View From The Night- Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

2016/USA

Director: Zack Snyder

Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Gal Godot

Words: R. Topham

For some time, Marvel films have been ruling the roost, so when the first trailer for the live action showdown of the world’s greatest heroes (who are most notably DC comics based) was released, it seemed auspiciously gritty and thunderous. Then the second trailer came and things went south pretty fast. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had to be staggeringly exceptional in order to live up to the high standard set by Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, rarely have cinematic icons been re-imagined so soon after their previous iterations, and because his solemn and hyperrealist spin paved the way for the latest additions to the superhero portfolio such as Netflix’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones. And despite the criticism, Man of Steel wasn’t terrible. Loosely based on Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, and also serving as the building block for the now entitled DCCU (DC Cinematic Universe) it was always going to be an uphill task bringing these two juggernauts onto the screen.  The title characters are both iconic in their own right, and it was nigh on impossible to anticipate this film without a basic understanding of their profiles as outlined in the comic books and previous blockbusters. They are heroes that have transcended generations, and so this film was always going to be a big deal, regardless of director and casting choice. This is a new film in a whole new timeline, so is an origins story and a revamp of the characters we know and love all rolled into one, can it truly live up to the hype? No it can’t…

Firstly, the opening scene of a young Bruce Wayne and his parents is an overload of every death-related cliche possible for a 12A film: the reflective voiceover, the slow motion macro shot of the bullet leaving the chamber, the silent scream blocked out by angelic music, the flagrant lack of wounds on the victims and blood at the scene of the crime. It’s grating, but it’s an accurate snapshot into the quality of the remainder of the film – poor.

The first hour is essentially pointless. It provides context that either turns out to be completely irrelevant or could be trimmed and summarised more concisely in a ten minute sequence, and rehashes scenes from the climax of Man of Steel as a flashback then haphazardly references them throughout the rest of the film without marrying the two storylines together smoothly. The first time you see the Batmobile, it’s supposed to be a “woah!” moment because it combines the ingenious technology of a vigilante Inspector Gadget with a suave brutality. But when the Batmobile is revealed during a chase after Lex Luther’s cargo, it’s an ostentatious display of CGI that feels like an extremely long and tawdry commercial selling a racing video game.

For a two and a half hour action film to be justified, especially in the superhero genre, it has to be filled with action. The moment Batman and Superman come head to head and finally have their pivotal battle is probably the most disappointing and lacklustre fistfight you’ll ever see on screen. Thereafter, the narrative of their squabble comes to an abrupt end (even though this should be the central theme of the film, as the title would suggest) and attention turns to Lex Luther’s Kryptonite-fuelled monster Doomsday, which bares its chest and roars like a slimey Godzilla.

The perpetually controversial casting of Ben Affleck proves to be a blunder. Maybe it was the immense pressure weighing down on him, a) because he had big shoes to fill and b) because of that unforgettable Daredevil travesty, but he plays Batman with a frigidness best described as an homage to Terminator. That is not a compliment. Affleck succeeds, to a certain extent, at reflecting the inherent rage Bruce Wayne simultaneously struggles with and thrives on. But Affleck is no Batman, no matter how many hours he racks up in the gym. And poor Jeremy Irons was set up to fail, because the Alfred character is now synonymous with his predecessor, Michael Caine, so his performance was ill-fated from the start.

But one of the most upsetting flaws, of which there are many, is that Batman uses guns.  A defining trait of Batman’s moral conscience is that he is fundamentally against the use of guns. Though Batman did use firearms in the early days of Detective Comics, he has not been shown with one since 1939, when his origin story of his parent’s death was introduced. Fellow sceptics have been quick to point out that Batman is not explicitly against killing people, and has in fact killed in every live-action film adaptation, but in Batman v Superman he seems unperturbed about killing, keen almost. This may have been a deliberate decision to ameliorate Superman’s status as the ultimate good guy, but nevertheless, it dishonours and besmirches Batman’s persona.

The only remaining factors that can salvage this wreckage is Hans Zimmer casting his magic with the music and the subtle hints of Christopher Nolan’s touch as executive producer. Jesse Eisenberg was the perfect choice to play Lex Luther, and it’s not his fault he’s a talented actor cast into a promising role in a film ruined by a post-production massacre and tired script.

So there we have it. After a long wait, now we know that the credibility of the Batman franchise was resuscitated by Christopher Nolan, only to be tortured again by Zack Snyder.
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Perhaps unsurprisingly, Batman v Superman was a big talking point at Reel Steel HQ, and as such we have another analysis from one of our writers, which can be viewed by clicking >here<
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