How not to wrestle a pig: Batman v Superman review

26 Mar
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Cape expectations: Batman v Superman

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has received a bit of a kicking in the fan press, resulting in this cringily hilarious video of Ben Affleck undergoing an existential crisis in interview. It doesn’t deserve that degree of opprobrium, but the kindest verdict one can give is that it’s “adequate”. It both lacks the lighter touch of rival Marvel films, and the real grit of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films whose style it mimics in the most superficial manner.

Part of the problem is the inherent mismatch between Batman and Superman. Not in the fight stakes (obvs Superman could win, but then he wouldn’t want to kill, plus there’s the matter of his green Achilles Heel), but in tone. Batman lives mostly in a skewed version of the real world, his fantastical villains lacking superpowers; shoehorning him into Superman’s sci-fi universe feels wrong, just as giving Superman darkness and grit is like trying to turn the Coke logo blue.

The whole enterprise needs a director with a sure touch and some intellectual heft. Zack Snyder attacks it with a sledgehammer. Despite the lip-service paid to the conflict between “god and man”, there is no genuine attempt to engage philosophically, intellectually or emotionally with what it would really mean to have an all-powerful being walk on Earth. No lessons have been learned from Alan Moore, who mined this seam in The Watchmen, Miracle/Marvelman and even in Superman (the brilliant For the Man Who Has Everything imagines the clash between two superpowers: “Their enmity can only be measured in the skipped beats of distant seismographs. Both indestructible, each damages the other. Both irresistible, each finds himself thwarted”).

You also know you have problems when the script is so unengaging, the director feels the need to add dream sequences in which more exciting shit goes down. Batman has no less than three of these. Explicable, at least, given that he’s a troubled soul. But then Superman goes and gets one of his own, too.

The cast do their best, and Gal Gadot in her brief fight scene makes a convincingly Amazonian Wonder Woman, but they’re given nothing to work with: no real conflict beyond “My god I have to save him/her before they are killed”; no real emotion; no line of dialogue that speaks to their inner character. The sole exception is the always brilliant Holly Hunter as a senator hostile to Superman, but still not willing to play ball with Lex Luthor. “I grew up on a farm,” she tells the evil mastermind after another of his veiled threats. “I know how to wrestle a pig.”

If only you could say the same of Zack Snyder.

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