In 2014, the world witnessed the withering of the secondary Spider-Man franchise, leading to a tertiary franchise being folded into the upcoming Captain America: Civil War. In 2015, we were treated to the disappointing, over-stuffed, studio-manipulated Avengers: Age of Ultron, which featured too many characters and a confusingly sexist scene wherein a female character announced she was a monster because, perhaps, she was barren. 2015 also saw the bafflingly bad Fantastic Four, another stalled secondary franchise. With the release of Zack Snyder’s 151-minute glob of murky, self-aggrandizing, mythic superhero claptrap Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a sequel to the director’s abrasive Man of Steel, we, dear readers, may want to honestly consider rushing this genre into a coffin.
We may not be able to say what sort of box office this flick will earn – it’s tracking in the hundreds of millions, natch – but the critic is guessing that fan reaction will be split at best and sour at worst. What’s more, critics are pretty universally panning the film, and while Warner Bros. may be planning a giant franchise from here, we may be facing a dark future wherein Batman and Superman might be facing yet another reboot within the next decade. Speaking personally, the thought of facing down yet another high-end superhero mythology exhausts me.
Because Dawn of Justice seems to be indicative of the most unfortunate – and unfortunately growing – trends within the world of cinematic superheroes. Too many characters. Too long. Too much focus on multi-film super-narratives. Too much setup for future sequels. Citius, altius, fortius. The genre has simply grown too large. Now filmmakers like Snyder have full license to make movies with stories that are confusing (as certain plotlines are intended to be resolved in future chapters), contain baffling origins of characters to be featured in future solo movies, and protracted, ugly, violent climaxes wherein super-powered beings wail on each other for 45 full minutes. Note to filmmakers and to audiences: noise, movement, and happenstance is not the same thing as drama.
Dawn of Justice is a test of will and of stamina, and not just because of its length, level of visual noise, and its annoying introduction of a new super-franchise (which Warner Bros./DC has, it hardly needs mention, taken from the Disney/Marvel model). More than anything Dawn of Justice is a chore because of its own gloomy, maudlin, mirthless, pseudo-intellectual musings on how little fun it is to be a superhero. In this universe, Superman (Henry Cavill) is now a controversial figure, understandable following his destruction of Metropolis. Half of the public hates him for his destructive power, while the other half has taken to worshiping him as, essentially, a new Messiah. Batman (Ben Affleck) is of the former camp, and spends the bulk of the film seeking a chunk of Kryptonite in order to have the film’s title brawl. Also on the trail of the Krytonite is bratty billionaire Lex Luthor (Jessie Eisenberg). Eventually, the two titans will indeed clash, although the title fight ends up being a small piece of a much, much longer, bigger climax.
The story is far more complicated than that. We also have an eye-rolling Jeremy Irons as a put-upon Alfred Pennyworth, a mysterious woman (Gal Gadot) who will turn up as Wonder Woman, a strange subplot involving Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and a cadre of Middle Eastern terrorists, and the fate of the corpse of General Zod (Michael Shannon). There will also be a fateful e-mail containing private video introductions to The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg, all due for their own films throughout the next decade.
Oh yes, and the dream sequences. There are several. Batman has several surreal visions of the future, and how Superman may eventually lead an army of Nazi-like masked soldiers and a race of bug-like monsters in a takeover of Earth. Batman also receives a visit from a time-traveler warning him about Superman. Superman, meanwhile, has spirit conversations with his dead father.
Some audiences may react negatively to the depiction of Batman in this film. In previous films – and for the last few decades in the comics – Batman has followed a strict moral code that excludes murder. Batman will beat you in the face, but he will not kill you. Ha also doesn’t use guns, except on his car. In Dawn of Justice, he brands criminals so that they will be mistreated and killed in prison, blows up henchmen with bombs and guns, and is generally darker and more violent than he is ever been. If the betrayal of the Batman character bothers you, though, then you are concerned with the very least of this film’s problems. Batman has been reinterpreted so many times over the past 50 years, that there doesn’t seem to be a “true” version any longer. This means whatever film version we get of Batman – even if he starts wearing pink and using hand grenades exclusively – will be the correct one.
Am I being brusque and haphazard toward fandom with my reckless views of canon? Perhaps. But I would argue that a constant stream of reboots, and the frequent resurrection of assumed-dead superhero characters, that these characters have come to mean less and less. So now anything can be tried, and nothing matters.
It’s too much. I can’t take any more. I need a bath. I need a nap. I need a hermetic stint in a cave. I need to be in a world without the wet, mossy fungus of this movie.