For years, the debate has been whether director Zack Snyder actually possesses the acumen to be a Hollywood power player. Plucked from the relative obscurity of the advertising industry to helm the “Dawn of the Dead” remake in 2004, there has been scant evidence to date that he has the ability to satisfactorily command a feature film. Yet the projects keep getting piled on his desk: “300,” “Watchmen,” “Man of Steel,” and now the “Justice League” franchise. If “Batman v Superman” is a sign of things to come, Warner Bros. should be concerned about Snyder’s ability to helm their answer to Marvel’s universe.
Fearing the actions of Superman are left unchecked, Batman takes on the man of steel, while the world wrestles with what kind of a hero it really needs. With Batman and Superman fighting each other, a new threat, Doomsday, is created by Lex Luthor. It’s up to Superman and Batman to set aside their differences along with Wonder Woman to stop Lex Luthor and Doomsday from destroying Metropolis. (Synopsis by Warner Bros.)
Somwhere, a director’s cut of this movie may exist that ties the plot together coherently. For whatever reason, (budget, run time, directorial incompetence) this film is more of a series of events aimed at setting up a franchise, rather than one story that makes sense. There is a fundamental problem in the Superman mythos, being that the character is so powerful that he can’t be destroyed—and how do you write an engaging story around that? Even that can’t explain the disjointed feeling of this plot. There are at least four separate movies mashed together here, with none of them getting the screen time they need or the explanations required to make the characters’ actions and decisions plausible.
The acting is serviceable enough. Much ado was made of Ben Affleck as Batman, but he isn’t so terrible in the role. The Batman portion of the story is the strongest of the plot threads. While Affleck is not Christian Bale, a separate film based solely on the Batman portions of this movie would be competitive with Christopher Nolan’s films. The Superman problem rears its head every time Henry Cavill is on screen. There isn’t much for the character to do except look pensive and then fly away. You can only do so much with that amount of character depth. At this point, the promotional materials have let one of the cats out of the bag, (SPOILER?) so yes, Wonder Woman is in this film. It’s anyone’s guess why she’s there, other than to setup the franchise, but she is a fine action-based version of the character that gives some hope for her spin off movie (pun intended) not being a complete mess. The jury is out on whether she’ll pass the Bechdel test this time around. (END SPOILER)
The highlight of “Dawn of Justice” is the special effects. Snyder certainly excels in this area, but is this enough to carry a franchise anymore? Audiences are moving away from empty, effects-driven movies–especially in the superhero genre. The best films from the last few years have developed character before CGI. The fatigue of sitting through another over-processed, impossible-to-watch, shaky fight scene has fully set in. “Deadpool” and Nolan’s “Batman” worked so well because they were character-driven stories. Effects and battle scenes were accent points, not the entire point of the film. Snyder again failed to develop his character, filling the gaps with CGI and explosions. The formula simply doesn’t work anymore. The thrill is gone, as B.B. would say.
Not that Snyder doesn’t try to be clever. In what almost gives you hope that there is a better film sitting on the cutting room floor, there are several relatively clever flashback scenes which try to flesh out Batman in this world. While they are lucid, dark, and interesting, they still feel like they are getting shoe-horned into a movie where they shouldn’t belong. One particular scene in the opening credits is almost laughably ridiculous, as Snyder lays down some heavy imagery that is so disjointed from the tone of the film it borders on farce. You can appreciate Snyder trying to branch out and take risks, but he obviously doesn’t know how to weave that into the narrative. Again, that’s the studio’s problem going forward; how are you going to make your money back when your director can’t tell a story and is blowing millions on special effects no audience wants to see?
One final note for parents of younger children: this is a darker take on Batman and Superman; even more so than Nolan’s version. While you can appreciate the stylized film-noir look that Snyder was going for, there are several scenes that probably should be vetted prior to letting kids under 10 watch this. Batman is particularly violent and several of the flashbacks have disturbing imagery. Much of the violence and imagery in this film is reminiscent of “Watchmen,” a decidedly adult comic book film.
“See It/ Rent It/ Skip It”: Rent it. It’s worth a watch, but not at full ticket price. Here’s hoping “Suicide Squad” turns out better.
TWO STARS out of four.
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality.
Runtime: 2 hours and 31 minutes