Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice review – dark days in Metropolis

Caped foes Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill clash in a bid to launch a new superhero franchise, but Zack Snyder’s shoddy tale never gets off the ground

Director Zack Snyder’s sporadically impressive 2013 Superman reboot Man of Steel flirted with some intriguingly adventurous ideas before descending into a thunderingly dull third-act punch-up between all-but indestructible – and indistinguishably uninteresting – adverseries. Little has changed with this latest instalment, which sees DC Comics characters gearing up for future “Justice League” outings, hoping to give Marvel’s saleable screen universe a run for its money.

Assorted Avengers need not worry; despite a slow-burn start and portent-heavy script (endless references to false gods and monsters) Batman v Superman never flies. Ben Affleck may make a strong fist of his role as the screen’s grouchiest Batman but Snyder (who is no Christopher Nolan) mistakes “murkiness” for “darkness”, leaving his stodgy antiheroes stomping around in a Stygian quagmire of quasi-religious imagery, superficial set pieces, and – most damagingly – incoherent storytelling.

We open on familiar ground with the young Bruce Wayne being orphaned yet again, this time in the shadow of a movie theatre pointedly playing Excalibur. From here, we cut (after a pop video-style vision of bats) to Metropolis, where the collateral damage of Man of Steel’s climactic battle is replayed from the point of view of the adult Bruce, watching in horror as his own tower tumbles. Then we’re off again, to “Somewhere in the Indian Ocean” and thence to Africa, where Lois Lane (Amy Adams) awaits rescue by a man in wet-look spandex. “He answers to no one, I think, not even to God,” declares one naysayer of Henry Cavill’s supremely uncharismatic Superman.

Batman v Superman: watch the trailer for Zack Snyder’s superhero smackdown

Meanwhile Batman’s habit of branding villains with the “mark of death” earns him a reputation as unaccountable judge, jury and executioner. Two crusaders (“black and blue, night and day”) with matching PR problems and mirrored mummy issues – it’s bound to end in tears.

Enter Jesse Eisenberg’s upstart Lex Luthor, surely the most irritating screen villain of the year, a twitchy symphony of babbled lines and out-of-context laughs which suggest that Snyder told him to “Do that guy out of The Social Network… only more so!” Luthor wants Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch to let him weaponise kryptonite; I just wanted her to slap him and be done with it. But there’s much cross-cutting, cape-flapping and pouty breast-beating to come before anyone heads for the exit, reminding us that with great power comes not just great responsibility, but even greater length. Never mind the quality, feel the running time.

Somewhere in this overcooked, underlit, indecipherable pudding of a movie there are a couple of nice performances struggling to get out. Jeremy Irons is fleetingly fun as Bruce Wayne’s trusty sidekick Alfred, but unlike Michael Caine (or indeed Michael Gough) he’s given no opportunity to graduate from endearing chippiness to engaging pathos, settling instead for the eyebrow-raising disdain beloved of John Gielgud’s Hobson in Arthur (maybe that’s what the laboured Excalibur nod was all about). Amy Adams struggles to inject life into Lois Lane but Snyder and screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S Goyer seem content to leave her staring wistfully into broiling skies and generally needing to be rescued – a recurrent fate of women here, despite a heavily trailed, allegedly empowering appearance by a female DC icon.

‘Needing to be rescued’: Amy Adams as Lois Lane, saved again by Henry Cavill’s Superman
‘Needing to be rescued’ : Amy Adams as Lois Lane, saved again by Henry Cavill’s Superman. Photograph: Clay Enos/LFI/Photoshot

Elsewhere, Snyder draws on the oily lessons of 300, with Affleck and Cavill parading their naked chests like angry cockerels – a scene in which Batman prepares for the ultimate battle by dragging a truck tyre across the floor and hitting it with a sledgehammer cries out for a cameo by Spandau Ballet, urging our antihero to “work till you’re musclebound, all night long”. Amid endless flashbacks there are hallucinogenic dream sequences too, although given the shoddiness of the storytelling it’s hard to tell what’s meant to be real or make-believe. As for the overworked Easter-friendly subtext, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was understated by comparison.

Thus we lumber slowly, inevitably, toward a face-punching confrontation in which our all-but-indestructible – and by now equally uninteresting – adversaries hit each other while monsters roar, worlds collide, and franchises rise and fall. Fans may find something of value in the sheer scale of it all but, despite the gargantuan expense, it’s hard not to feel short-changed. For all its overcranked spectacle, I emerged from Batman v Superman in a soporific state; foggy of head, heavy of heart, wondering if it was all just a bad dream.


Mark Kermode, Observer film critic

The GuardianTramp

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