THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE"
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is one of the worst superhero movies ever made. It is worse than Batman & Robin. It is worse than Catwoman. It is worse than last summer's Fantastic Four (or at least more disappointing). It is the worst Batman movie ever. Only Superman IV: The Quest for Peace keeps it from being the worst Superman movie ever. It's astounding how one film can contain so many misguided choices. It should be thrilling to see two heavyweight superheroes onscreen together. Instead, BVS is a lugubrious experience, one that squanders every single ounce of its promise.
Henry Cavill returns as the Man of Steel. He has taken to injecting himself into world affairs, fighting terrorism and such. A U.S. senator (Holly Hunter) thinks he has too much unchecked power. So does Batman (Ben Affleck), who starts looking into Superman's activities, especially once some of them begin to seem questionable. The Dark Knight also has his own issues; he's being criticized in some quarters for his increasingly violent vigilante tactics. What neither initially realize is that Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is manipulating both of them for his own evil gain. The two heroes clash, then realize they have to work together to defeat a common enemy. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) gets caught in the middle of their tenuous interactions, while Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) skirts around the edges of things, waiting for her chance to become Wonder Woman.
The problems with Batman v Superman start immediately. The story includes elements that hit just a little too close to home. The events of 9/11, terrorist abductions of journalists, and the threat of chemical weapons are all brought to mind. There's even a moment where the film draws a parallel to the debate about whether it's safe to allow refugees into the United States. Comic books have a long history of using contemporary world affairs as fodder for their plots, but Batman v Superman utilizes them in a dark, uncomfortable way that precludes entertainment. It's hard to accept fun superhero action when the movie is continually reminding you of what a scary place the world can be nowadays. Even worse, the picture eventually abandons its attempts at political relevance so that Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman can engage in a climactic battle against a generic CGI monster. Director Zack Snyder and his screenwriters can't decide whether they want to tell a gritty, topical story or an exaggerated one.
Frustrating as it is, that's the lesser of the plot's problems. The bigger one is that the film tries to tell two stories simultaneously one about Batman, the other about Superman then meld them together. This creates a frustratingly disjointed feel. At times, it can be exceedingly difficult to follow what's going on because of how randomly Batman v Superman jumps from one thing to another. The conflict between the two characters never seems justified as a result. And because DC apparently feels the need to mimic the ultra-successful Marvel Cinematic Universe, this movie has to pause everything long enough to briefly introduce not just Wonder Woman, but also the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg in anticipation of the upcoming Justice League movie. There's so much going on in the picture, all of it awkwardly jammed together, that nothing is ever developed in a satisfying manner.
Even the performances don't work. Now that Ben Affleck has played the role, George Clooney can no longer lay claim to being the worst screen Batman. They say that the key to casting a good Batman is to cast a good Bruce Wayne. Affleck misses on both counts. He lacks the arrogant suaveness that Wayne often uses to divert attention away from the fact that he's the Dark Knight. When in costume, he just seems like, well, Ben Affleck dressed up as Batman. There's nothing fresh or new to his take. Jesse Eisenberg is even worse as Lex Luthor, giving an obnoxiously over-the-top performance that is packed to the rafters with Eisenberg-ian tics. Those quirks worked amazingly well when he played Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network and a conniving magician in Now You See Me, but they don't work here. The actor simply doesn't project the evilness needed to make such a character threatening. Henry Cavill, meanwhile, is stripped of every trace of the charisma he showed in Man of Steel, although he still comes off better than the other two. Everyone in the supporting cast is utterly wasted.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice lumbers its way to a big battle in the last act of its eternal 151-minute running time. Not only is it too little too late, it's also distractingly silly. (The movie capitalizes on a meaningless coincidence in both characters' histories to fuel their ultimate collaboration.) This routine regurgitation of dull FX is followed by a series of false endings that leaves one wondering when the movie will actually be over.
A complete mess from start to finish, Batman v Superman certainly ranks as one of the biggest cinematic disappointments of the decade.
( out of four)
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality. The running time is 2 hours and 31 minutes.
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