It’s not good. It’s not good at all.
‘You’ve got me? Who’s got you?’ – Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) in Richard Donner’s Superman (1978)
Ah, that sense of awe. Remember that bit in the original Superman, when Superman and Lois fly through the night sky? Remember the tagline – ‘you’ll believe a man can fly’? Not much of that magic was in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, which I re-watched last night in the build-up to its sequel, which I watched today. I’m all for a darker, de-mystified approach in films, but there’s dark and there’s drab. Thinking back to when I first watched it at the cinema years back, all I can remember about Man of Steel was that it looked dull, there wasn’t any humour and there was too many, and I mean far too many buildings collapsing amidst interminably long fight sequences. Since then I’ve watched Peter Griffin fight Homer Simpson, a fight which took them on a bus, into a power plant, in a radiation pit, up into the skies, into outer space, over a gorge and under a boulder, and it’s the kind of scrap that shows up the fighting style of Man of Steel for what it is – empty, preposterous, overdone, but without the self-aware hilarity of the Family Guy/Simpsons crossover. Man of Steel is perfectly watchable, even straight-up solid for the most part, but it totally lacked that sense of awe – none of the characters seemed remotely stunned that they were witnessing things that they’d never seen before, astonishing things like a man who could fly, spaceships and whatnot. Lois Lane walked into a derelict space craft like she was mooching around an abandoned warehouse. It was like the filmmakers had forgot what had made this kind of movie so magical. It also lacked any kind of narrative flow – Kal-El/Superman’s life up to the present day was depicted in scattershot fashion which jumped back and forth in time, and I just felt uninvolved. It didn’t help that poor Henry Cavill was given so little to work with as the title character– we never got a real sense of how he was feeling, apart from that bit when he flies for the first time. He looked pretty jazzed during that bit. The colossal destruction that pretty much took up the entirety of the second half was also pretty offensive – all those buildings falling down, the body count presumably in the thousands, and none of those lost lives were even paid any attention, and yet we’re meant to feel bad for Superman when he kills the bad guy at the end. What about all those poor sods in all those buildings? It didn’t put me in a good frame of mind for the sequel, but I’d already booked the ticket. What could I do?
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is not good. At all. It is entirely free of heart (despite various heart-to-heart scenes between characters, living and/or dead), humour, intelligence or imagination. My hackles were raised as soon as I had to sit through another depiction of Bruce Wayne losing his parents in the opening credits. Enough already! You know why Batman Returns is still the best Batman movie? Because it doesn’t make us go through all that shit again! That and it’s just the best, straight up. What follows in this new film is an experience of two halves, the first a plodding series of scenes with no momentum and incoherent logic, the second a relentless run of destruction porn and spectacular but flat action.
So yeah, about that first half – Superman is suddenly the bad guy for reasons confusingly depicted, Batman doesn’t like Superman because he was on street level when all the horrors of the Man of Steel finale took place and thinks Supes is a thoughtless god-like monster who can’t be disciplined. In fact, these flashback bits do work because it lets us in on what the filmmakers should have been concentrating on in the original film’s climax – that all those collapsing buildings had human beings in them and lots of people died during that protracted punch-up. Elsewhere, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Superman are in a relationship and their chemistry is zero-level. Maybe because we’ve not seen their romance develop at all.
Lex Luthor is also in on the film’s increasingly overcrowded action, and Jesse Eisenberg’s jittery, manic-comic/psycho turn is out of place in a film which is otherwise lantern-jawed/seriously stoic. It’s like if Jim Carrey walked in on the set of Bergman’s Cries and Whispers. He’s probably the best thing in the film, mind you, despite a fatal lack of threat – something even the previous film’s two-dimensional antagonist General Zod (Michael Shannon) managed to convey. Batman’s faithful servant Alfred is here, and with Jeremy Irons we have the worst incarnation of the character to date. His character is simply a bored-sounding run of oh-so ironic asides. He has none of the warmth of Michaels Gough or Caine.
