God, here we go again.
Zack Snyder is back, following up 2013’s moody Superman snorefest Man of Steel with the even moodier Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, at risk of being crushed under its own title if the weight of expectation doesn’t get to it first.
Distraught at the mammoth property damage and civilian casualties inflicted on Metropolis in that last film, Bruce Wayne a.k.a. Batman (Ben Affleck) makes it his mission to take the godlike extraterrestrial Superman down to mortal level, and sets about figuring out how to make him bleed. Meanwhile Supes himself (Henry Cavill) just sort of floats around looking a bit upset with how things turned out, and maniacal mastermind Lex Luthor schemes about something or other. Eventually Wonder Woman turns up too.
There’s an awful lot going on, though the plot is perhaps not quite as sprawling as early speculation suggested, and most of the script’s various strands get tied together by the end. How satisfyingly that happens is more questionable, and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman feels particularly short-changed by a film that mostly uses her as setup for her upcoming solo outing.
Snyder’s usual flair for visuals is here, striking microscopic slow motion shots contrasted with sweeping, city-wide destruction. It’s frustrating that the palette is so drained of colour in the name of emphasising how grim and dark and moody it all must be, but strong production design (excepting the inevitable final villain, perhaps the ugliest, laziest creature Hollywood’s produced in years) helps to make up the difference. Hans Zimmer’s bombastic score is made even bombastic-er by Junkie XL (he of last year’s phenomenal Mad Max: Fury Road soundtrack). The result is very loud.
They may share equal billing in the title, but make no mistake: this is Batman’s film, and all the better for it. This is a side of the vigilante we’ve not seen on the big screen yet, grizzled and determined, burdened by years of experience. Snyder also captures Batman’s action perfectly, one sequence in which he takes down a couple dozen armed gangsters proving the undeniable highlight of the film, doubtless drawing from the recent popular Arkham videogames for inspiration.
Early jeers about ‘Batfleck’ have mostly been proven wrong, and he summons up one of the film’s strongest performances. He finds room for a new take on the masked vigilante: older, more bitter, and absolutely terrified. Fear has long been Batman’s most potent weapon against the criminal underworld, but here it’s he that’s gripped by it, paralysed by the terror of his Kryptonian adversary’s sheer power.
Cavill is still yet to convince that he’s much more than a pretty face. His Superman is an imposing physical presence, but at times it’s hard to tell where the biceps stop and the acting begins. Rounding out the rest of the cast, Amy Adams is distractingly over-earnest as Lois Lane and Jesse Eisenberg offers a sort of manic supervillain for the ADD age – his assorted tics are occasionally fascinating, mostly distracting, and never remotely threatening.
There are all sorts of dramatic religious comparisons and iconography, weighty themes tackled weightlessly, lip service paid to autonomy, government intervention, justice and more, but Snyder doesn’t seem to have any real interest. He mostly wants to watch things go boom in slow motion. It’s mostly humourless, though occasionally elicits a wry smile. Overall, what it’s lacking is any sense of fun. It shouldn’t feel like quite so much work to watch a film about two comic book titans duking it out. It’s invariably po-faced, and unbearably tiring. Roll on Justice League.
Words by Dominic Preston