I hate to be the guy who walks out of a late night screening of the weekend’s blockbuster to say “Jesus, that was flat-out terrible,” but, Jesus, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is flat-out terrible. Ballyhooed for years, marketed to death for months, the actual thing was bound to disappoint. But did it have to disappoint so badly?
The brutal reviews have been too kind. Maybe it’ll make a billion dollars, and launch the parade of spinoffs and sequels that are constantly, exasperatingly signposted throughout. But if I can spare anyone the two-and-a-half hours of boredom and aggravation that is Batman v Superman, I have to try. The problems start with that silly “v,” someone’s lame idea of branding, and accelerate, as the film itself sputters, halts, dies. All the worst traits of comic book movies are on display. A few are added. Let’s review.
Dreary “Heroes”: Played by the earnest, uninspiring Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill, Batman and Superman are a pair of mopes, listless, humorless, and troubled. There’s no magic, no fun, no adventure, in anything they do. Fight each other? Yeah, sure, if we have to. Team up to defeat a common enemy? Whatever. It’s like the two met in hospice minutes before the plugs were pulled.
The Endless 9/11 Hangover: The movie begins, as every Batman movie must, with Original Sin–the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents outside a movie theater, a foreshadowing of our own torture inside one. (What kind of parents take their son to a grindhouse neighborhood, anyway? Even if the film’s a lot better than the one we’re stuck at, the oh-so-symbolically chosen Excalibur.) And then we’re in Metropolis, where the adult Wayne watches in horror (as best as Affleck, no Daniel Day-Lewis he, can muster “horror”) as the skyscrapers shred, in a replay of the downer apocalypse that ended Man of Steel. That bummer took 9/11 imagery, the go-to trope of just about every action and superhero franchise of the past 15 years, to the limit–what’s left for this one is a dreary litany of choices and responsibilities in our terror-wracked era, where a batman wearily dispenses frontier justice in an urban hellhole and grateful, sombrero-wearing Mexicans pray to the God-like savior in their midst.[I kid you not about the sombreros–there’s at least a week’s worth of tsk-tsking Indiewire, Salon, and A/V Club articles in here, taking the movie to task for sundry representation issues. Note to Amy Adams: Stay off your computer, as the ninny Lois Lane you’re obliged to play this time is about to be picked apart. She’s so stupid in this one.]
All of which is to say, we’ve been down this road before. There is nothing left for superhero movies to scavenge from 9/11, not in the perfunctory way they usually do. (Here something major happens, and the movie just shrugs it off, onto the next setpiece involving the two leads clobbering each other with bathroom appliances.) Give it a rest.
A Classic “And Then…” Script: So we’re in Metropolis, past and present. And then we’re in the Indian Ocean, exploring for artifacts. And then we’re in Africa, where Lois is…I never quite got what Lois was up to. And then we’re in Washington, where hearings are being held about whatever Lois was up to, which involved Superman, but not nearly as much as the whole Metropolis skyscraper fracas of 18 months earlier, which you would think would be of greater import for Congressional hearings. And then…you get the idea, one segment gracelessly linked to another, a jumble of clotted exposition and nightmares and religiosity that goes nowhere, minus the slightest twinkle of wit.
Jesse Eisenberg, American Asshole: What motivates Eisenberg to play, and create for himself to play, dickish roles is a matter between him and his therapist. He’s just awful as Lex Luthor, pulling the exact same weaselly performance off his template and recycling it. You know what would be fun? A Batman a(nd) Superman, or a Batman m(eets) Superman movie, where the two of them spend two-and-a-half hours beating the shit out of Jesse Eisenberg–not Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, but the actual Jesse Eisenberg. He needs beating.
The Limits of World-Building: After about a dozen movies, the Marvel-verse lets its superheroes out of their cages and lets them roam around from film to film. In a single bound, Batman v Superman tries to set the stage for its own universe, and it’s awkward, to say the least. If you liked Wonder Woman in the trailer, well, that’s her best scene right there; the rest is her acting (a concept still somewhat foreign to Gal Gadot) as set decor and sleuthing future Justice Leaguers, who get as much screen time as the actual pundits drafted to give the tapped-out issues weight. (Embarrassing herself, as herself, which is even more embarrassing, is Soledad O’Brien.) The irony is that DC Comics has a fully functioning, lighter-spirited, way more enjoyable universe already in place, on TV, which reminds me that in a rare cross-channel convergence Supergirl m The Flash on Monday. It’s an hour that will surely refresh the palate after this stillborn exercise in blockbusterdom.
Money For Nothing: How is it that a movie costing north of $250 million looks so shoddy? Viewing it through 3D glasses doesn’t help. (There’s a little “pop-out” here, mostly at the very beginning, and nothing to get too excited about.) What we’re looking at adheres to the same palette we usual get: Carlsbad Caverns Black, Junky Old Car in the Backyard Rust, Clay Gray, and Dead Cornfields Beige. Someone’s idea of production artistry is awfully dull to look at, which, wedded to some very wobbly CGI and a score that sounds like drones hovering near your eardrums, makes for a taxing “thrill ride.” And the scenes are poorly blocked, as if no one knew where best to put the camera, making the film feel underpopulated. Director Zack Snyder made a decent film from more demandng material, Watchmen–was it him v the suits? All I know is–Dawn of Justice is a lost horizon, a worse Batman movie than Batman & Robin, and a worse Superman movie than Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. That’s a whole lot of bad.