Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice review - lost in the murk of expectation

Tasked with rebooting the franchise, Zack Snyder delivers a superabundance of mopey superhero tropes, tons of computer-generated pseudo-gloom - and not much else

The official trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, due in cinemas in early 2016, has been released. Video: Warner Bros.

Jaw-jaw: Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill square off in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Film Title: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Director: Zack Snyder

Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot

Genre: Fantasy

Running Time: 151 min

Tue, Mar 22, 2016, 22:02

   

They’re in there somewhere. Wave aside the computer-generated pseudo-gloom and you really will encounter squabbles between a fetish- wear Philip Marlowe and a Nietzschean Davy Crockett.

Poor old Batman and Superman (for it is they) can, however, scarcely breathe for the poisonous fumes of expectation. This is not so much a film as an intergalactic product launch. Warners and DC – assisted by the very modestly gifted director Zack Snyder – are laying out their stall for the next decade. Batman is efficiently tweaked into the mannequin form of Ben Affleck. Henry Cavill continues to impersonate well-educated marble as Superman. Making no concessions to narrative logic, Wonder Woman (played by former Israeli soldier Gal Gadot) elbows her way into the action to steal the final act.

Christopher Nolan’s last Batman film had its problems, but it felt like the work of an independent talent striving to express a signature aesthetic. Batman v Superman has less character than a Jive Bunny single.

Like far too many contemporary comic-book adaptations – oh, for the primary colours of Donner’s Superman or Raimi’s Spider-Man – Snyder’s film believes itself to be “dark”, but this is the superficial darkness of the Goth pop that sounds behind slammed teenage doors. What’s wrong with these super-beings and flawed millionaires? They’re forever moping on tall buildings in the pissing rain. Cheer up, for Christ’s sake!

Snyder has admitted the influence of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and one sequence, in which Batman ventures out with a trenchcoat pulled over his costume, alludes explicitly to that cracking tale of heroes in geriatric decline. But, as we need many sequels, the film-makers can’t go too far down the revisionist path.

Thus, we get Batman – still speaking in the absurd rumble Christian Bale pioneered – in a state of mildly befuddled middle age. Temples slightly greyed, dressed in tight suits that accentuate the impressive upper Affleck, this Bruce Wayne has the air of a Clarkson fan who can’t track down his car keys. He is also annoyed about the collateral damage that gathers around Superman’s efforts to save the world from extraterrestrial menaces.

The film opens with a scene that somehow manages to combine the apocalyptic with the perfunctory: Superman brings down computer-generated buildings in his battle with General Zod. (There are some tasteless allusions here to 9/11 that register just as uncomfortably as later efforts to have a harassed Superman stand in for undocumented aliens.) While Wayne fumes, Clark Kent, underappreciated journalist, tries to persuade his editors to report on Batman’s sinister vigilante attacks.

Less Lex please
A fight will break out, but, before that, this criminally overlong film has some faffing about to do. Rarely have so many good actors been misused. Holly Hunter inclines head as a senator suspicious of Superman. Amy Adams is here to remind us that she played Lois Lane in Man of Steel, but she doesn’t do much else to justify that walk from trailer to green screen.

One rather wishes that Jesse Eisenberg had slightly less to do as a younger, hairier Lex Luthor (the film could have been titled: How Luthor got Shorn). Offering us his first properly bad performance, Eisenberg twitches, pauses and jabbers like a ham doing a one-man show above a pub about a teenage lunatic who thinks he’s Lex Luthor.

Of course, there are things to enjoy here. Hans Zimmer’s leitmotif for Wonder Woman – all agitated jungle drums – is sufficiently stirring in itself to have me mildly interested in that character’s standalone film. Jeremy Irons makes an agreeably active sidekick of Batman’s often-underused butler Alfred Pennyworth. Snyder does have a touch for heroic compositions that, happily, are rarely mangled by the amphetamine editing that soils all Michael Bay movies.

None of this can, however, dispel the notion that we are being sold Superhero Movie by the litre. Just put a bucket of generic Batman in here and stir in a few pints of own-label Superman. That will do to be going on with.