Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice [2016] is a true versus story. The Dark Knight versus the Man of Steel; the cinematic art form versus the movie industry; the things we all want versus the things we all get. Director Zack Snyder’s own inner conflict is palpable throughout the film: he genuinely, desperately wants to be a good storyteller, but, unfortunately, it’s simply not going to happen. Initially, he was working with a script from the banal archives of David S. Goyer’s mind until Oscar-winning scribe Chris Terrio was hired to beef up the story, which he didn’t do.

More like Yawn of Justice amirite? There’s a reason all of Snyder’s films have such cool freakin’ movie trailers, and that reason is that Snyder is literally a commercial director. He directs commercials. Brief, aesthetically pleasing images establish a tone and an emotional context, but they never flow together to form a decent sequence of events worth being invested in. Someone told him “show don’t tell” and so he went ahead and let audiences rely on their own imagination. Spielberg made his viewers imagine the shark, and wait for it to manifest onscreen; Snyder makes his viewers imagine emotion and wait for it to manifest onscreen.

Justice Beleaguer. There is only one reason this film was made, and it sure wasn’t because anyone involved actually wanted to depict Batman and Superman fighting each other. Instead, the reason rhymes with “a million dollars” (the reason being “a billion dollars”). Whereas Disney and Marvel give audiences what they want, Warner Bros. and DC is so far simply giving audiences what they’ll pay for. We will pay for the chance—the meagerly mathematical possibility—that a big-budget live-action loose adaptation of Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns would actually work. But since J.J. Abrams just months ago proved to the world that massive cornerstone “event” films can actually be good movies, Snyder no longer can hide behind “look, cultural iconography!” Abrams actually sat down and figured out where to take Han Solo, so why didn’t anyone sit down and figure out where to take Batman? His conflict with Superman, for the most part, seems to be pushed in the direction of a moral battle, a clash of ideologies more so than arms. But alas for Warner Bros., the spectacular Netflix had given us exactly such a battle between Daredevil and the Punisher, just weeks before this film’s release, as if to remind us that Marvel will always win.

Speaking of Batman, hell yeah. Here’s the thing: Ben Affleck’s interpretation of Batman is excellent. Years ago the geek fandom of the internet learned of Affleck’s casting, and although their gut reaction was to shake their fists at the heavens in protest, they all did so half-heartedly, because they knew in their heart of hearts, it just made sense. But while Affleck’s Batman captures the essence of the comics character better than perhaps any live performer yet, Snyder’s Batman, and the direction he pushes Affleck, just falls flat, and therefore Affleck’s portrayal suffers. Henry Cavill as Superman is supposed to be a central character, but it’s almost like he was missing from the movie because he was so pedestrian. But he’s downright Shakespearean compared to poor Amy Adams’s Lois Lane, the most boring character ever for an actress of the most talented caliber. And where Affleck’s performance survives and thrives under Snyder’s misdirection, Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor withers and dies. Some may have thought, long ago, “I wonder how they’ll make Lex not a stereotypical twitchy snotty mad genius from the nerd projection era.” SPOILERS: They don’t. Believe it or not, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is the most magnetic and watchable figure in the film. Even when the alternative was Batman, I was always excited when Wonder Woman appeared on screen, all three times she did so.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s the sky of Metropolis at night! Filled with stars. Each of those stars is a good element of Dawn of Justice, floating amid a blank black plain of nothing special. And since Metropolis is a giant city, light pollution means there are only like four or five stars in the whole damn sky.

This movie simply doesn’t count.