Dawn of Justice is the much-anticipated battle between two super-heroes that I previously thought were both on our side, but in any event, frankly it’s less interesting watching them tussle than you’d think.
One is a demi-god with exceptionally good intentions whose inner conflict involves a utilitarian fight between saving the love of his life versus the rest of humankind; the other is a jaded, middle-aged billionaire whose chance of emotional happiness was destroyed the moment his parents were murdered. Whether congenital or constructed, each has the super-human capacity to wreak havoc and save lives. But somehow they wind up having to fight each other. And it takes a very noisy, overlong two and a half hours for one of them to win.
Director Zack Snyder picks up where his Man of Steel set down: Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is now living happily with Lois Lane but is still unrecognisable to his colleagues at the Daily Planet newspaper; Bruce Wayne (now played by Ben Affleck) continues to sleep around and attend lacklustre cocktail parties while his butler Alfred (a refreshing update on the role by Jeremy Irons) delivers a cynical commentary.
Initially, the cinematography (particularly stunning in Imax), Snyder’s typically grim production design and Hans Zimmer’s extraordinary soundtrack (it’s just as well I like my music sledgehammer subtle…) deliver plenty of thrills, and with the introduction of a hyperactive Jesse Eisenberg as Wayne’s new nemesis, things bode well. Batman, in particular, feels credible in his fatigue and pessimistic outlook, while Kent and Lane’s burgeoning relationship carries a comforting domestic tone.
But once the battle begins, it’s simply too loud and too long. If one were inclined towards subtext, the continual theistic allusions might be compelling: Luther despairs/delights in the battle he is orchestrating being between gods and devils, and certainly Superman is played like a Jesus figure once lauded then pilloried by the very populace he once swore to serve. An apposite Easter movie, perhaps, but in every other way Snyder’s attempt to deliver meaning is scuppered by his idolatry of empty bombast. The real injustice here is for the fans.