In 2013 Man of Steel, the second cinematic reboot of the Superman character, divided opinion amongst fans and critics, with some controversial changes made to the Superman character which caused many to complain that he had become a sombre, dour, depressing character. To remedy this, the filmmakers have decided to pit Superman against that most jolly and chipper of masked vigilantes, Batman, for the sequel aptly titled Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
After the carnage wrought by Superman repelling the invading Kryptonians in the last film, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) holds a grudge against who he – rightly – assumes brought them to Earth, Superman (Henry Cavill), and swears to bring him to task, no matter the cost. Meanwhile Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) has ideas of his own for the pair.
Coasting on the popularity of its two headliners, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is as vapid and soulless a box-ticking exercise as you could get. The film’s plot has all but been spelled out in the promotional material as well as the knowledge that a Justice League film is forthcoming, although the latter is less an issue with the film and more to do with studios wanting to secure bums on seats for the next five years.
It starts off strongly (after a credit sequence that gives us Bruce Wayne’s traumatic origin AGAIN) replaying the last events of Man of Steel from the point of view of Bruce Wayne, rushing through evocative 9/11 imagery that efficiently cements his hatred of Superman, but then most of the lengthy first act continues to sow the seeds of distrust that Bruce has, and while the machinations of Luthor to drive a wedge between the two are entertaining to watch you can’t help but feel a lot of it could have been excised with no detriment to the film. It asks interesting questions throughout, and raising the discussion of Superman’s place in modern times is admirable, but there’s never a satisfying third act answer beyond someone punching someone else.
Dawn of Justice seems to think that just having these well known, beloved mythic figures on screen is enough to warrant two and a half hours of navel-gazing from two characters who aren’t even that complex or interesting, at least in these incarnations. Ben Affleck provides the meatiest, most comic book-y take on Batman thus far (although right off the bat – heh – he breaks the one rule the Nolan films went to so much effort not to do, several times) but the performance is depressingly one note. And that note is constantly furious. Cavill is sidelined in what should be his movie, with the writers turning him into even more of a damb squib than they had previously. Thank Zod then for Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, who injects a touch of dark humour and eccentricity to the film. He may well have been airlifted in from another film as he’s the only one who looks like he’s having any fun. Gal Gadot’s brief appearance as Wonder Woman is also a shining light in an otherwise dark and gloomy picture and neatly whets the appetite for her solo adventure later in the year. Rounding out the supporting cast are Laurence Fishburne as Daily Planet editor Perry White (sardonic and all the more enjoyable for it) and Jeremy Irons as Alfred (even more so).
There’s no denying that director Zack Snyder can frame a beautiful looking shot, and there are several stunning images throughout including a rescue during the Day of the Dead festival, a montage of Superman saving civilian lives and some strikingly nightmarish dream sequences, as well as the during the hotly anticipated titular battle and subsequent team up (spoilers?). But scrape away the iconic imagery and there is nothing underneath; it feels like a placeholder and a springboard to greater adventures when it should be an event. As it stands, it feels like a necessary film – but not in the sense of the word you’d like to hope – to kick start DC’s own version of the Avengers with no care given to the characters in this film. And yet, there are moments to enjoy; Luthor, the title battle, Wonder Woman, the holy trinity teaming up to fight a greater foe. But unfortunately they’re all in a film that’s just…there. Hard to love, but easy to enjoy at a surface level.
A genuine slog through grimdark sludgery with only a faint glimmer of joy. And as for the upcoming Justice League movie, which this movie painfully crowbars in references to, you have to imagine the great threat the assembled heroes will be facing is the concept of fun itself.
Review by Jonathan Cardwell
Thanks to Movie House Cinemas, Dublin Road