If you’ll cast your mind back to the start of the new millennium, you may remember two films entitled X-Men (2000) and Spider-Man (2002). The total budget for these two films exceeded $200 million, and whilst this may seem like a significant amount of money, the Box Office for the pair surpassed anyone’s expectations, and combined, made over one billion dollars. “How is any of this relevant?” I hear you asking. Well, for any fans of the plethora of Marvel or DC movies as of late, these are the films to who you owe your thanks.
Prior to these releases, comic book adaptations and the superhero genre was in decline. Despite a few successes in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the movies and television shows which came from such source material were often seen as corny, cartoonish, over-the-top, silly, and for a small minority demographic, in the sense of your typical “geeky” types. Compare this to now, and since 2008, Marvel have released a grand total of 12 films as part of their “cinematic universe” and made over nine billion dollars in the Box Office alone. The superhero genre has become a cultural phenomenon, with both major publishers in DC (Warner Bros.) and Marvel (Disney) battling it out for the top spot. Both companies have movies planned until the end of the decade, a fact which brings to light a serious issue; this is no longer a development of artistic merit, but rather an industrialisation of cinema. Movies are no longer crafted by skilful and talented auteurs, but rather, are the product of men in suits, sat in a board room, whose only real concern is profit.
The latest venture in this never-ending series of glorified toy commercials, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, directed by Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen), is about as close to “paint by the numbers” or “mad libs” as you’ll get in a movie. It’s as formulaic as they come. In terms of the story elements, the movie feels utterly contrived and clichéd, with every beat of the plot, every new development leaving a lingering sense of “we’ve seen this all before”. Without going into too much detail, for fear of spoilers, many of the events throughout the film felt painfully predictable, especially if you’ve had the displeasure of witnessing a trailer, which, much like a girl dressed up for a Friday night out on the town, leaves very little to the imagination.
Ignoring Zack Snyder’s fetish for the overuse of CGI, the movie is technically well done, in some areas. The camerawork and cinematography are what you’d expect from a $250 million superhero epic, it’s good, but hardly the work of Lubezki or Deakins. Legendary composer Hans Zimmer returned from 2013’s Man of Steel alongside Dutch multi-instrumentalist Junkie XL to produce a soundtrack for Batman v Superman. Whilst this endeavour is a far cry from Zimmer’s best work, it does have its moments. It’s a fairly standard affair for this cloaked crusader romp, though Wonder Woman’s theme “Is She With You?” was exceptionally bad. The fight sequences showed that DC is more than capable of going toe-to-toe with Marvel, in the action the department. While not everyone (the friends with whom I saw the screening included) shares my enthusiasm, I thought that the titular fight was excellently done, as well as the final battle – the true main event.
As far as what Batman v Superman did exceptionally, other than its absurd commercial success, the list is short, but provides a degree of hope for the future of DC’s cinematic universe. The aspect which stood out most is the myriad of excellent performances; and I don’t just mean good, or better than average, I mean excellent. The leads of Henry Cavill (reprising his role from Man of Steel) and Ben Affleck as Clark Kent/Superman and Bruce Wayne/Batman respectively were absolutely superb. Believable, powerful, emotional – these are just a few words to describe this pair of outstanding renditions of well-known characters, and are perhaps some of the best ever undertakings of these classic heroes. Jeremy Irons provides a new interpretation of Wayne’s butler (amongst other things) Alfred Pennyworth, and while very different from Michael Caine’s in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, it’s a remarkable, subdued performance as one the series’ staple and much beloved characters. However, the show is stolen by the always amazing Jesse Eisenberg and his portrayal of Superman’s arch nemesis, Lex Luthor; a casting choice I, and many others were initially sceptical of, but are more than happy to have been proved wrong about. The performance is hard to describe without sensationalist language like “has to be seen to be believed”. The words, eccentric, sociopathic, boisterous, maniacal, and flamboyant come to mind when attempting to encapsulate Eisenberg’s magnificent act. It was like The Joker had taken over Mark Zuckerberg. A special mention has to go out as well to the talented team behind the costume design. Batman’s various outfits; from his traditional black & grey attire, to the new desert combat gear, and of course, the “so silly it’s awesome” mechanical powered suit of armour, all were excellently and immaculately crafted, and looked phenomenal.
Overall, the film felt considerably unremarkable, and not at all memorable. Fans and critics alike waited with bated breath to see whether or not DC’s latest venture could truly dethrone Marvel, and their total dominance of the superhero genre as of late, but were left disappointed. Despite being grittier, darker, and perhaps more adult than the films released in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Batman v Superman lacks the charm which makes its competition so good. Replacing the “fun for the whole family” values we’re used to in these sorts of movies, with the consequences of actions is a bold move, and a completely new direction for what is perhaps the vogue of the movie industry as of late, a decision with potential yet to be fully realised.
– Kieran Griffiths