Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,
directed by Zack Snyder
(Warner Bros., 2016)

I put off watching Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice for a while, but with its release on DVD I had no more good excuse for avoiding it.

I'm glad I finally saw it, but damn, it wasn't good.

That's not a criticism of Ben Affleck, whose casting as Bruce Wayne/Batman was widely criticized. He actually does a good job in the role of the slightly older masked vigilante, a bit later in his career than we've seen him in previous movie outings.

Henry Cavill, as Clark Kent/Superman, on the other hand, is fairly flat, aloof and uninteresting, as he has been in the role before.

But the problem here is the plot, the action -- heck, the whole mess this movie turned out to be. Borrowing heavily from both The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman, two pivotal comic-book storylines, the movies manages to capture the grandeur of neither.

The plot is all over the place, plodding along for a while before abruptly switching to a series of massive fight scenes of the sort that destroy buildings in their wake -- all of which, conveniently enough, were empty, because Metropolis and Gotham apparently both shut down at night and everyone goes to sleep in the suburbs. I guess Warner Bros. wanted to avoid the backlash they got after the last time Superman demolished (occupied) buildings in his fight against Zod.

The movie relies on the hackneyed superhero trope that pits two heroes against each other, then abruptly turns them into friends so they can fight side by side. The motivations here -- both for the fight and the sudden switch to being best pals -- are lacking. I mean, really -- slight spoiler in italics ahead, so if you haven't seen the movie, please skip to the next paragraph -- after working Batman into a homicidal rage and putting him moments away from murdering Superman, the best reason they can come up with for them to become buddies is the timely realization that their mothers share the same first name??

Also problematic is the fact that Batman's anger toward Superman stems from a fight against supervillains that left people dead. While the difference between bystanders and villainous henchmen might be argued, Batman kills a few dozen folks himself in this film -- costing him the moral high ground he so desperately wants to take.

Gal Gadot's brief appearances as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman are quite good, enough so that I'm looking forward to her upcoming solo outing, but her reason for being in this film doesn't make a lot of sense, nor her sudden appearance in the middle of a climactic fight. Apparently she has been hiding from the public for the past century, so why now? (Cameos of other heroes -- Aquaman, the Flash and Cyborg -- are intriguing, but they're not on screen long enough to form much of an opinion. Stay tuned.)

Jesse Eisenberg, as Lex Luthor, adds, oddly, an almost Joker-like mania to his performance. I like him as a villain, but as Luthor? Not so much. And his leaps of sudden knowledge, such as knowing how to create Doomsday from a Kryptonian corpse and a few drops of his own blood, strain credulity, even in a movie where one of the protagonists flies and shoots lasers from his eyes. Also, spoiler, what's the logic in releasing a hard-to-kill force of destruction on the city you live in, when you have no means of stopping it if it succeeds in its mission to destroy Superman?

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is bloated and ponderous. To borrow a phrase, it's full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. The sole purpose of this film, I think, is to prop up a fanboy's dream of watching Batman and Superman duke it out. But that's not sufficient foundation for the film.

review by
Tom Knapp

27 August 2016

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