Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

Posted: March 26, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Batman_v_Superman_poster

In 2013, Zack Snyder attempted to bring Superman back to the big screen with Man of Steel and the resulting film divided a lot of people. I fell into the minority group of people who loved it and rewatches have reaffirmed my enthusiasm Snyder’s film. In a nutshell, I admire that film for asking deeper questions about the role of a superhero, for having a unique visual style, for creating a sense of grandeur, and for its interesting villain, and for the unique action scenes. In spite of this love, I can’t say I was ever really that excited for the Man of Steel follow-up, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. For one, that title is a nightmare, but more importantly, the film’s efforts to include Batman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, Doomsday, and the many other characters rumoured to show up strike me as a misguided effort to rush a shared universe and compete with Marvel. The trailers also had me worried. There’d be good bits sure, but also a lot of moments which made me roll my eyes. If nothing else I’ve been curious to see how the film would turn out and now that I have, I can’t say I’m impressed.

It has been eighteen months since Man of Steel and Superman (Henry Cavill) has become a famous figure, continually saving people and preventing disasters. The world is continually in debate regarding what to make of Superman, what his role on earth means for the rest of the planet, and if he is friend or foe. Superman himself is conflicted with what his role is, in spite of the encouragement and love from journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams). For the hardened superhero Batman (Ben Affleck), Superman is a threat to the planet. After seeing the destruction Superman was a part of in Metropolis, Batman has resolved himself to being able to stop the Kryptonian creature should the need arises. Superman in turn sees Batman as a crazed vigilante who is a menace to the people of Gotham City. It is for this reason that the two titans come into conflict. Metropolis billionaire Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) also sees Superman as a threat and in turn has been experimenting with Kryptonian technology and taking part in his own schemes.

My primary worry that this film would be overstuffed turned out to be sadly on point. There are a lot of different movies at conflict with each other in Batman v Superman. This is a Man of Steel follow-up, a Batman movie, a Batman/Superman movie, and an introduction to Wonder Woman/Justice League prequel. The multiple plots end up cannibalizing each other and as a result none of the storylines really succeed. This is most apparent in the central conflict between the titular mythic heroes. The script does adequately explain why these two come into conflict, but it never closes out the arc properly. Without getting too specific, there should be a moment where both Batman and Superman realize they were wrong about each other and come to respect the role each plays. However we never get that pay off, which is problematic as it kind of makes the whole film seem pointless. Having said that, there is a moment where the two come together, but it’s ridiculously simplistic and downright stupid. I won’t get into spoilers, but let’s just say there’s no way such a minor and insignificant thing would completely change these characters feelings for each other.

Superman’s own internal conflict is also sidelined and resolved in a very unsatisfying manner. There’s a great montage where moments of Superman’s heroism are cut against various politicians, journalists, and scientists (many portrayed by people “playing themselves”) debate the ethics and morality of Superman. It’s a great moment which plays into Superman’s conflict while naturally continuing the themes of power and responsibility explored in Man of Steel. Unfortunately, that moment is fleeting and Superman’s own quandaries are basically disregarded by the end. Finally, while I can say it was pretty cool to finally see Wonder Woman in her feature film, she isn’t all that important to the movie. Granted, she looks good and Gal Gadot is intriguing in the role, but the only reason she’s here is to get people excited for future movies. This is especially frustrating that Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are the holy trinity of DC comics. There coming together, especially for the first time, should have been a lot more meaningful.

While the film is certainly a mess, that doesn’t mean there aren’t good things scattered in. I continue to like the reoccurring cast of Cavill, Adams, Laurence Fishburne, and Diane Lane and Ben Affleck steps into the role of Batman well. The superficial charm of Bruce Wayne is captured as is the hardened determination of the Batman. The suit also looks awesome and the action scenes are generally coherent and exciting. In fact, the visuals in general are quite good. The film never matches the beautiful cinematography of Man of Steel, but Snyder still captures some compelling imagery which is matched by another strong score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL. Still, I can’t help but feel the music is also inferior to Zimmer’s work on Man of Steel and even The Dark Knight trilogy. Finally, the much anticipated fight between Batman and Superman is a pretty well-done sequence. It’s well-staged, creative, visceral, and generally Snyder does a really good job showing how exactly Batman would go about fighting Superman. Perhaps most importantly though, the fight doesn’t overstay its welcome. I was really worried that a huge chunk of time would basically be devoted to the two punching each other, but that thankfully isn’t the case. Instead, the scene is brief and impactful, even if the ultimate resolution to it is lackluster.

It should be noted that amidst the good in this mess there is also a lot of bad. First and foremost, Jesse Eisenberg is absolutely dreadful as Lex Luthor. He’s hyper, awkward, and just annoying. What happened to the calculating and smooth genius I’m familiar with? Why does this Luthor act as a goofy clown? I have no idea way Luthor has been so continuously hard to get right on screen given that he’s one of the best characters in Superman lore, but Batman v Superman is another misfire in this regard. I also took issue with the characterization of Batman (and this might be a bit of a spoiler here). While most versions try and honour Batman’s no killing rule, Snyder pretty casually abandons it here. This Batman casually murders several criminals during a car chase and then again later when trying to save a hostage. This bothered me, not just as a fan of the character, but I also found it at odds with his arc in this movie. Batman’s whole reason for being weary of Superman is that he finds him a destructive force that endangers lives, but Batman himself has no problem casually murdering. That just strikes me as off. I should also note that this isn’t a Man of Steel situation where the collateral damage caused in battle costed lives. No, Batman deliberately takes action to kill and that’s an issue. Finally, while most of the film’s action is solid, Batman v Superman ultimately climaxes in spectacularly lame fashion. It’s essentially just a dumb fight with a big CG monster lacking in interesting character dynamics or motives. The scene also just looks awful. The effects themselves are fine, but there’s barely any colour and it’s just really unpleasing to look at.

I’ve long complained about Marvel’s tendencies to play things safe with their films and Batman v Superman certainly doesn’t play things safe. The film does ask questions about the responsibilities of a hero, pushes the morality of the characters, and has a distinct visual style. But none of these things give this film a pass, especially when most of these elements are not handled very well. The film certainly has some good elements, but it’s also loaded with tons of narrative shortcomings, poor editing, questionable decisions, and a bad ending. A lot of these problems stem from DC trying to rush to a Justice League film, but I think the flaws run deeper than that. Rather, the film is at odds with itself, trying to be both a more “fun” and “colourful” film while maintaining the darker introspection of Man of Steel and it fails at both. In fact, I actually find Man of Steel to be way more successful at being an escapist superhero film. A lot of people complained that film was too dark and violent, but I felt a real sense of hope and wonder from that film. I did not feel anything like that from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which is far too grim and overbearing to be fun and far too silly and over the top to be taken seriously.

D+

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