. To some (namely, people who already have their mind made up about this film because their love of Batman trumps all), this might mean I am incapable of truly judging this movie on its merits. It’s true that most of what I know about these characters I’ve gleaned from the movies I’ve seen and not from spending my formative years taking it all in, but there’s really no reason for any movie to be made with this level of basic storytelling incompetence.
Snyder gives us no personal moments in which to see the characters as people. Every inch of this movie is covered in exposition and reveals and techno-babble and brooding — it sometimes feels as if Snyder asked everyone to do one line reading where they paused dramatically at the end, then used 80 per cent of them — but never shows anything human, yet it recycles the Batman origin story and the death of his parents for the umpteenth time and asks us to apply this throughout the movie as a semblance of character development.
BvS is a three-hour exercise in taking shortcuts: shortcuts to exposition, shortcuts to character development, shortcuts to get to the rest of the franchise, shortcuts to get from one scene to another. It’s impossible to tell whether Snyder’s direction is so chaotic that he refuses to let scenes breathe for more than a minute or the writing is that clumsily concise. The first hour of the film consists of one-minute snippets of exposition spew and/or some silent brooding tossed together in haphazard order. You know that thing where a character talks about another character, then the film cuts to what that character is doing? That’s a little too advanced for BvS, which contents itself with cutting to another 45-second sequence of Lois Lane (Amy Adams) looking at the sky mournfully.
All of it feels like a functional narrative funnel, a heartless, worthless, interminable way to get some paperwork out of the way for the rest of the onslaught. This isn’t a foreign concept in the world of superhero movies, but at least these tend to be functionally comprehensible. BvS feels like it was pieced together rather than constructed — like every extended DC Universe movie was shot at once and thrown out of order and this is what they could salvage. It only exists as a cog in a wheel, and not just any cog: a janky, fucked-up cog that threatens to send the whole thing screeching to a halt. ■
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice opens in theatres on Friday, March 25. Watch the trailer here: