With Marvel’s Avengers paving the way for superhero super-franchises the news that DC is following suit with its very own Justice League is an exciting prospect, especially if like me you’re bored of the Avengers outfit.
But has Snyder pulled it off, has he managed to awaken the potential of such a promising league of heroes with knight vs day? With a hefty reliance on the explosive final act it may not be the most coherent superhero film but it’s certainly entertaining.
Let’s start from the beginning. Metropolis is under attack. We’re introduced to Superman by a Michael Moore-esque title card. Cut to chaos and destruction, Bruce Wayne rushing to the scene. The spine chilling “womp” of the World Engine in the closing act of Man of Steel rings around the streets of Metropolis amidst confusion, screams, and panic. Bruce Wayne looks on in anguish as Superman brings the city to ruins.
In this one sequence we’re reminded that for all that Superman did on that day – save the planet an’ all – he is seriously underappreciated. But so is the way with the modern cinematic superhero universe. Politics have become a central theme that is increasingly shoved in our faces, it’s all about accountability in a world that needs heroes but refuses to accept them. 18 months on and Batman is out for revenge and Superman is still in a love hate relationship with Metropolis, the President doesn’t have too much love for him either.
What we have to contend with is the unmentioned past of our new Dark Knight, how it fits with Superman’s public trial and what is going to ultimately bring them together.
The recasting of Batman was always going to be controversial. Christian Bale was so strong in the Dark Knight trilogy that for a long while we couldn’t imagine anyone else beating bad guys in slim fit Kevlar. So when Ben Affleck got the call there was much furor – afterall, he doesn’t have a great record with superhero films.
However, he brings the grimy underbelly of Gotham with him to each fight, there’s almost a villainous menace to his fighting style that has done away with the moral do-gooder of Bale’s caped crusader. Towards the end (no spoilers) there’s one moment with Batman fighting a bunch of guys that set my inner child alight with a mini fist pump.
The unmentioned past of Bruce Wayne / Batman shows mere glimpses of emotional scarring that at first left me wanting more. Wayne Manor is in ruins, The Joker has had a hand in Robin’s death and Jeremy Irons’ Alfred needs far more screen time for us to warm to him. I guess this is the central issue to BvS: it tries to do so much at one time that our attention flits between optional stories and side characters while we play catch up. But we only have to play catch up if we want to.
The very fact that Batman carries these burdens without the viewer having any prior visual cues to draw upon embellishes his character with a deeper personalisation, even if it was handled a little to briefly in fleeting moments of nightmare sequences or stolen glances.
Superman doesn’t avoid this burden either. Too many moments of fleeting firefighting heroism and concern for public image detract from the film’s progression and patronise Superman’s intelligence. Resulting in a fairly laden obligation to cover more ground than is necessary.
Louis Lane gets a large amount of screen time as Superman’s publicist-cum-lover and as usual is used against Superman by a fairly unstable villain for a nefarious purpose.
This time it’s Lex Luthor, played by Jesse Eisenberg. Another mad scientist drawn into the foray and he does a pretty good job to instil a sense of dread, there’s very much a manical ‘Joker’ about him that’s unnerving, think The Social Network on speed.
But the real hero in this “puff piece editorial” is Gal Gadot. We all guessed, from the first trailer, that Wonder Woman would have a vital role to play in the closing act. But I wasn’t ready for just how awesome she is.
The tortured riff and tribal drums of her bespoke theme are by far Zimmer’s finest touch in what is an altogether outstanding score. But what I liked the most about Wonder Woman’s introduction was the mystery surrounding her alter ego, Diana Prince: who just seemed to swan around at swanky do’s with an eye catching cleavage. But Wayne’s ghostly discovery of her true self was handled excellently and rather than waiting for her to drop in and save Batman from Doomsday (like we see in the trailer), her character is able to take on a dramatic heroism before she even wields her sword and shield.
Setting her up for her standalone moment in Wonder Woman next year Gal Gadot makes an excellent entry into superhero lore. She’s more than just pins and boobs. She’s an action hero capable of embracing equality and balancing the teetering machismo whilst redeeming Louis Lane’s helplessness.
She will be joined by Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg further down the line in the Justice League film and they all get there own ten seconds of fame in a bizarre, typically 21st Century manner, saved on a hard drive.
Ultimately, the flow of this film is its biggest let down. Its a mess. We get an establishing context scene, which is great (I’m one of the few Man of Steel fans). But after that, pretty much right up until the final act it feels as though the film was thrown onto the cutting room floor and shuffled the way a child shuffles UNO cards, in a manic wax on / wax off motion.
But despite its shortcomings, as an all action superhero gladiator match that thunders along to the glorious final act Batman v Superman is a Must-see. Shot on film, rather than digital, it’s visually stunning with some awesome shots. The colliding worlds of Gotham and Metropolis unfortunately meet in the middle due to a disconnectedness that is difficult to tune out more than anything else. But there is a lot to enjoy about BvS that for me outweighs its pitfalls as a film.
I can see why people have issues with BvS. But I don’t go to the cinema to find problems with films or to satiate my pre-ordained doubts. I go, first and foremost, for entertainment.
So after witnessing “The greatest gladiator match in the history of the world. God versus man. Day versus night! Son of Krypton versus Bat of Gotham,” I ask you, are you not entertained?