Movie review: Batman v. Superman
Zack Snyder had the makings of a psychological thriller about male insecurity in his Batman v. Superman story, but the director of 300 fails to focus on the core drama and leaves a debris field of special effects and underdeveloped characters
Batman v. Superman
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Gal Gadot and Holly Hunter
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Running time: 151 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
By Katherine Monk
Poor superheroes. They’re just a costume, a few trademark accessories and a handful of signature lines.
People don’t really care what you’re like deep inside. They just want a close encounter with the cardboard character from a cereal box or a selfie with a Spandex god. Superheroes don’t even have consistent identities – changing their faces, costumes and levels of natural talent with every outing.
So many have already worn Batman’s cowl and Superman’s cape that it’s getting a little tedious to take inventory of each incarnation’s strengths and weaknesses. And after watching Zack Snyder’s epic Batman v. Superman, tedium is just the beginning of the bigger problem.
A chaotic sprawl of stories, franchises and competing publishers, the whole idea of putting Batman and Superman in the same movie was risky because they come from different universes, literally and figuratively. But it had to happen. We had to witness the birth of the Justice League – a supergroup for superheroes that also includes Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman and Green Lantern.
Snyder is up to speed on the DC canon having made the most recent Superman with Cavill in the red, blue and yellow tights. But Batman is a new toy, and one with a slightly more prestigious provenance, having been handled by Chris Nolan all through the Dark Knight trilogy.
Snyder’s central task was to bring these two divergent narrative threads together while remaining true to the source material, but you can feel the magnitude of the challenge in the first five minutes.
He has to give us the whole backstory for both Superman and Batman through opening flashbacks. Once more, we watch Bruce Wayne’s parents mowed down by a thug, the discovery of a bat cave, a mansion and a manservant named Alfred – this time played by a seemingly ageless Jeremy Irons.
Then we get to see Superman and his shtik: A gig as a reporter at the Daily Planet, a loving girlfriend in Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and a bad habit of taking off in the middle of his shift to save someone from a burning building in South America.
The condensation is appropriate since we already know both these characters, but the scenes Snyder chooses to pull us into the weave leave us baffled in the first half hour. One minute we’re watching Batman’s origin story, the next we’re watching Earth attacked by a giant spaceship with a title card about it being the first day the planet laid eyes on the Superman.
A gigantic chunk of time lapses in a split second, and suddenly, we’re in a world where Batman and Superman don’t just co-exist. They compete for the affection of the poor pathetic mortals who surround them.
Batman is labeled a criminal. Superman is the All-American hero. Batman is jealous. Superman is offended. They’re like two celebrities having a Twitter fight, and while some of it is written with humour, most of it feels leaden – not just because the writing is monotonously earnest, but neither lead is capable of pulling it off the page and making it bounce.
The only one who brings a modicum of levity to this lifeless effects spectacle is Jeremy Irons as Alfred. He understands he’s just playing a version of Alfred, the way a thespian may offer a version of Hamlet. He knows the lines and the motivation, but he brings it his own truth.
Cavill and Affleck got paid the big bucks to do the same, but they barely make a novel ripple in their suits, let alone breathe new life into these highly familiar characters.
Affleck fills the Batsuit with conviction and makes a believable playboy Bruce Wayne, but he doesn’t come close to the complexity of Christian Bale. Similarly, Henry Cavill has a nicely cut jaw and bright blue eyes, but he doesn’t have the same warmth as a Christopher Reeve.
The whole movie had to revolve around the nuances of each hero’s humanity, but Snyder’s boys are boring. Really boring. This should have been a psychological thriller as much as an action movie. It could have dealt with the whole Nietzschean notion of the Superman as a concept, and the idea of an ordinary man with intelligence battling it out against a man with natural superpowers.
Yet none of the deeper implications get much attention, leaving little more than a great big shell of spectacle, a few redeeming scenes with Wonder Woman and the prospect of more flavorless popcorn to come.
THE EX-PRESS, March 15, 2016