Probably the most worrisome trend in superhero filmmaking since the aughts is the relentless dramatisation: over-plotting, exaggerated gravitas, the misguided need to be taken seriously. Sure, it’s nice to have back stories, to see some evidence of intelligence behind all the colourful hoo-ha, but at the end of the day, we’re talking about guys in spandex and capes. Having them engage in existential debates with an insistently straight face doesn’t just kill the fun, it often makes them look doubly ridiculous.
In that sense, Zack Snyder’s 153-minute action extravaganza Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which begins and ends with funerals, addresses the “accountability” of alien beings in an earthly democracy, and features Jeremy Irons proclaiming in his inimitably ominous Voice that “Everything’s changed”, should have made a complete fool of itself. The fact that it hasn’t, that despite the suspicious tone of capitalised Self-Importance on top of an inherently absurd premise the story never outright loses you, is testament to some pretty skilled writing.
Well, there’s certainly too much writing involved as hinted. At one point we have Batman (as Bruce Wayne) (Affleck) chasing the lead of a white Portuguese, Superman (as Clark Kent) (Cavill) looking into the acts of the bat vigilante himself, Lex Luthor (Eisenberg) working politicians to get his hands on restricted materials, Lois Lane (Adams) investigating an incident in North Africa to unveil more conspiracy. And did we mention Wonder Woman (Gadot) also shows up with her own secrets and agendas? A lot goes on in this movie, making it an overstuffed, unnecessarily taxing experience, but at the same time, one must admire how they found a way at all to approach the iconic heroes’ rivalry with some semblance of logic. Even if much of the setup appears superfluous in hindsight, the individual ideas are solid, how they’re strung together meticulous.
Snyder is of course a known offender of CG-overkill (see Sucker Punch and arguably Watchmen). The bad habit carries over into an early scene of BvS where, in order to illustrate the Man of Steel’s destructive powers, we see him bring down hostile spacecrafts in cartoonishly wide sweeps, vaporising rows of skyscrapers in his wake. The effects look unrefined, their purpose questionable. Things improve over the course of the film though, as the insane visual scale feels more and more justified with the raised stakes and the director really brings out the big guns for the occasion.
The final showdown of the last half-hour, featuring a humongous kryptonian beast handily described as “unkillable”, dazzles with waves of earth-shattering devastation. The light beams, magnetic pulse and physical attacks are furiously shot and sumptuously dubbed, tickling our unspoken appetite for beautiful mayhem famously.
When all is said and done, this XXL-sized comics adaptation isn’t as focused and slickly satisfying as Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) or X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). That said, it’s an altogether entertaining piece of work and, as such, better than it has any reason to be. With the Justice League franchise now officially launched, however, it’s also time to dread the inevitable sequel that’s likely to be even more crowded and needlessly expanded.
Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice | Directed by Zack Snyder (USA, 2015) Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg. Amy Adams, Gal Gadot. Starts March 24