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Bat soup
It seems the gruelling and mindlessly dull, last CG-soaked half-hour of Man of Steel wasn't an aberration; it turns out to be Zach Snyder's signature style. Camus suits up for more super-heroics and cannot resist the compulsion to sigh at BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE...
 
  "What is really going to matter, I believe, is what the audience says, because they're the ones who are buying tickets, they're the ones who want to see more of this kind of story or not and so the audience's voice is loudest and after this weekend the audience, at least partly, will have spoken."
 
Superman actor, Henry Cavill

 

The reviews seem to be lukewarm overall so Cavill's words come as no surprise but boy, is this movie all over the place. There's just right, over the top, way over the top, ludicrously over the top and Zach Snyder. Why did no one tap him on the shoulder and say "But Zach, the big CG monster fighting shtick has been done to death..." The movie's title should really mark the centerpiece of its own narrative and it literally is in the centre instead of the climax. After Batman's murderous rage reaches its apotheosis, he wields the kryptonite pike high and is seconds from ending a weakened Superman. The man of softened steel tenderly mentions his kidnapped mother and for some utterly inexplicable reason (their mothers share a Christian name, pass me that break, will you?) Batman relents and not only offers friendship in virtually the next breath but choses to risk his life rescuing his new B.F.'s mom. Might I suggest a 'Holy Whisky Foxtrot Tango!"?

This movie is a posterior numbing two and a half hours and careers from one scene to another with such scant logic that I almost threw up my arms at one point with a quizzical "Huh?" There's an elongated dream sequence that give no clues to its unreality wherein Batman is suddenly assaulted by what looked like The Wizard of Oz's flying monkeys and some odd superhero appears to him from a dimensional port hole screaming "Is it the right time?" and I'm sitting there with my left eye half closed as my lip rises in mute questioning. What in the seven fresh levels of narrative sense is going on here? Oh, it's a dream but what is the point of this dream in this particular movie? That Batman, an ordinary human being, has prescient powers? What? I should not have to work this hard to figure out what the filmmakers are telling me here. My son informs me that this scene was laying the groundwork for the sequel... Oh come on, filmmakers... Focus. Make one bloody movie make sense first. The filmmaking itself seems to be a small or seemingly insignificant element in the juggernaut that is DC's brash reply to the vibrancy and fun of Marvel's Avengers et al. It's less of a mirror compliment to Stan Lee's exuberant universe (though that may change with Civil War coming up) and more of a dour brother at the same party, shoulders hunched, staring at the punch bowl. There is not a single whiff of humour in this relentless, dark and doom-laden piece of work (butler Alfred is more sarcastic than humorous). Man of Steel had wit, irony and invention and for me, that film was over the moment General Zod and his cronies appeared. This meant that an invisible placard went up on screen and if I strained I could just about make out what it said; "We apologise for the interruption to your dramatic presentation. Now here are shit loads of digital effects so you can see where we spent the money." I was so enjoying Clark Kent as a grungy do-gooder. I could have watched an entire film on Cavill's sympathetic interpretation of his all-powerful character but no. If you have Superman, you have to have a super threat (here's a thought... why?) and that means digital effects up the wazoo. If there is ever a curse on modern filmmaking, it's exactly what the execs believe sells the movie in the first place. And no, I don't care if they're right either.

Do you really need a synopsis? Actually in this muddle of a piece, you probably do. Superman is being held accountable for the damage done in his fight with Zod (again, why?) and Bruce Wayne is mightily pissed off with him for the same reasons (even though the fight was in Metropolis and Wayne's buildings are generally in Gotham City, duh). In Africa, Lois Lane is on to a story in Dangerville, Nairomi (I hate the laziness of taking a real African place and changing one letter) and suddenly a private security firm kills almost everyone 'to make it look like Superman did it...' which is about as dumb a development in a big blockbuster that I've ever witnessed. Superman shoots people now? Behind this evil deed is twitchy philanthropist Lex Luthor who engineers a scrap between the black and blue caped heroes while he takes control of a Krypton ship left over from Man of Steel. That's really all that's clear. The rest of the narrative deals with Batman's angst and of course, we get yet another bloody origin story. Is there anyone in this solar system that does not know that Bruce witnesses his parents getting murdered, in this instance, while leaving the cinema showing Excalibur? Wow, double bummer. And his nightmares of bats are grounded in a real incident from his past, an incident that is the exact same visual offering as Christopher Nolan's own origin event. Young Bruce falls down a well and disturbs bats. Couldn't Snyder fashion one of his own? He even positions his credit over this scene, one that could have been happily lifted from Batman Begins and not many would have noticed. Lois Lane is the damsel in distress way too many times playing uncomfortably against the shaky integrity of her feminist credentials and Perry White is the crusty but benign Daily Planet editor who says, "You must do this!" followed by Lois batting her eyelids and White follows up with "Oh, alright, do what you want." God, that got old before the first time.

