Directed by Zack Snyder.
2016. Rated PG-13, 151 minutes.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan
For well over a year, I've been trying to pick and choose what I heard about the then upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It was difficult work as new stuff seemed to come out on a daily basis for quite some time. Most of what slipped through my defenses didn't sound good, at all. However, I chalked that up to us having entirely too much time to pick things apart. That's a dangerous thing in an age where we live to do nothing more than to scrutinize others. I did okay, and allowed myself the customary trailer or two a couple months back. Otherwise, I did pretty good avoiding things. To complete the trick, I went into complete lockdown mode a few days ago. I stayed off of imdb.com and rottentomatoes.com. I didn't do any internet searches that involved the name of any of the characters. When reviews started rolling in from the blogosphere I ignored them completely. That includes your review. Rest assured, I'll spend any down time during my vacation this week pulling up and reading them, but I just couldn't before I had seen the movie. On Friday, I sent out a tweet letting everyone know that I was staying off Twitter until I done so. Of course, mere seconds after I hit 'send,' a personal friend sent me a text about the movie. Sigh. He hadn't actually seen it, just relaying what most critics thought about it. So I still sorta dodged that bullet. He asked that I let him know what I thought about when it was over. Anyhoo, on Saturday I hooked up with my brother and headed down to the theater near his house. We grabbed some popcorn and drinks, always a mistake for a two-plus hour movie, copped some prime real estate to plop our derriere's in, saw a string of trailers for movies which we had varying degrees of interest in, and then our feature presentation started.
Things open up on a funeral. Yup, right away we handle the obligatory rehash of the death of Bruce Wayne's parents. This time through a Batman (Affleck) dream sequence that lets us know that this film is not going to be all sunshine and rainbows. Hell, there aren't any sunshine and rainbows. Anyhoo, when the billionaire playboy wakes up, we find out he's pissed about how Metropolis was basically reduced to rubble during the grand finale of 2013's Man of Steel. Batman fears that Superman (Cavill) is so powerful that the very existence of mankind, even Earth itself is at his mercy, and must be stopped. On the other hand, Superman tries to spend most of his time as his mild-mannered alter-ego Clark Kent and work his day job as a reporter for the Daily Planet. If you guessed that he sees Batman as a vigilante who thinks himself above the law...and must be stopped, give yourself...nothing, really. It was pretty obvious. Meanwhile, eccentric rich dude Lex Luthor (Eisenberg) knows that the government got their hands on some Kypton and that it might hold the key to keep Supes from doing what Batman is afraid he might. He convinces some important people to give him complete unmonitored access to the Krypton, not actually called that by the way, and to General Zod's body and crashed ship. There are roughly four hundred eighty seven more plotlines that pop up along the way, but I think I've got the main ones covered.
Having so many things going on is a huge problem for this movie. There are so many things going on, we kind of hop around from one thing to the next without ever settling anywhere, except on the conflict between our two heroes. Most annoying are the lame setups for future DC Comics cinematic endeavors. Most of them are rather clumsily slammed into place with little regard for the fluidity of the film we're currently watching. They feel like sporadic commercials for upcoming films rather than mattering to this one. I get it, this is the launching pad for DC to create its own movie universe, but far too much time is dedicated to this. When we're not setting up other flicks, we're still just bouncing around. As a result, BvS feels convoluted and, possibly, hard to follow. What makes it hard to follow is that we can't properly gauge the motivations of the people involved. They don't make sense. This is most exemplified by Sen. Finch (Hunter). One moment she's singing his praises, the next she's condemning him, and seems to be making decisions based on which direction the wind is blowing. One of those things is a hearing about a controversial rescue of Lois Lane from terrorist on another continent, yet nothing about the ruins all around them. The problem is exacerbated by the people of Metropolis. We're told repeatedly how much they love Superman for saving them from Zod, but for more than half the movie, they all seem to hate the guy for all the death and destruction he caused, or let happen. These are just of a number of instances where the movie itself talks out of both sides of its proverbial mouth.
The more serious issue with this film is how morose it is. Superman is a standoffish jackass. He really couldn't give less of a shit what the people of Earth thought about him for most of the movie and tells us this. He is also a perpetually sullen creature. He's still dealing with the death of his father, and not very well. Matching him in that department is Batman, of course. There's the whole murder of his parents thing. Plus, he's taking it hard that so many folks died while Superman and Zod had their little rumble in the concrete jungle. Dude is pissed from minute one. He's just generally in an ornery mood. On top of that, they're just a couple of dudes who haven't met before the events of this film, decided they don't like each other, and are openly talking about killing one another almost from the moment they do meet. This renders both of them rather unlikable. I found myself hoping that rather than fight each other they would carry out a double suicide pact and be done with it. The performances don't really help the matter. We get two guys walking around with their unchanging mad face on and making not-so-veiled threats to one another in their best faux-menacing voice. While my guard was down I heard some praise for Affleck's performance as Batman, but none for Cavill as Superman. I thought they were equals with neither being particularly good.
