The Watchers

The Watchers

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Review: Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice (UK Cert 12A)

SPOILER WARNING! This review discusses and/or mentions a few important plot points. If you would prefer not to have these spoiled, please stop reading now and come back once you've seen the film.

Let me preface this review with a remark. This movie is essentially critic-proof. It doesn't really matter that it currently has a critic score of 28% on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of writing; the audience score is currently 72%. It's already made over $424 million worldwide so it's not going to make the slightest bit of difference whether I say 'this is the greatest film ever made in the history of cinema' or 'watching the entire Twilight saga in one sitting is preferable to this inane pile of garbage'. What I will say is this: there was a lot I liked in the film, and a lot I didn't. 

The film has, since its very inception, been a polarizing one. When this project was announced at Comic-Con in July 2013, it broke the Internet. Reactions ranged from 'best thing ever' to '#ruined' and the furore only intensified when Ben Affleck was cast in the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Over 30 petitions sprung up online, ranging from removing him from the role to trying to make it illegal for Affleck to play either Batman or any other superhero on film. Unsurprisingly, when the casting of Jesse Eisenberg and Gal Gadot were announced as Lex Luthor and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, there was more vitriol online. Eisenberg was neither old enough nor imposing enough; Gadot was bizarrely too small to play an Amazonian princess. Rumours abounded a month or so ago that the studios were 'nervous' about the film, which was instantly pooh-poohed. As it turns out, they had a right to be nervous. 

With a film that's offering the potential of two of the greatest superheroes in the whole of comic book history coming together for an epic smackdown, you might expect to feel exhilarated, thrilled, engaged, your heart in your mouth and your bum on the edge of your seat. You don't expect to feel bored. And I did. For quite a lot of the film. 

The script- by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer- is so portentous (occasionally dropping into pretentious), so doom-laden and so without nuance or subtlety that it's a tough watch in places. You're never left to intuit how people feel; the characters tell you blatantly and outright. There's an over-reliance on dream sequences- albeit Batman's fevered hallucination of what would happen if Superman isn't checked is visually interesting- and do we really need to see Bruce's parents being killed again? Apparently, we do, because it's important that we know that Bruce Wayne's mum was called Martha. This becomes vitally important later on as it's the only reason Batman doesn't stomp Superman's face into the dirt. Because their mums have the first same name. Frankly, that's shoddy and lazy writing that a creative writing student would be embarrassed to hand in. 

I guess one of my other major issues with the film is that I don't really get on with Zack Snyder's style of direction. One of my major criticisms of Man Of Steel was that the final fight sequence was too big, too frenetic, too hyperactive. Well, it's the same here, especially the final smackdown between Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman against Doomsday. I gave up trying to figure out who was doing what to whom in most of the fight sequences (not helped by the fact that there's some really dreadful lighting choices made throughout). I get that the worlds of Metropolis and Gotham are supposed to be gritty and dark, but Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy conveyed that same atmosphere without decimating the lighting budget. There's so much shaky handheld camerawork- which always makes me feel nauseous- and there's some really odd editing choices too. 

It also doesn't help that the already laden dialogue is further weighted down by a ridiculously bombastic score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL. This did have one saving grace however: the majorly kick-ass theme for Wonder Woman, whose electric violin riff brought some much needed life to proceedings. 

That said, it's not all bad. Generally speaking (with one major exception), I enjoyed the acting. For all those naysayers who criticised Affleck's casting and derided him before he'd even said a line of dialogue, you're wrong. He works really well as Batman, as a grizzled, older, more world-weary fighter who's had 20 years of fighting and for what? He also makes a particularly good Bruce Wayne and the script manages to drop a couple of interesting hints which will hopefully be explored in the standalone Batfleck film. Henry Cavill remains as stoic and dignified as he was in Man Of Steel, whilst Amy Adams, Laurence Fishburne and Diane Lane were all solid support. 

My two favourite performances came from Gal Gadot, whose sensual yet determined Diana Prince added a much-needed spark throughout and who commanded the screen as Wonder Woman in the last battle, and Jeremy Irons who was frankly born to play Alfred. Here, he's a slightly more sarcastic and abrasive but is still the faithful old retainer, delivering slightly heavy-handed speeches to Master Bruce. 

The bum note is Jesse Eisenberg who was so annoying as Lex Luthor that I wished my superpower was to be able to reach into the screen so i could slap the irritating little runt. He wasn't menacing, he wasn't imposing, he wasn't any kind of credible threat. He was mooning around on screen with a performance full of quirky tics rather than any real characterisation and basically acting like a spoiled little brat. As much as I actively dislike Kevin Spacey's performance in Superman Returns, at least his Luthor felt like a threat.

I also liked the cameos from the other nascent members of the Justice League which provided enough of a hint of what's to come without feeling too much like a cynical ploy (although there are a few bits, especially at the end, where the fact that this is now going to be its own franchise is celebrated a bit too blatantly). There are a couple of very striking visuals as well, such as Superman saving the little girl from the fire during the Mexican Day of the Dead. 

Ultimately, this film was underwhelming for me, which was a disappointment. I do feel like some of the criticism that the film has come in for has been a little harsh, but there's only so much you can do to detract from a film's inherent flaws. That said, I am still intrigued to see where the DC Expanded Universe goes from here. I'm really looking forward to both Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman

Rating: 3 out of 5


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