I had mixed feelings watching Zack Snyder's chaotic Man of Steel sequel/ Batman reboot/ Justice League set up. From it's thrilling start, to its turgid second act, and through to its messy conclusion, it could have gone either way. But in the end, despite my best efforts to enjoy the show, Snyder bludgeoned me into submission rather than winning me over. Yet again, we have a potentially great movie fumbled and mishandled by the director's all-over-the-place direction and haphazard execution. There were things I really liked however that prevented it being a complete write off:
I thought the opening scene was fantastic. A thrilling and urgent flashback to Man Of Steel's Metropolis mayhem, seen from an entirely different point of view. This sets the tone just right, and sets up Bat's motivations throughout the film. Indeed, the Batman side of things was superbly handled across the board. Ben Affleck nails both Batman and Bruce Wayne with ease- a great vindication. Jeremy Irons' Alfred also has exactly the gravitas needed to be Batman's moral compass and ground support. He's great. The new Bat toys are fun too; the Batmobile is the coolest yet, as seen in the superb chase/ heist scene. Batman taking on a floor-full of thugs however might be the action highlight of the movie, featuring some of the best melee combat of any screen Batman to date. It's brutal, exciting and much more satisfying than the lumbering slugfests we've seen up till now (even Nolan's versions). The titular face off with Superman is also pretty effective; well staged and quite thrilling with some neat tricks to level that particularly insurmountable playing field. Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman is also a real treat to watch later on; dynamic, powerful and super sexy; she even gets her own theme. Sure it's very tacked on and gratuitous, but it's hard to complain about that when she's arguably the best thing about the film's overcooked ending (more on that later).
I didn't mind the dark tone, although I'd still prefer the character of Superman to be more upbeat. This at least would have provided the necessary contrast between him and the Batman. And I liked that the film attempted to address some ethical issues and at least hinted at some depth- if only it had been better explored (over to you, Captain America Civil War).
None of that however, can redeem what is ultimately a misconceived, jumbled, crammed, and badly executed Zack Snyder mess.
Despite being an introduction to Batman and a set up for the Justice League, this is after all a Superman sequel, and the plot centres around him. Sadly yet again, The Man of Steel is a very dour- even unlikeable- character, giving audiences little to invest in. It doesn't help that Henry Cavill lacks much in the way of acting range, but what can he do with a Kent/Supes that has been written as a rather mopey, brow-beaten figure instead of the uplifting, colourful hero we all grew up with. This is particularly noticeable during one montage scene where we see Kal El performing heroic feats across the world; but presented in such a sullen and miserable fashion that you get the impression Superman finds it all a chore. It's an awful way to treat such an iconic character.
Lex Luthor's motivations don't seem to make any sense either. Nevermind that Jessie Eisenberg's incarnation is written as an annoying, hyperactive twerp; he doesn't seem to have any raison d'etre other than to just be 'a baddie'. Does he want Batman to kill Superman? Or does he want Superman to kill Batman? And why? Why does he create Doomsday? To kill Superman? I thought he wanted Batman to do that? And again, why does he want to kill either of them? What is Superman stopping Luther from doing? At least Hackman's Lex had a grand plan that necessitated the defeat of Superman. This version's motivations seem opaque at best, and nonsensical at worst.
The film in general seems choppily paced and scattershot, flipping from one unrelated scene to the next and making it hard to establish any real focus (further compounded by multiple random dream sequences and hallucinations). This is something I find in all of Snyder's films even the better ones (eg Watchmen). He just can't reign himself in. The lack of focus during the second act also serves to make the film rather boring- with nothing of import happening until Batman's first appearance. The film just doesn't flow properly.
Other characters also make little impact. Lois Lane is back and once again infuriates by being absolutely everywhere in every scene. Doomsday- as already shown in the trailer- is absolute rubbish: a cartoony, overpowered mega-monster that looks like it stumbled off the set of a Lord of the Rings film. Part Uruk Hai, part Cave troll; it roars and smashes things hulk-style in what becomes a CGI-overloaded, incoherent, brain-numbing monster mash that recalls the worst elements of Spiderman 3's 'everything including the kitchen sink' philosophy. Thank goodness then for the timely arrival of Gal Gadot's wonderful Wonder Woman, who at least adds a little spice to the resulting video game finale.
The climactic death scene- for reasons stated above- isn't as emotive as its meant to be and doesn't feel particularly earned. The tacked-on setting up of future Justice league 'meta-humans' and their films is also under-explained and transparently shoehorned in. Unlike the well planned and carefully cultivated Marvel Cinematic Universe, DCs fumbled effort feels ever so slightly desperate.
Some treats to enjoy then, especially for Bat-fans, but Batman vs Superman is ultimately a super-disappointment that will cast doubts on DC's fledgling cinematic universe, as well as Zack Snyder's continued ability to handle an iconic franchise.