Note: This review is as spoiler free as it can be, but still proceed with caution.
Batman V Superman is a movie about battles. There’s the obvious titular battle, the battling of inner demons both of the characters face and then there’s the battle director Zak Snyder constantly has, trying to keep what is an unwieldy movie with many spinning plates under control. Unfortunately that smash you hear isn’t a smash hit, but many of these plates crashing to the floor.
Batman V Superman is the most divisive blockbuster in years. It manages to both stay faithful to the graphic novels it is loosely based on and yet it will also infuriate fans. It’s both enthralling and galling to watch – there’s a constant ‘versus’ feel throughout the whole movie, where it impresses with its set pieces then tells you off for enjoying yourself too much.
Things start off well. Following on from the events of Man of Steal, Snyder manages to blend Batman into the catastrophic ending of that film. With illusions to 9/11 (again) we see Bruce Wayne wading into a disaster zone, fearing for the people in a building belonging to Wayne Enterprises. Caught among the catastrophe, the first seed is sewn as to why Batman would want to take on the might of Superman.
After this, the pace is scattershot. We get flashbacks, dream sequences and plot machinations that not only try to pave the way to the stand-off but also lay the groundwork for future Justice League movies. Some of this works but the underlying problem is that the movie never truly gets to grips as to why two of the mightiest superheroes would really fight each other.
Granted, Alfred’s conversations (Jeremy Irons is great but underused) with Wayne highlight that this is Batman beyond what we have seen before. A man who dresses as a bat will always be teetering on a psychological knife edge, but his balance this time around is way off – the decision making that brings him to thinking he needs to off Superman is ill conceived and pig-headed.
The only way it can be justified is that him picking a fight with Supes is his one last hurrah, rather than the reasons outlined in the movie.
This means that when the fight does arrive, something that should be the crux of the movie, it’s an uncomfortable watch; it doesn’t feel earned. There’s a movie’s worth of heartbreak and despair that is hinted throughout the film that Batman has gone through, but because we only have snippets to go on (there are some fun Easter eggs hidden, however) it feels unwarranted.
Superman’s reason for fighting is better conceived, though still so threadbare that the holes in the reasoning for the fight shine through harshly. Because of this, it’s underwhelming to watch. That’s right: a fight between Superman and Batman is a slog.
That doesn’t mean the movie is a total trainwreck – it really isn’t. Tonally, it’s all over the place but it’s beautifully presented. Snyder’s strengths lie in his visual storytelling and watching Superman really fight and use his powers is mesmerising. I watched it on the 70mm IMAX print, thankfully 3D-free, and the cinematography for the most part is jaw dropping.
The introduction of Wonder Women is pitch perfect, too, and will give you goosebumps. She’s underused but doesn’t feel shoehorned into plot too much – well, nothing compared to the hints we get of the other Justice League characters. I won’t give anything away, but it feels like at one point the movie hits the ‘pause’ button and then turns a camera onto someone scrolling through a Reddit thread.
Ben Affleck is brilliant at being both Batman and Bruce Wayne. You never once feel like we are jumping too soon back into the life of this character (given his last cinematic outing was barely four years ago). He’s a brooding husk of a man, whose been crime-fighting for a few decades. He’s developed into a colder vigilante than Bale’s Batman, one who is nearing the end of his fight but sees no end in sight because of the criminals cluttering up Gotham.
There’s a scene in a warehouse, teased in the trailer, that is hands-down the best we have seen Batman fight on the big screen and makes you excited for the inevitable Batman standalone film.
By contrast, Superman should be the light to Batman’s dark, but he isn’t. This is because Snyder’s built a world full of hate, oppression and completely lacking in compassion. Even Superman’s special powers can’t levitate him above the fug.
So what you are left with is a movie where, for the most part, both Batman and Superman are without hope. This is a world that grinds down its superheroes, not celebrates them, and because of this we never see the positive, passionate guiding light that is Superman in the comics. It’s frustrating, as Marvel has pulled off a similar feat with Captain America in its movies but the same can’t be said here.
The good news is, his Clark Kent has moved on. We see much more of the Clark the journalist, battling against Perry White as he should and along with it some much-needed light-hearted moments.
Then there’s Lex Luthor. Personally, I didn’t have a problem with Jesse Eisenberg’s take on the character. He’s unhinged and maniacal but hides all this under a barrage of tics and nervousness. It’s not the Luther of the comics, though.
This is a Luther powered by energy drinks, scattershot religious allegories and a taste for world and superhero domination – all of which culminates in the final act of the film.
At points, the final fight does temper the inner fan. Watching Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman team up is a whole lot of fun but the final act feels unnecessary. It feels tacked on and makes the movie into an expensive stepping stone into Justice League territory and does little more than keep the CG industry in biscuits for another year.
Batman V Superman is a film centred around a playground premise: who would win in a fight between two most-famous superheroes?
The answer, unfortunately, is wrapped up in such a bleak, adult package and bundled into such a strange, convoluted story that’s there to merely act as a cinematic universe kickstarter that by the end of the movie, you are frustratingly past caring.
But, there is something here. No matter how relentlessly bleak Batman V Superman is, it’s a curio piece that needs to be watched. Never has their been such a strange, beguiling blockbuster centred around mainstream characters that’s as weird as this movie is.
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