Reviews seem to be giving Affleck the benefit of the doubt. He makes a good, solid, older, brooding Batman (but it's a characterisation we've seen so many times before but this is not Affleck's responsibility). His burly physicality is right for the part referencing Frank Miller's older-Batman reimagining. Aside from missing the point of Sam Harris' argument against bad ideas on the Bill Maher show last year, I have nothing but support for Affleck and his work as writer, director and actor. Am not sure he's too thrilled to be wedged into a cast iron suit and contract for any more of these DC downers. Henry Cavill is coming under flak for being wooden as the guy with the great 'S' cape. Go back to Man of Steel guys... There's nothing wrong with Cavill's ability. I get the impression that Snyder directed him to be a 'god' in this one so a lot of his humanity has leaked away surrounded by so much human stupidity. Jesse Eisenberg is not so much miscast as Lex Luthor as slightly at sea with the role. It does feel like he's been directed to play it half in Snyder's darker universe and half in Richard Donner's 1978 caricature villain world and as such he falls between two stools. There are so many plot holes and moments of "Wait a minute..." regarding this character that I lost count. Michael Shannon draws the short straw. He plays a corpse in a few scenes and I sincerely hope Shannon is not a proponent of the method school of acting. Holly Hunter (swoon, sorry but there it is) plays a moral senator who stands up against Luthor but is on screen for too short a time but that could be just me. Amy Adams' Lois gets lost in the mix (as I said, Damsel in etc.) but the intriguingly named Gal Gadot makes quite an impression as Wonder Woman mainly because we have no clue who she is or what she's up to. Her arrival in costume saving Batman's ass has been ruined in some of the trailers but is without question the highlight of the movie for me.

Composer Hans Zimmer seems to have abandoned whatever musical subtlety he had left up his sleeve after Man of Steel and teamed up with someone out to make even more noise than he was capable of making. Take a bow Junkie XL, the new Mad Max music man. The prequel's cues are quoted liberally but there's no sense of any ongoing emotional connection as there was a distinct yearning for acceptance in the previous film. It's just all in your face like the visual effects. I was hoping that Batman's presence would ground the movie and the effects (after all, he is human) but no. Snyder had to play his climactic ace (a giant mutant Kryptonian beast) when in narrative terms and in terms of the effect on my own enjoyment, it feels more like his joker (and not in a good Heath Ledger way). I think I actually sighed when the CG beast made his appearance. Think cave troll from Fellowship of the Ring but bigger. I am so tired of these emotionless slug-fests and no matter how convincing or photo-real, these creatures do not project the slightest interest in their own fate or anyone else's who goes up against them. So without spoilers, I have to say that despite my investment in Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne in previous movies, I could round up barely a sigh of interest when push came to digital overkill. It will be fascinating to see if the great unwashed vote with its feet this weekend and beyond. I have no wish for anyone to fail but let's just say that if this film does not fulfill expectations, I wouldn't be too shocked.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

USA 2016
151 mins
directed by
Zack Snyder
produced by
Charles Roven
Deborah Snyder
written by
Chris Terrio
David S. Goyer
characters created by
Bob Kane
Bill Finger
Jerry Siegel
Joe Shuster
cinematography
Larry Fong
editing
David Brenner
music
Junkie XL
Hans Zimmer
production design
Patrick Tatopoulos
starring
Ben Affleck
Henry Cavill
Amy Adams
Jesse Eisenberg
Diane Lane
Laurence Fishburne
Jeremy Irons
Holly Hunter
Gal Gadot
Scoot McNairy
UK distributor
Warner Bothers
release date
25 March
review posted
26 March

See all of Camus's review