By Michael Calleri
"Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice” could also be called “Movie Director Versus Style, Cohesion, Simplicity, Common Sense, and Believability.”
A chorus of critics and moviegoers have attacked the movie for being a mess. No spoilers herein, but as someone has already written: "there's nothing to spoil."
Here are my thoughts. To the use of the word "mess" you can add: cinematic atrocity, utter catastrophe, bewildering stupidity, and an assortment of whatever negative words and phrases you like.
"Batman v Superman" is brutalist cinema, a mean-spirited pile of shallow, derivative, and cheap-looking distortions. Director Zack Snyder quickly stifles your enthusiasm, as well as your eagerness to be entertained.
The overlong film speaks more to Snyder’s fetishes than to anything else. Sigmund Freud would get an entire book out of Snyder's pathetic neuroses and selfishness. The fragmented film is thematically and visually dark. In fact, it's almost morose. It panders to a place in somebody's soul they shouldn't want made public.
It’s the fetishism that helps send “Batman v Superman” careening into chaos as Snyder links his fetishistic impulses to his call for a New Comic-Book Movie Order. The director wallows in a celebration of Fascism, the dark demand that a person or movement’s authoritarian practices are essential to ridding a society of enemies and holding down the population, usually with fear and mayhem.
Snyder has applied a sense of tone to his effort directly from “The Night Porter,” a feature that celebrates the sexual undercurrent of fascism. In “Batman v Superman,” tight uniforms are a visual reminder of power. Bodies glisten as muscular, shirtless men are hung from a hook and tortured.
Snyder’s Batman is a fascist. He dresses like a monolith; his costuming is rigid, heavy; less blue than that of a hardened black-shirt from another era. Batman’s actions are dangerous and abrupt; his dictates fierce and unrelenting. The character’s single-minded desire is to remove Superman from the equation because the “man of steel” threatens Batman’s governing principles.
The movie has minimally interesting acting from everybody in it. I didn't think Henry Cavill (Clark Kent/Superman) could be any more wooden an actor than he has been. I was wrong. Ben Affleck (Bruce Wayne/Batman) obviously understood the apparent direction to make a sad face every second he's on-screen. Amy Adams as Lois Lane lacks spunk. She says spunky words – "I'm not a woman, I'm a journalist," for example, but the heavy-handed atmosphere of the entire production stifles her energy.
Jesse Eisenberg tries hard as Lex Luthor, but he's so small and thin of voice that I never believed he was an adult hungry for power. Eisenberg would have been a better Riddler. Laurence Fishburne brings nothing memorable to the role of Daily Planet editor Perry White.
The moment you see the slinky and seductively dressed Gal Gadot at a glittering event, you know she's got a superhero costume in her clothes closet. It turns out that she will pop into the miasma as Wonder Woman. Jeremy Irons's Alfred the butler is a computer wizard and Batman's militaristic tactician. Seriously. And ridiculously.
The movie is ugly to look at, humorless, and dull. The music and sound exist to numb you into resistance. Regarding content, the story, what story there is, fills only about 1/3 of the 153-minute running time. Too much is repeated. The middle hour is mind-bogglingly stupid. Some of the plotting is incoherent.
No children should be watching the movie. Allowing a young child to see "Batman v Superman" could mean you truly dislike your kid.
There are re-interpretations of valued and respected comic book legends and history. On a technical level, there are mistakes in trying to match material in some of the scenes. Most of "Batman v Superman" takes place at night for a reason. Darkness hides special effects errors. Rain hides mistakes, too.
The film begins with a number of separate story threads, leaping around helter-skelter, including a boring re-telling of Bruce Wayne's parents getting killed. There's murder in Africa. There's a flashback scene showing Wayne driving around in an SUV like a maniac, a sequence that has been used in television commercials for some product, which tells you all you need to know about the studio's intent. It's money that propels their production, not visionary art. They don't actually care about spoilers. There are spoilers in the trailer.
I saw the movie in IMAX (but not in 3D, which was a relief). Snyder wants to pound the audience into submission. Based on the reaction of the moviegoers at my advance screening, they were pounded into boredom.
Grotesque absurdity can be terrific in the right film. As with "El Topo" for example. In "Batman V Superman," grotesque absurdity is Snyder and his screenwriters way of revealing that they have nothing new to say.
The actual slug-fest between Batman and Superman doesn't close the film. It's more of an appetizer to the film-ending battle, which is very familiar, and offers nothing fresh, exhilarating, or engaging. It lasts about 20-minutes and helps introduce characters who will pop up in future efforts from Warner Brothers to cash in on the comic book cow. The character known as Doomsday grunts and growls. Earlier, I wondered: Did I just see The Flash flash by?
There are dream sequences and fantasy sequences, but none of them are as grand or as vital as you'd expect, deserve, and want them to be. Regarding the torture scenes, Daniel Craig's James Bond has been tortured with more finesse and clarity. Batman himself gets a twisted pleasure from finding imprisoned perverts and marking them on their naked chests with a hot branding iron in the shape of bat wings.
There is the standard routine warning about Kryptonite, although the element is not only manhandled, but also mishandled. Just throw the spear. Lois Lane gets abused, but not as much as Superman, who no longer seems to be the "man of steel." However, he now is an alien with a romantic heart. Based on a bathtub scene (him fully-clothed, her nude), he and Lois seem to be interspecies lovers. Lex Luthor is a piddling villain who digresses into silly pontificating about God and the fallacy of belief systems. There's some guy with a tattoo on his neck who pops in and out of the story for no important reason.
The short philosophical interlude between Superman and his adoptive father (Kevin Costner), which is set in an icy mythological place, is just plain odd. It halts the movie and comes across as nothing more than a rest stop on Snyder's bleak highway.
Superman's adoptive mother Martha is eventually made-up to look like an inmate from the insane asylum at Charenton. I'm surprised the Marquis de Sade didn't show up. The story stops for a moment to remind us that Superman's mother and Batman's mother have the same first name. And then, it veers off-course and heads into a whole new direction.
Now, on to the VERSUS part. Why are Batman and Superman at odds with each other? Why will they fight?
You need to distill the movie to its barest essence. To the actual nugget that triggers its purpose for existing.
If you reduce it to, as the French say, its raison d'etre, you need to accept, as it's presented in the film, that Metropolis (Clark Kent's adult home) and Gotham City (Bruce Wayne's hometown) are twin cities across the water from each other. Like San Francisco and Oakland. Minneapolis and St. Paul. Tonawanda and North Tonawanda.
In the previous Superman movie, "Man Of Steel," General Zod attacks Metropolis – not Gotham City, mind you – but Metropolis. There's a lot of destruction.
Here comes the VERSUS part. Billionaire Bruce Wayne (also known as Batman) is angry, ticked off, and riled up because a building he owned in Metropolis got destroyed.
You can't make up this crap. Intelligent people wouldn't believe it. But it's on-screen. There's some repetitive prodding from a giggling Lex Luthor, who hates Superman, but Bruce Wayne blames Superman's existence for General Zod's attack, and basically, he's going to get revenge against Superman because of the collapse of an office tower.
Furthermore, Batman is not only going to beat up Superman and exile him to somewhere else because he's personally mad, but also because there are murmurings that almost everybody in Metropolis is tired of Superman. Supposedly, he no longer impresses people.
Somewhere down the line at the studio level, someone thought a well-paid Hollywood director and his well-paid screenwriters could get away with hanging an entire movie on a lost real estate hook.
They hung the movie alright.