Man, oh, Man of Steel…
Director Zack Snyder’s MAN OF STEEL generated a lot of talk when it debuted. Not necessarily because we had a new Superman (Henry Cavill) to critique or because the movie wasn’t exactly what some fans had hoped for. Nope. It became somewhat of a lightning rod because Superman and General Zod’s (Michael Shannon) climactic battle spilled out onto the streets of Metropolis, killing thousands of innocent lives of unseen people in office buildings. There were think pieces upon think pieces upon more think pieces. Heated Twitter arguments ensued. Oddly enough, Snyder took these notes about Metropolis’ collateral damage and turned them into the dramatics showcased in (what I’ve been calling the litigation event of 2016) BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE. While this is the cinematic unveiling of a slew of DC universe characters, it barely manages to sufficiently further character development of the heroes featured in the title. It’s dour, dry, disjointed, noisy and a 9/11 allegory – but at least it spotlights one kick-ass new heroine.
I’ll keep the plot to a bare minimum, but here’s the gist: Gotham’s vigilante Batman (Ben Affleck) and Metropolis savior Superman are at odds with each other as to what heroism means. The rest of the world is divided as well, affecting people like reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams), Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) and Wallace Keefe (Scoot McNairy). It’s these shaky conditions that make it the perfect time for a new, more formidable threat to arise – one concocted by twitchy trust fund kid/ billionaire businessman Alexander Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg, who’s unbearable exuberance is exhausting/ terrible in this role).
Though I will hand it to credited screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer that the narrative isn’t as predictable as certain comic-book formulas can be, it is plodding. Getting from A, to B, to C feels mechanical and trying. The two and a half hour run time is bloated with illogical and (audibly and aesthetically) loud action set pieces. They are there to shill your kid’s new favorite toys: the Batmobile, Bat-wing, Bat-gadgets, and three Bat-suits (everyday Batsuit, Desert jacket Batsuit and Mecha-Batsuit). We also get two Bruce Wayne dream sequences where one would be sufficient.
There’s a tangible lack of character development during that generous run time; I didn’t learn anything about Clark or Bruce I didn’t already know. Clark’s relationship deepens with Lois but we saw that coming. Lois actually devolves into a worse character, worrying about her romantic relationship with Clark over her career. She also needs rescue on more than a few occasions. Diana Prince/ Wonder Woman’s (Gal Godot) entrance is perfection, and during her badass glory shot in the final battle, I wanted to scream “YAS, QUEEN!” at the screen. However, the filmmakers don’t find the right timing to weave in the other new spin-off characters. To say they’re not integrated well is putting it mildly. Their introduction is treated as an awkward interstitial shoehorned in seconds before the nerd-glee-inducing fisticuffs (set on what looks like an old FLATLINERS set). Plus the build of momentum toward those fisticuffs is barely felt.
Dialogue lacks punch; from the scene where Bruce and Diana finally speak to each other as “Shostakovitch: Waltz II (Jazz Suite No. 2)” plays, to the head-to-head confrontation between Batman and Superman, the lines are flat, sub-par and delivered in a monotone manner. Thematic ties to real-world issues are clunky and obvious. Attempts at humor don’t land well, but the unintentional laughs brought on by a few goofy reaction shots by Affleck, do. Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s score is obtrusive, sledge hammering into every scene, punctuating dialogue in case you don’t understand its importance.
On the whole, the filmmakers’ approach is perhaps best summed up in one of the film’s own lines: “The world only makes sense if you force it to.”
Grade: C-/ D+
BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE opens on March 25.