Review: ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice’ Is A Muddled, Bloated Mess
You done goofed, DC.
Oh, how DC and Warner Bros. wish they could turn back time. Many years ago George Miller was set to direct a Justice League movie, but the writer’s guild strike of the later 2000s put the kibosh on that and the two companies have been playing catch-up ever since. If Miller had had his way, his Justice League: Mortal – which was to have starred Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, who later went on to have a small yet pivotal role in Mad Max: Fury Road – would have made it into cinemas in 2009, only one year after Marvel’s Iron Man. It would have surely been extraordinary, but most importantly it would have been ahead of the curve and something altogether new.
Nowadays, DC and WB always appear a step behind the Marvel universe. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice feels just ever-so-slightly out of step with the times and with what audiences want from their superhero movies. Even Superman and his gee-whiz American optimism has been replaced in the pop culture sphere by Captain America. Even outside of DC’s more famous stock of characters, their upcoming Suicide Squad appears to, while looking like a great deal of fun, have emerged out of the shadow of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, right down to the shiny retro rock songs on the soundtrack.
In the light of what Miller did with Fury Road, I’m sure if they could reverse time they’d give him the keys to all the money in the world to achieve it. Maybe in his next on-screen outing, Supes himself can reverse time like he did in Superman: The Movie (1978) and make it so.
Action Cinema In A Post-Mad Max World
Part of the problem with Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice can actually be directly tied to Mad Max: Fury Road. When Margaret Sixel won the Academy Award last February for her editing work on Miller’s film, it was a refreshing change of pace. Finally, an action movie that made complete unified sense from beginning to end. It wasn’t just a random collection of shots, arranged out of whatever footage they had lying around. Despite the mayhem on show, it never once got confusing to follow who was where and what they were doing. It’s novel, but in this day and age that’s extremely rare in big budget action cinema, where it’s common for several strands of action to be happening at once in a wall of CGI.
In contrast, much of the action in Batman V Superman is a dog’s breakfast of discombobulating editing. The film’s final passages are such an aggressively hard to watch collision of excessive CGI and murky colour palate that it’s hard to make heads or tails of most of it. I actually quite liked Man of Steel, and for about two-thirds of its 153-minute runtime I was liking Batman V Superman, too, but it ends – much like Man of Steel did – with a tiresome display of digital wizardry without any sense of artistry. It works best when it slows down and lets its cast of talented actors do their thing.
Batman Fatigue Is Real, And It’s Here
It’s only been four years since the last time we saw Batman in The Dark Knight Rises – two years if you want to be pedantic and say The Lego Movie with The Lego Batman Movie spin-off on the way in 2017 – and lord knows Hollywood’s franchise factory knows not of the old adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder. With not even half a decade gone by to have missed the caped crusader, Batigue (aka Batman fatigue) has well and truly set in.
Before the opening credits, which play over the umpteenth recreation of Batman’s origin story (seriously, we already know) have played, his inclusion has the whiff of corporate desperation to it. And by the time the mano a mano clash of the titans finally occurs, I kinda just wished they’d skipped all this posturing and saved us two and a half hours. By the end, it can’t help but look like franchise filler on an epic scale.
While I would have been quite happy to not see Bruce Wayne on screen for a while longer, it turns out this version of him is at least somewhat different. What I enjoyed about Ben Affleck’s Batman wasn’t necessarily the performance itself, but the concept of a Batman who has already been fighting crime for 20 years and whose body and brain is beginning to defeat him before his foes can. This is the point of Batman’s career at which other iterations of the franchise, like those with Michael Keaton and Christian Bale, have called it quits. When Batman gets pounded through walls and rebounds across floors, it registers that he feels it in every bone.
Affleck has the right look, and even allows himself a ridiculous shirtless training montage sequence, but while the super-sized Robocop suit that he wears throughout the second half looks absurd, but at least it helps us believe that his bones aren’t being ceremoniously crushed with each punch.
A Hex On Lex, But Wonder Has Thunder
The fusion of these two worlds has such rich potential. The decaying urban nightmare of Gotham and the metropolitan glamour of Metropolis, but simply separating them by a river – Gotham the Jersey City to Metropolis’ Manhattan – is merely lazy. This movie’s worst and most indefensible element is the casting of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, written like a toddler on too much sugar. His performance is so embarrassing and so completely off the deep end that it’s enough to make one forget the way this film completely wastes his frequent screen partner, Oscar-winner Holly Hunter. I hope she got a nice fat paycheck out of this.
Dawn of Justice’s highlight, however, is undeniably Gal Gadot’s long-anticipated Wonder Woman. We get to see her shield, her lasso, and maybe her invisible jet, but then how would we know? Gadot has a surprising screen presence, her meagre frame somehow not wilting like a flower in the shade of Affleck and Henry Cavill’s buff next-gen superheroes. She lends gravity among the weightless spectacle to not just this film, but the franchise, too.
If next year’s Wonder Woman doesn’t come edited with a chainsaw – director Patty Jenkins is hopefully not Snyder 2.0 – then there’s hope Justice League can be saved after all. And maybe, only then, might Warner Bros. and DC finally get out from Marvel’s shadow. Until then, Batman V Superman will be the biggest movie of the year that you’ll forget about in a week.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is out now.
Glenn Dunks is a freelance writer from Melbourne. He also works as an editor and a film festival programmer while tweeting too much @glenndunks.