WARNING: CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS
What’s worse than a stupid movie is a really stupid movie that thinks it’s really clever. The best example of Batman v Superman‘s self importance is a line delivered by Jesse Eisenberg’s twitchy Lex Luthor. ‘What’s the oldest lie in America? That power can be innocent‘. That’s not an expression I’ve ever heard anyone use. In fact, the most common saying about power is that it corrupts; the exact opposite of what’s being posited here. But the screenplay wants us to be amazed that they’ve spoken a profound truth as opposed to this made up nonsense that no human being has ever said.
Rather than address the criticisms of Man of Steel Zack Snyder has chosen to double down on his worst impulses. For good or ill he’s a melodramatist with a flair for style. This served him well on 300 – a film where the moral dilemma was a simple ‘Bow to me‘ vs ‘No!‘. Given a more complex idea than that and he falls apart. This is a good looking film but not one interested in boring stuff like building a world or telling a coherent story. For a blockbuster this doesn’t have action scenes. It has action images.
The thing is, most of the arresting images, such as Superman being surrounded by awed mortals in day of the dead makeup have already been seen in the trailers. Another much discussed sequence where Batman fights a militia loyal to Superman in the desert occurs in a dream sequence that has no bearing whatsoever on the plot. It’s presumably seeding future instalments but, really, it’s just a lengthy excuse for more cool pictures. Why have Batman do detective work when he can dream a set piece?
The plot, driven by Lex Luthor, isn’t just incoherent. It’s relentlessly stupid. Not only his master plan, but also his motivation make no sense. Eisenberg’s take on the character turns him into a young, eccentric douchebag. It’s not a bad idea and in the hands of a director that might occasionally ask him to tone it down it could work. As is, it comes off as maddeningly annoying. One scene ends with a long shot of his face and it’s as if he can’t stop cycling through a variety of expressions like some kind of malfunctioning clown automaton in the most terrifying family restaurant on Earth.
Even normally fine actors deliver bad performances here. A standout is Scoot McNairy’s embittered worker who was crippled in Superman’s attempt to save Metropolis. The effect is less The Best Years of Our Lives and more an unintentional Arrested Development tribute. The overbearing score by Hans Zimmer reminds us that we’re meant to take this shit seriously.
You can piece together the broad strokes of the plot from watching any of the promotional material. Batman’s angry at Superman and Lex Luthor is up to no good. Sexy Wonder Woman is there without much to do and in the end they fight an electric cave troll. It’s not that the rough shape of the story is any worse than your average superhero movie. It’s how inept the filmmakers are at getting from A to B, at establishing a coherent timeline and the various pointless detours (let’s devote runtime to introducing other heroes that we won’t see for years!) that undermines the screenplay
I cannot emphasise how oppressively dumb this film is. It’s a universe where Chinese people don’t understand that a man in a costume is not a demon, where journalists have weeks(?) to report on sporting defeats and where the villain gives his men traceable super bullets where normal lead would have sufficed. It confuses joylessness with intelligence and by the time the climax arrives you will not care whether or not three superheroes beat an uninteresting digital creature that could easily have been left out. In fact, unless you have a fetish for people being thrown repeatedly through walls, part of you might want the monster to destroy this incoherent mess of a world.
The only glimmer of hope here is Ben Affleck’s Batman. Despite the internet’s reaction on the news of his casting he’s instantly at home in the role. His portrayal of the Dark Knight is one of the best on film. It’s a shame it’s in this film.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is in cinemas from Friday March 25th. Check out the trailer below.
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