*Warning – Mild spoiler alert (Nothing that wasn’t in the trailer though)
Having sat back and watched this film get savaged upon release by critics, and succeed exponentially at the box office, I finally had the opportunity to see one of this year’s most anticipated releases. Directed by Man of Steel helmsman Zack Snyder the film chronicles the ideological battle between two of the most famous superheroes in the world, Batman and Superman.
It’s been 18 months since the events of Man of Steel when Superman (Henry Cavill) pretty much totalled Metropolis in his fight against General Zod. Turns out Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) was there that day, and horrified by the destruction of Superman’s altercation with his fellow alien Batman has made it his mission to find and “immobolize” this threat.
Superman has always been a difficult character to translate to screen. His earnest morality makes him troublesome to adapt to complex storylines, especially in a realistic setting such as Snyder’s Metropolis. Cavill does his best to create a compelling character but I don’t feel the script gives him much to work with and his arc seems repetitive and dull. He never seems to develop, and his characterisation is caught between his morality and Snyder’s attempts to create a grittier Superman, resulting in an unclear blandness. On the other hand Affleck’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne as a paranoid, grief stricken man on the edge is much more decisive and interesting. Snyder’s tenacious, visceral; imagery seems to mesh better with Batman’s naturally darker inclinations. This moulded with Affleck’s Batman, who seems like he has worn the mask for so long it has clouded his morality and corrupted his judgement, is one of the films strongest aspects. I wouldn’t call him the definitive Batman, yet, as Keaton, Bale and Conroy have all delivered interesting portrayals of the character in the past, but it’s a very strong start. Jeremy Irons is effortlessly brilliant as Alfred, however his screen time is unjustly limited, while Jesse Eisenberg’s in full scenery feasting mode as a megalomaniacal Lex Luthor. Unlike some I wasn’t as irritated by Eisenberg’s performance and I felt his motivations were one of the clearer threads in an otherwise tangled narrative. Amy Adam’s doesn’t have an opportunity to do much as Lois Lane, again not her fault, whilst Gal Gadot’s small role as Wonder Woman was understandably enigmatic, but I am interested in seeing her in a starring role next year.
The film’s opening two acts are quite strong, with the occasional foible, but things start to unravel following a rather underwhelming brawl between the two eponymous superheroes. The last act is a bloated mess, rather than a satisfying resolution. Superman’s ultimate weakness in the film isn’t kryptonite but just being boring. The film has to cobble together some giant creature (Yes I know he’s Doomsday) for Superman to have an opponent who can match him, whilst Batman stands behind a wall shooting an occasional grenade like a renegade member of the Gotham SWAT team. The films best action sequence? It’s not Batman v Superman, or the Doomsday fight. It’s when Batman takes on a group of about thirty men in a warehouse. It’s visceral, brilliantly choreographed, and one of the best directed sequences of the film. The character feels vulnerable, the hits feel real, and if Superman took on thirty guys in a warehouse it would be incredibly boring because he could do it without trying.
The film has an impressive style, and I think there are some promising signs in the future for the DC cinematic universe, but Batman v Superman does lack clarity and vision. The ideological battle of the two leads is discarded in favour of shoe horning in a CGI knock off of a LOTR cave troll for Superman, and Wonder Woman to duke it out with, whilst Batman occasionally swoops by on a grappling hook. The final act is a let-down, and may be why the film has received a generally negative reception, but the work up to that point was nicely constructed and investing enough to keep me interested for the future of the Justice League.
*** out of *****
Review summoned to being by Alexander Halsall