In ‘Batman v Superman,’ Quantity Trumps Quality

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice plays at the Apollo Theatre. The Zack Snyder-directed blockbuster suffers from a lack of character development and an overcomplicated plot.

Photo by Bryan Rubin, Photo editor

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice plays at the Apollo Theatre. The Zack Snyder-directed blockbuster suffers from a lack of character development and an overcomplicated plot.

Christian Bolles, Columnist

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As director Zack Snyder’s favorite author and ideological match Ayn Rand once said, “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” No sentence could better sum up Snyder’s creative philosophy in putting together his latest blustering bumble of a blockbuster, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. No more apt title could have been chosen for a movie so obsessed with dichotomies and extremes without bothering to fill the space in between.

In his attempts to pit light against dark, power against powerlessness and hope against fear — all distinctions explicitly underlined throughout the film’s interminable two and a half hour sprawl — Snyder succeeds in depicting only one of these themes.

His heroes are devoid of heroism and a lack depth. At the end of the day, power is the only concern of BvS. So if, as Lex Luthor believes, power cannot be innocent, then DC’s attempt to stand up to Marvel should be put on trial. In this court of filmic law, I rule that Batman v Superman is guilty.

Batman is one of the most beloved characters in comic book and graphic novel history. Not only has his iconic symbol and temperament survived decades of societal change, but his dark tone and strong set of morals have given rise to some of the very best works of fiction available, from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. While Ben Affleck (amicably referred to for the purposes of this review as “Batfleck”) is just fine as playboy-turned-crusader Bruce Wayne, he suffers at the hands of a shockingly bad script. The effort the actor put into the role is well known, and I don’t doubt the veracity of rumors that he could be seen on set editing the script between takes, but his attempt to depict a broken Batman fails. Part of this is a failure of world building. Batman is from Gotham, sworn to clean the alleys that so mercilessly swallowed his parents. Snyder’s Gotham, though, is practically nonexistent, leaving nothing to furnish Batfleck’s visage. His sullen looks, understated tone and imposing frame would be out of place in most other films. Here, however, he fits snugly alongside the rest of the emotionally stunted cast of characters.

Henry Cavill’s Superman was made familiar by Man of Steel, and from a physical standpoint, he perfectly mirrors the character’s likeness. Unfortunately, appearances are the only way that he is convincing. Gone are the overwhelmingly American overtones usually packaged with that famous S. This Superman is a product of the most generic definition of power imaginable. Clark Kent represents nothing but power, despite the fact that Lois Lane — played by a strangely atonal Amy Adams — exists here solely as a device to lend him additional dimension beyond that chiseled jaw. She doesn’t succeed in the slightest. These writers are maddeningly unaware that having someone caress their protagonist does not add anything to his character and only degrades the woman in question.

Finally, Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is nothing short of ludicrous. For a seasoned actor, he displays a complete lack of subtlety, made possible by the overwritten, rambling nonsense that spews out of his mouth for minutes at a time. To call his bouts of mania pretentious would be a compliment, as that kind of an insult works under the assumption that the words under fire have a well-developed meaning. Yet he does nothing but foreshadow in the lengthiest, most jittery terms imaginable. Here, Snyder has tried to craft a villain worth remembering, but he fails to understand that giggling, finger-tapping and twitching don’t amount to much of a character. In fact, they become just that: a twitching mess that moves about and looks evil when they must. There’s no depth behind those eyes, nor is depth presented before the audience’s eyes at any point during this awful, awful film.

Every major player falls victim to Snyder’s idealism. In his mind, these figures are nothing but monuments to be ogled by the camera and cast in dramatic light, resting high above the inferior crowd. That crowd gets little representation, save Lex’s manipulation of one bystander for his own insidious purposes. Instead, we’re treated to an all-you-can-eat buffet of moving statues, all epitomizing the features, but not the souls, of their characters.

All of this character talk serves only to delay discussion of the plot, which, needless to say, is barely worth discussing. I wish that I could spoil the entire thing so you wouldn’t be compelled to see it out of a masochistic need to know how terrible the plot points in the latter half of the film are. The story revolves around the increasing moodiness of Batman after decades of fighting crime, the tarnishing of Superman’s public image in the aftermath of the events of Man of Steel and Lex Luthor’s plan to take down the latter by manipulating the former. Don’t be fooled by its long-winded sub-plotting in service of the larger narrative, as its overstuffed nature consists almost entirely of breadcrumbs leading to a conclusion that might be worth the tension had it not been stated in the blunt title. And yet, for all of the build-up, the titular fight is about as long as the speech Luthor gives before it starts. Yes, the narrative devolves further from there, turning into a cliché CGI-fest that actually contains the President saying over speakerphone, “God have mercy on us all.” Adding insult to injury, the villain capping the whole experience is woefully under-designed and generically framed.

I wish that I could at least say that Batman v Superman is an empty spectacle. Miraculously, though, there’s almost no actual spectacle to be found. The art direction is nearly nonexistent, and during the climactic minute of the big fight, the screen becomes an unintelligible melting pot of lightning and blurs. Even the most straightforward action sequences, such as a chase scene involving the Batmobile, are difficult to parse due to poor lighting, shoddy CGI and nonsensical cuts.

The incredible part of this laundry list of failures is that it won’t make a difference. The film has already passed $500 million in ticket revenue worldwide and will rake in much more. Some will see it for the title. Others will walk in thinking, “Oh, it can’t be that bad.” It is shameful that we live in a society where pathetic excuses for films like this can stomp on the records of the Fury Roads of the world. So, I implore you: Do not see Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Bury your curiosity in better movies, like April and the Extraordinary World and Everybody Wants Some, both currently in theaters and comparatively low on funding. This is no longer about Batman fighting Superman. It’s quantity versus quality. Choose carefully.

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