Scott F. Evans
I’ll try to keep this short.
Batman v Superman is a nearly three hour, joyless, anti-romp filled with unlikable characters with confusing motivations spouting clunky dialogue.
But it looks pretty good so… yay?
Director Zack Snyder is back with the not-quite sequel to 2013’s Man of Steel, and awkward prequel to 2017’s The Justice League. Snyder’s background is music videos and commercials. It shows. Much of the film is beautiful. Gone is the messy, handheld documentary style he and cinematographer Amir Mokri incorporated in Man of Steel, replaced instead by the cleaner imagery of frequent collaborator Larry Fong. Snyder’s action scenes (and there are plenty) are much more legible this time as well. He’s thankfully jettisoned most of that blurry, too-fast-for-the-camera effect so overused in Steel.
And that about does it for what’s good about Batman v Superman, because the rest of this film is an absolute mess. The main problem is (are we really surprised?) story. Like a lot of mega-budgeted genre films these days, this one manages to be both too long and too short. It overreaches, and even with a laborious two and a half hour run-time, it still fails to properly tell the story. But that’s the result of trying to adapt several long-form comic book stories into a bloated feature film. If that’s not bad enough, it also attempts to shoehorn a handful of other themes, plus deliver the thrills expected from films of this nature. The end result is a muddled, disjointed piece that crumbles under its own weight. This film has been in the making for three years, and it still feels like they shot a rushed first draft.
Screenwriter Chris Terrio (brought in to rewrite David Goyer) penned a ludicrously convoluted plot that desperately seeks mature significance, but is hamstrung by a deeply immature core. It’s a given that the titular characters have to slug it out before the credits roll. A smarter film would’ve crafted a journey where, by the end of it, there’s no other choice but for these heroes to go at it. But in this film, the entire conflict could have easily been avoided by these two men having a fairly simple conversation like adults, instead of a pair of overgrown toddlers.
Henry Cavill returns as Superman. Of all the actors involved in this, he’s the one I feel the most sorry for. Not only is he a guest-star in his own movie, but Cavill is stuck with the most depressive, insecure, unpleasant, immature asshole version of Superman ever brought to the screen. Terrio and Goyer have drained all of the charm and life out of this classic character. I’m pretty sure that Snyder hates him too. There is not a scene in this film where Superman isn’t made to look inept, or bungles the simplest of superhero actions.
Amy Adams is also back as Lois Lane. True to form, she retains the magic ability to get herself involved in every dangerous situation (and put everyone around her at risk) as she waits to be rescued by her bulging, brainless boyfriend. Adams is serviceable, but not especially memorable. That’s interesting only because she’s given nearly as much screen time as the two leads.
Jesse Esienberg debuts as the latest – and worst – version of Lex Luthor. This is a film-killing misstep. This Luthor is so lacking in… everything… it’s insulting that the filmmakers want us to consider him dangerous. You keep waiting for Lois to just slap the shit out of him and make it all stop. He can be given credit for taking the character in a different direction, but his performance is so overly affected and phony that you count the seconds until he is offscreen. The worst part about that is, he’s all over this film.
Gal Gadot appears as Wonder Woman. She’s featured heavily in the film’s marketing but her screentime ends up being mostly a lengthy cameo (and an advertisement for her own feature in 2017). She’s adequate, but since she’s not given much else to do outside of the fight scene (you could cut her out entirely and it would barely affect the plot), it’s hard to determine if Gadot is going to be able to carry a feature on her own. She certainly looks the part and clocks in for the climactic fight, so there’s hope for her solo project.
Ben Affleck takes over the cape and cowl as the latest rendition of Batman. He’s good, but not especially better than previous versions. Affleck is refreshingly the most physical Batman we’ve ever seen. But he turns in such a dour, one-note performance that it’s hard to tell how good he’ll be going forward. The character has always skirted the razor’s edge of insanity with his obsession with fighting crime. Here he’s full blown psychopath, racking up an impressive body count and causing nearly as much property damage as his co-star. It’ll be interesting to see what Affleck does with this character with a more restrained director and cohesive script.
That lack of restraint and cohesion is what ultimately sinks Batman v Superman. It’s a hollow film that’s too long, too loud, and tries too hard. It focuses too much of its energy in the wrong places with turgid plotting, try-hard atmospherics and forgettable action scenes.