Zack’s The Way To Screw It: Batman V Superman Dawn Of Justice Reviewed

Mat Colegate is completely unprepared for the madness of Zack Snyder's kickstart to the DC cinematic universe

By now you’ve probably heard that Batman V Superman is a bad film. That it’s a charmless, incoherent slug-fest leavened only by the arrival of its own end credits. An over-stuffed, over-serious shit-bomb of baffling excess and teeth-gritted non-drama. A pompous, self-important, quasi-fascistic monument to fuck-knows-what erected by a director who desperately needs someone to say “no” to him from time to time. That it is absolutely, irredeemably awful. All these things are true. Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice – to use its full title; its gangling, awkward long-limbed child of a title – is a grim piece of work, in which legendary characters are re-configured to possess all the charm of screeching adult-babies, and in which ‘Justice’ is prioritised an infinitesimal fourth after ‘Bone-breaking’, ‘Angst’ and ‘What-the-fuck-is-actually-happening?’ It is also Zack Snyder’s masterpiece. Look on his works, ye mighty, and despair.

To state that Dawn Of Justice is the director’s Citizen Kane isn’t as controversial as it sounds. Rarely does a filmmaker get a chance to so clearly display their weltanschauung as Snyder has been granted here. This is undoubtedly the movie that he has dreamt of making since he first started playing with his Superfriends figures in the sandpit, since he first read Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and went “Huh, cool” at the armoured Batmobile, since his first daydream of punching Superman again-and-again-and-again in his too-white teeth. This film is a total statement of intent. Zack Snyder wants to do horrid things to children’s characters, and Warner Brothers have just stood back and let him.

The result is an incoherent masterpiece that brings the Superhero action film as close to the avant-garde as it has ever been or will ever go again. A genuine Outsider Blockbuster. Snyder went to film school, so one presumes he knows what editing is for and how it works. His previous films, Watchmen, 300 etc, although not good, at least hung together in a way that suggested that someone somewhere understood the basics of how to advance a plot. Dawn Of Justice, having practically no plot whatsoever, is free to throw this so-called sophistication out of the window. The first half of the film – the period set aside in less emboldened works for introducing characters and providing motivation for them – is an incoherent riot of jarring cuts, bizarre dialogue (“Superman was never real. Just a dream of a farmer from Kansas.” “That dream is all some people have.”), hilariously specific dream sequences and people hissing at each other, that replicates perfectly the feeling of attempting to read a dense superhero comic after being in a car accident. It is insane, and torpedoes the chances of the film working as conventional cinematic entertainment before it’s even really begun.

All the much-beloved characters are practically unrecognisable. Superman is a haughty cosmic deity with no empathy for living beings apart from the one he’s chosen to procreate with; Lois Lane is demoted from ‘reporter’ to ‘stand-around-in-the-background-looking-pleadingly-into-the-middle-distance-er’; Wonder Woman is basically inert; and Batman kills people. With guns. Several times.

It would be unfair to blame any of the actors for this. Indeed it’s to their credit that they seem to recognise what they’re dealing with and appropriately reduce themselves to scowling action figures, the better to be manipulated and posed by their scheming director, Zack “Look!-More-than-eight-points-of-articulation!” Snyder. Only Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor bothers struggling, kicking desperately against the script’s inanities with a series of facial tics and hair twirls that equate somewhere to ‘mad genius’, but that in this context make him look increasingly desperate to be anywhere else other than in front of the camera with the lunatic hanging off the back of it.

By the time the film comes to the point we’ve all been waiting for, where the two titular titans are ready to square up and start pounding the four colours of costumed crap out of each other, it becomes apparent that Snyder’s technique is an inverted mockery of what writer Grant Morrison declared as his intention upon taking the reigns of the Justice League comic in 1997. Morrison stated that he “sought to restore a mythic dimension” to the characters in the League and to “endow them with the majesty of towering statues on Mount Olympus”. Snyder’s aims are similarly deity-driven, but instead of choosing the beaming gods of antiquity he turns our costumed former-pals into unknowable cosmic psychopaths, grunting and thrashing against each other in endless configurations and levelling all around them. Snyder makes all the appearances of having learned his lesson following the outcry over his previous Superman film Man Of Steel‘s tally-ho attitude toward collateral damage. The first part of Dawn Of Justice is a none-more-9-11 derived hunt for survivors through the wreckage caused by Superman and Zod’s bust up in the last film. However by the final reel this new-found awareness has become a middle digit up to all who dare tell Zack Snyder how to play with his toys. The damage is colossal and relentless and not exactly assuaged by some bit-part’s assurance that the area where the fighting is occurring is “Practically uninhabited”. A line which drew from me my one genuine laugh of the film. The only one that didn’t sound like it came from the shocked victim of a near-fatal shark attack, anyway.

And yet – and yet – it is never, ever boring. It’s far, far too mad for that. Terrible? Yes. Reprehensible? Undoubtedly. Bizarrely made and shockingly over-funded, it is nonetheless the perfect encapsulation of one man’s unique and dreadful vision of childhood as perpetual war. There is very little chance of a superhero film as utterly crazed as this being made again (the audience at the screening I attended – a proper audience, mind you, not just ivory-tower critics like myself – seemed actually angry after the credits had rolled). Dawn Of Justice really feels like something. The superhero movie reaching its incomprehensible Nietzschean peak, maybe? A glossolaliac tone poem of ruined brickwork and eye beams? The mind-frying spawn of Mad Max: Fury Road and Synecdoche, New York? One thing is certain, if Snyder’s recent declaration of his regard for the works of Ayn Rand is to be taken at face value, then Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice is his The Fountainhead. It’s rare that a commercial director gets an opportunity to grace us with something so true to himself. Rarer still that the results necessitate the creation of a whole new value system in order to assess them accurately.

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