Batman Vs Superman reminds me of going clubbing around 2004.
I was living in York, a single man exploring the world within half an hours walking distance of my house and I was giddy with the excitement of life’s seemingly endless possibilities. Or at least I assume I was. I must have been giddy in some sense because during that period I would religiously go on nights out which ended, each time, exactly the same way. We’d drink, dance, the excitement would build, “this” I’d remark, “is going to be the greatest night ever”. Each night I’d dream of meeting the woman of my dreams, whisking her off her feet to a romantic conclusion. The reality was far different. Each night would end with me alone in the corner enviously watching more confident sleazeballs (opposed to geeky romantics) bump and grind away before helping a friend who’d vomited in their hair home (via McDonalds) and then I’d pass out and prepare for a monster hangover.
Batman Vs Superman was like that experience all over again. It starts well, it’s gritty sure, but actually it has some clever storytelling, that creates a spectacle of an epic while maintaining the intimacy of learning about the characters at the same time. It’s stylishly shot, you can almost smell the scum and decay of society when we meet Gotham, while in Metropolis the aftermath of Superman’s battle with Zod has left scars (strongly emotive echos of 9/11 and New York) but also hero worship.
Henry Cavill was a known quantity going into this film and he continues to play Superman well, if perhaps, lacking enough of the internal turmoil that makes modern superheroes more dynamic. Like in Man Of Steel we are teased at this greater depth without it ever really being given for a meaningfully long enough period of time – the brief moment with Kevin Costner seems out of place and doesn’t add much other than to prove that both Superman and Batman dream lucidly. The relationship with Louis Lane (Amy Adams) is interesting, but given the speed with which their relationship has developed through the first two films, any subsequent appearance in the next film will presumably involve grandchildren, a messy divorce and an affair. Amy Adams is a great actress but she’s not given enough to do. Louis is resourceful sure, but again, it doesn’t feel like a well-rounded character.
Ben Affleck. Two words to inspire fear in any DC Comic fan. When his casting as Batman was announced a wave of fear spread around the globe. I am, however, pleased to report, that he’s actually (and whisper this) pretty good. He makes a convincing Bruce Wayne, perhaps more so than Christian Bale. He has a physicality that shines, while his more advanced years play well against the stark dystopian background of Gotham. The interaction with Alfred (played by Jeremy Irons) feels right – a different dynamic to the one established with Caine and Bale – but one that plays Alfred, refreshingly, as a technical wizard and co-conspirator rather than simply a servant. Like Cavill’s Superman I wanted more time to get in depth with the new bat – we get glimpses, but not enough for Affleck to stretch his acting muscles rather than just his, well, muscles.
As for the other roles, Jesse Eisenberg is suitably deranged as Lex Luthor although there is a clear struggle to make his character’s decisions logical (what’s his motivation for any of it?), the parallels with Bruce Wayne could have been developed further and instead is limited to a single line. Gal Gadot’s Wonder woman is great and when in disguise she add a level of tension played off against Affleck that feels like it will develop slowly and cleverly but instead is wasted with a reveal that comes all to easily and obviously in the huge fight sequence.
And it’s here we hit the problem. The film is of two halves (as those nights out in York were). The first where you think this is going to be amazing and the second where you have a crushing disappointment. The first where nuanced character and plot drive things forward, the second a thunderf**k carcrash of a fight sequence perfect for 10 year old boys and suitable for noone else. None of the cast are to blame – instead the finger should be point squarely at the director.
Like Man Of Steel and, to an extent 300, the film suffers from fight overload. A five minute fight scene is fine, ten minutes managed well can be fun, however when that stretches to a seeming eternity where the fight sequence seems completely incongruous with the rest of the film with layer upon layer of death and destruction being added you have to ask the question why. An explosion is not made better by adding extra explosion – Snyder goes for broke – there’s a point in the film where an Atomic Weapon explodes – that, remarkably, is not the end point, that’s the stepping off point for more and more explosions that add nothing. Economy is great for focusing a narrative – this loses its focus for well over an hour.
Great superhero movies end with victory that comes because of intellect, brains and not just brawn. Superman should win because of his humanity, Batman should win because of his cunning and ingenuity, Lex Luthor should operate in the shadow and be foiled by this combination. Instead we get a zombie monster, punched and then stabbed to death in an hour of CGI fighting and a headache inducing cacophony of explosions.