If I were to make a movie about, say, my love of tomatoes, I would understandably include a number of scenes of myself eating tomatoes. And that might be interesting. But at some point, this movie — let’s call it Josh Loves Tomatoes — should probably give some sense of why I love tomatoes. When did I first begin eating them? What about their taste and texture appeals to me? Simply having scenes of me eating tomatoes would get pretty boring.
So there’s this movie called Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. And indeed, it is mostly about the two superheroes in conflict, often violently. But for the life of me, after two and a half hours, I couldn’t tell you why Batman and Superman were fighting. Oh, the movie tries to provide explanations. The screenplay, by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, layers on all sorts of narrative complications, none of which are convincing and many of which are in conflict with each other. At the end of the day, the title characters in Batman v Superman fight simply because there is a “v” in the title. The movie undoubtedly deserves a rotten tomato.
Ben Affleck begins the film looking haggard and ends it barely awake.
This is a fundamental flaw, but there are other problems. Ben Affleck, taking on the role of Bruce Wayne for the first time, begins the film looking haggard and ends it barely awake. Jesse Eisenberg, as Lex Luthor, tries to walk on Heath Ledger’s Joker high wire, but mostly falls back on his usual motor-mouth arrogance. Henry Cavill — a fine Superman as far as any of us know — is once again sidelined in his own movie, as happened in Man of Steel. I’ll go on: there is essentially a trailer for the next DC Comics enterprise — the two-part Justice League — ungainly dropped into the proceedings; the CGI destruction is endless and punishing; and the finale involves a battle with a space monster who looks like he failed his audition as the cave troll in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
Before I join the pile-on of director Zack Snyder, let me admit that the few moments of interest in Batman v Superman are due to his eye for striking, comic-book compositions. (His Watchmen, like Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, is one of the more aesthetically faithful adaptations of the graphic novel art form.) Re-envisioning the oft-filmed legend of Bruce Wayne’s parents being mugged and murdered, Snyder punctuates it with a close-up of Martha Wayne’s pearl necklace getting caught around the barrel of the assailant’s gun, an image of privilege and security being coarsely violated. In addition, Wayne’s nightmares — one of which involves a trench-coated Batman taking on a platoon of Superman soldiers in a dusty apocalypse — also stand out in terms of cinematography and production design.
Most of the rest of the movie, however, takes place in dreary, CGI-enhanced darkness. Too often, Snyder places the camera too close to the action — be it a fight scene or a car chase — and lets the noise and chaos distract us from the fact that there is little artistry in the editing, composition and choreography. And I lost count of the number of times Superman threw Batman through a wall, and vice versa. (Many, many walls were harmed in the making of this movie.) In fact, if I never again see Superman fly an adversary into one side of a building and then out the other … then I’ll have wisely skipped the upcoming Justice League movies.