Other characters drift in and out – only Laurence Fishburne as Daily Planet editor Perry White gets to enjoy anything close to a good line. Scenes follow dream sequences follow scenes that I think were dream sequences (I didn’t know what the hell was going on), some Kryptonite is thrown into the mix (surprise, surprise) and the whole thing is so patchily put together, so lacking in any kind of coherent continuity that I wondered if this first half was an edit made up of scenes from a whole series of Batman/Superman films that were made but never released. How come there was no sense of Metropolis having to rebuild itself after all the damaged wreaked in the first film? It’s probably because we’re not being asked to give a shit. No time for that, there’s a newly minted Metropolis to destroy! Oh yeah, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot)’s somewhere amongst all of this, though we don’t see her as such until very late in the film. Some other DC characters make little appearances, and unless you really, really give a shit about that sort of thing, these little moments won’t get your motor running. In fact, you may just wonder who these people are.
The second half is just a load of utterly exhausting action, and seriously, none of it is exciting. In fact, it may represent the apex/nadir of explosion-fuelled, fatigue-inducing, city-flattening, bum-numbing chaos outside of a Michael Bay movie. Snyder is seemingly just interested in widespread destruction – he doesn’t seem to care about things like peril, danger, excitement or tension, just in having two or three people beating the shit out of each other, but given our opponents are either near-invincible aliens, armour-plated nutters or rock monsters, there’s no real sense of pain being inflicted, or a flesh, blood and sweat conflict. It’s just punch, punch, punch/kick, kick, kick/get thrown through that building, this building, that building. It’s almost perversely tedious. In another scene, Batman beats the living shit out of some bad guys and I didn’t even know who the fuck they were. They were just anonymous lackeys. They might as well have been cardboard cut-outs in a shoot-out range. The afore-mentioned rock monster is like the equivalent of the bonus boss you get to unlock if you pick up all the secret scrolls/chaos emeralds/mystic turds in a video game. All the while I was watching it I was aware that because Wonder Woman hadn’t shown up to join the battle, it meant the film was far from over. When she does show up, it’s simply the same thing as ‘PLAYER 3 HAS JOINED THE GAME’. Who is this character? Why do I care about the fact that I don’t care? Because this film should have been great, and I’m pissed off. As for Batman, Ben Affleck pulls off all the right solemn expressions, stern physicality and gravelly vocals (aided this time by a vocoder, which makes more sense than Christian Bale seemingly eating broken glass to get the desired effect) but his Caped Crusader is lost in all this mess – introducing him as a co-star instead of giving him his own film to begin with him has done the actor no favours. Affleck hasn’t been given a chance to establish himself in the role, and him being thrust into Superman’s storyline sells this incarnation of the character short. I know we all know who Batman is, and we have an established awareness of the character’s history, but poor Affleck hasn’t been given any time to settle into the role, or make it his own, so his swiftly established anger towards Superman is shoehorned into the Man of Steel universe too quickly. Additionally, the resolution to all of this rivalry is settled very unconvincingly towards the end. All I’ll say is that it’s very convenient that Martha seems to be the go-to name for superheroes’ mothers. Most unforgivably, Batman’s new suit looks stupid. He looks like Fat Iron Man from Avengers: Age of Ultron but not as funny. He also reminds me of Emperor Zurg from Toy Story – their pained grunts are identical. We also get that thing that pisses me off more than anything in superhero films – someone dies, but it’s then teased that they’re not really dead. What’s the point in having any emotional investment in characters that are only going to be resurrected? It’s just manipulative.
There are a few good moments in the film. There must be, because I would have walked out. I just can’t remember what they were. After that final hour of non-stop scrapping, my recent memory banks had melted. I do remember that there was some dialogue near the end about the final boss feeding off energy to make itself stronger. It wouldn’t have had much luck with me – my energy levels were utterly depleted by the end, and they’re pretty much gone now, so I’ll start winding down.
The thing is, the film’s going to be flippin’ huge. The queues in the cinema today were massive. If the word-of-mouth turns out to be bad, then hopefully it’ll steer the series in another direction, but in the meantime I think the mere notion of Batman V Superman is a guaranteed, irresistible draw. Even someone like me, who didn’t think much of Man of Steel, still went to see this. You’ll hear it’s meant to be rubbish, but you’ll still want to see it, just to get your own opinion. I heard it was crap, I still went to see it. To paraphrase The Matrix, no one can be told just how rubbish this film is. You have to see it for yourself. I’ll simply fizzle out by stating that this film is a colossal waste of money. Their money. Your money. Anyone’s money.