Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice film review - Flawless premise and flawed execution meet with expectedly messy results

It shouldn’t be possible for this battle royale to be so infuriatingly dull, or needlessly complex

Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill and Gal Gadot in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Warner Bros.)

Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill and Gal Gadot in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Warner Bros.)

Where did it all go wrong? Making an exception for DC’s refusal to innovate cinematically - a formula they have rigorously stuck to for years, Dark Knight aside - Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice would have had so much going for it. It shouldn’t be possible for a battle royale between two of comics’ best-known characters to be so infuriatingly dull, or needlessly complex. But it is, and so here we are.

Jesse Eisenberg’s irritatingly neurotic and unthreatening Lex Luthor finds some kryptonite at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Ben Affleck’s likeable, down-to-earth Bruce Wayne, magicked retroactively into the events of Man of Steel by way of a heavily promoted Jeep Renegade, witnesses Henry Cavill’s truly anonymous Superman (can you recall his face?) laying waste to his Metropolis office in uncomfortably 9/11-esque scenes. Eyeing up Luthor's kryptonite find - Superman's Achilles' heel, for the uninitiated - he swears revenge.

Somewhere in the middle, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman pioneers an awkward expansion of DC’s cinematic universe which, when sized up against Marvel’s considered and decade-long expansion, comes across as rushed and disorienting. That her story is the least-explained, and the most compelling, says a lot about the quality of the execution of the stories which are written into the film. The motives, thoughts and actions of Bats, Supes et all are frustratingly inconsistent from scene to scene, and leaves you cold.

Initially, DoJ mulls over Superman’s accountability as a deity-like being and whether his power is too much, but gives way to director Zack Snyder’s demonstration of pure obliterative blockbuster force - the same force we were warned about a short time before.

Snyderisms litter most scenes, especially when the action picks up. The muted colour palette comes across as morose rather than atmospheric and it’s often too hard to keep up with what’s going on in some of the faster, rougher-cut sequences. There isn’t the same love applied to each shot as, say Mad Max: Fury Road - which has admittedly spoiled many a film since its attentive, thoughtful process came to light - and each scene comes across as a crowd-pleasing byproduct of over-funded and over-produced safe bets.

But Dawn of Justice’s head-scratching incoherence is its definitive source of frustration. Bruce Wayne, having spent most of the opening half making off with Lex Luthor’s kryptonite and refining it into a weapon, abandons it in a public space, having exhausted its use; Amy Adams’ Lois Lane then throws it into some water for good measure, before running back for it five minutes later.

When the title lives up to its promise and the heroes trade blows, the results are pleasing enough, but not really worth the hour and a quarter of build-up. Supes uses his strength, Batman whips out the kryptonite and gadgetry and Hans Zimmer rouses a big punchy score to blast your ears in the process, while a CGI company make their annual income on uncompromisingly busy but dull battlegrounds of fire, dust and dirt.

There’s little else to say, because in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, some superheroes have a scrap and hints are dropped about the Justice League’s cinematic debut amid a smattering of Chrysler cars and Windows Phones. There’s little of the nuance that’s come to the fore in Marvel media as of late: it lacks Jessica Jones’ emotionally charged commentary on abusive relationships, the Iron Man trilogy’s troubled playboy on the edge, and Guardians of the Galaxy's slapdash peppy humour.

In fact, DoJ has much in common with Age of Ultron, the most recent crossover film in Marvel’s schedule. The two delight in pummelling you with sense-shattering CGI, a barely-there villain and a general lack of enthusiasm for the subject at hand.

Perhaps what DC needs is a shake-up at the top - switch out Snyder with a new director, give Hans Zimmer a holiday, and bring in a new team of writers. Despite the inevitable financial success their adaptations bring, the publisher never quite seems to reach Marvel’s enviable heights of success.