It’s the biggest superhero showdown of the year – at least until Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War is released – and while it shows progress for director Zack Snyder’s abilities, Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice shows little forward momentum for the DC universe and remarkably little invention.
When Metropolis is destroyed during the events of Man Of Steel, Gotham billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) sees Superman (Henry Cavill) as responsible for the thousands of collateral deaths. Years later, as wealthy upstart Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) campaigns against Superman, the Batman decides that his alien counterpart can no longer be left unchecked.
Warner Bros. was hell-bent on secrecy when it came to this film – ironic, really, as every detail it tried to protect is either revealed in the trailers or hardly surprising. The film’s subtitle foreshadows the Justice League franchise beginnings, and a shoehorned-in teaser for films known to be in development hardly constitutes revelation. The other ‘surprise’ is the ending of the film, which is both comic book lore and so obviously projected as to lose all gravity, much like the emergence of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) during the film’s ultimate battle (as seen in the trailer).
Wonder Woman represents what is lost in Snyder’s blockbuster – despite appearing in every shred of advertising and being a thoroughly enjoyable screen presence, she is criminally underused. (She’s also the only woman not kidnapped; some are taken multiple times.) Hours are spent building the titular conflict between Batman and Superman, despite it being ultimately short-lived as the outside threat of Luthor and his machinations quickly distract from, and resolve, the film’s central conflict in a very unsatisfying manner.
That said, Snyder’s second DC effort is better than Man Of Steel. The 153-minute runtime feels less bloated than its predecessor, and the director even manages restraint. His weaknesses are in emphasising glaring competitions, using repetitive dream sequences, and imitating the work of producer Christopher Nolan. The grit and grime bore; the moral questioning imposed on Superman is exactly that issued to Batman in The Dark Knight; and the Hans Zimmer/Junkie XL soundtrack is just a generic rehashing of the Nolan trilogy themes.
The difference is in Affleck’s Batman: Snyder’s anti-hero is, like his Superman, a straight-up murderer. Batman brands his enemies and guns down so many henchmen that his questioning of Superman is repulsively hypocritical. As for the ‘true’ villains, Luthor only proves annoying as Eisenberg’s feigned ticks and quirks, intended to appear neurotic, read as overacting.
Batman v Superman is, in spite of poor moral reasoning, a competent hero flick. But after such lengthy interrogation, these archetypal figures should muster more than mere competence. The real battle here is between Snyder and the weighty DC legacy, and both emerge scarred from this fight.
Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice is in cinemas now.