Thursday, 24 March 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice

(M) ★★

Director: Zack Snyder.

Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot.

"No, my mother is Martha!"
IT’S the year of the superhero showdown.

Magneto and Professor X will be at it again in X-Men: Apocalypse in May, Captain America and Iron Man throw down in Civil War in April, and right now we have the Caped Crusader duking it out with Kal-El of Krypton in Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice.

The latter is DC Comics’ attempt to build their own universe much like rival superhero stable Marvel has done with great success over the past decade. Following on from Superman reboot Man Of Steel, this is DC’s pre-Justice League warm-up, introducing a new (but old) Batman and giving audiences the about-bloody-time debut of Wonder Woman.

While the sound of a billion dollars flowing into their coffers will ease the pain, this is not the universally acclaimed appetite whetter DC was hoping for. It’s an out-and-out mess for much of its running time and only really hits its stride in the final act when the titular biffo begins.

Up until then, we’re saddled with a confusing and scattershot plot. Batman (Affleck) is on the hunt for a possible terrorist threat, all the while eyeing off Superman (Cavill), who Batman sees as a threat to humanity. The Dark Knight is not alone – Superman is the subject of much debate and political discussion as America tries to figure out if this seemingly omnipotent alien is going to be a happy god or a vengeful god.

Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (Eisenberg) is trying to figure how to make this whole superhero thing work to his advantage, Lois Lane (Adams) is hunting terrorists in Africa, and Wonder Woman (Gadot) is attending functions and being mysterious.

Batman v Superman does a few really good things, the best of which is putting Ben Affleck in the Batsuit. Using an older, more cynical Dark Knight is one of the better ideas in the film, as it sets their Son of Gotham apart from the many that have come before, but it’s Affleck who really makes it work. He has the physicality, the suaveness, and the gravitas needed for the Batman/Bruce Wayne duality, and he absolutely nails it.

Equally good is Irons’ Alfred, who’s just as world-weary as his master and complicit in his vigilantism, despite his own protestations. It’s a relationship that feels lengthy and lived-in from the moment they pop up on screen together.

Cavill is also good – despite Man Of Steel being a disappointment, at least he was an ideal Superman. The same can be said for Adams as Lois Lane. Slightly less convincing is Gadot as Wonder Woman, although she’s given so little to do that’s it’s difficult to tell and probably too early to judge. Her place in this movie feels tacked on – it would be easy to edit her out of this film without losing any important plot details.

The award for biggest piece of miscasting goes to Jesse Eisenberg, whose Lex Luthor misses the mark by a mile. He never comes off as dangerously intelligent or a serious threat – instead he is a mess of tics and nerdiness that’s probably supposed to be a mix of Heath Ledger’s Joker and Eisenberg’s own Mark Zuckerberg from The Social Network. Unfortunately his performance is a big ball of crazy, but it’s never scary-crazy or entertaining-crazy or funny-crazy or even interesting-crazy – just bad-crazy. His turn is like watching an actor try to chew the scenery only to have his dentures fall out at the crucial moments, except you don’t laugh – you just feel bad for him.

Eisenberg is not the film’s biggest problem though. That lies in either the script or the edit, or most likely both. The cleverest thing the movie does is take the biggest criticism of Man Of Steel – it’s mindless third-act carnage – and turn it into a jumping-off point for the better plot strands of Batman v Superman. It’s the reason why Batman and parts of American society don’t trust Superman or see him as a potentially apocalyptic liability. But this thread gets lost amid the adventures of Lois Lane, the shoehorning of Wonder Woman, the sprawling and nonsensical machinations of Lex Luthor, and a handful of bizarre dream sequences that add nothing (except for an idiotic and pointless Flash cameo). Two or possibly three movies have been squished into one, and it’s not a comfortable fit.

As is typical of Snyder, the film often goes for “looks awesome” over “makes sense”. Case in point is a dream sequence in which Batman fights a bunch of gunmen in a desert – it features the longest and most elaborate take in the entire movie but contributes nothing to the plot. Ditto for the “Dawn Of Justice” add-on, which consists of a handful of cameos that unnecessarily slow the film down just when it’s getting good.

It’s not a total waste of time. The dark tone sits well and is a nice counterpoint to the jokey reality of the Marvel cinematic universe, the Affleck-Irons double team is great, the ending is bold, and the title fight is pretty good.

The problem is the film struggles to find its focus for close to two hours. It’s only when its heroes begin punching each other in the face that it figures out what it’s supposed to be doing, and starts doing it well, which will be too little, too late for some.

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