Directed by Zack Snyder, Starring Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck
**** of 10
I’m not sure how Zack Snyder got to control the DC cinematic universe. After a strong start to his career, he stalled out with 3 consecutive financial bombs and a successful disappointment, of which only his adaptation of the comic Watchmen is generally considered to be a good film. Snyder is so frustrating because he does have positive aspects to his directing style, but he continues to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. The latest DC offering does exactly that, without the flair of some of his earliest work.
Luckily for Snyder, he is still visually talented. The CGI used is usually very good. The trailers had many moments of visual effects that looked poor, but the effects come together for the final product. A lot of artistic shots are sprinkled throughout the film. Its best shot might come in the first scene, during the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents. Martha Wayne wears a pearl necklace that gets entangled behind the gun used to shoot her. It doesn’t make much sense in terms of physics, but it is admittedly a very impressive moment. Snyder is also a fine director of action scenes, which there are unfortunately only 3 of during this 150 minute movie. The actual part of the movie where Batman goes and versus Superman is very good, and the final fight is also quite good.
I also think that a lot of the acting is quite good. I was never against the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman. Yes, 2003 Ben Affleck would have been a poor choice, but in the last decade he has completely changed the course of his career, directing 3 fantastic films and starring in “Gone Girl”, one of my favorite movies of the last few years. Affleck is by far the best part of the entire movie. His first scene, a desperate attempt to save everyone he can from Superman’s fight against Zod, is very well acted by Affleck. In a few seconds, with very little dialogue, Bruce Wayne’s character is quickly established. He’s a caring people’s man who has been frustrated by the lack of control over Superman, which will eventually lead to hatred. It is unfortunate that he doesn’t get to act very much after the first act. Most of his dialogue in the last hour is exposition and one liners, a real waste of the most talented person working on the film. Henry Cavill is still a fine Superman. He’s not an especially great actor, but he looks and sounds the part of a boy scout and ambassador that can also kill anybody who gets in his way. Jeremy Irons and Gal Gadot are both very good in bit parts. Gadot especially is a breath of fresh air as Wonder Woman. Once in costume, she becomes the only person in the entire film who looks like she’s having fun.
Unfortunately, the script is too lifeless and confused to support the performances. It’s immediately evident, as the first three scenes of the film have nothing to do with each other. Bruce’s parents die, Bruce saves his coworkers from the destruction of Metropolis, and Lois Lane is investigating a terrorist sect. All three of these scenes could have worked as openers to the movie, but they cannot all work together, because they are completely unrelated. No part of the first 15 minutes has an impact on any other part. It gets better from there, as obviously scenes start tying in eventually, but it still has the problem of things piling up instead of leading into each other. Along with an incoherent plot, this 150 minute movie has no character development for anybody except for Batman. Character motivations are basically ignored outside of him. I have no idea why Jessie Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor wants to kill Superman, other than him being kind of a crazy guy. While Wonder Woman is nice, the character of Diana Prince really has no place in the story. There’s no reason behind her decision to help in the final fight.
I do think the tone hurts the film. It’s not that I need comedy, or want it to feel like watching a Marvel movie, but this is, at its core, a dumb summer action movie, and when it takes itself so seriously you’re not able to ignore how dumb it is. The set up for the titular fight is stupidly lazy. Just as many buildings are destroyed here as there were in “Man of Steel”, but this movie adds throwaway lines to explain that the buildings being destroyed don’t have any people in them. The epitome of the self-serious tone hurting the film is with the jar of piss. Luthor says it as a joke, and then it comes up later in a completely serious context. We as an audience are meant to fear this jar of piss, which is nearly impossible to do. Above all, the movie is just boring. It is far too long and too slowly paced for its own good.The running time gets padded out with so many unnecessary stupid scenes. I won’t spoil how the Justice League get their cameos in, but it is the laziest way that it could have possibly been done. It would be completely out of place in the movie regardless of where it was, but when placed right in front of the battle between Batman and Superman it becomes an unbearable slog. There are multiple dreams, and one of them has a dream within its dream.
As a parting thought, Jessie Eisenberg is historically awful. He gets to join the lexicon of embarrassingly overacted villains in fantasy movies, up there with Eddie Redmayne in “Jupiter Ascending” and Jeremy Irons in “Dungeons and Dragons”. Eisenberg is so tick-y during his entire performance. His hands are fidgeting awkwardly in every single scene. I like Eisenberg enough, but he has a very limited range, exclusively consisting of quirky or introverted fast talkers who act like they’re the smartest person in the room, which does not describe a serious villain. This performance would not be good in any movie, but it could have been much better if the movie around him matched his performance in tone. Instead, Eisenberg is the only part of the movie that doesn’t take itself completely seriously. He cannot even use the excuse that his insanity is escalating over time, as the peak of his ridiculousness comes around halfway through during the scene in which he hosts a party and cannot finish a speech.
A boring, brooding, colossal mess all around, “Batman vs Superman” has some good features but not nearly enough to make it a good movie. And because it takes itself so seriously, it cannot be a fun or enjoyable movie without being a good film. Previous Batman movies were dark, but they were brilliant because they had great screenplays that clearly established character traits and motivations and progressed a logical plot forwards while bringing up some bigger questions about society. This film begins to raise some deeper questions, but never even tries to answer them, ultimately falling back on action to make the unnecessarily long drama before it pointless. This will make enough money as it is. You can hold off until HBO and watch it for free.