Other performers ranged from wasted to dreadful, with a couple of fun ones mixed in. Amy Adams is in the wasted camp as Lois Lane is given nothing to do. Same goes for Jeffrey Dean Morgan. He gets the thankless role of Bruce's dad. Morgan is far too talented an actor to cast as the guy who walks onto screen and gets shot. Jesse Eisenberg is in the dreadful category as Lex Luthor. He can be a decent villain in a more real world setting where his main crime is being a jerk (see The Social Network). In a comic book flick, he doesn't work. He just can't pull off megalomaniac. There is nothing threatening about him. He comes across more as a spoiled brat, this version of Lex mentions that he inherited his fortune several times, than a guy who could bring down Superman. In the fun camp, we have Jeremy Irons and Laurence Fishburne. We only get a small dose of Fishburne as Perry White, so he might be considered wasted, but he seems to be having a ball. I've no idea how the way everyone else carries on, but I appreciate it. As a side-note, Perry kinda sucks at his job. He lets his reporters do whatever the hell they want, including just not showing up to work. Several times he inquires where Clark is and gets no satisfactory answer. Irons gives hands down the best performance in the movie as Alfred. Normally, Alfred is Batman's butler and confidant, but here the dude is really running the Batman operation from the cave. That aside, Irons's deadpan comedy is a silver lining in this dark cloud. Somewhere in the middle of all this is Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. I won't say she's wasted, but I'm not really sure if she's good or bad because her screentime is very sporadic for most of the movie. During the latter part, she shows up and stays. The problem is it's a big action scene and I can't tell how much is her and how much is cgi (same goes for the guys, just so you know). She bulked up a bit to be a better physical match for the role and seems to have a good handle on the character. We'll have to wait until that Wonder Woman solo flick to really say, one way or another.
Generally, I don't mention the scores of the films I review. They have to be either really good, or really bad. I won't say the score for BvS is bad music, but it's definitely overbearing. It's filled with big dramatic moments in an attempt to add gravitas to the proceedings. It blares so much and is so loud that it's intrusive. Instead of making the film feel important, it makes it seem pretentious. The sad part is that department is handled by Hans Zimmer, who most certainly knows how to score a film. I thought what he did with The Dark Knight was outstanding and he won an Oscar for his work on The Lion King. Here, he amped up the crescendos (I think) to deafening levels and kept them coming rapid fire for two and a half hours. It just added to the overall dour feeling that everything in this film had, and my annoyance with it.
All of the flaws of BvS would be covered up if the story could maneuver itself from point A to point B without falling on its face. It can't. Plot holes and obviously terrible decisions by the people on the screen make the film pretty incoherent at times. By the way, this includes Metropolis being in surprisingly good shape only eighteen months after everything was destroyed. The other thing that happens way more than should be allowable is people just randomly know things they have no narratively realistic way of knowing. The flip side of this is that these same people are so ignorant of things that are plain to see. It reeks of writers putting the most convenient thing in place rather than telling a good story. Rather than smoothly sailing from the beginning to the end, it's thrown to and fro by a violent storm of ineptness.
To occasionally give us hope that things might turn around, we get some really nice visuals and some bone-crunching action scenes. One thing director Zack Snyder knows how to do is create an interesting looking film. This is no exception. I'll leave it to you to decide if it's good looking or not. During the daytime, the cityscape is shot through what appears to be a bluish filter. At night, we still have that same tint, but there is an excellent contrast which makes things easy to see. The action scenes are occasionally brutal, shot well, and are clearly the best part of the movie. There are enough of them to keep us from totally checking out. However, this isn't the type of film that can be carried by its action scenes. Instead of being part of an exciting superhero flick they serve as momentary reprieves from all the inanity going on between them.
Unfortunately, the DC cinematic universe is off to a rocky start due to trying to do in one movie what took their rival Marvel a handful of films to build up to. All the various strands are pulled together and obscure what could really have been a terrific story about two guys with opposing viewpoints butting heads. What I got was two men trying to out-pout one another while seemingly random stuff happens around them. When I left the theater, my exact words to my brother were "I don't know who was more depressed, Batman or Superman." He immediately said Batman. Thing is, I know my brother. His answer was based on how the two characters are traditionally portrayed. I said "Normally, I'd agree, but in this movie I don't know. He agreed. It shouldn't be that way. They should not be the same guy, but they are. Then, I dealt with the matter of my friend who wanted my quick two cents. I texted him the following:
Dark, moody flick with lots of plot holes and 2 heroes who brood...a lot, plus Wonder Woman and great visuals. A "meh" movie, at best.
That's mostly true. After some deep contemplation and reconsideration I don't think BvS is good enough to be called "meh."