Tony wants justice. But not if it looks like this.
Before we begin, is there anyone - but anyone - who'd be interested in watching this movie who doesn't know the Batman origin story ad freakin' nauseum? Yadda yadda yadda parents gunned down in an alley, yadda yadda yadda fell down a hole, yadda yadda yadda lots of bats, scared but mastered it, ta da!
Yeah, thought not. Which begs the question of why Zack Snyder felt it necessary to preface this latest take on the main DC moneymakers with yet another rendition of exactly that story. Goes on far too long, gets a bit like an NRA wet dream with close up shots of the gun firing and spilling Martha Wayne's pearls to the ground and ends with religious symbolism as the young Bruce dreams of being carried up into the light on a column of...erm...bats. Yadda yadda baptism, rebirth, all that Dark Knight shtick.
It feels particularly redundant to do this when you realise that the Batman we have in this movie is the older, flabbier-though-still-besix-packed Ben Affleck, who’s been Batman for twenty years (looks more like thirty or more – just sayin’), but who still clearly hasn’t learned to [Technical Term Alert] get the fuck over it. So in the black corner, we have ageing crybaby number 1, in a costume that makes him look like he’s been carved out of Lego or built in Minecraft.
Here's another question. If you'd made a movie as pointless and corporate as Man of Steel, would you want to remind people about it? DC and Snyder do. They want you to remember every cringe-making Russell-Crowe-as-Superdad-and-now-a-word-from-our-sponsors, ass-numbing moment of it, repeating some of its events as the setting for Bruce Wayne throwing his first Mr Grumpy fit at the devastation caused in Metropolis, where he had a building (now notsomuch) that was rendered into rubble during the final battle between Kal-El and Zod in that movie. I’d actually succeeded in putting Man of Steel completely out of my mind until halfway through this equally overlong sequence, so the fact that we were going back there took me by genuine surprise in terms of directorial judgment calls.
By the time your first ass-cheek goes numb, very little of actual story relevance has taken place. Bruce and Clark have annoyed each other a little, Amy Adams as Lois Lane has been to the desert to talk to a warlord (yep, had successfully forgotten her Lois too), and when things go spectacularly badly wrong, Supes has turned up to save her, accidentally killing some people in a local village with his sound barrier-breaking antics in the process, but that’s about it. What we do get though is the rise of Lex Luthor. Now, if you’re going to be Lex Luthor, what you actually are is the Joker of the Superman comic-book, the ultimate bad guy, the yang to the yin of the all-American cape-flutterer. Enter Jesse Eisenberg as geek supremo Lex, taking a little of this and a little of that from all over the place – a little of Heath Ledger’s Joker, a little of Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osborne from the franchise-killing Amazing Spiderman 2 - and ending up as Sideshow Bob.
Nevertheless, writers Chris Terrio and David S Goyer give Eisenberg some heavily-rooted philosophical lines, telling us, in case we couldn’t work it out for ourselves, what the movie’s actually about: entirely unable to escape the messianic tones of Supermen movies since Superman Returns, this movie is the ultimate gladiator-match – man versus God. Lex spouts some atheistic memery cribbed from Facebook as the justification for manoeuvring the two heroes into mortal combat, but the emotional underpinning for his actions is really given just one line about his dear departed daddy who – again like DeHaan’s Osborne but more relevantly, like Bruce Wayne himself, made Lex a multimillionaire early in his life without ever having had to work for it. Rich boys with daddy issues - seriously, enough.
This whole philosophical underpinning flirts with the idea of being interesting, and then swipes conclusively left as the movie degenerates into almost exactly what Man of Steel degenerated into before it – lots of actually unconvincing action where even on first viewing the CGI makes it feel like what you’re watching is money being set gleefully on fire. This version though comes with added mawkishness as Batman and Superman beat the ever-living crap out of each other for ten minutes of a movie that ranges in length from two hours to ‘Am I dead yet?’ Worst part of the movie? The reason they stop beating seven kinds of DC kid-friendly comic-book crap out of each other, which will probably go down in movie history as one of the 21st century’s epoch-making moments of writing desperation. It really is that bad. Ire really needs to be that bad to stand out in a movie that is essentially cinematic fanboy onanism which – most perversely of all – won’t even satisfy the fanboys.
That said, yes, absolutely, there are good things to be had from this movie. Affleck is, for instance, a better grumpy, vaguely sociopathic Batman than he was a Daredevil. Amy Adams really isn’t bad enough to warrant being forgotten as Lois Lane. Eisenberg, for all his Sideshow Bobbery, is actually one of the most watchable things in the movie, and you don’t take your eyes off his twitchy performance because he proves the maxim that bad guys have more fun (though to be fair, it would be hard to have less fun than either of the title-characters here, most of their battles being conducted in a darkness that infects the performances and turns them to oak and teak). Jeremy Irons acts the bejesus out of an exhausted, irritable Alfred, perhaps taking cues from Sean Pertwee’s ‘Gotham’ version. And then there’s Wonder Woman. Honestly, if we ever find ourselves watching this movie again, firstly slap us upside the head as a matter of urgency, but secondly, it will be for the Wonder Woman action. As a character, she’s had a fairly rough deal on-screen, and even the seventies TV version with Lynda Carter was rather more Adam West than Michael Keaton or Christian Bale. But in Gal Gadot, there’s a Wonder Woman who has the potential to be a complex character who can actually kick ass without any of the cape-wearing momma’s boys getting in the way. What’s more, Wonder Woman here looks to be both actively awesome, focused on the problem at hand, and having some fun into the bargain, which is more than enough to raise her above the two nominal leads. So that’d be a hellyeah on the whole Wonder Woman solo movie coming next year. As my fellow WarpedFactorer Tyrell said on having seen this movie though, ‘they need to stop beating a dead Superman with a Krypto-stick, and just give me a good Wonder Woman solo movie.’
There’s also one little sequel-dropping detail in this film that will make the Justice League fans at least semi-excited. I’m not going to spoil that for you, but let’s just say the contents of Lex Luthor’s computer introduce us to some other Leaguers, though weirdly, Grant Gustin doesn’t make the transition from TV to movies as Barry Allen. What the hell, DC? What the ever-loving hell?
That’s the ultimate frustration of this movie. We know DC characters have life in them, and a way of connecting with big audiences – the nineties re-invented Lois and Clark for us as Dean Cain and Terri Hatcher, and somehow, that worked. Now, Arrow marches on, the Flash zips by and Supergirl, always a tricky prospect given the flowers and puppies innocence of Kara as a character, is actually holding her own and delivering enjoyable TV superhero adventuring. On the other hand, you leave the movie theatre after Dawn of Justice feeling conned, empty and not a little grimy.
Wonder Woman has the potential to rock. Gadot’s well cast and there’s less of the All-American Red White and Blue about the Amazon this time round. But please, for the love of everything good and geeky, don’t let them do to it what they did to Batman V Superman – don’t let them rob it of its humour and make it a CG festival of pointless numb-assery.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk