Twenty years in Gotham, Alfred. We’ve seen what promises are worth. How many good guys are left? How many stayed that way?
Well, I put it off for quite a while, but I finally caught up to one of the most divisive movies of 2016. It’s a film that should have been divisive, in the way Captain America: Civil War was. It should have been a movie that sparked arguments about philosophies and relationships. Instead it was just divisive in terms of whether or not people loved it or hated it. Me . . . well, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of being shot by both sides. It’s a film that fails to be anywhere near as spectacular as it could have been, but also fails to utterly squander itself.
The film was slammed for its darkness, both of palette and tone; neither of those are a problem for me – I’m a fan of Marvel’s candy-colored vision of the world and the way it often hides surprisingly dark ideas, but this film’s attempt at being a kind of “superhero-noir” isn’t out of nowhere nor a particularly bad idea. It’s the heavy-handedness that sinks this darkness. This is a film of utter pretensions, with an incredibly over-the-top score that at time sound like nothing so much as the various instruments of an orchestra being dropped onto the floor from a great height or exploded with sound waves. Every shot is framed with a pseudo-religious intensity and there’s ultimately a point at which, given this film’s insane three-hour running time, where all the slow motion, glowering, posturing and operatic blustering simply becomes comical. Say what you will about this film, the pacing is some of the worst I’ve EVER seen. The plot is needlessly complex and remains opaque at times despite the three-hour run time. I can’t imagine how incoherent the theatrical version must have been; the plot is labyrinthine to a ludicrous degree here – how must it have played with thirty minutes hacked out of it. The performances are not good, with a few notable exceptions, and the script has nothing for the characters to really do in terms of real internal struggle. Henry Cavill’s Superman is supposed to be facing some sort of inner turmoil about his duty, but it’s hard to know what that is exactly, since the script waffles about the exact point of his dilemma and Cavill’s acting abilities simply aren’t up to the task of revealing any of this. Amy Adam’s Lois Lane is as annoyingly uninteresting and poorly performed here as in Man of Steel if not a bit more so. Of Jesse Eisenberg’s unhinged Lex Luthor, surely enough has been said, but allow me to add my two cents: it’s simply Eisenberg’s quirks dialed to eleven. For all of his tics, Eisenberg is a genuinely great actor when he has an actual character to play and is allowed to find humanity behind those quirks. But Luthor is a profoundly underwritten character with only the very thinnest of motivations, surely not enough motivations to make him do the things he does here. A character of thin motivations played as though he’s the villain in a silent film farce simply doesn’t work and the film is genuinely cringe-worthy at times: the jolly rancher is as awful as expected and a later “speech” he gives is brain-punishingly stupid and nearly unwatchable. Ma & Pa Kent are both pretty terrible. Costner was one of the best things about Man of Steel, but he can barely keep a straight face for his brutally bad cameo. As for Ma Kent, she’s given the one joke in the movie, a joke kind of stolen from The Incredibles, by the by, and she whiffs it. Not that it’s particularly good.
And the film is also in a headlong rush to establish a Cinematic Universe in an effort to compete with Marvel and this leads to several inexplicable sequences. The Dream Sequence/Vision/Time Travel interlude which feature a trench-coated Batman fighting men with dragon-fly wings goes on for an ungodly amount of time and makes not a god-damned lick of sense, not even when the Flash (?!) appears in the midst of a chaos of horrible CGI to deliver a distorted and totally confusing message of some kind. Later, there’s a jaw-droppingly apropos of nothing scene in which Lex Luthor appears to be communing with The Darkness from Legend. And the entire Justice League has to be sloppily introduced in one of the laziest ways possible. Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg are all introduced via, get this, an E-MAIL ATTACHMENT. One wonders why more time couldn’t be spent on this via the deletion of some of the subplots that are, you know, less than riveting. What will happen to the African refugee who lied about Superman? What about the criminal Batman branded in the first two minutes of the movie? Shouldn’t we follow him on his entire journey through the criminal justice system? Shouldn’t the refugee have a whole character arc just so she can be neatly killed once she finally decides to do the right thing which we’re not even entirely sure what that is, since her role in the film makes so little sense? It’s not that these things needed to be cut from the film. There is no world in which they should have even made it into the SCREENPLAY.
But time fails me, so let’s wrap this up with the positives. Affleck as Batman, an element I admit I was worried about, ends up being easily the best thing about the film. His characterization is solid and his performance is grim without being silly. His interactions with Jeremy Irons are wonderful and he’s responsible for the film’s one compelling action sequence, a brilliant brawl in a warehouse that’s choreographed to absolute perfection. It’s a shame Snyder hides all the other action sequences behind a storm of CGI that’s overwhelming to the point of being headache inducing. Gal Gadot makes a pitch perfect Wonder Woman with a brilliant theme provided by Hans Zimmer. Color me still excited for the WW solo movie. And the movie, despite all the problems discussed above, did keep me looking at the screen for three hours. The last half-hour was pretty rough in terms of just wanting the movie to end already, but for the most part, as incoherent, stupid, poorly-acted and poorly written as this film is, it’s still a reasonably watchable movie. Still to call a movie in which Batman fights Superman and then Wonder Woman shows up “reasonably watchable” is absolutely damning. There is no universe in which it is acceptable for such a movie to be less than awesome. Well, the only awesome thing here is how misguided just about everything is. 2 stars.
tl;dr – there are a couple of positives here, but most of this interminable movie is poorly conceived/executed; vaguely watchable, but utterly disappointing in almost every way. 2 stars
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