Until Zach Snyder learns to lighten-up, his films will continue to get critical drubbings. And, sooner or later, mainstream audiences will catch on. That’s what happened with “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” After a smash opening weekend, the mega-budget superhero fantasy crashed and burned like General Zod’s plans to colonize Earth. If you’ve been following Snyder’s films closely, you already know they are humorless, dark and poorly written.
Somewhere out there in movieland is a version of Superman that we can all get behind. The corniness of Richard Donner’s 1970’s era version was likable and, in my opinion, the best to date. Superman is a heroic character with excellent public relations skills. He isn’t anything like the version presented in “Man of Steel” or this latest telling. The perfect Superman lies somewhere in-between the characters presented by Christopher Reeve and Henry Cavill. The Superman films must have a sense of humor and a patriotic flare. It’s essential.
Equally mistreated by Snyder is the Batman character. Yes, Batman is darker than Superman. He’s a vigilante. But, Ben Affleck’s Batman is psychotic and a sadist. In many respects, he’s no better than the criminals he’s fighting on the streets of Gotham. Christopher Nolan’s version of the dark knight is the best I’ve seen in my lifetime.
So what went wrong with the expansion of the DC Universe? The answer is surprisingly simple: The superhero world needed better storytelling, a comic touch and more than a few rays of sunshine. The story is crippled by special effects from start to finish. The studio could have saved itself plenty of money by easing up on the fireworks. Make the F/X sequences count, don’t bash us over the head with them. Impress us. Leave us in awe, not beaten down. Opening the film with the Metropolis destruction sequence was a huge mistake. It’s like we walked in on film in its middle, not the beginning. From the very start, the audience is as confused as the writers.
Next, you should have done a better job of making Batman and Superman enemies. It doesn’t make sense that these crimefighters refuse to talk to each other. And, I don’t buy Superman’s angst over being misunderstood. Hire a PR firm. Make some personal appearances. Rescue a kitten out of a tree. And, for god’s sake, tell people you’re NOT a god. Hold a news conference. Broker a peace treaty. It’s just not believable that Superman could be a public enemy, despite the best efforts of Lex Luthor.
On the positive side, Jesse Eisenberg wasn’t disappointing as Lex Luthor. Gal Gadot gave life to Wonder Woman, despite not having that much to do until the end. Ultimately, none of the performances are clean, because the sub-par story doesn’t give any opportunities for the actors to stretch or develop.
Finally, there’s Snyder himself. “Watchmen” continues to be one of my guilty pleasures. I’ve seen it multiple times and love the opening tableaus in particular. There’s no doubt Snyder can make better-than-average films. But, can he give more than just a one-note performance? Dark, darker, darkest. Where does it end? Can there ever be a happy moment in a Snyder film? Is there a truly great story in that brain of his? Or, does he just want to paint everything black?
By the way, the “ultimate edition” of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” offers an extra 30 minutes of exposition and perhaps gives the entire film more perspective. But, it doesn’t change my overall view of the film. Too dark, poorly written and devoid of humor. Grade: C-