The absurd amounts of destruction in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel didn’t just anger comic fans but it seems Bruce Wayne is plenty mad as well. In the beginning of Batman v Superman–Dawn of Justice, we’re introduced to Ben Affleck as Wayne, older but agile, and filled with rage over Superman’s previous exploits. Also wanting Superman dead is the devious Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who schemes to get the two to fight to the death.
This is a sloppy, frequently off putting attempt to mash a promising new Batman movie with another awful Man of Steel entry. Richard Donner and Bryan Singer really got Superman. Screenwriter David Goyer and director Snyder do not.
The movie understands the tricky duality of the central characters. Batman’s righteous vigilante is portrayed favorably, while Superman comes across as vaguely sinister and detached from his status as a god among men. The subtext of Superman as an American Jesus is boldly brought up but it gets buried early on. There is so much pontificating about the title characters, with everyone from Holly Hunter to Charlie Rose weighing in on their responsibilities and whether we should consider them humans, citizens, etc. All this philosophizing about the humanity of DC Comics creations would be fine in a civics class but weighs down an already elephantine movie.
Affleck is excellent, exuding a gravitas, utter commitment and depth to his role that surpasses his many co-stars. Whereas Affleck is commanding in every scene, his co-stars fail to inject life into their thinly plotted roles. Amy Adams’ Lois Lane has lots to do but the role still seems so thankless and beneath her. Ditto Laurence Fishburne as Perry White and Diane Lane as Ma Kent. I won’t spoil it but the actor who brought the most feeling to Man of Steel pops up in a pointless surprise cameo.
The movie itself is eventful but visually drab, with every scene appearing to be shot on an overcast day. There are confusing dream sequences that never add up and much of the first and second act action scenes are poorly handled.
The final battle between the two heroes finally gives this endless movie some snap. Even as it only amounts to a laughable amount of explosions, caving rooftops, Lois Lane rescues and more explosions, the third act is lively and consistently entertaining, whereas the leading two hours are a drag.
Henry Cavill still lacks any distinction, both as the Man of Steel and as an actor. His take on Clark Kent has no sense of play. Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh played Superman and Kent as two very different roles, making it arguable and intriguing as to which one was really performance art. Cavill seems at a loss as to how to do anything but scowl.
Far more unfortunate is Eisenberg, whose aggressively obnoxious take on Luthor makes him a front runner for next year’s Razzie Awards. It seems someone forgot to tell Eisenberg he was playing Luthor, not the Joker. Admittedly, watching Eisenberg’s embarrassingly hammy work alongside an emotionless Cavill and a dazzling Affleck makes for a fascinating contrast of acting styles. Affleck’s outstanding work is on a level the movie doesn’t fully deserve.
Once we finally get Gal Gadot in her Wonder Woman costume, the movie and Hanz Zimmer’s alarmingly bad score play her entrance as a joke. Hardly a worthy cinematic entrance for such a wonderful character. The clumsy infusion of cameos by the Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman are brief and poorly handled. These scenes should have been projected at a Comic Con panel, not shoehorned into a movie that already has too many characters. For the record, only Jason Mamoa’s Aquaman is wow-inducing.
The strength of Affleck’s performance and the eventful third act almost salvage it, but much of this is terrible. It’s all so overstuffed, we not only get the kitchen sink but even the corpse of General Zod. Instead of encouraging more-more-more, someone needed to invade the writer’s session and yell out, “enough!”