Two films down and it would appear that Zack Snyder’s most significant contribution to the superhero genre will be in reminding us just how much we miss Christopher Nolan’s artistry from the Dark Knight movies, and the sense of awe and fun that the early Superman films inspired.
Frankly, the only thing more exhausting than watching a big ol’ dumb blockbuster is watching a big ol’ dumb blockbuster that takes itself too seriously. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is overlong (at 2 hours 33 minutes), darker than it ought to be (both literally and figuratively), and practically humorless (I counted precisely 3 laughs). But crucially, it delivers none of that giddy excitement you expect from what’s been billed as “the greatest gladiator match in the history of the world”.
Too busy treating the film as a stage to launch a series of future spin-offs and franchises featuring more characters from the DC Comics canon, Snyder ends up shortchanging both the audience and his iconic protagonists with an overstuffed but underdeveloped outing. To be clear, there’s a lot going on in the film: fleeting cameos from future heavy-hitters, the reappearance of beloved characters from the comics, and a script crammed with too many ideas that are occasionally in conflict with each other. Snyder throws everything at the screen hoping resistance will be futile.
The plot kicks in after Bruce Wayne becomes obsessed with reigning in Superman, having witnessed the widespread carnage and loss of lives in the wake of his epic battle with General Zod (at the end of 2013’s Man of Steel). Poor Superman, meanwhile, broods and sulks as the citizens of Metropolis too grow increasingly suspicious of him, and politicians and journalists question whether he should be held accountable for the collateral damage of his actions. Goading the two into a fight is twitchy evil billionaire Lex Luthor, played by Jesse Eisenberg, who, in a departure from previous incarnations of the bald super villain, sports a full head of hair.
Ben Affleck is surprisingly solid as an older, embittered Batman, and he plays it so grim you’d think he was trying to out-angst Christian Bale’s portrayal of the Bat from Gotham. But what’s Henry Cavill’s excuse for never cracking a smile? Returning in the role of Superman, the earnestness is still there, and he gets some quiet moments with Amy Adams’ Lois Lane, but even the goofy and lovable Clark Kent is nowhere to be found.
On the upside, Dawn of Justice is redeemed to some degree by the terrific Gal Gadot who emerges as mysterious badass warrior Wonder Woman fairly late in the film but owns the screen from the moment in. Set to star in her own solo movie, she’s the one bright spot in this superhero slog.
Expectedly the action unfolds at eardrum-shattering decibels and involves an orgy of special effects that many will likely enjoy. The Batmobile makes an appearance too, but there is little that is memorable in the way that Nolan’s set pieces were. The slugfest between the two big guys is engaging but never exhilarating, and then it quickly segues into a longer, seemingly never-ending battle with an entirely CGI villain that reminded me of the big blob that Ryan Reynolds had to fight in Green Lantern.
Speaking of Reynolds, his recent R-rated superhero incarnation Deadpool may have rung the death knell for future comic book movies that can’t find it in themselves to lighten up a little. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the first casualty.
I’m going with two out of five.