by Kevin Muller
It was only a matter of time before DC comics wanted in on the whole established super hero universe that Marvel has done so successfully since 2008. Sure, they have “The Dark Knight Trilogy” which resulted in an Academy Award for Ledger, a first for a super hero film, and the fact that many people look at it as not only one of the best films of that genre but one of the best films of all time. DC wanted to see if they could keep up with Marvel in that regard, did they do it?
This time, outside of a very brief glimpse of Bruce Wayne’s tragic past, shown during the opening credits, we are spared an origin story for this old aged Batman, played very well by Ben Affleck. The film starts out giving us the reason why Batman is dead set against Superman. It is a legitimate reason that does explore the question, how long before the God like being, that is seen as a savior for mankind, loses his innocence and goodness then turns against the very world he vows to protect? Clarke Kent, on the contrary, feels the same way about Batman and looks to expose him. It is a similar question that was the theme for director Zack Synder’s 2009 adaptation of ‘Watchmen.” These super heroes look after us but who keeps them in check? Congress holds hearings about what to make of Superman after the fallout from his battle with General Zod, which took place in 2013’s “Man of Steel.” While they want to discuss it using the power of democracy, there is another one, like Batman, who wants to destroy the Man of Steel. Billionaire and businessman Lex Luthor is in hunt for a way to stop Superman by uncovering a material called Kryptonite. On top of that, you have Superman brooding about if he is the savior he wants to be.
The premise and the questions are interesting but the execution is very off. This film is the launching pad for the new “Justice League’ movie, that will be hitting the movie screens in 2017, and that future film hurts the development of this one. Ben Affleck is good as Bruce Wayne but could’ve given us more to his performance if the film wasn’t so concerned with setting up the events of the future installment. The length of this thing is two and half hours and it does feel like it. On top of the story laid out in the paragraph above you have all these events that are suppose to set up future films, including a very misplaced dream sequence by one of our main characters. It is beautifully filmed, with great action, and it does set up the future of this franchise, but it just felt very forced and heavy handed. Most of the events in this movie are extremely overly dramatic, much of them involving Clark Kent. Snyder perfectly set the tone with “Man of Steel” by making Superman, a character too good to be interesting, a hero who questions himself and his actions on this Earth. In this film, it backfires and just makes Superman seem like a brooding teenager. None of the thrill, fun, or the goodness is there without it being questioned by the character. Cavill does give him a lot of dramatic weight but never seems to be allowed to have fun in the role. Most of the scenes with him and Lois Lane, again played by Amy Adams, feel like they were pulled out of some terrible soap opera. The pair had such a playful energy last time, but they are such a bummer to watch this time around. Synder’s direction of his actors is all over the place.
This includes the villain of the film, Jesse Eisenberg, who plays Lex Luthor. His performance can be equated to a rollercoaster in regard of the amount of energy he brings to the role. There are times where he is whiny, condescending, and plays it like his portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg. Then there are other times he plays it goofy and extremely hammy. My favorite way though in the carousel of choices he gives us is when he really becomes maniacal. As when an animal is backed into a corner, Eisenberg really shines when he plays the way it should’ve been played in this universe: dark and unforgiving. There is a moment where he has Superman on his knees, without the use of Kryptonite, and the way Eisenberg gets pleasure out of Superman’s suffering was the one time I felt the seriousness of the threat of this film. The other times he just comes off like a 90’s super villain. Once again, it is Synder who mishandles what could’ve been a great role for his actor. Luckily, for Gal Gadot, who has the honor of bringing Wonder Women to the big screen for the first time, she doesn’t have much to do. Her presence and limited screen time feels right. She is a strong supporting character in the film that shows promise that she can handle the weight of carrying this character in her future solo film.
Outside of the misuse of time and the clumsiness of directing his actors, Synder resorts to many of his directorial traits that feel overdone here. The slow motion technique is one to evoke the audience in feeling the emotions on the screen. Synder constantly falls back to this choice and it takes away from it more and more until it becomes a bit comical. The film, towards the end, becomes a CGI slugfest for your senses. Now, it is very hard to ground a story like this in reality but this film doesn’t seem to try at all. Everything looks too polished and artificial. Doomsday’s animation is shoddy and , along with the messy script, takes away from the importance of the character.
There are some bright spots in Synder’s direction, especially when it comes to framing famous comic book scenes. An iconic image is beautifully filmed that really hammers home the power of that specific scene. Unfortunately, the bad outweighs the good and what we are left with is something resembling a video game and lacking any soul or heart, no matter how hard the actors try to inject humanity into it.