The much-anticipated battle of the superheroes falls pretty flat
Anticipated for decades, the grand punch-up between Superman, last son of Krypton, and Batman, lost son of Gotham, arrives not with great fanfare but with a big, wet, farty raspberry. It’s such a disappointing movie. It fails not by trying to do too much, as may have been the worry with a film that also crams in Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, Doomsday and a few other superhero cameos, but by trying to cover up how meagre its ambitions are.
The set-up is smart: The events of Man of Steel, in which Superman and Zod carelessly obliterated most of Metropolis, enraged Bruce Wayne. His office crumbled in the melee, taking most of his employees with it. A man who already carries the weight of loss heavily, Wayne determines that Superman is dangerous and only he, as Batman, can stop him. After that it’s a dreary, drably shot muddle in which nobody’s motivations are clear. Trying to grab onto themes or some story throughline is like trying to catch salmon with oiled hands. Scenes are shunted together without flow or apparent connection, lengthy dream sequences play without clear relevance, logic thrown to the wind as it lumbers toward the big battle everyone paid to see. That battle is huge and expensive-looking, but doesn’t justify the two-hour slog to get there.
Director Zack Snyder, who will oversee all of the DC cinematic universe, doesn’t appear to have a handle on who his characters are. His Batman (Affleck, giving heft to a flimsy role) is a creature of violent vengeance, set not on stopping Superman but killing him. Superman is… lost. He’s depressed by the world’s cynicism, brooding and shut off. He’s not a contrast to Batman, just an ever so slightly different shade. The villain, Lex Luthor – misconceived and miscast with a twitchy, annoying Jesse Eisenberg – operates as an awkward plug for plotholes, magically figuring out alien technology, Superman’s backstory and genetic engineering as the lack of script demands.
A sense of panic runs through it. You get the feeling that its creators knew things weren’t working so kept throwing on new elements in the hope that more and more characters would fill the story void at its centre, yet characters need more than recognisable names. They need, well, character. Wonder Woman’s big introduction is a non-event. The film concludes with a surprise third-act CG creature – already spoiled in the trailers – which is by now a sure sign that nobody could figure out how to tie things up. They’re just trying to get the thing finished.
Yet this is not the finish. This is the beginning, the Big Bang that will become the DC cinematic universe, set to expand for years to come. Let’s hope that the characters to come can bring some life to things and fill this airless void.
Stars: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg
Director: Zack Snyder
Release date: 25 Mar, 2016