By Jarrod Jones. There’s a moment in Zack Snyder’s monstrous Dawn of Justice where Batman, played by a sinewy Ben Affleck, rips a sink out of a wall and beats Henry Cavill’s Superman over the head with it. The only reason I mention it is because that moment essentially sums up everything you’ll see in this overlong, overwrought, and — to certain fans of these legendary heroes — downright blasphemous comic book trifle. Everything else was thrown into this heap. It’s only right that the epitome of everything got its moment to shine as well.
And by “everything else”, you’d better believe I mean it. Every single cast member of Man of Steel finds their way into Dawn of Justice, somehow, while all-new characters (like Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman) attempt to squeeze in on all this apocalyptic doom. In fact, so much is shoved into its ludicrous two-and-a-half-hour run time you have to wonder if screenwriters David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio had their pets abducted by studio heads and held against their adorable will until the writers made damn sure theatergoers everywhere knew they were watching the prelude to Justice League.
Because of this, most of the material feels inherently supplemental. Snyder has so many bewildering cameos to jam into the film — he’s springboarding a cohesive comic book universe from this, you understand — that he skips over the tried-and-true Marvel method of a viable post-credits stinger and shoves the connective ellipsis to Justice League right in the middle of the film.
If this implies that Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg utterly disrupt the film’s momentum, we’d have to be under the assumption that Dawn of Justice had any to begin with.
Any jump-starts to get Snyder’s movie going turn out to be discordant at best and downright messy at worst. (The first act feels like a movie unto itself.) Beyond its central conceit — where Batman and Luthor are pissed at Superman and Superman is genuinely perplexed by that (and who could blame him) — one has to wonder what else there is that’s holding this Wagnerian gloom-fest together. One thing’s for sure: the question as to whether or not it’s wholly appropriate to have two of fiction’s finest personifications of the human endeavor smash against each other like they were two obliterated fratboys, especially at a time when the structures of our own very real society are crashing down around our heads, is never once addressed.
Instead, the film luxuriates in what it is, which is a self-satisfied throwback to the comic book industry’s darkest hours, when Frank Miller considered Superman a fascist so everyone else pretty much did too. (And by the way, if you’ve ever read The Dark Knight Returns, you’re gonna see certain lines of dialogue coming from lightyears away.) Sure, it makes several ham-handed attempts at societal relevance: there’s plenty of lip service about “aliens” and “unknowable threats”, and for most of the movie real-life talking heads like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Charlie Rose pontificate on modern society’s growing wariness of heroes. (Or is it weariness?) Never once does Dawn of Justice attain anything close to resembling topicality, unless of course Warner Bros’ bottom line can be considered topical. (Speaking of which, $400 milion dollars is rumored to have gone into this production.)
So how does our cast fare? Ben Affleck turns out to be a wild card that could (perplexingly enough) definitely hold his own in a solo movie. Sadly, with Dawn of Justice, Affleck’s Caped Crusader fails to see that he’s being buffaloed into fearing the one person he should be trusting the most, especially when his vivid, psychotic nightmares keep telling him that something colossal and evil is lurking on the horizon. (Oh, and those visions? Meant to be taken literally.) Affleck is neither intriguing nor objectionable as DC’s latest Dark Knight. As more a blank slate than anything else, Batfleck remains the least of this film’s problems.
And then there is Henry Cavill. As the Superman of the DC Extended Universe Cavill is a virtual nonentity, a charisma-less buffoon who mopes around the film in the off moments where he’s actually given something to do, and spends the rest of the time grimacing hideously like the morally compromised thyroid case that he is. His Clark Kent matters even less, and Cavill’s two big scenes, both of which he shares with actors who at least attempt something resembling pathos (Affleck’s brooding Wayne, Eisenberg’s spastic Luthor, and Amy Adams’ oft-damseled Lois Lane), illustrates this succinctly. Cavill has the jawline. But when it comes to inspiring anything — let alone hope — Henry Cavill is lost at sea.
Instead, Snyder presents his leads as an ode to his tired-ass concepts of masculinity. There are long, loving shots of Affleck and Cavill’s ripped physiques (Affleck even participates in a ‘roided-out, Rocky-esque preparation montage), our two heroes frequently hurl pathetic taunts at each other (most of them are in the trailers), and both engage in violence — either with each other or against whoever is dumb enough to fight them — that sheds a light on how Zack Snyder perceives the world. (It also reveals how a director’s cut of Batman v. Superman could ever possibly be rated R. Spoiler: it won’t be difficult.)
When you consider all the bone-crunching, flesh-searing, fury-sating action that takes place in this movie, if you have a heart at all beating inside of you, you’ll begin to wonder how this brutal-ass movie about DC Comics’ most beloved heroes will affect how children receive them. (There’s an added indignity here, in that this — this — is the first live-action movie to ever feature Wonder Woman.) There is no message to be found here. For a film with “justice” in its title, it scarcely comprehends the definition of the word, let alone how to convey it responsibly to the millions of people who will undoubtedly watch it. That’s probably what hurts the most about Dawn of Justice. It’s a superhero movie without a message.
Some people, jaded film critics and grumpy comic book fans mostly, will say that the superhero movie renaissance is quickly careening towards an ignominious end. That, good intentions aside, all these ding-dang comic book movies are causing the great behemoth that is blockbuster filmmaking to finally collapse into its grave. Well. If that’s the case, and it’s certainly difficult to argue against it right now, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice might be the movie to bury it.
Directed by Zack Snyder.
Produced by Charles Roven and Deborah Snyder.
Written by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer.
Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter and Gal Gadot.
Rated PG-13 but only fucking barely.
1.5 out of 10