Ben Affleck is Batman, but the direction is bad, man.
What qualifies good entertainment? Is it the progressive explosion of gorgeous images and sounds that sows the seeds for future excitement, or is it a coherently crafted story that does not lose focus on its ideal? If the former were true, then Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice would be the most entertaining movie of all time. But it isn’t: it’s why Interstellar wasn’t as good as it could have been, and why the pretty straight-forward Superman: the Movie still holds up today. However, when the film in question has superheroes running around in it; the truth lies somewhere in between: what hits the spot is a strong central story, elevated by the display of intriguing visuals and treats. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is as heavy as it sounds, with every beat a battle cry and almost every image paying homage to iconic panels from the comics. Despite the many cool implications and references that make the prospect of the DC Universe exciting, the sloppy direction is unable to contain all the storylines into a single cohesive piece.
Dawn of Justice picks up from the climactic battle in Man of Steel, where civilians in Metropolis are introduced to the clash of inhuman powers between Zod and Kal-El, as the city was left demolished in their wake. Millionaire businessman Bruce Wayne is present at the scene, where he witnesses the death of his friend and several others stuck inside the Wayne building, and the flame is sparked. As Bruce trains to bring his horrific alter-ego out of retirement, Kal-El is tormented by the questions and fears of the human world, constantly fuelled by Lex Luthor. We are introduced to a world which is posed with difficult questions of gods on Earth and the implications that the arrival of the Superman has on otherwise religious people. In and around this are the many storylines of Wonder Woman’s secret files, Bruce’s nightmare visions, Clark’s crusade against the Batman at the Daily Planet, all crammed together ambitiously into a runtime of two and a half hours. The problem with Zack Snyder’s vision for Dawn of Justice isn’t its flawed internal logic or its distinct take on iconic heroes, but the comic book fan’s desire to draw from countless stories in the source material in his love-letter to comic books.
What makes reviewing this one difficult is that despite all of its shortcomings, it hits the right note on a number of things, most effective of all being Ben Affleck’s inspired turn as the Caped Crusader. This version of the Batman is vastly different from any previous iteration and that much closer to Frank Miller’s take on the tortured vigilante in his magnum opus ‘The Dark Knight Returns’, from which Snyder heavily draws inspiration for this film. Although those only familiar with the Christian Bale version of the character might find themselves confused about the marked deviation in the Dark Knight’s methodology, the film makes it abundantly clear that twenty years into his crusade, little has remained unchanged. Being able to juggle the self-absorbed playboy, the disturbed soul and the ruthless fighter that define the character during his ‘Justice League of America’ run, Affleck successfully hits back at naysayers who have been cribbing all over the internet since the casting was announced. By far the darkest iteration of the character on screen yet, Affleck’s Batman is no perfect man: driven to arms by the destruction in Metropolis, his better judgment is blinded by his fear of the unknown. In his search for something he can use against Superman, Bruce finds himself crossing paths with Diana Prince, a mysterious woman who makes up the same unknown. Gal Gadot’s performance as Diana/Wonder Woman is equally fitting of the character’s regal and warrior-like persona, which in spite of her short screentime, shines through in every shot. On top of pulling off one of the truest-to-source performances ever, the mystery surrounding her character captures the intrigue of the audience the most, making all of us only more excited for the standalone film. One, because it will have Gal Gadot – who has embodied Wonder Woman in the few moments we got with her – and two, because it will be directed by Patty Jenkins, who is not Zack Snyder.
No matter the richness of content or the characters that inhabit the world of a film, what truly rounds it off as a satisfying experience is creative direction, capable of balancing the egos and plotlines in a well-tuned narrative. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a film which has had its work cut out for it: to smoothly transition from the limited view of Man of Steel to an open world of heroes and villains, setting up the Justice League and defining the rules in the process. A daunting task even with many films leading up to it and restricted instead to build on the foundations of a single – and widely criticized – movie, Dawn of Justice turns in a half-assed job that swings from one plot to another, failing to immerse its audience in the overarching narrative. With the pacing of a rollercoaster, speeding up and coming to abrupt halts as we are bombarded by information and plot-points, the film feels burdensome to follow and incapable of stopping for a moment to find its voice. The brunt of the messy editing and poor direction is faced by the tone of the second half, which drops the more engaging psychological conflict and political thriller elements for more CGI-induced extravaganza in the form of the final villain, which is as laughable and ungrounded in the film as it was in the trailer. This disparity in style and tone is felt all the more on comparing the jaw-dropping action sequences of the Batman taking out gunmen to the firework display that is the final battle, with the Batman v Superman battles falling somewhere in between. If Zack Snyder ever excelled at anything, it is his fluid direction of action that takes the cake; with his scenes of Batman in action showing us just how rigid previous versions have been, and those of the eponymous fight hitting higher on the scale of grandeur than ever witnessed. However, a uniform director he isn’t, which explains why every time he opts for a battle of cosmic proportions, we are treated to half an hour of sparkling showers and giddying edits of Superman punching people mid-flight.
Though Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice managed to prove the critics of its controversial casting decisions wrong for the most part – with the exception of Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, who I hope to see less comical in later films – it seems the criticism regarding its director was one it should have considered. A treasure trove of comic book references and glorifying shots, Snyder’s loose adaptation suffers from the same disease as its climactic villain: it is contrived, unimaginative and spawned from a mixed genetic bag, in that it tries to showcase numerous iconic storylines in its attempt to satisfy fans. The film plants the seed of thought in the first half with its questions on heroes and gods, yet fails to take the discussion much further than the obvious parallels to the Christ. Despite this, Dawn of Justice proves a game-changer for DC characters in establishing what people are already calling the definitive live-action Batman to setting in motion various arcs which may be pursued by each one individually, later on. Overall, Snyder’s film is testament to the need for a strong directorial vision to harness the cool ideas, images and enticing prospects that lie within, and take them to their creative zenith. And as things go, BVS has proved to be a worthy successor to MoS, inheriting all the internet fistfights from its predecessor.