Batman V Superman Is A Big, Dumb, Loud Film

23 March 2016 | 9:05 am | Anthony Carew

"Dawn Of Justice is essentially a calamitous, crash-bang, $250mil, 150-minute, hyper-macho ode to two really boring men."

Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice is a big, dumb, loud film that gets bigger, dumber, and louder as it goes. With the two most super-hero-y of super-heroes billed on the marquee, Zack Snyder — a filmmaker on intimate terms with ridiculous bombast — rises to the occasion by blowing up everything in sight, again and again. If the cliché of new-millennial comic-book blockbusters is CGI buildings being toppled whilst CGI figures fight, then Snyder sees that cliché, and raises it, razing whole city skylines thrice over; first Metropolis, then Metropolis again, then Gotham, all toppled as Snyder stages fights like a kid playing with action figures, smashing everything as he goes.

Dawn Of Justice kicks off by showing us, in no uncertain terms, that Snyder ain’t no Christopher Nolan. Here comes the Batman origin mythos, yet again, in an opening-credits sting: the childhood Bruce Wayne (Brandon Spink) watching his parents get shot by a Gotham hoodlum in dramatic/Snyderist ultra-slow-motion, fleeing from their funeral, running through the woods, falling down a well, seeing a cave of bats; floating up from the depths in a dream sequence that lifts us up into the present day, where that tortured little boy has become taciturn, greying, joyless Ben Affleck.

Then, we begin where Man Of Steel ended: with buildings toppling, people dying, Henry Cavill’s Superman and the evil Nazi-abortion-technician aliens fighting it out. But, this time, the action is framed not in the heat of the battle, but from an outsider’s perspective: Affleck driving frantically through the streets, running towards the heat of battle, out to rescue Scoot McNairy and a sweet little girl from the 9/11 (x100!) tumult of planes crashing into buildings, towers crumbling, dust clouds swallowing blocks whole. Confronted with the wanton destruction of the last shitty Zack Snyder movie, Affleck verily turns and shakes his fist at the sky: Supezzz is to blame!

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"My favourite Cavill face is his clenched, taking-a-shit, gurning grimace that goes with laser-eyeball fire."

18 Months Later, and, thereafter, the film ricochets from scene to scene, place to place; restless and busy, never pausing to take a breath, or, sadly, to actually stop and think. There’s kids diving for Kryptonian-spacecraft ruins in the Indian ocean, evil Jihadis in a dust-storm ‘Africa’, Lois & Clark in the bath, Amy Adams as go-girl reporter refusing to take no for an answer from glowering military men, Laurence Fishburne talking in headlines, Affleck busting a sex-slave ring in an ooga-booga haunted house, Jeremy Irons as an Alfred that squashes the Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman characters into one, Holly Hunter helming congressional hearings on Superman and spouting pithy farm-girl homilies, endless Affleck dream-sequences, Gal Gadot as Bond Girl-esque femme fatale harbouring a secret identity, security/surveillance footage teasing future DC-universe heroes (Ezra Miller as the Flash! Jason Momoa as Aquaman! Some other dude as some other guy!), Diane Lane working in a diner, McNairy now a wheelchair-bound anti-Superman activist, shit-getting-blown-up scenes, a Rocky training montage where Affleck does chin-ups shackled in ball-and-chains and pulls truck tyres and gets ripped, and oh-so-many-more montages, like the unexpected one where media talking-heads — including Neil deGrasse Tyson and Vikram Gandhi! — wax philosophical/theosophical about Superman as messianic figure.

Man Of Steel overtly turned Superman into Christ: he was 33, had a beard, was a wandering handyman, floated in the ocean in an arms-out pose, preyed in front of a stained-glass window of the actual Jesus, took counsel from a priest, and saved mankind from the devil. Here, again, the conversations are about whether he’s a God, or the son of God, or just the son of Kevin Costner, whom he sees in a dead-pa flashback — counsel full of folksy farm-hooey — whilst hiking snowy mountaintops on losing-my-religion sabbatical. Cavill flies in and out of the action, in and out of public favour. He’s forever noble, out to do the right thing, out to save humanity from itself. He doesn’t say “forgive them, for they know not what they do,” but, Jesus Christ, his Christ-like, suffering-for-our sins bit is repetitious, one-note, dull.

Despite Snyder’s bluster, Dawn Of Justice is essentially a calamitous, crash-bang, $250mil, 150-minute, hyper-macho ode to two really boring men. Square-jaws’re great and all, but both Cavill and Affleck bring little more to their barely-written roles than stern brooding, volatile anger, a love of their moms, a desire to live up to their daddies’ legacies. My favourite Cavill face is his clenched, taking-a-shit, gurning grimace that goes with laser-eyeball fire; efforting the evocation of effort on a digital backlot. In his metal helmet, platform boots, and clunky suit, Affleck plays a live-action Batman that looks like Lego Batman; though, sadly, he never actually says anything funny.

Thank fuck, then, that Jesse Eisenberg has a gay old time playing Lex Luthor with villainous ridiculousness, twitchy anxiety, manic energy; his demeanour matching the mile-a-minute editing and all-too-busy mise-en-scène. He gets to deliver all the best lines — his reading of “my R&D is up to no good” is delightful — about God, absolutism, Greek mythology; the villain, as always, the impish intellectual counter to the brute force and moral simplicity of the hero. Eventually, Eisenberg gets full scenery-chewing as he digs into the Kryptonian ruins, reawakens the mothership, and summons an evil space-monster that our two heroes — having had a fistfight on top of a building on a dark-and-stormy night — can team up to fight, with ol’ Wonder Woman herself added to the mix.

Pulling off a super-hero team-up movie is a difficult task: the introduction of a cast of characters, worthy villains, the managing of brands, setting the table for future spin-offs, pleasing the sponsors, inserting the placed products, cramming all this into a single movie. Needless to say, Snyder proves himself not up to the task; struggling to cohere all these competing needs into a single thing. He submits to the worst tendencies of the tentpole: his CGI feeling unreal, weightless, meaningless, ridiculous. A scene in which Affleck is chasing a truck filled with Kryptonite is laughable: the batmobile crashing through walls, roofs, trucks, cars, ships, but always motoring ahead, eventually retiring to a secret Thunderbirds-esque bat-lair beneath a lake; nothing feeling real, nor making sense, nor worth caring about.

You’re supposed to give a shit about Cavill’s love for Adams, his virtuous devotion to goodness, his outsider’s love of mankind, his sacrifice for humankind. But just inserting a sad piano power-ballad in the middle of a climactic, explosion-riddled, building-toppling, electric-fireball-wielding, IP-team-up fight does not emotion make. “I love you!” ol’ Supes joylessly intones, before flying headlong into the fray on a kamikaze monster-killin’ mission. Sadly, for Superman, Batman, Lois Lane, and any other iconic comic character forced to inhabit a Zack Snyder joint, the feeling sure isn’t mutual.