Mark Reviews Movies

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice


1 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Gal Gadot, Holly Hunter, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Scoot McNairy, Callan Mulvey, Tao Okamoto 

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality)

Running Time: 2:33

Release Date: 3/25/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 24, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is so occupied with trying to do about a dozen, different things that it forgets to provide a reason for doing any of them. The plot is a jumbled mess of conflicted or outright illogical motivations and consequences, and the movie's attempts to put the existence of superheroes in a philosophical, political, or cultural context are so half-baked that they're frustrating when they're not downright laughable. As for the bout promised by the match-up within the title, it's a case of being forced to root for the Batman the movie barely explores or the Superman whose very presence on Earth the movie constantly calls into question.

In other words, it doesn't matter on an existential level, and it also doesn't matter on a practical one. The screenplay by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer doesn't even bother to give a reason for the fight until about a minute before it starts, and let's face it, we already know how a battle between these two guys is going to end. It's not going to conclude with one of them losing to the other. That's for certain, just as it's certain that, by the time it's finished, a movie that is this busy with characters and plot elements that only exist for future installments is going to introduce a common foe or two—not to mention an ally or two or three.

The movie wants to be a sequel to Man of Steel, a reboot of the Batman mythology, an introduction to a couple of Superman's greatest enemies, a dissection of the role of superheroes in society, a mystery about uncovering a supervillain's hazily nefarious plan, a foreword to the inevitable stories about other superheroes in this world, and a few other things that probably have been lost to the overwhelming busyness of the movie. None of it feels cohesive in any of the elements of basic narrative. It's just a haphazardly assembled collection of ideas. Each one possesses potential for an intriguing, isolated story, but combined, the whole barely makes any sense.

The movie opens with a recap of the final battle in Metropolis of the previous movie. Instead of following Superman (Henry Cavill, a sturdy presence), though, the sequence is set on the ground, as Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, good as a weary, haunted Bruce) witnesses the mass destruction brought about by the Kryptonian combatants. If the battle, in which Superman seemed wholly unconcerned for civilians, was troubling in the previous movie, it's even more disturbing here, given the way director Zack Snyder mirrors it to the attacks of September 11, 2001.

That's kind of the point, although not really. No one in the movie, save for Bruce and one other character, seems to have a problem with the way Superman conducted himself during that fight (A statue of Superman even adorns a memorial to the victims). The question of Superman's place in the world becomes contentious because he saves Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who is repeatedly in distress here, from a group of terrorists—not, again, because of the countless dead and wounded resulting from the fight in Metropolis.

Bruce doesn't trust Superman. As Batman, he tries to find a way to stop this god among men. Obviously, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg, playing the role for laughs and succeeding about an eighth of the time) is somehow involved.

This incarnation of Batman is less a justice-oriented crime-fighter and more a vengeful vigilante—branding criminals with his insignia (a mark that leads to the bearer being killed in prison) and making liberal use of the mounted machineguns on his vehicles. In turn, Superman doesn't trust that Batman is really a force for good. The movie doesn't convince us of the goodness or necessity of these characters, either.

When it's not overburdened with ancillary plot details (including an extended nightmare within a nightmare that suggests a terrible future, an ultimately useless Senate hearing, and the eventual introduction of Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman—the only hero here who seems capable of cracking a smile), the screenplay offers a slew of action sequences, which are set amidst dark and dreary backdrops and which Snyder imbues with a comparable sense of incoherence. It all leads to the title fight, which is interrupted by a four-way brawl between the superheroes and a generic, mucous monster (News broadcasts during the fight absurdly assure us that all of the destroyed buildings are empty).

It seems improbable that a movie that incorporates so many familiar elements could fail to make any of them stick. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, though, beats the odds with its cynical, unfocused brand of throwing in as much as possible without caring a lick for any of it.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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