As attractive, well-crafted, and convincingly–even compellingly acted as BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE was, I couldn’t stop thinking that one good conversation between our superheroes would have cleared the whole thing up. But then it dawned on me– there would be no movie. Boys will be boys, so this screenplay goes a long way toward ramping up what turns out to be an anticlimactic confrontation jam-packed with superheroes, a Kryptonian villain, and mothers named Martha– while I spent most of the film spinning my wheels trying to justify the premise.
The opening scene had promise and it’s a beaut–a flashback within a dream ricocheting back to that horrible day when little Bruce Wayne’s wealthy parents were gunned down on the street in front of him by a lawless thug, mom’s pearls cascading into a Gotham City sewer grate. Minutes later we see Wayne’s world shattered again when Superman crashes into Wayne Enterprises, and sends the edifice tumbling to the ground, killing and maiming bystanders below.
Our understanding of this scene and Bruce Wayne’s tortured reaction to it, depends upon our remembering where the arc of the previous film MAN OF STEEL left off and forgetting what many of us remember about the Superman we knew growing up. MAN OF STEEL, also directed by Zach Snyder, culminated in Superman breaking arch-enemy Zod’s neck in a mega showdown above Metropolis–which is also apparently right next door to Gotham. Who knew? DAWN OF JUSTICE does a bad job of re-capping and re-orienting us in the latest incarnation of the Superman legend which is rife with moral ambiguity and PC shilly shallying. I was baffled about how the man of steel could be so misunderstood by Batman, a misunderstood loner himself.
By this time we’ve gotten an eyeful of Big Ben, handsomer than ever in his forties, graying at the temples, buff and chiseled in sleek dark suits. For once the way he sets his significant jaw works in his favor. He’s moody and broody, especially in the pumped up bat suit and car, and speaking in auto-tuned baritone. He’s out to get that super man who apparently thinks he’s above it all.
Henry Cavill’s “Superman” is every bit Ben’s equal in the “chiseled from granite” department, and somewhat less stone-like than he was in his first attempt at the role, but still able to fool his blustering newspaper editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) with a single pair of black horn rims as Clark Kent.
The film looks great, velvety and dark around the edges, stunning locations beautifully framed and sleekly edited to embed some haunting images of bats and sadness. But the filmmakers have lost the central dramatic thread as they employ a confusing chronology to gather too many plot strands, and overlook a few loose ends.
There’s Lois Lane (Amy Adams) sleuthing terrorists in the desert, Holly Hunter as a tough as nails junior Senator on Capitol Hill dueling with the most obscenely neurotic psycho since Norman Bates: Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. There’s Luthor’s lab and all his high tech nefarious goings on. There’s a gorgeous mystery woman (Gal Gadot, Miss Israel 2004) in fabulously sexy cocktail attire whom Bruce fails to pick up at a glitzy shindig, but who nevertheless is key to the denouement. Jeremy Irons hovers in the background with that lugubrious voice as an elegantly world-weary Alfred counseling his Bat Boy about how times have changed.
On top of all this, there are emotionally-freighted dream sequences that continually pop in and out of the shifting narrative. It’s still good versus evil, but it’s hard to tell which is which since everything has been spun and inverted. The Senator declares that in a democracy ” ‘good’ ” is a conversation. Lex Luthor says devils come from above and plans to pit these super heroes against one another, which is actually his sublimated rage at deep-seated child abuse issues. Did the screenwriters have input from Doctor Phil?
In this world which is of course our own, it’s not only unclear where the moral boundaries are, but also unclear where the line between entertainment and news is–and it’s clearly been crossed here. The film is humorless and sexless, but loaded with real life media figures who show up in droves and play themselves, from Anderson Cooper and Charlie Rose, to Soledad O’Brien and Nancy Grace. There’s something wrong with that. Don’t they know how they’re being manipulated? Do they care?
The film seems to have a tighter grip on its subtext than it did on what made emotional and literal sense. How did Lois know things at the end she had no way of knowing? While Superman was leaping tall buildings in a single bound, why was Batman left to leap to the worst conclusions about Superman? Where and how did Lex Luthor craft that ultimate weapon? How and where did Superman talk to his dad? When did he develop ESP but only when it comes to Lois? And how could Batman ever beat Superman anyway?
I vote for a rematch– Batman V Superman: Dawn of Reason. Use your words, boys.