Immediately preceding last night’s screening of this newest DC Comics bonanza, those in attendance were treated to a curious opening act. Director Zack Snyder and co-leading man Henry Cavill took to the stage to introduce the movie. So far, so normal; but what made this preamble unusual was the depressing lack of conviction with which both of them took to their roles. Looking like a lost man, Snyder’s message was for the audience to please wait a little while before taking to the internet to discuss the movie and to go easy in their assessment. Cavill leapt upon the opportunity to thank his director for the film, but followed this with an appeal for feedback in order to make subsequent Warner Bros/DC Universe movies better. If this wasn’t quite an example of getting your excuses in beforehand, it was at least an attempt to lower our expectations. A most odd introduction from a pair that appeared not to have the courage of their own convictions or faith in their own product.
This is, of course, the second instalment in the DC Shared Universe and a successor to Snyder’s Man of Steel, in which the Superman story was rebooted to pave way for a mega-franchise to rival the runaway success of the Marvel brand. Picking up more of less where that first film began (barring a credits sequence showing the Bruce Wayne/Batman creation story) we find ourselves in a world reeling from the appearance of Superman (Henry Cavill), his destructive fight with General Zod and the potential threat to peace he represents. One individual who is less than pleased with the Man of Steel’s presence on Earth is Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) who, as the dark knight savour of Gotham City, has been dealing out justice to criminals for two decades. Wayne believes Superman to be a threat to global safety, such is his almost-unlimited power; while Superman has no love for Batman’s sadistic methods. The two superheroes begin to square off against each other as the billionaire Silicon Valley whizz-kid Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) stokes their animosity and forces a showdown in an attempt to publicly humiliate and destroy Superman.
My dislike of Man of Steel stemmed largely from the fact that it seemed to be suffering from a post-Dark Knight Trilogy hangover. Christopher Nolan’s mature and serious take on his subject matter inadvertently paved the way for a Superman movie that was desperately serious, straight-faced and totally lacking in any sense of fun. The same is very sadly true of Batman v Superman, only now with added plot incoherence. Snyder has once again made a blockbuster movie that’s completely free of mirth or wonder. While it may not be as headache-inducingly tedious as Man of Steel, its first hour and a half romps along in such a garbled fashion, it feels like two competing and equally dull films are running side-by-side. Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s script tries to dabble in real-world politics: invoking 9/11 and throwing in a suicide bomber, but it’s a jumbled mess of crime clichés and Homeland security fist-waving tripe before descending into a CGI-heavy succession of crashes, bangs and wallops. The much-anticipated duel between Batman and Superman acts as little more than a cue for another fight that follows immediately, and has none of the grandeur of Nolan’s Batman/Bane showdown, the clout and power of Creed’s recent pugilism scenes, nor the epic sense of determination of even Return of the Jedi’s closing swordfight.
Much of the controversy beforehand had been to do with Affleck’s casting as Batman. In truth, his Batman is pleasingly sadistic and his Bruce Wayne tired and hangdog in an endearing sort of way. The chief culprit here is Snyder who still refuses to jettison his penchant for a meaningless slow motion shot, and who ladles on the religious iconography so thickly it fast begins to resemble a piss-take of itself.
Cavill continues to be straight-faced, chisel-jawed and hugely unlikeable as the nicest man in the universe. He flies around with the detached stare of a man waiting to collect dry-cleaning and his Clark Kent alter ego is as churlish and irksome as he is handsome. Eisenberg’s Luthor is played as a sort of psychotic enfant terrible, which would be a nice touch if his performance wasn’t so rabidly annoying. Jittering through his sentences with excruciating ferocity, he has an air of Liam Neeson in Darkman if Neeson had eaten a large bag of amphetamine and drunk a gallon of coca cola. Gal Gadot shows some signs of salvaging something from this mess, but her Wonder Woman, dressed embarrassingly like a cheerleader, provides too little too late and appears to feature for no other reason than to provide an early tease for the Justice League movies.
As the movie rumbles into a final movement that has largely been ruined by its own trailers, you realise that, in the end, this was never a Batman v Superman story at all. The look on Zack Snyder’s face, as he implored strangers to enjoy his work, told a different story. It was a panic-move by a company watching its rival triumph and a desperate bid to redress the balance by throwing anything, everything and more at the screen with no regard for the finished product.
Action, Fantasy | USA, 2016 | 12A | Warner Bros. Pictures | 25th March 2016 (UK) | Dir. Zack Snyder |Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams , Gal Gadot, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons