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Film Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice opens nationwide on March 25.

People gave Bryan Singer a lot of flack for his Superman Returns. It was a dull affair that was often too beholden to the films of Richard Donner. But there was one thing that was clear, Singer had great respect and affection for the character of Superman. In fact, it was perhaps that adoration that led to the film’s many missteps. Zach Snyder has now made two Superman films and if I can glean anything coherent from this path he is taking, he absolutely hates Superman.

That’s the only way to explain the way that Clark Kent and Superman are so underdeveloped and broadly drawn. Zach Snyder’s Superman is a brooding teenager who is so distracted by love to care little for collateral damage. His Clark Kent is idiotic and annoying, with no demonstrable journalistic skills and about as much charm as a rotting potato. Of course the film is in no way helped by the personality black hole that is Henry Cavill’s performance. Cavill, who Hollywood seems more committed to make happen than audiences are to accept, sleepwalks through the entire film, failing to lend any semblance of emotion or authenticity to the character. His perpetual dead-eyed stare and portrayal of Superman as little more than a shell seemingly dares you to pass out in your seat. But don’t worry, the atrocious and blistering sound design that seems purposely built to shred ear drums ensures that there is no way any reasonable human could possibly fall asleep during this film.

Snyder’s seeming disdain however does not carry over to the Batman. It shouldn’t really come as any surprise, since Synder has obviously been prepping for his take on Bruce Wayne since at least Watchmen. His need to reference the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne in that film wasn’t enough for him however, and like some trite prerequisite to putting on the cowl, we are forced to endure the death of the Waynes yet again. At this point, don’t we all know that Bruce’s parents were murdered? Is it necessary to show the child witnessing the murder again? In an already bloated runtime, can a devotion to something that we have already seen with every other iteration of the character really add anything to the greater story? The answer is no, no it does not.

But Affleck’s Bruce Wayne is perhaps the most successful depiction in the entire film. He has the necessary amount of pretension and anger to play both sides of the character and his hulking stature is more than just a soundbite on working out. This is an aggressive Batman, one fed up with all of the crap that a life in Gotham will pile on a guy. In fact, the rage in this particular instance is somewhat troubling. This isn’t so much a commentary on Affleck’s performance, which has you craving for a far less crowded film, but rather Snyder’s need to push the level of violence in his world. Snyder’s Batman is one that embraces bullets, isn’t shy about branding his enemies, and often just flat out murders people. It is a betrayal of the character’s basic code and it’s disappointing to say the least.

But what of the story, Derek? The structure of the film is sloppy at best, and Snyder, who has always been more of a visual artist than a successful storyteller, appears to lose all grip on the concept of build or development. Transitions are jarring and the sequence of scenes makes little sense. The shear amount of dream sequences contained within the film is baffling. Often these bits do nothing for the story and seem like little more than visual exercises for Synder to show cool ideas that he had. Are they unnecessary? Absolutely, but I guess they look cool. In many cases, the way in which Snyder insists on moving along in Batman v Superman can do nothing but remove you from the story. He throws logic out of the window in what I can only hope is a strange act of self-sabotage in an attempt to exit his contract with DC.

The oddest part of Batman v Superman is its position in DC’s master plan. The film trips over itself to address the many concerns expressed after Man of Steel in relation to civilian casualties and Superman’s seeming ambivalence to death. Synder wants you so badly to know that he thought real hard about what you had to say and he will be better this time, a move that does nothing but harm to the film. But this is also envisioned as a setup for DC’s forthcoming Justice League. Like the film’s title, the number of pieces that the filmmakers insist on cramming in makes the film feel hopelessly bloated. It is done with such little grace as to make Iron Man 2’s beholden setup for The Avengers look absolutely subtle.

At the end, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a series of failures. As a story it is a mishmash of barely connected scenes. As a depiction of Superman, it is disconnected and uncaring. Synder wastes Scoot McNairy and Holly Hunter in roles that are ancillary to the greater story and utilize none of either’s talents. Ben Affleck and Jesse Eisenberg are perhaps the only two that escape unscathed. Eisenberg’s Luthor is a psychotic hipster that perhaps bares more resemblance to the Joker than any Luthor that’s come before. He is convincing and entertaining in the role, even if as written it is a bit too theatrical and cartoonish for this world. But few successes could save this rotting pile of blockbuster nightmares. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t just a bad film, it is a film that seems to go out of its way to alienate fans of both comics and film. We’ve had enough of Zach Synder. Please stop.

Derek can be found talking about all sorts of film stuff on Twitter. Follow him @DerekDeskins.

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