*This review contains more heavy spoilers than punctuation. It is advised you watch the film before reading this.*
Directed by: Zack Snyder.
Written by: Chris Terrio. David S. Goyer.
Cast: Ben Affleck. Henry Cavill. Amy Adams. Jesse Eisenberg. Diane Lane. Laurence Fishburne. Jeremy Irons. Holly Hunter. Gal Gadot.
Running time: 151 minutes
Zack Snyder gives us another infusion on pure cinematic vision to the silver screen in this much anticipated blockbuster. The film none of us even dreamed we would get. The Dark Knight and the Son of Krypton clashing in a furious blaze of poetry. Following the dreary man of steel, the trailers gave us the kind of hope that only the man in blue and red can deliver. Expectation soared but like even the Kyptonian saviour, all things must eventually land back down to earth. And this doesn’t just land but crash, with a sickening thud of disappointment to the point of offensive betrayal..
By summarising this threadbare, worn and strung out excuse for a plot I will probably be spending as much time on it as the alleged writers. Essentially Bruce Wayne turns his brooding glare of blood-stained angst towards the Superman, an alien of great power feared and loved in almost equal measure. An I.T student masquerading as Lex Luthor fights his way through red and possibly also even blue and white tape in order to produce weapons that can defend Earth. Luthor and Batman wrestle for the inexplicably discovered Kryptonite while Superman mopes around this planet trying to win both the best well-groomed Jesus impression and the hearts of the humans he calls his adopted race.
The cinematography is beautiful because Snyder should just be an artist so of course it is. Vibrant colours and the dark skyline clash much like our two heroes. The initial drive of Bruce Wayne into Metropolis while Zod and Superman battle is a magnificent sequence, the human perspective of seeming gods warring above is captured brilliantly. Low angle shots of justice being forged above as falling sparks burn up the collateral damage that is us. Sadly in the way of nuance characters and story though, I have grown to trust Snyder’s dainty touch of detail like I’d trust Edward Scissorhands delicately applying mascara. People scurry, mumble awkward half sentiments and point towards burning love ones with all the emotion and torment of a Roman Emperor with the thumb squarely pointing down. This film is the cinematic Tin Man, all shine with an absent heart. Background symbolic crosses and the red and blue messiah descending slowly towards the outstretched arms of the helpless don’t make a hero, bringing hope and overcoming trials make a hero but they involve emotion and this film had it clinically drained by the aesthetic blood lust of Snyder. The ideas of choosing who to save and how he is viewed by mortals threatens to be interesting without ever dwelling upon it long enough to give it meaning, its all merely dressing the stage for a fight.
Performance-wise Batfleck is a success, he isn’t earth shattering but may be the best Batman I’ve seen since, better than the frankly overrated Bale. He is broody and enigmatic without being boring. He is driven without being aimless and intense without being over bearing. Gal Gadot is surprisingly effective and irresistibly fun as Wonder Woman and thankfully without being over-sexualised. With all image disputes aside Gadot does the best possible with the little she’s given and shows how this character can translate onto the silver screen better than could be expected. Jeremy Irons is just how we know Alfred to be, loyal, sarcastic and drier than particularly entertaining sandpaper. Jesse Eisenburg was a bold choice, but then sticking my tongue into a blender is a bold choice, they don’t doesn’t always work out. Unmemorable, impact-less bubbles of dialogue sputter from his mouth and giving him an involuntary laugh does not make him edgy. He aims to portray a power hungry visionary and his wayward blunt arrow clatters to the floor with deafening failure. He comes across as the mere vague, plot device of blubbering annoyance. Amy Adams returns as blank as an un-printed newspaper, lurching into scenes and constantly throwing the most important weapons away simply to give herself something to do or hurling herself into the kidnap sack of the nearest villain. The romantic ‘love scene’ in the bath just looked unhygienic and a pain to clean, with all the chemistry of two faulty robots attempting to sync particularly boring data.
The film’s pacing is that of a wild stallion given speed, set on fire and threatened with a private viewing of this film including commentary. This is a collection of fantasised set pieces and moments with little thought given to the dangling frayed threads of narrative that attempt to connect them. As delicate and unwinding as the last strands of my patience by the time the merciful credits embraced my weary mind. The first twenty minutes in particular is like an elongated trailer, little speech and short cuts over large periods of time, characters being swept from the Kansas of sense by a whirlwind of attempted excitement from one seemingly unattached scene to the other. Lois Lane being draped like a bland, lifeless accessory in various parts of the world while things apparently happen around her that we assume we should care about.
The script, barring maybe a couple of lines, is an abomination crawled from the poetry book of a romantic, maniac. Every line is trying to be a meaningful tagline so unrealistic and drenched in attempted poignancy that they would make film a noire detective blush. Clark Kent’s mum rambles about saving people or not which is as helpful as poking him in the eye with a Kryptonite glove and characters throw empty hyperbole at each other to an almost competitive degree. Part of the problem is that impacting lines don’t stand out if there isn’t any normal, believable dialogue around it. It’s lost, drowning in a pretentious ocean of excessive nothing. It’s all so forced and sterile, makes everything seem disjointed and out of place. It’s like the over enthusiastic drama teacher, trying to force primary school kids to perform his pretentious play he’s being planning for years and that none of them care about. Holly Hunter’s Jude Finch is a Junior Senator who apparently just learned the word “unilateral” and is very proud of it, she just drawls ‘hokey’ witticisms and farm yard analogies instead of being actually interesting, using stereotypes as a substitute for character.
