Sunday, 27 March 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice proposes confrontation. Given the title you might expect an extended, ideological clash between a God that has fallen to Earth and a man who has transformed himself into a monster. The tension between the two is crystal clear. One combatant has spent decades honing his mind and body, burning down every connection and relationship that didn't track into his all-consuming mission. The other is all-powerful simply because of a yellow battery that hangs above him.

Frank Miller, Lynn Varley and Klaus Janson's The Dark Knight Returns should be the key text here. It's alluded to incessantly. Panels are reproduced, lines from the comic and its sequel The Dark Knight Strikes Again are quoted verbatim, but it's all lip-service. Screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S Goyer ignore either comics' nihilistic principles, arriving at a scenario about two corporate properties that have stumbled into each other's realms leaden with excuses. Neither Batman nor Superman is allowed to be truly insane, their passions are incessantly explained and organised until there is no room for a real conceptual leap.

This obsessive micro-management unbalances any sense of dramatic drive and weakens both characters. They aren't allowed to conceive their own motors, both of the superheroes are explicitly being manipulated. Ben Affleck's seething Batman does at least play with the aesthetics of damage, he looms silently like the Alien and sears his mark into sex criminals. We're given a taste of Frank Miller and Darren Aronofsky's abandoned Batman: Year One film project - a psychotic Bruce Wayne completely lost in his misery, lashing out - before everybody gets cold feet and we're treated to successive instances of the fantastical reaching out to Batman, condoning his holy crusade against the sky.

It's too much. Zack Snyder's film is choked with this kind of exposition, the same points reiterated over and over until we're all assured that everybody is acting in a way that will do no permanent harm to the brand. Dawn of Justice is a roadshow length hand wave, it reeks of compromise. It's clear Snyder wants to wring maximum violence out of his toys, the director using an Avengers moment to hurl DC's Trinity into their very own apocalypse. Snyder is reaching for sturm und drang - Batman armed with M60 machine-guns, exterminating lawbreakers - but ends up with something that isn't even as venomous as either Tim Burton's Batman or Batman Returns.

Dawn of Justice mishandles its own central conceit to such a degree that all the accumulated animosity is instantly washed away once the two sad little boys learn their mothers share common ground. It's like they were never even at odds. The film can't wait to race away from the truly wonderful idea of a puny human sealing himself inside a metal coffin to collide with a bullet proof deity just so it can segue into another impersonal animatic featuring a pug-faced troll.

Zack Snyder's film wants so very badly to be the vulgar, all-consuming nightmare at the end of the superhero trend, the third Miracleman trade plucked apart and reassembled alongside stray pages from Walter Simonson's contribution to Batman Black and White; Frank Miller in tow, punching up the dialogue. Unfortunately, it's stuck being the launch platform for all of Warner Bros' future summers. Dawn of Justice then is an uneven product perched upon shaky architecture that thinks it can wash itself in a hundred million dollars worth of pulverised concrete and come up smelling important.

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