"...cacophonic, rumbling, self-important, but only fitfully entertaining."

The Dawn That Never Comes

(040116) For those who thought “Man of Steel was dark, you ain’t seen nothing yet. “Batman v Superman”, the battle royale/team-up of DC Comics’ revered superheroes, is so bleak that the sun never seems to shine, the characters’ faces can’t form smiles, and the whole affair is more depressing than fun. There’s little doubt that director Zack Snyder is trying to out-Nolan Christopher Nolan (who gets an Executive Producer credit) when it comes to leeching the light out of superheroes. Nolan, however, understood that the internal darkness needs to be a byproduct of careful character development and narrative thrust. Snyder has a more brute force approach - he doesn’t allow for the possibility of brightness or traditional heroism. “Batman v Superman” revels in apocalyptic visuals, death, destruction, mayhem, and brutality. Despite the title, there’s no “dawn” in this movie. It’s all “dusk” headed into a moonless, starless night.

When director Zack Snyder mounted 2013's "Man of Steel," he opted for dour grittiness over daring fun and the ultimate hopefulness which had accompanied past cinematic interpretations of Superman. If 1978's much-loved "Superman" and 2006's underappreciated "Superman Returns" specialized in dazzling wonder, this newest incarnation sapped away nearly all remnants of levity and joy. Most troubling was its third act of mass citywide destruction as the title superhero battled Michael Shannon's psychotic General Zod with no detectable concern for the thousands of innocent casualties left in their wake. There was something dishonest, even irresponsible, about Snyder's neglect for the value of humanity this DC Comics character had heretofore been conscientious to revere. If "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" retains the morose tone of "Man of Steel" while overloading the frame with an eventual CGI fatigue, credit returning filmmaker Snyder and screenwriters Chris Terrio (2012's "Argo") and David S. Goyer (2012's "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance") for focusing on the plausibly discordant consequences of its predecessor's flippant disregard for life. The proceedings continue to be oppressively self-serious—without, it should be said, the nuance of character, complexity of writing, and command of mise en scene found in Christopher Nolan's practically perfect 2008 crime drama "The Dark Knight"—but this sequel nevertheless leaves the viewer with perhaps, a little more to think about and consider than "Man of Steel" ever did.

At first glance, it may not have seemed as if Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) was all that torn up about the catastrophic damage and tragic death toll he played a part in causing eighteen months earlier; at previous picture's end, he cheerily became a reporter at the Daily Planet newspaper, the building nonsensically still standing tall and undamaged. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), however, watched as the havoc unfolded, not only losing his Wayne Financial skyscraper in Metropolis, but also many employees and friends. For a progressively cynical Gotham City native who has moonlighted as Batman for twenty years—his thirst for justice a result of witnessing his parents' murders when he was a child—he sees Superman as more threat than hero. When Superman is again blamed for killings, this time in an African village where journalist girlfriend Lois Lane (Amy Adams) was being held captive, senate hearings are scheduled to determine his culpability. In this instance, Clark and Lois know he was somehow set up, but proving it may be difficult when disaster strikes once more and unhinged LexCorp owner Alexander Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) moves closer to weaponizing the one radioactive element from Clark's home planet powerful enough to kill him: Kryptonite.

There are a bevy of what-ifs and could-haves when it comes to "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," a 153-minute smashup that threatens eventual exhaustion while nevertheless feeling developmentally undernourished. What one cannot deny is its clear ambition. Thematically, there is a lot going on and plenty to ponder in between the epic, effects-laden battles, which prove to be the least interesting parts of Zack Snyder's film. Bruce Wayne's back story has been told via flashback so many times it has nearly lost its potency, (I think I’ve seen the breaking of Martha Wayne’s pearls for the 457th time at this point.) and the script doesn't do a whole lot to fully explore him as a man or iconic dark knight (although Gotham City is supposedly one city over from Metropolis, it is left undecipherable and weakly explored). He is a little older and even more brooding, but not exactly wiser, falling right onto Lex's marionette strings as the maniacal philanthropist schemes to turn Batman and Superman into sworn enemies. As Bruce/Batman, Ben Affleck (2014's "Gone Girl") more than fills out the black suit and cowl, but he is given little to do beyond mope around. His relationship with his steadfast butler Alfred (a wasted Jeremy Irons), which in the past has brought much-needed warmth to the character, is a non-starter without a single memorable moment between them.

