Directors Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer) and Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) deserve an award – a special award of high distinction. The reason being they somehow managed, incredibly, to make two decent films with the word “versus” in the title.
Now enter Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, DC’s new kid on the overpopulated superhero block. Batman fights Superman. Superman fights Batman. But who emerges as victor?
The short answer: Marvel.
Lex Luther is responsible for the superhero match-up. Jesse Eisenberg plays him as a giddy Mark Zuckerberg, except less intelligent and even more of an asshole. (You quickly come to appreciate why Batman wants to punch him in the face.) His motive for wanting Batman and Superman to fight can’t be described as nonsensical, however. Such a judgement would rely on a motive being established in the film – which there isn’t. Still, he relishes pontificating to Superman before listing off a few analogies to the upcoming rumble: Black and blue; god vs. man; night vs. day; Mac vs. PC; Edward vs. Jacob; Alien vs. Predator. Stuff like that.
The film opens with a voice-over delivered by Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne in an earnest, mournful tone, in keeping with the film’s very own earnest, mournful tone. It’s the sort of dialogue that could have unironically been the opening lines of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy: “There was a time above. A time before. There were perfect things, diamond absolutes. But things fall. And what falls is fallen.”
Oof. Never has an opening been that broken and bad since the opening of Breaking Bad.
Another delightfully bad bit of dialogue comes from Bruce Wayne showing off his number crunching skills to Alfred regarding the potential threat of Superman: “If we believe there is even a one percent chance that he is our enemy, we have to take it as an absolute certainty.” In other words, if there is a 99 percent chance Superman isn’t our enemy, then bah – the hell with him. It’s an absolute certainty. Or a diamond absolute certainty. Or whatever.
Still, the dialogue is only slightly more intelligible than the film’s structure. It’s as if director Zack Synder deliberately doesn’t want the audience to know what’s going on. Perhaps he doesn’t. If they did, they may quickly realise none of it makes any sense. Almost every scene follows illogically from one to the next. It feels as though the editors threw all the scenes in the air and decided that in whatever order they fell was the order they were to appear in the film. As a result, characters come and go, storylines lose their coherence and audience members lose their patience.
The film’s fast-paced editing and slow-paced storytelling create an awfully dreary, lethargic air. And the listless characters don’t help much either. Here we have a film that boasts the talent of Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane but it somehow can’t find a single interesting thing for them to do. What a shame. Instead we’re given many minutes of Henry Cavill looking serious and buff and Ben Affleck looking seriously buff while looking serious.
Zack Synder’s direction is, sadly, pretty abysmal. Of course, he hasn’t got the best track record – what with every other film he’s ever made. But, even so, it’s easier to follow a Kanye West Twitter rant than some of the actions sequences presented here. And the imagery is sadly squandered, too – a particular shame given that Synder, despite everything, isn’t a bad visual stylist. The film often alludes to current subjects but completely fails to do draw any interesting comparisons between them and the depictions on-screen. It invokes 9/11, ISIS, US politics and the Bible but has absolutely nothing to say about any of them. It’s a bit like every time Donald Trump opens his mouth: he, too, often invokes 9/11, ISIS, US politics and the Bible – and with just as much futility and incoherence.
Coming out of the theatre, a friend of mine confessed to boredom during the second act and turned his attention to potential puns that could sum up the experience. Complacently he quipped, “Well that was Lexlustre.” So proud was he of this remark that he insisted I include it in this review. I’m sure this is exactly the context in which he would want it to appear. You’re welcome, Aodhán.
But you know a Batman film didn’t work when your favourite Batman moment came from a two-minute trailer screened before the movie and was made out of CGI plastic bricks. So my advice is this: skip the languid, beefcake slugfest that is Batman v Superman and instead check out Will Arnett doing his thing in the upcoming LEGO Batman Movie. Trust me. It’s a diamond absolute. Or something.