12A – 151mins – 2016
CRASH OF THE TITANS
As a reviewer of films, I have long learned to drown out critical consensus and judge a film for myself. However, I would be lying if the sheer tumult of negativity – from fans, friends and critics alike – being flung at Zack Snyder’s long-heralded Man of Steel follow-up hadn’t permeated by defences and plagued my perception like a, well, phantom menace.
The bigger they come the harder they fall, and $250 million blockbuster behemoths don’t come much bigger than the first ever box office battle between DC Comics’ two most iconic superheroes. With Marvel in ascendency and Civil War about to break out between their much-loved properties, there was a lot riding on BvS to even up the score and help set up an Avenger’s-style universe for the Justice League.
While critics have not been kind, all the studio (Warner Bros. Pictures) really cares about is the takings, and they have been extraordinarily healthy – and in some cases record-breaking – so Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) need fear not; BvS is no franchise derailing disaster like 1997’s Batman & Robin. Day will follow this Dawn…
So, away from the pesky background noise of pessimistic public perception, did I despise this epic showdown between Gotham’s Caped Crusader and the Survivor of Krypton? No, of course not. It is by no means perfect and I can fully understand why fanboys would find a batcave’s worth of flaws to pick to shreds, but there is also much to like about this grandiose two-and-a-half-hour superbrawl.
Primarily, I was delighted that this was a true sequel to Man of Steel. With Superman (Henry Cavill) having to share the title with Ben Affleck’s Dark Knight – and even demoted behind him in the billing – plus the none-too-subtle subtitle tease of more superheroes joining the party, I feared that any relationship to Snyder’s serviceable 2013 Superman reboot would be lost in the hectic hustle.
While the volume of players does occasionally threaten to swamp the screenplay (even dead characters return for little narrative impact), and even with “Batfleck” (as the internet has christened him) granted opening monologue duty (replete with yet another adaptation of the Bruce Wayne origin story!), BvS very quickly establishes itself within Man of Steel’s continuity and presents Superman very much as the lead character.
Not that he’s necessarily having a grand time of it. Following the climactic battle with Zod (Michael Shannon) which destroyed half the city, Superman has somewhat fallen out of favour with the people of Metropolis – branded a “false idol” by some and a destructive alien threat to humanity by others – to the point where he is put on trial and threatens to leave Earth for good if Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch deems it so.
Early on, the moral questioning of justice was definitely to the film’s credit – raising this implausible situation beyond the fantastic to a more mature and humane level than the superficial CGI beat-em-up it is advertised as. Sadly, this strand this brought to a swift and fiery end by unhinged corporate coot Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), whose tactics for ridding the world of Superman are more destructive than a courtroom war of words.
Manipulating Batman to turn against Smallville’s adopted son, Eisenberg’s twitchy, erratic portrayal of the not-yet-bald billionaire is unlike any I’ve seen before – and he’s a revelation. Smarmy and snide, yet also deadly in the scope of his world-dominating schemes, Luthor more than makes up for his lack of physical prowess with his deceitful cunning, unleashing an opponent on Superman so powerful that even nuclear weapons cannot contain it.
Like the rest of the competent cast, Batfleck is by no means a bad Batman – I even accept that a man lacking superpowers would require a far bulkier and more heavy-duty suit than some of the skimpy costumes of previous incarnations. But it is exactly the fact that there are so many previous incarnations that makes this one seem so superficial and inauthentic… Just four years since Christian Bale hung up the cape, I couldn’t immediately accept someone else as Batman, more an actor playing at dress up. The same is true of Jeremy Iron’s Alfred and Amy Adam’s Lois Lane – for me they will never be the optimum versions of these characters.
Superficial is a word which will haunt this overblown production, so too the oft-overused phrase style over substance. Snyder’s chocolate box sequel is overlong, over-crowded, over-complicated and over-flashy, to the extent that during some of the battles sequences I found myself disconnecting from the action and switching off, returning my attention minutes later and having to question what was going on and who was fighting who and why.
But it’s never terrible, no matter what the critics tell you. It’s as glossy and entertaining as a busy and brainless blockbuster can be, with an ending that will leave you dumbfounded and with a tease of more focused solo missions to come. However, in the comic book movie stakes, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a lightweight underdog when standing cowl-to-cowl with even Marvel’s weakest competitor.