As it turns out, the Dawn of Justice coincides with the Winter Solstice. It’s a day long on darkness.
Why So Serious?
Director Zack Snyder still needs to learn how to do two very important things in moviedom: Make his movies fun and bridge the emotional void. Arguably, his pinnacle of fun was the over-the-top macho fest called 300. But oy vey. Since then, Sucker Punch, Watchmen and Man of Steel were work to watch. Loads of visual flair, but there’s not much else there.
And so it is with Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Snyder seems infatuated with creating the ultimate comic book movie visuals. A lot of this epic looks great — but there are also some shockingly shoddy CGI effects, glaringly out of place in this $250 million piece of cold, calculated cinema. There is no sense of natural character development or natural character emotion. It’s an odd mix of art house style and big budget ego.
This movie’s a big deal. Anticipated for months, the cinematic pairing of Superman (Henry Cavill, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) and a new Batman (Ben Affleck, Hollywoodland) had been pegged as a major movie event that inches up the calendar for the kickoff of the summer movie season. The end result, though, collapses under its own ambitions to be the most ultimate of all things from the worlds of comic books and graphic novels.
Questions that often come up during conversations about BVS are: Why are Batman and Superman fighting? Aren’t they friends? Super friends?
Well, yeah. But, thanks to Frank Miller in particular, there’s a back story about their first encounter. Check out Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again, which pits Bats and Supes against each other. Miller also supplied the inspiration for the aged, unshaven appearance of this iteration of Bruce Wayne.
The problem is this Bruce Wayne is too one-dimensional. He looks cool and he has a severe attitude problem but he’s also reverted back to one-note-wonder status; he’s not fleshed out like Christian Bale’s character in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. (As with Man of Steel, Nolan co-produced BVS.)
As for this Bruce Wayne’s Alfred (Jeremy Irons, Die Hard With a Vengeance), he’s more like the technologically-adept Lucius Fox than the traditional, familial butler. But he’s also rather undefined.
Then there’s Lex Luthor, the most questionable casting choice of this production with Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) taking on the role of Superman’s most famous nemesis. Consider this incarnation the son of Gene Hackman’s Luthor in Superman (1978) and it kind of works. This Luthor talks about the death of his father, apparently at the hands of Superman, and Eisenberg gives Luthor a psychotic twist not previously seen in the movies. It’s not an out-of-the-park grand slam like Heath Ledger’s take on the Joker in The Dark Knight, but it works fairly well.
The biggest and best surprise of this hot mess, though, is Wonder Woman. Gal Gadot (Furious 7) gets the juiciest part, with this version of Diana Prince shrouded in mystery. A really cool mystery. And she even gets the best part of the theme music by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL. There are plenty of reasons to pay attention when Gadot’s on screen.
WSSD: What Should Superman Do?
The heavy-handed screenplay starts sluggishly as it tells disparate stories involving the most famous citizens of Gotham and – across the bay — Metropolis. Clark Kent is hell-bent to uncover why Batman is allowed to run vigilante justice in Gotham. In parallel, Bruce Wayne sleuths away in the Batcave, trying to get to the bottom of Metropolis’ favorite son from another planet, Superman. And Lois Lane (Amy Adams, Big Eyes) is investigating out in Africa, mired in a subplot that helps link certain story elements together.
Both Batman and Superman have controversial, violent ways of exacting their unique brands of justice. They leave a lot of destruction in their wake — and dead bodies. Even Batman, apparently, who ordinarily shuns killing his adversaries in order to fight the monster without becoming a monster.
What is established among the lead characters — Kal-El (Clark Kent/Superman), Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor — is they’re all from broken families. Kal-El had his family torn apart twice now — the birth parents killed when his home planet, Krypton, went kablooey and his adopted father died in a nasty disaster.
And, of course, Bruce’s parents were murdered. The movie starts with a recounting of that infamous incident.
It’s Lex who injects himself into the Batman V Superman conflict and escalates matters into a duel to the death. But there’s a rather silly play on emotions that serves as a turning point in the conflict. It’s not fair to say much more about this, but it is fair to say for such a major plot point the idea is weak and the execution is clumsy.
Black and Blue
There are a lot of good ideas in BVS, but the movie is held back from greatness because there’s no emotional core to latch onto and drive character support.
The familiar back stories of the traumatic childhoods of the lead heroes are taken for granted; simply recounting those pieces at this point isn’t enough to carry the need for an emotional grounding and the lack of chemistry between the characters certainly doesn’t help matters. The chemical balance between Lois and Clark and, for that matter, between Bruce and Alfred is out of whack.
As a way to compensate, Snyder seems to prefer the “pile on” approach and layers the movie with a smattering of politics, world affairs, terrorism and family matters, all being given a certain amount of gravitas with appearances by real world journalists Soledad O’Brien, Anderson Cooper and Charlie Rose, along with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (fresh off his cameo in Zoolander 2). It’s a heavy 150 minutes and there is something on the order of only three or four chuckle-inducing moments.
Among the timely social observations are comments about how feelings of powerlessness can turn good men to cruel men. And it’s Bruce Wayne’s observation, “Fight, kill, betray, rebuild — we can do better,” that tees up the next chapter, The Justice League: Part One.
But, with Snyder at the helm, there’s little hope Justice will be much fun.