“She’s talking to angels
Counting the stars
Waiting for Superman to pick her up
In his arms” – Daughtry
In the final scene of the 1959 Francois Truffaut film The 400 Blows, the lead character, a young boy named Antoine Doinel, finally makes it the beach, a serene domain full of the kind of peace and tranquility he’s been yearning for. Yes, he’s made it…but at what cost? He’s alienated his parents, turned to a life of crime, sullied his reputation, he’s sacrificed so much to get here. The closing shot of the motion picture focuses solely on the face of Antoine Doinel, an expression of remorse and confusion over realizing all that has been lost in his pursuit of escaping his demanding life. It’s a haunting facial expression….and the very same one that was etched onto my face when I emerged from my Thursday night screening of Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice.
What we have here is a busted motion picture that falls into the Iron Man 2/The Amazing Spider-Man 2 trap of setting up too many future movies at the expense of making a fulfilling narrative for this current feature film. I should be so lucky if that was the only foible to take note of in this movie but it’s not, by a long shot. Director Zack Snyder has crafted a disaster of a motion picture seemingly conceived in some kind of twisted bet wherein someone dared him to somehow make a movie more repugnant and poorly made than his 2011 effort Sucker Punch. He doesn’t quite get there, but Lordy does he come close. Now, allow me take you through this thing’s opening sequences to give you a full perspective on one of its most damning flaws. So, we start out by witnessing Bruce Wayne’s (played here by, of course, Ben Affleck) parents getting murdered. A child screams into the night as his mother gasps her final breath of air while his father whispers through his blood drenched lip the name of his wife.
Next, we cut to Bruce Wayne arriving into Metropolis during the climax of Man of Steel, where the fight between Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon) is tearing up the entire city. We see a man pray to God for mercy as the building he’s in crumbles while a young sobbing newly-orphaned girl points to the now decimated building where her mother perished. Watching Bruce Wayne and other citizens walk through the dust covered streets, the imagery is obviously supposed to evoke 9/11, which is a great sign that the people in charge of this trainwreck have enough confidence in the depth of their characters that they’ll allow stirring up visual reminiscent of a national tragedy to garner an audience reaction instead of making the characters engaging enough for the viewer to give a damn.
Then we watch Superman take out a foreign terrorist (yes, he murders him to the best of my knowledge)….and then shortly after all of that, we get introduced to Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). Luthor doesn’t have so much of a personality as he does numerous ticks and quirks that fail to be either unnerving or entertaining or serve much of a purpose in the overall plot. They just…exist, for some goddamn reason. This character doesn’t work at all taken on his own, but placed against all the preceding darker material, it’s practically mind-boggling that nobody realized this was just not going to fit at all into the rest of the movie. Going from sequences depicting children mourning their parents in a 9/11-esque tragedy to Jesse Eisenberg feeding a grown man a Jolly Rancher is the kind of slipshod tonal work that’s just par for the course in this screenplay.
The rest of the film focuses on a number of individual plotlines (including Superman being questioned by the Government because of his otherworldly powers and Batman tracking Lex Luthor’s company), none of which seem to have much to do with each other and, when it comes time for the myriad of stories to merge, unite in a manner that’s most displeasing. To boot, if you’re coming into this movie looking for a Batman/Superman smackdown, well, you’re gonna leave disappointed. There’s so little build-up to this showdown that I was legitimately taken aback when it began in such an abrupt fashion. This fight between “God vs. Man” has no bearing on the plot and is over before it even begins. Like so much else in Batman v. Superman, there’s no real reason for that sequence to be in this movie at all.
It also must be noted that this is one dark movie, especially in the first few scenes which are eye-rolling in their attempts to establish a “mature” tone. For instance, our introductory scene to Batman has him branding a human trafficker with a Bat-Symbol. This kind of stuff plays in no way into a larger theme of the movie, doesn’t help set up emotional stakes or concrete plot points, content like this is in the film for the same reason a five-year-old yells out a newly discovered swear word; to give off the illusion of being “grown-up”. At least in the aforementioned Batman branding scene Batman’s suit looks solid, and Affleck equips himself well in the action scenes, even if his Bruce Wayne just feels like a hodgepodge of Tony Stark (in his public Bruce Wayne persona) and the “DARKNESS! NO PARENTS!” side of LEGO Batman played entirely straight.
As for the other characters, well, they’re mostly duds, a shame since there’s a ton of great actors to be found here. Henry Cavill looks like he’d be the perfect Superman (and his charisma in real-life interviews cements the idea for me that he could this role) but he’s still stuck in the mopey God mode of Man Of Steel. That personality got old an hour into that 2013 Zack Snyder effort, so you can imagine how painful it is to endure here. Wonder Woman, played by Gal Godot, doesn’t get much screentime or a discernable personality, but she does get the one bad-ass moment of the movie, isn’t treated as a romantic/sex object and is probably the best part of the movie. Oh, and guess who else is in this movie! Five-time Academy Aware nominee Amy Adams playing Lois Lane! Yep, that great actor is in here solely so she can be a damsel-in-distress for Superman to rescue, not just once, but twice!
Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice just doesn’t work as anything. It doesn’t work as an enticing tease for future DC movies, since all of the teases are dull at best and bewildering at worst (a drean sequence where Batman encounters a vengeful Superman in a desert location, while also fighting off the minions of a potential Justice League bad guy, is baffling in its execution, since it’s given no proper set-up, context or explanation). It doesn’t work as a singular film, not by a long shot. It fails at being an action movie or a funny movie or a motion picture with any semblance of coherence. All it excels at is expressing a withering contempt for both the character of Superman (a character tells Clark Kent at one point to stop being so morally upright because “it’s not 1938 anymore”) and its audience. And after enduring such contempt for nearly three hours, well, now you understand why I carried the same solemn expression as Antoine Doinel last night. Avoid Batman v. Superman like the plague folks. It’s simply a 150 minute plus descent into pure chaotic abysmal filmmaking.