There is a moment in Batman V Superman when Clark Kent is berated for believing it is still 1938. The message being ‘the world has moved on Clark and you need to keep up’. It is an exchange that illustrates perfectly Zach Snyder’s lack of understanding of who Superman is. His Superman is a joyless outcast who inspires fear, hatred and awe in equal measure. Every act of heroism Superman performs dissected and condemned. Leaving him doubting his role as a savior and hero. Snyder’s world is no place for any hero, least of all Superman. Where Marvel have managed to use Captain America’s morality and dated views of the world to drive forward their narrative, Superman’s similar philosophy is derided at every turn.
Batman V Superman borrows heavily from several iconic comic book story arcs well-known to fans. Yet it manages to capture none of the nobility and humanity in those seminal works. Batman, is a more tortured soul than we have seen before, driven to acts of cruelty far beyond his previous incarnations. He is obsessed with the threat posed by a God like alien ‘who could burn the whole place down’. Bruce Wayne alludes to Batman’s status as a ‘criminal’, and his first appearance in the cowl showcases that status quo with visual aplomb. Affleck makes for an imposing Batman, and some of the best action sequences are reserved for his Dark Knight.
The first hour of the movie plods along through a series of disconnected sequences, some of which serve no other purpose than to further degrade Superman. The grimness of it all wears down the viewer, bringing dark and brooding to a whole new level. Unfortunately, this is a one size fits all approach, permeating through every scene and character. Snyder having a total disregard for how ill-fitting it is in places. The highly anticipated showdown loses momentum before it even starts. The script providing a contrived incentive, intended to further up the stakes. Apart from being unnecessary, it has the complete opposite effect. Providing a shaky plot device that just begs to be torn apart. This is a common theme throughout, as the disjointed and incoherent story destroys any suspension of disbelief. It only heightening our ability to see through every gaping plot hole.
In spite of the forced reasoning, the heroes facing off is a highlight, although falling short of the promised titanic battle, leading into the best action sequence of the movie. But before we can take a breath we are assaulted with a lackluster CGI creation which only succeeds in undermining all that went before, rather than elevating it. It leaves you thinking of what could have been if this was delivered by a more insightful director. One who built a world to fit the heroes and not the reverse.
All in all it is a grim, self-important miss which does little to advance DC’s standing in the super hero movie genre. There are pluses – Affleck’s Batman, Irons’ Alfred and Gadot’s Wonder Woman who just screams ‘warrior’, and has a theme tune to match. But the minuses far outweigh them – an incoherent plot, joyless Superman, crappy CGI adversary, a grim and colourless world, and a complete lack of understanding of the source material.
It is a frustrating outcome made all the more galling by the casting of the key roles. I would pay good money to see any of the leads play those characters again, as long as it was not Snyder’s vision of their world. The characters were perfectly cast, but the characterisations were too far from their origin. Wanting to cheer the heroes on has never been so conflicting.
There is a scene in Batman V Superman which could be construed as Snyder’s version of the iconic interrogation scene in The Dark Knight, albeit with a different character. In Nolan’s masterpiece Batman spars with the Joker, only to find his methods ineffectual against the madness. The Clown Prince of Crime taunts him with an unsolvable dilemma, testing our hero to his limits. In Snyder’s world a similar exchange occurs leaving Affleck’s Batman diminished and ineffective, drifting back into the shadows. Nolan’s version provided the adversity that his Batman needed to rise and meet his legend. Two voices, but only one worth listening to.