FREELANCE WRITER. JOURNALIST, AND SCRIPT READER – FAN OF SCI-FI AND CHOCOLATE DIGESTIVES – YSTV'S BEST DRESSED MEMBER 2013

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

 

[Some big spoilers further down this review. But they're all in the trailer anyway.]

Faced with some free time, I ran a Twitter poll this week asking followers what films I should catch up with, and Batman V Superman came last. Plus, I’d already heard a number of bad things about it, and I’ve not enjoyed any of Zack Snyder’s previous films. And yet some masochistic instinct within me brought me into a screening.

It’s abysmal. Every bad thing I’d heard about it was true.

Many of the problems stem from the fact that it’s trying to be several films at once. Snyder wants to make a film about Superman as modern-day god, in the dark, political style of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. DC want to make a film which sets up the Justice League series, in the lighter style of the Marvel films. And, somewhere along the way, someone decided that this should also be a film about Batman taking on Superman, in the brutal style of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns.

And, of course, these three films intersect awfully. Now, I do sympathise with the criticisms that superheroes should be heroic, hence the popularity of the Marvel series, but I'm also a fan of letting talented filmmakers do their personal takes on well-known characters (The Dark Knight was 100% Christopher Nolan's take on Batman, and all the better for it), and that first 'superheroes as gods' film does sound interesting to me. Unfortunately, Zack Snyder is not a talented filmmaker. He does indeed come up with some impressive visual ideas exploring this theme – the montage of Superman saving people, Lex Luthor’s Heaven and Hell painting which “should be upside down” – but ultimately, visuals is all it is. He’s not an astute enough storyteller, and is hampered by all the other things the film is trying to be, leaving this theme concluded in only a heavy-handed, unsatisfying fashion.

He's also hampered by his fascistic admiration for that which he sets out to criticise; Snyder’s treatment of these modern gods, and of the Miller-esque angle too, ends up revelling in the violence way too readily, seemingly unaware of the satirical intent of The Dark Knight Returns. Snyder’s camera revels in billionaire Batman torturing and casually killing, his victims being small-time criminals and even security guards just doing their jobs. There’s a training montage, played entirely seriously, in which Bruce Wayne pulls a tractor tyre around. “Phwaor, look at his muscles”, the film says. I think Snyder reckons he’s getting deep into Batman’s psyche with that scene. I think he reckons the muscles are his psyche. The desire to criticise the actions of superheroes is countermanded by the desire to fetishise them (compare this to the recent second season of Daredevil, which manages to get deep into serious issues of vigilante justice and violence, while having interesting characters and retaining a sense of fun, deftly keeping the action entertaining while condemning the Punisher's merciless killing).


Character motivations are nonexistent. Batman fights Superman because he sees him as causing too much collateral damage – OK, not too bad. Superman fights Batman because Luthor, holding Martha Kent captive, tells him to. Despite Superman having previously been exceptionally good at finding and saving people held captive. And why does Luthor want Superman dead? I’m honestly not sure. Jesse Eisenberg’s Luthor is a caricature, his Zuckerberg ramped up to eleven, with shockingly little actual character, and is annoying rather than sinister. Again, why does he create Doomsday other than for one task he already had a different plan in place for? If Doomsday had survived, what would Lex have done with him?

So this conflict between Batman and Superman - the one in the title - lasts for one fight scene of about five minutes. Now, I’d been spoiled about what it is that makes them stop fighting, but I hadn’t quite believed it. But fuck me. It’s worse than it sounded. They genuinely do stop because Batman realises their mums had the same name. It’s the most idiotically scripted scene I’ve ever seen in a cinema. How did anyone involved let that get shot?

Then there’s the problem of the film’s use of its female characters. Just how many times does Lois Lane get kidnapped? At least it varies it a bit towards the end by having Martha Kent be the kidnappee. And then Lois somehow gets herself trapped underwater.

And all these character and thematic issues are compounded by just how incompetently the film is structured… About half the scenes have no bearing on the story at all. Scenes sometimes forget what they’re doing half way through. Batman fails to steal Kryptonite and then, a few scenes later, has it anyway. Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne learn each other’s secret identities between scenes. There really is a bit where it cuts away from the tense action to Wonder Woman at a computer basically looking at trailers for the next DC films. And the dream sequences – what?

Sigh.

Batman V Superman is the Donald Trump of superhero movies – right in the centre of the ‘nasty’ and ‘incompetent’ Venn diagram.

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