By Dwight Brown (NNPA News Wire Film Critic)
Director Christopher Nolan, gone. Oscar-winning actor Christian Bale, gone. There will never be another “The Dark Knight Rises.” That iconic, once-in-a-lifetime action trilogy is over. If you can wrap your head around that, and get past the first sluggish minutes of this Batman derivative, you just may find some instances of wonder in between the baffling moments.
First, the elephant in the room. Ben Affleck, aka Gigli. He isn’t totally miscast. However, his stiff performance does nothing to elevate the Batman character, or this movie. And his toupee, a distraction that should get second billing, steals his scenes. Henry Cavill as Superman looks more comfortable in his tights. Both actors’ characters are sourpusses most of the film. The incessant brooding is off-putting. It’s like watching teenagers pout, because they can’t go to the mall. Blame the screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer for handcuffing them. And even those scribes deserve a pass because the task of writing a script about two normally centered heroes, who now want to destroy each other, is a tad preposterous.
An alien force, Zod, is in the midst of destroying downtown Metropolis where Bruce Wayne has an office building full of employees. Zod is facing the brutal force of Superman, who is, of course, out to save the world. In the process their fight causes Wayne’s building to crumble. The eerie similarities to 9/11 border on bad taste.
That incident strikes a nerve with Bruce Wayne/Batman. He becomes enraged and obsessed with wiping out Superman. Meanwhile, Superman’s repeated collateral damage as he saves lives becomes a cause célèbre for a Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) and her Congressional Superman Committee. A mouthy, jittery and obscenely wealthy tech entrepreneur named Alexander “Lex” Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) has a beef with Superman, too. He’s plotting to bring kryptonite into the country. It’s a weapon Bruce Wayne also wants. The Man of Steel had better watch his cape.
Batman hating Superman never really gels. The congressional committee subplot is equally suspect. The only person who logically hates the Superman is Lex Luthor, and that’s just comic book legend. But as played by the mousy Eisenberg, who acts with the verve of a pesky mosquito, even Luthor is lame.
Director Zack Snyder (Man of Steel) has his hands full trying to make the silly plotline work. He does himself no favors by starting the film with a funeral that is poorly directed and filmed with too many overhead shots (cinematographer Larry Fong, “300”). The graveyard scene with the young Wayne running off into the woods is like watching an outtake from a B-movie. Not an auspicious beginning.
The obliteration of downtown Metropolis is a bit better, but not excellent. Perhaps the best action sequences are when Batman, in his natty Batmobile, chases a truck that is transporting the kryptonite. It’s fun to watch. The film almost should have stopped there. It doesn’t. Subsequent action scenes aren’t as imaginative. The finale, involving a huge monster that looks like an electrified Hulk on steroids, is no better than a scene from any generic sci-fi/action movie. That beast is a poor effect (visual effects supervisor John “DJ” DesJardin). The loud score (Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL) doesn’t help either.
Visually (set decoration Carolyn ‘Cal’ Loucks; art direction Patricio M. Farrell, “300: Rise of an Empire”; production design Patrick Tatopoulos, “300: Rise of an Empire”) the film has high and low points: Lex Luthor’s party, perfect. The Bat Cave, dull. At least the pacing (editor David Brenner, Man of Steel) is tight, which makes the two-hour and thirty-three minutes roll by at a decent clip.
Amy Adams as Lois Lane is great, but her character is not pivotal. Diane Lane is far better as Superman’s mom. Laurence Fishburne as Perry White overacts. Gal Gadot, the sultry mystery woman who is always two steps ahead of Bruce Wayne, is gorgeous and bold as she morphs into Wonder Woman. She deserves her own franchise.
As this uneven film grinds to an end, it sets itself up for more shenanigans in more episodes with more super heroes.
Comic book fans will flock to this movie regardless. Whether they come back to see it a second or third time, like they did for The Dark Knight Rises or Deadpool, is the question. If they do, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will make a dent at the box office. If they don’t, Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale will look even better in hindsight.