You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become Ben Affleck…
Zack Snyder has built a career out of making films adored by millions but trashed by the critics. A cursory glance at the IMDB rating (decided by anyone) and the tomatometer percentage (decided by critics) of his movies confirms this. Historically, I have mostly enjoyed Snyder’s work. I loved his Dawn of the Dead remake, I loved Watchmen and I enjoyed 300. In fact, aside from the teenage wet dream that was Sucker Punch, I would definitely say I am a Snyder fan. That being said I didn’t really care for Man of Steel but then I’m not that much of a Superman fan in general. So where does Batman V Superman fit into all this? Well, on the surface it is the same old story. A decent 6.9 rating on IMDB stands in stark contrast to 27% on Rotten Tomatoes. Dig deeper though and for the first time I have to agree with the critics on some of their negative feedback.
The plot is complicated only by how long it takes everything to fall in to place which means it is complex without being particularly smart. Batman’s origin story is thankfully brief but we don’t spend enough time with either the caped crusader or Bruce Wayne to really understand his motivation. When he goes after Superman it doesn’t feel earned. Some may say it is unfair to compare this film with previous entries in either franchise but that comes with the territory when entering the DC arena and the supporting cast just doesn’t hold up when compared with previous incarnations. Jeremy Irons is uninspired as Alfred, Jesse Eisenberg tries too hard as Lex Luthor and the rest of the cast don’t have enough screen time to really stand out. Ben Affleck lived up to my own personal expectations but this still feels a little like a missed opportunity. We were promised a tired and world weary Batman and whilst we get a few lines of dialogue about feeling old, what was promised never really materializes.
When Batman and Superman finally have it out the whole battle feels stale and hollow. Who do I want to win here? Do I care? Zack Snyder has not developed either character enough to make the stakes high enough. At that point I was bitterly disappointed. When Batman and Superman **spoiler** combine to face a common enemy however, the film finally comes into its own (as predictable as such a development is).
The final battle sequence is exciting and high octane and finally wrings some emotion out of the iconic characters. It is also brings into focus many of the things that Snyder did get right. Ben Affleck really is excellent as both Batman and Bruce Wayne. I’d welcome the possibility of a standalone Batman film with Affleck in the titular role. I had reservations about Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman but she holds her own and feels very much like an equal even amongst such heavyweights as Superman and Batman. Another big plus, is that this is the first superhero film from either Marvel or DC to properly address the collateral damage suffered as a result of their antagonists actions. Whilst the idea is a little underdeveloped, Snyder deserves credit for raising this thorny issue.
One question that occurred to me part way through was, can anyone really hold a candle to the Gotham that Christopher Nolan created? And the answer of course is no. This doesn’t let Snyder off the hook however. He knew full well the comparison will be made and he justified the question being asked when he made this film. A more pertinent question perhaps would be, is there any point to Batman V Superman? Does it have any artistic merit? A lot of critics seem to think it doesn’t but aside from the obvious thrill just in seeing these characters interact, there is enough in Batman V Superman not only to justify its place in the franchise but also to offer potential for the future.
Zack Snyder has failed on a number of points with this movie but he has also succeeded perhaps just as often. As with many of his projects, Batman V Superman is a better film than the critics have given him credit for…