Film review: Batman v Superman is all about the future

Ben Affleck dons the Batman mask to challenge Henry Cavill’s Superman in a battle to set up the sequel. Photo: Warner Bros. Ben Affleck dons the Batman mask to challenge Henry Cavill’s Superman in a battle to set up the sequel. Photo: Warner Bros.

We’ve reached, it seems, a place in our relationship with comic book movies that the particulars of an individual plot matter less than the promise of future installments. The parts of Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice that work are those that are almost completely devoid of meaning to the movie around them, but suggest that future installments of DC’s johnny-come-lately extended universe may not be altogether insufferable.

The rest of the movie is quite another matter. When it’s not deafening, it’s pretentious. When it’s not pandering, it’s confusing. When it’s not loudly broadcasting its obvious plot twists, it’s throwing in sheer randomness and calling it world-building.

As burdensome as the title Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice seems, there really is no other way to encapsulate what this dull-colored beast of a movie is here to do: pit two iconic heroes against each other and lay the foundation for a Justice League movie to make any sort of sense. Everything that happens is in service to these two goals at the expense of what could have been a thematically rich story, as conflicts between the two heroes have often been in the past.

Superman represents hope for the future and the quest to always live to a higher moral standard, while Batman dwells in his own trauma and uses “justice” to salve his injured, raging id. They are often fighting the same bad guys but have found themselves at odds in the comics; this is particularly true of Kingdom Come where Bruce Wayne allies with the villains, and The Dark Knight Returns, from which Batman v Superman draws visual cues but retains none of the emotional weight or subtext.

Summarizing the plot beyond this would be futile given that it’s all contrived around the titular outcome, but it goes something like this: Following the devastation of Metropolis after Superman’s (Henry Cavill) confrontation with Zod (Michael Shannon), the world is struggling to arrive at a consensus about this alien visitor. Some view him as a savior who stopped Zod’s evil scheme, while others are wary of his lack of accountability and point to the destructive battle as evidence. Batman (Ben Affleck) is one of those who views Superman with suspicion, leading to conflict as they both investigate the illicit activities of billionaire CEO and insane genius Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). Wonder Woman (Gal Godot) shows up and is awesome, but you knew that already, and that’s all she does.

When the plot isn’t trudging along at a slow, yet distracted pace like a sloth with ADD, it’s introducing the supporting characters and in-universe logic of the upcoming sequels. These moments are a great relief from the unrelenting gloom of the main story, yet they are so shoehorned in that the movie has to completely drop what it’s doing for five minutes, get the teases out of the way, then resume. These asides suggest great movies (that won’t be helmed by Zack Snyder, thank Rao), but suggest is all they do. They are of no real help to the movie they’re in, and only serve to highlight its problems.

The backlash against the announcement of Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman was misguided; Affleck is totally serviceable in the role and could actually excel in future installments, including a standalone film by the Academy Award-winning director himself. He isn’t the problem; Snyder is. Just as he did with Watchmen and even Man of Steel, Snyder draws visual inspiration from the comics yet smothers all literary value from them. The light vs. dark undertones do not carry when everything is so glum. Pretending as though the gleefully catastrophic climax of Man of Steel was part of intentionally setting up this film is transparent retcon. Most damning of all, the only moments of genuine inspiration come from when it gets distracted from its own proceedings.

See it if you want to understand the upcoming films, but do not expect anything. Here’s a suggestion for an alternate title: Superman v Batman: Well, Now That That’s Out of the Way….

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

PG-13, 151 minutes

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