Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (Review)


It seems ironic to have the word ‘Dawn’ in the title of Zack Snyder’s latest superhero epic, given how little light there is the film, both figuratively and literally. There is a lot of moping about, and a perpetual vibe of ‘oh no, this is the end of the world,’ as if Snyder is cribbing from his Dawn of the Dead remake (there’s that word again, dawn, implying a source of light that is tragically absent from any of Snyder’s auteuristic affectations). The iconoclastic treatment of Superman owes much, also, to a previous entry in Snyder’s visually stunning but incoherent oeuvre, Watchmen. The core visual inspiration for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice comes from The Dark Knight Returns comic series by Frank Miller, whose 300 was also turned into a film by Snyder earlier in his career.

Those first three blockbusters by Snyder, Dawn of the Dead, 300 and Watchmen, were all pretty much lifted from existing works of visual storytelling, be they a film or a comic book, and all Snyder had to do was add his intolerable grainy close-ups and slow motion blood splatter. When left to his own devices, we get the incomprehensible Sucker Punch, which is a series of big budget dream sequences distracting from a rather tawdry pastiche of Girl, Interrupted and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest told almost entirely in a paradoxically shiny yet dirty toilet. He also gave us Man of Steel, and rather than use some of the incredible Superman stories already told on screen or in comics, he decided to plough his own trough with phallic spaceships, a Kevin Costner transplanted from Field of Dreams, and a climax cribbed from one of Toho’s Godzilla movies.

In his search for inspirational visuals to jam into the ponderous script for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (yes, I am going to use the entire title every time I reference it, because the unwieldy moniker is a delicious metaphor for this stupidly overblown film) Snyder has become tragically self-referential. There is a scene early in the movie where Amy Adams as Lois Lane slithers around in a bathtub that appears to be in one of the leftover gleaming but grimy bathrooms from Sucker Punch. The titular fight between the heroes takes place in a toilet that is equally grubby, but is only glistening from all the water splashed around. (I’m not even going to begin to examine the homoerotic undertones of two icons of masculinity writhing around in onesies on the floor in a urinal). It’s not just the bathrooms, either, as during the dreary first NINETY MINUTES of the nearly three hour film, there are no action sequences, save for those experienced by Batman when having a nigh nighs; yes, that’s right, a string of big budget dream sequences a la Sucker Punch.

Being a sequel to Man of Steel, it can’t help but borrow the visual language of that film, most notably in the opening sequences where Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne interacts with the human cost of the destructive climax to the previous film. Also, Snyder has another crack at his ‘Superman as Jesus in space’ image, while simultaneously paying homage to one of the more affecting moments from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. It’s this kind of confused layering that hampers much of the film. During one of the many unnecessary dream sequences (which feel like they’ve been jammed in as an ersatz defibrillator to the floundering story) Snyder uses images from Grant Morrison’s Batman 666, Rock of Ages and Final Crisis stories as well as nods to Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman/Perez), the New 52 Justice League (Johns/Lee) and the video game Injustice.

The now-ubiquitous Batman origin gets yet another airing, Snyder’s over-graded, CGI treatment of it reminding me more of the risible TV show Gotham than Nolan’s or Miller’s understated efforts. The overuse of these reliable, and in some cases very worn, elements gives the whole film a sense of deja vu, and over the unnecessarily long running time, you start to wonder if you haven’t seen this film already. There is an explosion taken from Emmerich’s Independence Day; Eisenberg’s hammy performance as Luthor could be any twitchy genius villain in any number of cheaper films; the CGI monster at the end looks like it has been pasted in from Jackson’s Lord of the Rings or Letterier’s Incredible Hulk; the excruciating capital-D dramatic dialogue in the script by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer is painfully reminiscent of Ang Lee’s Hulk; and all of this added to the fact that there is little of the film that wasn’t shown on the internet in the desperate marketing push, means you probably HAVE seen it all before. In fact, the only scenes in the film not aired in a trailer or on a talk show are the scenes of the fight between Batman and Superman, which also isn’t a surprise, because THAT’S THE TITLE OF THE MOVIE. Although, they did wrong-foot me a little with the title, because there’s no dawn, and there’s no justice. If there was, Zack Snyder would not be allowed to make movies.