No one should ever doubt the ambition of Zack Snyder; after all, this is the man who brought Alan Moore’s supposedly unfilmable Watchmen graphic novel to the silver screen.
Now, after returning Superman to cinemas with Man of Steel, he is intent on throwing Batman into the equation in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the follow-up bosses at Warner Bros producers hope will draw moviegoers in to DC Comics’ own version of the Marvel cinematic universe.
The pretensions of the film quickly become apparent. In the opening few minutes we see Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne reacting to the destructive finale of Man of Steel, in scenes eerily reminiscent of the footage which documented the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
‘Quickly’ is the word that best describes the Batman v Superman’s opening act, as nex thing we pass through Gotham, Metropolis, a desert terrorist camp and “somewhere in the Indian Ocean”, in a blur of bats, gunfire and snatched dialogue.
Haste, if necessary in a film is fine, but here it feels rushed. A romantic moment in the bath between Clark Kent and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) sees barely a sentence uttered, and potentially important developments pertaining to the title characters’ sour relationship are glossed over with obvious exposition.
Affleck’s Batman’s introduction is a shallow retread of the character’s origin story as a cantankerous vigilante. We learned Clark Kent/Superman’s (Henry Cavill) history in Man of Steel, but there’s still a sense in which his position in the new world established by the previous film is left behind.
All this would be fine if we were losing back story for something new and important, but we’re not – there’s just an increase in ammunition needlessly fired at heroes it cannot injure.
What makes this an incredible shame is the fact there are both interesting ideas and performances dwelling within the film, waiting for a Bat signal or perhaps an encounter with some Kryptonite to show themselves.
The exemplum of this is Jesse Eisenberg as the film’s villain, Lex Luthor. He is at his most enthralling when introduced like a crazed version of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, playing basketball in his company’s headquarters.
Within that context, Eisenberg’s casting is a work of inspiration given his previous role as the vaguely sinister protagonist of The Social Network. Alas the idea is swiftly abandoned and Luthor becomes just another comic book villain.
The same is true of each character. There are moments in which they lift you and spark curiosity, but we never get to linger or explore any deeper. None are psychologically explored beyond the obvious, an endeavour the rival Marvel films manage even with their lighter hearted tone.
This is especially true of its female characters too, with Gal Gadot criminally underused as Wonder Woman and Holly Hunter’s intriguingly conflicted politician Senator Finch sidelined far too soon.
As a result, when Batman v Superman delivers on its title and one is asked to believe and care about its inevitable battle it causes conflict. The fights, acting and special effects are as impressive as you’d expect, but one needs deeper emotional involvement to make each superhero smash genuinely feel the hurt as an audience member.
This indifference is what ultimately makes one despair about the film. It has big ideas and great potential, and the acting performances are all strong, yet this is all submerged beneath clunky dialogue and a clumsy plot.
Superman v Batman does not deserve complete disparagement though. A few times within the film’s two-and-a half hour running time it threatens to catch fire, but it’s not enough.
In fact, the best way to describe Batman v Superman is an mix of the good, the bad and the pretty. Snyder has created a franchise, but someone else seriously needs to give it a soul and make good on his ambition.
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