Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice | Zack Snyder | March 25, 2016
Nine years after an initial tease that a Batman/Superman movie would “be released” in 2009 during a scene in 2007’s, I Am Legend, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has finally arrived. However, instead of being a standalone film, this is Warner Bros/DC’s attempt to kickstart their own cinematic universe. So was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice worth the wait?
Batman v Superman follows the lives of Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) and Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) two years after the events in Man of Steel. The plot boils down to these three main characters and their affiliates playing a game of cat and mouse. Bruce and his trusted butler, Alfred (Jeremy Irons), are trying to figure out what a string of underground crimes/deals are tied to. In addition, Bruce was in Metropolis when the cataclysmic fight between Superman and General Zod (Michael Shannon) occurred, and he witnessed first-hand the effect the fight had on the citizens of Metropolis.
This motivates Bruce to become a check to Superman’s god-like power and destructive capabilities. Superman is beckoned by the US government, led by Senator Finch (Holly Hunter), to explain his actions during the battle with General Zod as well as his various interventions around the world due to the fear that his power is seemingly limitless and to confirm that he is an ally of Earth. Clark’s girlfriend, Lois Lane (Amy Adams), is investigating what caused an interview that she had with a foreign despot to devolve to the point where Superman had to save her. As the antagonist, Luthor is playing the puppet master. He uses his influence to obtain and research the effects of a newly discovered mineral (kryptonite) in addition to gaining access to General Zod’s ship, all while trying to pit Superman, Batman, and the US government against each other in a battle for supremacy.
Zack Snyder and his team were able to get me to like Superman with Man of Steel and for the most part they did a good job with Batman v Superman. Unlike the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is a serious superhero movie, following the tone of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and Man of Steel. I personally don’t mind this and enjoy the fact that DC tends to be more serious than Marvel, since it gives a welcome contrast between the superhero factions. However, there are some who would rather see a 2.5 hour lighthearted action movie, than a 2.5 hour dark and serious one. With that being said, the fight scenes between Superman and Batman are enthralling and captured memorably with cinematographer Larry Fong and Snyder’s stylish camera work. The engaging story gives equal screen time to both Batman and Superman, helping to make it feel more like Batman versus Superman, rather than Batman featuring Superman, or vice versa. Even Wonder Woman (Gal Gardot) was brought in appropriately and her inclusion in the film did not feel forced.
Performances are good all around. The ever evolving relationship between Lois Lane and Clark Kent is still convincing. Ben Affleck seems to have exorcised the demons of Daredevil and gives a good performance as Batman. Even Jesse Eisenberg did a good job reimagining Lex Luthor, changing him from an older, stronger and imposing villain, to a younger one who is just beginning to test out the limits of his influence, power and psyche. I’ll admit I was skeptical when he was cast, but his performance won me over. There are also a few glimpses of other Justice League members and other DC characters that were sprinkled throughout the film that I enjoyed seeing and will enjoy looking for when I get the chance to watch this movie again.
However, the film has two major flaws that prevent it from being a great superhero movie. First, is the use of dream/vision sequences. At a few points during the film, Batman and Superman have dreams/visions which are used to give the audience a glimpse into their motivations and fears. However, they are fairly abrupt in their placement/sequencing, and can be a bit confusing to viewers. Two specific visions that Bruce Wayne has are basically given no context and seem to not only foreshadow potential consequences of events that will addressed in the upcoming Justice League films, but also the villain for these movies.
The other major issue, is that it seems like Batman v Superman is trying to set up so much for the DC Cinematic Universe that it did not feel as fully fleshed out as it could be. For example, the Bruce Wayne that we meet is middle aged. At this point he has gone through some monumental events in the character’s story arc (one of the Batcave scenes alludes to the outcome of one such event), however, none of this is explained to the audience. If this version of Batman was an ancillary character or had a prior set up movie, I’d be fine with this, but it feels a little weird to know virtually nothing about one of the biggest characters in the DC Universe. This technique worked well in Tim Burton’s 1989 version of Batman, but given what Batman v Superman means for the start of the Justice League franchise, I would think that there would be a bit more backstory for such an important character. Marvel/Disney have alleviated this by giving most if not all of the important initial Avengers full movies or a fair amount of screen time (with the exception of Hawkeye), to introduce these characters and their stories to audiences prior to the release of The Avengers. It looks like Wonder Woman will be the only Justice League member besides Superman to have a stand-alone film released prior to Justice League: Part One and the other members of the Justice League will seemingly have very little screen time to introduce themselves to audiences before their eventual team up. Putting it simply, due to the lack background given to these introduced characters, this movie feels more like a standalone film and much less like the beginning of the team up franchise it is marketed to be.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, had the potential to be an epic superhero movie. However, it was brought down by a few confusing sequences and the feeling that Snyder was trying to do too much without enough time to explain it all. Although an enjoyable ride, Batman v Superman does not quite live up to the billing that a titanic battle between the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel should be.
* I would have given Batman v Superman a higher score if a few of the movie’s trailers just simply did not exist. One of the Batman v Superman trailers revealed Lex Luthor’s endgame. This is important because anyone who has some knowledge or is curious about Superman’s rogues gallery could easily find out what this particular villain (I will not reveal the name for any readers who do not want the movie spoiled) means in the scope of the DC Universe. I’m used to movie trailers revealing snippets and spoiling some parts of a movie without context, but this was a spoiler that revealed an extremely important plot point of Batman v Superman before anyone had a chance to see it. To put this into context for readers who are not familiar with the DC Universe, it would be like a trailer revealing who the Half-Blood Prince was in the Harry Potter film series or the twist in Christopher Nolan’s Memento. This was a colossal gaff by the Warner Bros. marketing department (or whoever puts together their trailers), that really ruined this experience for me. I only hope that this mistake is not repeated for the slew of upcoming Justice League/DC titles during the next few years.