The societal backlash Clark/Superman faces on the heels of Metropolis' devastation and the deadly setup in Africa is where the film grows in provocative intrigue. It would certainly be beneficial if Henry Cavill (2015's "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.") was more ingratiating in the role, yet the doom and gloom is appropriate here. Labeled half-man, half-god in the media, Superman is, in actuality, an alien whom government officials and the public at large have grown increasingly mistrustful. Clark has only ever wanted to use his powers for the betterment of the world, but he is also fiercely protective of his loved ones and finds himself having to make tough sacrifices. The loaded dichotomy of this conflict—the internal pressure he places on himself to be everything to everyone, and the external forces who doubt, even fear, his intentions—is enticingly delved into, and Cavill comes into his own in the third act when everything he holds dear is put on the line. As Lois Lane, Amy Adams (2013's "American Hustle") does wonders with a part that is equal parts headstrong and cunning, yet requiring that she eventually must become endangered and wait as a man swoops in to save her. If you have to be saved by someone, though, it might as well be Superman.

Luthor is the real troublemaker in “Batman v. Superman,” with his maniacal pursuit of Kryptonite the primary motivation for the tale, finding Bruce interested in Luthor’s discoveries, using sloppy spy work to discover the businessman’s evil deeds. Unfortunately, Luthor isn’t anywhere near a viable threat in the movie, coming off as a jittery brat with accidental timing as his secret weapon, not smarts, while Eisenberg commits to a weird Robin Williams impression to identify the character’s instability, delivering a flurry of tics and pronounced stammers as he fights to compete with his costumed co-stars. Eisenberg’s broad, Schumacher-esque performance belongs to an earlier, goofier era of superhero movies. It’s an abysmal performance. In supporting turns, Diane Lane (2010's "Secretariat") continues to be a beacon of comfort as Clark's widowed mother Martha, while Holly Hunter (2004's "The Incredibles") is terrific as confident, straight-talking Senator June Finch, a potential ally of Lex. Fevered anticipation has surrounded the first-ever big-screen appearance of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, but any substantial exploration into her character will have to wait for her solo movie in 2017. Gal Gadot (2013's "Furious 6") shows she is wholly capable of picking up the legacy of this beloved female superhero, but her participation here is not much more than a glorified cameo. It’s never made clear why she’s wandering through Metropolis and Gotham, and she doesn’t have a lot to say, but in a movie where no one else ever shuts up, that’s a refreshing change of pace. More importantly, she exudes an alluring aura of mystery and power whether she’s flirting with Bruce Wayne or beating the crap out of Doomsday. If nothing else, Batman v Superman makes you excited to see Gadot take center stage in her solo Wonder Woman movie, due out in theaters next summer.

Batman v Superman wants to be many things. It wants to re-introduce Batman in a compelling way, and on that it largely succeeds. It wants to pull from the vast history of DC comics – the works of Frank Miller, John Byrne, Grant Morrison, Dan Jurgens, and others – and some aspects of those influences work, and some do not. It wants to create the DCEU on film for later movies, and in that aspect BVS takes far too much time and pacing away from the story. It is entirely possible that subsequent films will find their rhythm and be artistically successful (I’m under no illusions that BVS will make a ton of money regardless of reviews). But Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice meanders. The end battle is huge in scale and totally devoid of heart. There is a good movie inside of Batman v Superman, which makes it all the more frustrating that the stuff the movie gets wrong, it gets really wrong. Batman v Superman is cacophonic, rumbling, self-important, but only fitfully entertaining. Warner Brothers should take a long, hard look at the direction they want to go with these movies, because spectacle without joy to it is simply overwhelming. I’ll happily see Ben Affleck take on Batman again. Same for Gal Gadot for Wonder Woman. The rest? Not so much.

Directed by:   Zack Snyder
Written by:   Screenplay by: Chris Terrio & David S.Goyer.
 Based on the DC Comics characters created by
 Bob Kane & Bill Finger (Batman), Jerry Siegel &
 Joe Shuster (Superman)
Starring:    Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams
Released:  032516
Length:  151 minutes
Rating:    Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence
 and action throughout, and some sensuality

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE © 2016 Warner Bros Pictures
All Rights Reserved

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