There’s a new mentality toward superheroes in Gotham City. Residents no longer welcome them into the city, but banish them to its outskirts — they’ve become completely fed up with these cape-wearing creatures, and by the end of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” we are, too.
Basically, there’s a lot of tension between Batman (Ben Affleck, “Argo”) and Superman (Henry Cavill, “Man of Steel”), and the public hates both of them, thanks to Lex Luthor’s (Jesse Eisenberg, “American Ultra”) manipulative tactics. Luthor wants both of them dead, so their feud allows him to get what he wants with minimal effort on his part (although he does go to great lengths to create a backup plan). On the sidelines is Lois Lane (Amy Adams, “Man of Steel”), who desperately tries to repair Superman’s broken image. Sadly, no one vouches for Batman’s greatness, making him look like a ruthless killer lacking any morals whatsoever. Even more depressing is the romance between Lois and Clark; its destructive power can only be matched by kryptonite.
Producing one coherent plot proves to be a difficult task for screenwriters Chris Terrio (“Argo”) and David S. Goyer (“The Dark Knight”). Even if you’re not a DC Comics fanatic, you’ll most likely predict 90 percent of the film’s events at least 10 minutes before they happen because of the excessive foreshadowing. And while we’re given far too many hints about what’s going to happen next, we don’t get enough backstory. Then there’s the issue of new characters suddenly being introduced, only to be killed off a few scenes later.
Nothing is inherently wrong with big-budget superhero movies produced by production companies like Warner Bros., and many are remarkable. But when the companies churn out a movie with the sole purpose of creating hype for the sequel, the movie at hand inevitably suffers a tragic fate. “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” suffers from this unfortunate mistake; annoyingly obvious promotional inserts further deteriorate the already loose narrative storyline.
Performance-wise, the portrayal of Batman wins, hands down. Affleck delivers his lines with just enough emotion to nicely humanize Bruce Wayne’s character without seeming melodramatic. But the feats of a hero are only impressive if he defeats a formidable adversary. Luckily for Affleck, Eisenberg perfectly portrays the infamous Lex Luthor. The ever-present but only slightly detectable quiver in Eisenberg’s voice emphasizes Luthor’s insecurities, which fuel his malicious desires. His freakishly high intelligence alone, demonstrated by his well-written, almost prophetic lines, is enough to make both opponents and audience members feel like hiding. But this is Jesse Eisenberg we’re talking about — he already brings a fantastically versatile awkwardness to every character he portrays, which can make us see him as anything from insanely adorable to totally evil. He also provides us with the only moments of comic relief that are actually humorous.
As for their female counterparts, Adams’s talent is taken for granted, as she is quickly reduced from a keen, independent woman to a damsel in distress. On the other hand, Gal Gadot (“Furious 7”), who plays Wonder Woman, is only allowed to demonstrate her badass combat skills for a few scenes, most of which are spoiled in the trailer anyway.
It’s pretty obvious from the opening sequence how this film cost nearly $250 million — the cinematography is astounding. The shots of young Bruce Wayne falling down a hole, running through what seems to be a graveyard and experiencing the death of his parents are extremely aesthetically pleasing. There’s a beautiful color contrast between the vibrant blue sky above Bruce as he falls and the darkness surrounding him as he runs through the graveyard. Another remarkable scene is the car chase that happens after Batman/Bruce Wayne realizes the true identity of the White Portuguese. Somehow his armored car, which looks like a Batmobile designed in the year 2020, can withstand explosives, machine gun bullets and everything else Lex Luthor’s henchmen throw at it. Cinematographer Larry Fong’s special effects are a perfect visual spectacle here: they’re quite unbelievable, but not entirely unrealistic. The captivating powers of this scene are further enhanced by the constantly shifting camera angles from which the viewers witness the event.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film is riddled with cheesiness. This isn’t your barely tolerable level of corniness either — it’s an exasperated sigh, a facepalm-inducing level of awfulness. Slow motion is used far too often, turning what should be glorious moments into comedic ones. Another unfortunate trope is the superhero stare — the close-up shots that emphasize his gaze, then, ideally, quickly cut to what he was looking at. In the film, these shots are held far too long, making us feel incredibly uncomfortable as we watch.
Essentially, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” suffers from an identity crisis. It falters trying to assert its belonging in the superhero genre by overemphasizing numerous clichés. Furthermore, the amped-up romantic subplot between Lois and Clark attempts to inject romantic drama into a superhero adaptation, but it only results in dryness. Luckily, Eisenberg and Affleck’s performances are superb enough to provide us with a sense of stability. Despite the chaos that the script generates, they understand that the essence of this story is the same as every other superhero flick: the battle between good and evil.