Batman V Superman is a clear case of review futility. That is to say, a poor review is not going to stop a lot of people from going to to see it, anyway. It has blockbuster written all over it, no matter how much a critic might try to stop you from wasting your money.
Blockbuster, however, is just one of the major problems with this film. The idea of selling tickets as an artistic game-changer is evident from the film’s catchy, but horrendous casting choices to its endlessly explosive ending – the explosion that never quits – to its baffling beginning, which lasts about an hour or so before the plot jells into something cohesive.
That’s a long hour waiting for something to make sense. Oddly, director Zack Snyder chooses to circle the globe putting together unexplained scenes that will later have some nominal importance to the plot – very confusing. But he then goes through the motions re-telling the same, old chestnut of a young Bruce Wayne walking down the street with his parents at night, when they are gunned down by a petty thief and the subsequent scene of his falling through a opening to a cave, where he is besieged by the haunting image of tens of thousands of bats. Haven’t we done all this before?
Except for Henry Cavill as Superman, the casting is all wrong. Cavill is super. He is stoic, steely-eyed and a bit of a blockhead, all the things we love about the man in the red cape. But Ben Affleck is puffy and slow as Batman and Jesse Eisenberg is annoying, rather than threatening as Lex Luther – who is supposed to want to take over Gotham, not just bother us. Amy Adams plays a terrific role as Lois Lane, but the problem is she is scripted to be someone else. She great, but she just isn’t Lois Lane.
Another misguided directing decision was for Snyder to take Batman and Superman out of their element, which is the late 1950s and early 1960s. Batman dialing in Alfred on a cell phone? It doesn’t ring true. But there it is on his parents graves: His father, in this film, was born in 1946 and was gunned down in 1981. That’s a big risk and it largely doesn’t work.
It’s a mistake not only because it allows for incongruous devices (like cell phones), but because the film doesn’t know where it is. Is it a campy rollick through the days when a nickle was a nickle and a punch was a punch? Or is it a modern film noir replete with terrorists carrying uzis?
This matters, because Snyder’s Batman is scruffy and isolated. He never shaves, even for the mandatory scenes in which he is dressed to the nines. Bruce Wayne, here, has very little social finesse and no friends. Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth, another casting faux pas, also looks more like an tweedy hobo than a billionaire’s butler. Instead, because it is modern times, Lois Lane is a modern, sexy, investigative reporter (hey, try to keep up) and the Bat Cave is both dingy and dark, but it is outfitted with huge computer screens that Alfred and Bruce both use expertly. What is Batman now – an antisocial hacker? Well, one can’t live in the 1950s forever.
For his part, Superman is great in every scene. This guy has presence, even when the director chooses to get in the way with dopey gimmicks, like having his eyes turn blazing red when he is mad, but having them simmer down when talked out of his anger.
What’s to like about this film? Well, after the first hour, suddenly the plot pulls together and Lex Luther does start pulling some very wild, troublesome stunts, like blowing up things and upping the ante with more than just pesky threats. The Batman, on the side, is so isolated, he now sees Superman as a threat, so he tries to stop him from doing what he does — a very bad idea — and the two duke it out – an anticlimax in the extreme, but at least now two superheroes are are punching with purpose.
The finale is one to remember and it brought me back to the good, old days, when a nickle was a nickle and a comic was a comic. This ending has Marvel written all over it. Sure, it goes on for too long. It’s uproariously spellbinding – just like turning the page on a comic and finding a switch to a full page layout, because the scene wouldn’t fit in a one-sixth of a page story board. This is a big, bad showstopper ending and it offers no apologies. Hey, Batman and Superman are retro melodramas, anyway, and if you are going to be crowding one side of the stage with two heroes, then you need much more than an annoying villain to fill up the other half.
OK, this film has stinker written all over it. But you should see it anyway. Some things, good, bad or indifferent, you just have to see for yourself.