REVIEW SYNOPSIS: Bloated and boring, possessing only traces of life or energy, Zack Snyder’s latest foray into the DC Comics universe fails to give diehard comic fans a genuinely new or definitive take on the classic character while refusing to offer those interested in a good movie anything coherent, logical, or entertaining.
SYNOPSIS: After witnessing the destruction brought on by Superman during the invasion of General Zod, Bruce Wayne vows to stop any further alien scourge while attempting to uncover whether or not Lex Luthor might be behind any recent criminal activity in Gotham City.
PROS: Bruce Wayne’s modern apartment built outside the ruins of Wayne Manor; Gail Gadot, whose cool demeanor brings an air of mystery; Jeremy Irons as Alfred, providing much-needed wit and humor.
CONS: Oh, hell, almost everything else.
“If anything is possible,” wrote H. G. Wells, “then nothing is interesting,” a reasonable metric that those who deal in the fantastic treat as an axiom—one which Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice attempts to, and succeeds in, falsifying. For two-and-a-half hours (and actually just a touch more than that), director Zack Snyder and writers David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio spare no moment to proffer neither a plenary of possibilities nor events that deliver much more than the kind of stupor aided by jumbo tubs of popcorn and soft drinks so voluminous one can swim laps between the ice cubes. In the process, Goyer writes off the credibility earned when co-scribing The Dark Knight, that Godfather of superhero comic book movies, while Snyder finally murders what little talent rested like an appendix within his bloated ego, discarding the remains with the same lack of grace as someone throwing away a used Kleenex. It’s a popcorn movie that went stale somewhere between the popper and the carton, a piece of pop art crushed beneath its own lack of professional craft, an entertainment that never meets the most basic requirements to entertain.
For the moment, let us put aside the movie’s inability to bestow upon its title characters insight (which, if it happens, occurs either by complete chance or by telling it to the audience with the same sincerity as a televangelist selling salvation), heroism (approached by both “heroes” in so similar a manner that the only way one can tell the difference is by the outfits—and that not well, since Snyder drowns the costuming in digital murk), or personality (not just interchangeable but also dispensing with any of the traits created and explored during more than 75 chronicled years of writing wrongs and fighting crime). Let us not address the fact that Snyder borrows so liberally from the groundbreaking graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns (as in the pseudo-operatic style of the opening sequence where we are treated yet again to the murder of Bruce Wayne’s (Ben Affleck) parents, complete with ponderous music, agonized expressions, and focus on the pearls snagged around the gun of Wayne’s mother’s murderer) that Frank Miller must have pulled his cell from his jacket and speed-dialed his lawyer during his own screening. No, the movie’s gravest sin comes from its failure to get right the basic mechanics of story, making this misguided four-color clash of titans a yawn of dustups.
Maybe it had to be this way. The story stuffs so many potential ideas and stories into its hyperextended running time that it never bothers to tell any one of them smoothly or even tie them into a coherent whole. Wayne, older now, once again dons his bat-eared cowl and returns to his brand of vigilante sleuthing to uncover the criminal mastermind behind recent activity that includes murder and human trafficking while at the same time viewing this alien being in red cape and blue bodysuit with contempt, seeing him as directly responsible for the injuries and lives lost during the events of Man of Steel. Superman (Henry Cavill), meanwhile, finds himself a controversial figure due to his questionable actions (let’s face it: when you have the blood of a hundred thousand people on your hands, you have to at least consider that people might—might—view you with suspicion), and, as Clark Kent, seeks to uncover the identity of the Batman, whom he deems as an unfit candidate to carry Lady Liberty’s scales. There is Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who singlehandedly might be behind every mugging, murder, and otherwise immoral activity in Gotham, and who views Superman with such hostility that he colludes with Senator June Finch (Holly Hunter) to recover kryptonite from the Indian Ocean. Wayne attempts to break into Luthor’s mainframe during a fundraiser promoted by Luthor but is thrwarted by a beautiful dark-haired woman (Gail Gadot), who might (or might not) be an ally.
So many characters, so many avenues, none of them united. Goyer and Terrio toss everything they can into an event salad, from Superman zipping around the world to save people from disasters (though he appears to do very little saving) in what turn out to be routine set pieces (danger occurs, in slow motion, Superman arrives, in even slower motion…and then we cut to the next scene) to Batman beating thugs to a bloody pulp (the actual concern for crime victims, who might or might not be collateral damage, utterly absent) and not much else to Luthor…well, doing what, exactly? We know the name, but Luthor demonstrates very little of the sort of machinations we associate with supervillains, except perhaps during the bombing of Congress where Superman is scheduled to testify (which Superman, dumbly, cannot see, does nothing to prevent, and finally leaves him standing amid the destruction with a sad face). He gains access to the laboratory studying General Zod (Michael Shannon, who must have been grateful to play a corpse rather than utter a single line of inane dialogue) to create a being capable of destroying Superman—an understandable move, given that the battle between Zod and Superman levelled half of Metropolis. Moreover, Goyer and Terrier subtitle the movie “Dawn of Justice,” yet the movie mires itself in darkness, and the action justifies nothing. Zack Snyder, who cuts scenes without care or even understanding, helps nothing and harms a lot. He stuffs the movie with action, but his pace drags; he fills the movie with sound, but it collapses into noise.
Snyder casts actors who look right but show far little life, especially when compared to previous iterations. Cavill’s Superman remains a self-absorbed jerk, less interested in acting as savior of human than in squashing those who harm girlfriend Lois Lane (Amy Adams) like flies caught in a hydraulic press. With flecks of gray hair and growth on his prominent chin, Affleck presents Bruce Wayne in even more detail than the same character in Batman: The Animated Series, yet somehow with even less animation—a huge mistake, given how much screen time he receives. Both characters trudge glumly through their roles in a way that Eisenberg’s Luthor does not; hyperactive, a cornucopia of words spilling from his mouth (though not in any discernable order), he plays his ADD-addled antagonist as if he just went off his Adderall. Gadot’s Wonder Woman at first brings a degree of much-needed class to the proceedings, but her literally walk-on scenes add nothing to a movie that certainly could use something. Only Jeremy Irons’s Alfred offers any wit or intelligence to the movie, all of which Snyder short-changes at every turn.
Occasionally, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice offers a glimpse of what could be an intriguing picture. In its few quiet moments it provides a peek at a decrepit Wayne Manor, on the grounds of which Bruce has built a snazzy bachelor pad resembling Oscar Isaac’s getaway in Ex Machina. We learn that Lois and Clark live together; one wonders how this domestic situation plays with his heroics. Gadot’s Ms. Prince zips from location to location, yet we know so little of why this is so. We want more of these moments, as they allow the characters definition and imbue their actions with meaning—something which the movie cannot provide. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice may be full of sound and fury, but it signifies nothing, and leaves its audience soundly furious.