Dream sequences wheedle into this film like nonsense inducing bacteria, young Bruce Wayne ascending in a shower of bats is an original take but is another example of Snyder’s obsession with heroes being gods among men and in my opinion his biggest misunderstanding of the super hero culture. We don’t all tend to like heroes that are detached or risen above us, we often want flawed and broken heroes down among our filth and dragging themselves towards what their cracked moral compass believes to be right. The comical monster bat bursting from the Wayne grave is as subtle and clever as the jump scare volume spike it utilises to feign atmosphere. Jonathan Kent appears again, desperate to spin his one favourite horse death story about cake being bad or some ridiculousness. The ‘desert vision’ is fine but the combat is quite laboured, unnatural. The message delivered is a nice nod to a greater vision with obvious dimensional implications it will mean more down the road. For now it was an appreciated sign of commitment and foreboding. Batman has one fantastically choreographed action scene in the warehouse that we all already saw most of on the trailer, and also decides he’s ok with killing people now. Wait, what? So he’s essentially not Batman then. I’m all for new takes on characters but his resistance to crossing that one line of murder is key. Why not bring old Uncle Ben back for Peter Parker alive and kicking or make Superman from Earth. This is Batman’s fundamental identity being peeled away at its core. The title grabbing main event of Superman V Batman is slow, clunky and plain. It isn’t clever or intense and very un-involving. The comic fights are filled with history, planning and emotive dialogue all of which are embarrassingly scarce. Doomsday or Frankenzod is imbued with the power of nuclear death sparkles for no other reason than it looks pretty, with a fight that lacks any grit or thought just plenty of desperate flash. Superman occasionally saves incredibly artistic families who have the peace of mind to draw immaculate depictions of his logo at the scene of their tragedy, he also stares meaningfully for around ten minutes before actually diving into the water for the drowning wet blanket that is Lois. It’s all style with no practical consideration or coherence even for a comic book adaptation.
Batman and Superman seem as though they will be steered towards each other and manipulated carefully by the background maestro of chaos, Luthor. The greatest victory for the devil is us not knowing he exists and this looked like the direction it was heading in, which is interesting and refreshing. Until Luthor throws this away, kidnaps both women in Superman’s life that Supes somehow doesn’t notice. The same Superman that hears a shot fired across the globe doesn’t hear his nearest and dearest being bundled into a van down the road from his house, or a bomb in the same room? “I didn’t see because i wasn’t looking” may be the most patronising and laziest excuse, obviously at this point the old dialogue well was truly dry and possibly containing a boy dreaming of bats. Luthor uses Lois Lane as a falling calling card as Superman conveniently remembers he has powers, then Lex monologues away and uses his mum as a hostage…. This is cliche villainy to a sickening degree, he even uses a red countdown clock as a final seal of glaring, trope-riddled evil. It’s not clever or complex it’s lazy and all the fancy effects and action in the world can’t cover it up with pure energetic stupidity. This isn’t even film by numbers, it’s film by E numbers. Immature and giddy. It’s like being at a family party with all the lights and music blaring out, then everyone on the dance floor doing the okey cokey. It might look and sound right and everyone is doing what they think entertainment should be, then you realise they’re just going through the motions and it gets awkward and sad. Then maybe worst of all, the new bond between too fiercely and ideologically opposed titans is forged on the mere coincidence of a name? Completely cringe worthy, baffling and frankly stupid to the point of being bitterly hillarious!
These aren’t characters at all never mind our beloved and historic heroes. The one shot of Affleck’s Dark Knight grappling onto a building while set against the peeling lightning reminded me of The Dark Knight Returns and it’s famous cover pose. That was the single moment of unadulterated geek joy. The rest of the film is a dollop of adrenaline with known pop culture symbols shoved precariously on top. No affection or loyalty to fans and the history. Superman is truly the Man Of Steel, strong, durable, cold and lifeless he is impervious to both bullets and charisma. His neon telegraphed death is ineffective and dull. We are asked to care about this Superman who after two films I barely know or am invested in. A Superman who did plenty of things on screen but without ever developing. The agonisingly slow, coma-inducing last ten minutes of unfiltered boredom, is all a foundation for the next wave of films. It’s all treated as a set up to get me invested in future movies, when the best way to do that is to make me care about this one!
Part of the problem may be that they must catch up with Marvel, but without prior commitment to this end they have less leeway to be clever and patient just shameless and reckless. Also the defence of it being “over the top” as its “an over the top premise” is fine but that doesn’t excuse it for being a simply poor film. ‘Avengers Assemble’ isn’t perfect and is mainly just about heroes battling aliens, but it has a pretty tight script and careful pacing while this has neither and little else. Making a film about something ridiculous doesn’t mean you have to make a ridiculous film. Zack Snyder has also tried to blame other films such as Star Wars, which was a crazy and fun ride as oppose to this meandering vacuum of purpose. His comments if anything show a lack of faith in his own work. Apparently you can polish a turd with thousands of dollar bills and it will indeed gleam, but I I’ll still regret spending any time on it.
Verdict: This isn’t a story and more of a frustrating, pretty experience than an actual film. We are dragged into Snyder’s relentless quest for imagery. It’s a shimmering, hollow, disco ball of shiny tedium. A kaleidoscope of colourful, inane nonsense that wastes the biggest of opportunities.