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Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Directed by: Zack Snyder

Premise: A follow up to 2013’s Man of Steel. Batman (Ben Affleck) is increasingly suspicious of Superman (Henry Cavill) while Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) gets his hands on Kryptonian technology.
What Works: As a piece of spectacle, Batman v Superman looks great. In pictures like 300 and Sucker Punch, filmmaker Zack Snyder has proven himself a capable technician and Batman v Superman has some terrific looking imagery. This picture functions as a pivot point in a larger narrative. Batman v Superman is the connective tissue between Man of Steel and the intended DC cinematic franchise that will include the upcoming Justice League movies and the individual spinoff stories of Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Cyborg. The filmmakers of Batman v Superman establish a broad setting that can accommodate all of these characters and it brings them together in a way that makes some internal sense. Batman v Superman is primarily the story of Gotham City’s Caped Crusader with Ben Affleck stepping into the role. Affleck does quite well, bringing a bitterness and violence to Bruce Wayne that’s distinct from any other live action incarnation of the character. His anger is rooted in the events of Man of Steel and that’s the most impressive aspect of Batman v Superman; it rehabilitates the widely criticized ending of Man of Steel in which Metropolis was destroyed in a cataclysmic event that frequently and deliberately recalled the imagery of the September 11th terrorist attack. Rather than capitulate to the criticism, the filmmakers double down on the 9/11 parallels and make it count for something. The world has been traumatized by the Metropolis disaster and Batman’s response to the tragedy—taking out his paranoia and survivor’s guilt on an immigrant—is a sharp parallel with America’s xenophobic reactions following the 9/11 attack. That’s a smart idea that distinguishes Batman v Superman from many other superhero films.

What Doesn’t: Despite the production values of Batman v Superman and how smart its ideas may be, the movie is an underwhelming experience. For one thing, this is yet another case of the trailer giving away the whole movie. But that’s the least of the picture’s problems. Zack Snyder is a technician, not a dramatist. He creates impressive imagery but he has no idea what those images mean or how to use them to tell an emotionally engaging story. The action sequences are a cacophony of punches and explosions and they don’t serve any narrative point. Nothing’s accomplished by the fights and chases and when the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader finally come to blows it’s just a bunch of meaningless action. Part of the problem is the lack of characterization. Superman is really a supporting character in this; he doesn’t do anything meaningful and even Batman is one note. Wonder Woman is not characterized at all and she could be cut from the story without impacting anything. Lex Luthor, played terribly by Jesse Eisenberg, is the villain of this movie but he’s not really in conflict with anyone. That’s the other critical problem of this movie. Nothing makes sense. Luthor goads Batman and Superman into a fight but Luthor has nothing to gain from it. Within a matter of minutes, Batman and Superman go from trying to murder each other to joining forces. Luthor creates a Kryptonian monster but to no discernable end. It’s revealed that the monster gets stronger when it’s attacked and then everyone keeps on hitting it. The heroes figure out how to kill it using information they couldn’t possibly know. And with all this wrong with the movie, Batman v Superman continues the chief problem of Man of Steel. It isn’t any fun. The movie is exhausting instead of exhilarating.

Bottom Line: Batman v Superman is a mediocre superhero movie. It’s got kernels of greatness in it but that intelligence is bulldozed by stupid storytelling decisions and underwritten characters.

Episode: #589 (April 3, 2016)