Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Review
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Review
The long-awaited Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice attempts to boldly kick-start a shared universe of superheroes in preparation for a whole slate of moves including a team-up movie, Justice League. The film picks up 18 months after the destructive fight between General Zod and Superman in 2013’s Man of Steel when Superman’s actions are under the microscope from the government and a vigilante known as Batman. The film attempts to weave a story of manipulation, philosophical conflict and spectacular action while laying the groundwork for DC’s extended universe (DCEU).
Perhaps the most positive takeaway from the film is Ben Affleck’s Batman. Director Zack Snyder, along with writers David Goyer and Chris Terrio, faced the unenviable task of rebooting a character who won great acclaim under the stewardship of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Affleck’s incarnation is older, darker and more aggressive than his predecessors. You feel he has a history in this world whether it’s the broken down, empty Wayne Manor or the memorial to Robin; it gives the character depth without telling you too much. Aside from the opening credits which needlessly shows the Wayne’s being gunned down for the umpteenth time, the character is handled pretty well although some fans and those who see Batman a particular way may be disappointed in just how far the caped crusader goes in this film.
Indeed, Batman has taken to branding the worst of his enemies ensuring they will be singled out in prison by other inmates and the implication is they would be killed. Not only that but Batman takes a more direct approach to murder too, gunning down several cars full of people in his jet and crushing several others in the Batmobile. While some may say that Snyder is taking the character in a new direction emphasizing his increasing frustration, others will see this as a betrayal of the core values the character they’ve read about usually holds. While some actors nail the portrayal of Batman or Bruce Wayne, its rare to see an actor do well as both and watching Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne is just as interesting, if not more so than when he dons the cape and cowl.
Although many will be drawn to the cinema to see Batman, make no mistake this is a Man of Steel sequel and a Superman story. The two characters share screen time fairly equally with the story jumping between them throughout. Yes, the film contains many references and nods to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, but the film focuses on the philosophical question of Superman’s actions, his accountability and threat to the world. While Henry Cavill puts in an adequate performance as the super-powered hero, its his relationship with Lois Lane that is the greatest improvement over Man of Steel. While Amy Adams’ character inexplicably followed the military and aliens around in that film, she is more grounded here and her relationship with Clark Kent works much better this time around and you buy them as a couple much more easily. More than anyone, she is the one seeing the bigger picture and investigating the events in Africa at the start of the film that cause so much controversy.
Many of the new additions to the universe are welcome too with Jeremy Irons’ Alfred being particularly effective. He is less prim and proper and he is seen taking more of an active role in Bruce Wayne’s activities, tinkering with the Batmobile and his gadgets while retaining a witty and sardonic attitude towards his master’s activities. Although she doesn’t have too much to do, Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince/Wonder Woman is exciting to see on the big screen for the first time and it was awesome to see her holding her own in the final fight of the film. Finally, those concerned about there being too many characters may rest easy because the other Justice League members are certainly cameos and for the most part the film introduces them well enough despite the contrived way they are discovered.
Unfortunately, much of the positive elements of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice end with the performances of its leads. The script is messy, contains numerous plot holes and is badly paced. Early on in the film, Superman is inexplicably blamed for something that was clearly not his fault and the movie hinges on this moment for quite some time. While Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill do their best, its bad writing that ultimately lets these two iconic characters down. The front half of the film deals with the differences in perspective and ideology between Batman and Superman and how accountable Superman is. These interesting themes, which go too dark and too serious for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, could have been the basis for a really good story, unfortunately Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t it as it moves these themes aside so there can be some action scenes. Despite its lengthy development, the plot seems like a first draft and its frustrating to see this new universe of films start off in such an unsteady manner. On top of this, there are little to no surprises if you’ve been watching the trailers which show off something from nearly every part of the movie.
Although I enjoyed Ben Affleck as Batman and to a lesser extent Superman, Lex Luthor is one character who doesn’t come off quite so well. Jesse Eisenberg plays the character as we’d expect: maniacal, manipulative and somewhat spoilt. However, his performance which is full of nervous ticks and strange behaviour combined with the writing and dialogue simply make the character too over the top to be menacing and he ultimately belongs in a Superman movie that takes itself less seriously. You wonder if in trying not to be Marvel, Warner Bros. and Zack Snyder went too far in the other direction and made Batman v Superman too serious. There are very few light hearted moments, a couple of jokes coming from Clark Kent’s boss, Perry White at the Daily Planet. Tonally, the film doesn’t entertain its audience and that is perhaps its greatest sin.
In terms of action, Zack Snyder uses his usual blend of spectacle and CGI heavy sequences. Some of these are impressive but in my opinion the fight between Batman and Superman is rather anti-climactic and doesn’t feel as visceral or have as much impact as the sequence it is trying to evoke from The Dark Knight Returns. All sense of story, character or emotion is lost in an effect-heavy CGI battle that you’ve waited an hour and a half to see. This is only compounded by a CGI villain that rears its head in the third act which our heroes must inevitably team up to defeat and the dramatic climax of this battle has no weight because the film was so poorly handled earlier.
Overall, if you enjoyed Snyder’s Man of Steel, you will probably find something to like in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Highlights include a different side to Batman that we haven’t seen before and the strong performances of its lead roles and some of its supporting cast. Beyond that, there is little to recommend this film thanks to the bad writing, plot holes and lack of emotion. While DC comics fans may delight in seeing references and characters they know and love, general audiences will be left disappointed with this bland action film that gets the DC cinematic universe off to a shaky start.