“I pushed my soul in a deep dark hole and then I followed it in
I watched myself crawling out as I was a-crawling in
I got up so tight I couldn’t unwind
I saw so much I broke my mind”
As I walked out of Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice I sent a tweet renaming the movie Yawn Of Justice Review. This was a little unkind as the film isn’t truly boring, it was just disappointing. When I heard that director Zack Snyder was inspired by Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns I had a glimmer of hope. The last time a director took inspiration from a Frank Miller Batman novel it was Christopher Nolan and Batman: Year One became Batman Begins. So what went wrong?
Zack Snyder is something of an easy target for criticism, but I have never felt like an apologist when defending his work. Despite my love for the original I liked his remake of Dawn of the Dead(2004); 300 (2006) was dumb camp fun with a great cast (and referred to by tour guides when I went to Athens last year); Watchmen (2009) is a monumental and underrated adaptation of what is probably the best graphic novel ever. Sucker Punch (2011) has its problems book looks amazing and really isn’t as bad as you have been told; Man of Steel (2013) is far from perfect especially the Transformers style finale, but, the build up and character development is really good. Henry Cavill and Amy Adams where perfect casting. So I ask the question again: So what went wrong?
Before I get to that, what did he get right? Ben Affleck could be a great Batman. I have long thought Michael Keaton should reprise his Batman for The Dark Knight Returns (with the right director even George Clooney could get away with it), Affleck plays the older jaded and on edge Batman to perfection, this truly is a performance that needs a better film. The same is true of Jeremy Irons as Alfred, he deserves his own film. Henry Cavill is still a decent Superman, but given that this is supposed to be a superman movie he isn’t given much to do. Holly Hunter is excellent in a small part, and Gal Gadot seems okay in what we have seen of her. So for a third and final time, went wrong? For a start Jesse Eisenberg. Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is annoying at best, I would go as far as saying he is as bad, and as annoying as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman in Batman & Robin or Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey in Batman Forever. He hight of got away with his performance if they were remaking the 60’s TV show, but only just. I can only imagine Zack Snyder’s direction when something like this:
Zack “do you remember when you played Mark Zuckerberg”
Zack “I want you to do the same”
Jesse “Ok, I can do that”
Zack “Not exactly the same, do the Zuckerberg thing, times ten, imagine you are on crack, and be so annoying even your mother hates you”
Jesse “you mean like this?”
Zack “yes, but more zany and crazy”
For all Eisenberg’s zaniness the film totally lacks fun or humour. There is one funny moment in the entire film, unfortunately, when it came I had already seen it a dozen times in the trailer. But the problems go beyond the lack of humour, the film is simply dour and uninteresting. The plot is thin but overly complicated and constantly explained to the audience. The mass destruction in the final act is no worse than what we have seen from Marvel (I include X-Men as well as MCU) in recent years, but at least they have a little fun along the way, and they have with Ant-Man (2015) and Deadpool (2016) proved that a lower scale final act can work. Worse than that, the final act is disjointed from the narrative that leads up to it. We have to wait an eternity for the Batman v Superman that the title promises. When we get there the set up and the conclusion are contrived beyond belief. I could except that Luthor’s plan makes no sense, that it doesn’t fit with the narrative and that it is poorly executed, but to have all three issues are unforgivable. I saw the movie in 2D, but understand there is a 3D version too. Allowing for the light loss of 3D viewers must have missed half the movie in the gloom. Again Dawn of Justice may not be the best title, The Dark Night Before Justice may be more appropriate. Batman movies should be dark and gloomy and the washed-out colour works, but Superman should be bright and technicolor. To serve both characters in one movie was always going to be tough, but they failed on both counts. Even Zack Snyder’s biggest critics must admit that he has a visual flair and style, however, in this film it works against him. The best visual scenes are all dream sequences, this could have worked well, but they are too long and distract from the plot rather than enhancing it. Even the conclusion is pointless as we all know that by the time The Justice League Part One arrives in 2017 there will be a happy twist to the unfortunate event at the end of this movie.
There is some truth to the suggestion that Marvel earned the right to make the Avengers with the foundation of Iron Man and Thor, that they learned their lessons from two Hulk movies, and that DC jumped right into the Justice League without that foundation. But the problems go deeper than that. Dawn of Justice opens with the events of Man of Steel, shown from the point of view of Bruce Wayne as the city is destroyed around him. This would appear to be an acknowledgement of what they dis wrong first time around. It isn’t, it is just a pre-cusser to more destruction. Christopher Nolan’s name appears proudly on the movies credits, but his fingerprints are nowhere to be seen in the movie. The film lacks the weight and scale of The Dark Knight, replacing them with CGI and gloom. Batman & Robin was by far the weakest Batman film, but in a way it was a noble failure, I think I know what Joel Schumacher was trying to do; create a Batman that combines the dark edge of Tim Burton’s movies with the fun camp of the 60’s TV show and the bombast of the comics. He failed in just about every aspect and I hate the film, but he tried. Zack Snyder on the other hand got so much right but ultimately failed having created a disappointing film, a film that incites emotions of indifference and apathy. A disappointing film is far worse than a bad one. I only hope Suicide Squad, due out later this year has the same fun and humour that Marvel demonstrated in Ant-Man, Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and sets a new direction for DC movies.