By STEVEN ARVANITIS
There’s an incredibly ambitious film hiding within husk of a shell that is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice; one that truly, deftly explores the inner turmoil of a superhero, the gift and the curse that is their presence, that this so desperately wants to be. However, at a burdensome two hours and thirty three minutes, the film never comes close to digging beneath the grim, brooding surface to follow through with the real stakes and ideas it attempts to bring up.
The initial premise of responding to Man of Steel’s controversial turn of events; Superman’s blind destruction of Metropolis, is promising. Seeing the action from ground level as Bruce Wayne attempts to save those put in danger by the clashing prometheans as Wayne Tower crumbles puts Superman’s actions in an excitingly fresh context. But, through either incompetence, or the pressure of having to build towards The Justice League, Zack Snyder never delivers on the promising premise, eventually abandoning it for a whirlwind of muddled CGI action.
The story, or an attempt at one, moves forward in a frankly incoherent way, shifting back and forth from reality to dream (many, many dreams), undeveloped character to undeveloped character. The film nevers go much further than frustratingly restating its thesis: Power and corruption are two sides of the same coin, and the superheroes who are seemingly gods have their own devils too. There are fragments of intriguing heavenly imagery or the occasional scene that threatens to be transcendent, such as the promising senate hearing, which makes it all the more frustrating that writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer struggle to fully flesh out these themes.
The casting of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor has been an increasingly strange one, the multiple directions they seem to want to take the character all mix into a confusing, muddled mess. His mannerisms seem to mimic the distinct tics of Heath Ledger’s Joker without his menace and genuine intimidation, playing out more like a lite of version of a potentially greater character. His manipulation of Batman and Superman, trying to pit them against each other in attempt to prove his point of power and its collateral damage, could be the true crux of the film, delivering on all of its promise in a satisfying way, but it instead gets lost in the midst of two, flat, characters striking each other with a gladiatorial fury, so focused on its own scale that it quickly abandons the story for bloated, tiresome action.
Batman doesn’t fare much better; wrapped up in so much of his own anguish that he drops the intellectual nature of the character, one that gives him an interesting edge over superman, for a brooding brute that acts more as a qualified sparring partner and is easily manipulated multiple times throughout the film. This leaves most of the detective work to Lois (Amy Adams) and Alfred (Jeremy Irons, who is much more intimidating throughout than Lex Luthor). batman loses many of the facets that make him such an interesting character in a sea of murder and torture, tactics that now ultimately define him. Affleck plays batman as well as he possibly can, decently pulling off the uncontrollable rage and wrath that consumes the character without being able to really explore his psyche.
Superman’s character is equally simplistic, with Henry Cavill working with a single expression – a slightly concerned frown. The payoff of seeing Superman learn from his mistakes during Man of Steel is somewhat gratifying (though the constant insistence that they’re fighting on an isolated island is a bit much), taking Doomsday into space rather than causing more collateral damage. It’s when the film takes a direct approach to things that it’s at its most successful, which is unfortunate that it struggles to find a consistent rhythm throughout its laborious run time.
Wonder Woman fares slightly better, despite only appearing in the film for about one-fifth of the film. Muddled backstory aside, when a fight comes along she handles it with a grace that both batman and superman, in their endless empty musings, never quite reach. There’s remnants of a masterful film hidden in here, coming close to transcending the safe, bland, risk-averse, sequel building format that so many superhero movies stick to. Despite all of this promise, the incoherent writing and poor expression of potentially intriguing themes leave this to be an ultimately thin, joyless, mess of a movie.