“Whoever wins, we lose.”
This tagline may not actually be from the new DC Comics film “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (it actually comes from the 2004 film “Alien vs. Predator”), but it’s an appropriate one for it. Unfortunately, the “we” in the quote refers not to the people of Gotham City or Metropolis (though they suffer too) but to the audience in the cinema.
The sequel to 2013’s “Man of Steel,” the new film, released on March 25 and starring Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Jesse Eisenberg and (in a glorified cameo) Gal Gadot, sees Batman (Affleck) entering the fray after witnessing the destruction caused by Superman (Cavill) in his fight with General Zod at the end of the previous film. Convinced that the alien with god-like powers (there is no shortage of divine allusions in this film) cannot be endured if there is even a chance he could turn on them, the Caped Crusader vows to give the Man of Steel the fight of his life. Meanwhile, the villainous Lex Luthor (Eisenberg) concocts a dastardly scheme to unleash havoc on the world … for no real reason.
Characterization is a deep and pervasive flaw that penetrates nearly every major player in the film. Superman’s destructive tendencies continue to be a major issue and, in fact, appear to only get worse the second time around. The film treats “saving people” as a secondary goal for Superman, who never seems to realize any repercussions of his own actions (and if he does, he denies them). Batman, in sharp contrast to the character from the unrelated “Dark Knight” movies, is a killer, who brands criminals with his logo, guns down dozens of henchmen from his plane and even incinerates a man. Additionally, he contradicts himself drastically, at one point asserting that, “Men are still good,” yet spouting Cheney-esque rhetoric such as “If there is even a one percent chance that he is our enemy, we have to take that as an absolute certainty!”
The other characters are no better. Eisenberg’s Luthor, meanwhile, is wholly lacking in motivation, and is instead treated as a whack job out to destroy Superman because it gives him the chance to say lots of silly dialogue such as “[Psychotic] is a three-syllable word for any thought too big for little minds.” It certainly doesn’t help that Eisenberg’s take on the role is a poor-man’s version of Heath Ledger’s Joker character from “The Dark Knight,” with none of the charisma or intimidation factor.
The much-hyped appearance of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is little more than a cameo, and, despite a roaring guitar riff designed to convince you that you’re watching something exciting, incites little enthusiasm for her upcoming solo feature. Like Cavill, Gadot’s line delivery is frequently stunted and uninteresting, though much of that is the fault of the material. The only standout performances in the film are Affleck, who makes the most of his role to deliver the best scenes in the picture, and Holly Hunter, who does a commendable job in her supporting role as a Senator concerned about Superman’s antics.
The visual effects are nicely designed, but they don’t stand out much when all the fight scenes take place in the dark. “Man of Steel” could at least boast of crisp, visually beautiful action –”Batman v Superman” looks as dour as it feels. The fight scenes are underwhelming, and are not worth the nearly three-hour length of the film. If all you care about is the titular fight, you’re better off waiting for HBO, where you can just skip straight to the action.
Gone are the hope, excitement and heroic feats that made Richard Donner’s “Superman” a hit with audiences in 1978. Gone are the tension, genuine moral dilemmas, sinister villains and pulse-pounding action sequences that made Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” a sensation in 2008. “Batman v Superman” is a film that substitutes excitement with explosions, morals with murder, action with excess, tension with idiocy and optimism with terminal grimness. Snyder sacrifices all the elements of a good superhero story at the altar of fans who crave humorless, pseudo-“deep” depictions of superheroes punching each other.
If you are looking for tension and thrills, see “10 Cloverfield Lane.” If you are looking for superhero action, see “Deadpool.” If you need a movie for the kids, see “Zootopia.” This isn’t worth it. One can only hope that DC will improve from here – whether this is true will be seen with August’s “Suicide Squad,” which will see the return of Affleck’s Batman and the introduction of many of the comic character’s classic villains.