Somebody stop Zack Snyder. Somebody save the world.
Way back in 2004, there was reason to believe that the Midwestern filmmaker had a purpose in Hollywood. His unnecessary remake of George A. Romero’s masterpiece Dawn of the Dead managed to shake up the zombie genre with a brand of unforgiving tension that strangled in all the right ways. It wasn’t great, but it was good, and the stuff that was good was seemingly good enough to give him another look. And so everyone did in 2007 with his impressionistic take on Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s surreal graphic novel, 300, and by 2009 he became the go-to name for bringing comics to screen when he adapted the unadaptable — Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen. Love it or hate it, he got that sucker out.
Now, he’s conquered another feat: He’s finally brought the world of Batman and Superman together on celluloid. Do you know how many filmmakers and writers tried to do that? McG failed. So did JJ Abrams. Wolfgang Petersen couldn’t get it together. Neither could the indestructible George Miller. One might argue Snyder was in the right place at the right time — and that’s an incredibly logical argument (and one this writer would agree with) — but he’s still the one who has that credit on his resume. Sadly, that’s the main reason why Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is such an insufferable mess of a blockbuster. Three years after he turned Kal-El into a catastrophic post-9/11 metaphor in 2013’s Man of Steel, he’s returned to do it again.
(Ranking: Every Batman Film From Worst to Best)
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t a film. It’s a two-and-a-half-hour movie trailer. Better yet, it’s one of those videos that pop up on screens before a ride at Universal Studios, where all the actors speak to you and keep hinting at bigger things to come — you know, like a ride? Basically, it’s everything the SEO-friendly title promises — and more. There’s a Superman (Henry Cavill). There’s a Batman (Ben Affleck). They “v” against one another. And eventually they start forming a league to fight for justice, but don’t get ahead of yourself; it’s only the dawn. There’s also Wonder Woman (a solid Gal Gadot), Lex Luthor (a middling Jesse Eisenberg), Alfred Pennyworth (a very funny Jeremy Irons), and half a dozen other soon-to-be regulars.
Those who complained about Thor’s left-field watery dip during last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron will likely roll their eyes at the number of superfluous scenes that flutter around Snyder’s DC Comics Cinematic Universe Scrapbook. Should anyone be surprised? Probably not. The marketing behind this film has forever been transparent about how overloaded this story was always going to be. Unlike Marvel and Disney, DC and Warner Bros. refused to take things slow and opted instead to work off the big bang theory wherein a giant explosion of ideas will eventually spread out to create some sort of functioning universe. Did it work? It’s too early to tell, but things don’t bode too well if Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is any indication.
The problem isn’t Affleck, Cavill, or any of the actors. In fact, Affleck brilliantly captures the ethos and primal rage of Batman in a way that’s only been exhibited by Kevin Conroy in the Arkham games. This is a big ol’ grump who tortures his body in his own Batgym like a roided out Ryan Steven Lochte. He brands his prey. He stares at his costume like he wants to eat it. He’s visited by Freddy Krueger in his dreams. No, this is the Batman fans deserved. Cavill, on the other hand, continues to embellish the imperfections of the always-perfect Supes. He’s a far cry from the ray of sunshine that Christopher Reeve — or his many imitators, from Tom Welling to Brandon Routh — gave off, but he’s also stuck in a far more cynical world.
What proves to be kryptonite for both of them is a combination of Snyder’s senseless direction and the godawful, clumsy, and hellish script by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer. Look, it’s not easy adapting Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns while also making a sequel to Man of Steel while also building towards the conceptualization of a Justice League while also maintaining a singular identity, but … well, that’s the whole problem now, isn’t it? Although David Brenner did his damnedest to edit this doomsday of a cash grab together, the whole thing still ricochets around at the manic pace of a cocaine smuggler who’s been addicted to his supplier’s stuff for over a decade. Very rarely do scenes ever last more than a minute, which may cause drowsiness.
That’s not the only thing that’ll have you reaching for the doggie bag. The sound mixing alone will leave viewers in a daze like Roger Daltrey at the end of The Who’s Tommy. This thing is loud — from Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s punishing score to the brutal effects that zip back and forth — and since Snyder’s so obsessed with topping Roland Emmerich with regards to destroying the world time and time again, it’s also unnecessarily relentless. We get it, man: Superman is an out-of-this-world titan whose pummeling should cause a sonic boom, but even a drunk carny knows when it’s time to stop the ferris wheel. Once the film reaches maximum “v,” you’re all but a lifeless corpse, clinging to your eyes, your ears, and your sanity.
To be fair, Snyder’s not the only one leaning on Rampage-like destruction. Marvel’s just as guilty of it. So are those asinine Transformers films. The difference is that Snyder has no idea how to execute any of it. A telling example is three-fourths into the film when Batman goes after some guys in cars during a scene that’s all too similar to Christopher Nolan’s Lower Wacker chase in The Dark Knight. But it’s not, and here’s why: Snyder doesn’t have the finesse to shoot proper action scenes. None of it registers. There aren’t any stakes. The tricks have been done. The enemies are useless. What should have been an iconic sequence boils down to meandering action without any consequence. That’s not exciting; that’s dull filmmaking.
Yes, a film about Batman fighting Superman is dull.
Rest assured, die-hard fans will eat this up, and for good reason. After all, Snyder delivered a world where Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg can co-exist and fight for justice. Granted, it’s a confusing one — where reality and fiction are continuously blurred thanks to the inclusion of real-world personalities like Anderson Cooper, Nancy Grace, and Neil deGrasse Tyson — but it’s nonetheless a world. Who knows, though. Maybe the other filmmakers, artists like David Ayer (Suicide Squad), Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman), or James Wan (Aquaman), will smooth things out. There’s also the very likely possibility that Affleck will helm his own Batman flick. That could be neat.
(Ranking: Every Superman Film From Worst to Best)
Yet hardly awesome. No, those days are fading fast. The adrenaline and the excitement of a superhero film has taken back seat to morbid curiosity and blind acceptance. To paraphrase the late Hunter S. Thompson, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice offers us an ideal vantage point to look at the near past, where with the right kind of eyes we can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back. Some might say that was 2012’s The Avengers; others might argue it was 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Whatever the case, we’re coasting into a no-wake zone right now, and it’s getting harder to keep the signal on and tiring to glue our eyes toward the sky.