Film review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is nasty, long and bites off more than it can chew
Published 26/03/2016 | 07:00
Before the opening credits of this blockbuster had ended, I was overwhelmed with superhero fatigue at the thought of what is to come.
Zack Snyder's film is a sequel to his 2013 Superman reboot Man of Steel, the prequel to a new League of Justice franchise, and the springboard for more Batman films, and probably a Wonder Woman movie as well. Lord save us all, but meanwhile we have Batman v Superman, a long and bombastic saga very loosely based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller.
With moderate ingenuity, Mr Snyder introduces Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) by having him stumble through Superman's chaotic battle with General Zog at the end of Man of Steel. Metropolis and Gotham are presented as twin cities separated by a river, and when Superman's fight with Zog spills into Gotham, destroying Wayne Enterprises HQ and killing many of his colleagues, Bruce develops a powerful grudge against the alien avenger.
Meanwhile, a supercilious billionaire inventor called Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is plotting to destroy Superman (Henry Cavill) and is quietly amassing a secret stash of kryptonite. Wayne would like to get his hands on some too, because without it he'll have no chance in a fist fight with the Man of Steel. After Superman flies into the middle-eastern desert to rescue his beloved Lois Lane (Amy Adams) from a ruthless gang of terrorists, he sets off a chain of reprisals that land him in hot water in Washington.
A US senator called Finch (Holly Hunter) calls him to appear before a committee that will decide if he's a saviour or a menace. And meanwhile Luthor's tentacles are everywhere, pushing Superman and Batman towards an inevitable confrontation.
To further complicate a screenplay that manages to make a simple and vaguely idiotic plot seem as vexed and impenetrable as Finnegans Wake, a young woman called Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is about to leave the twin cities when she realises her assistance will shortly be required. Jeremy Irons has replaced Michael Caine as Bruce Wayne's faithful old retainer Alfred, and makes for a much more jaded and world-weary butler.
In attempting to marry the worlds of Superman and the Batman, Zach Snyder's film has bitten off a lot more than it can chew. And while the superhero films of Christopher Nolan carefully established their own coherent world and remained faithful to it, Mr Snyder's saga loses control of its various sub-plots early on and descends into chaos.
I'm perfectly prepared to go along with the idea of superhero stories being like latter-day Greek myths that can be told and retold in new and different ways. But if I see baby Bruce watching his parents get gunned down in front of him once more I'm moving to Cuba, and Superman's on-off affair with Lois lost its lustre at some point in the early 1980s.
There's nothing wrong with the casting here: I think Ben Affleck will make a great older and bitterer Batman, and I hope he gets the chance to star in his own Batman films. Cavill is as blandly good as Superman's supposed to be, looks the part and is a competent actor. But Snyder's film doesn't know which hero it should love more, and as a consequence the nuances and back-stories of both characters are obscured.
Ms Gadot's charmless late entrance as a heroically chested Wonder Woman bodes badly for the League of Justice films to come, and I'm not entirely sure that the chemistry between Affleck and Jeremy Irons quite works either. Alfred, perhaps, should be a little more unobtrusive.
And then there's Jesse Eisenberg, hamming it up to ghastly effect as the demented Mr Luthor, twitching wildly and overacting at every single opportunity. Batman v Superman rambles on shapelessly for two-and-a-half hours, and is at its ugliest in the climactic battle, as common sense is finally overwhelmed by CGI madness.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice