- Title: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
- IMDb: link
What did I just watch? Returning to the scene of the crime while building on the shaky foundation of 2013’s Man of Steel, a film which turned DC Comic’s moral center into a cold-blooded killer, director Zack Snyder and writer David S. Goyer expand DC’s bleak, joyless universe with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Shot in Snyder’s “cinematic” style of making every shot look like a music video, the incoherent plot makes poor use of its stars who attempt in vain to keep this Titanic from heading straight towards the iceberg at full speed. Cobbled together from a number of sources, most notably Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman, DC’s attempt to jump-start a Justice League franchise is an uneven mess of goo thrown against a wall in the vain hope that something might stick.
What’s surprising, given my dislike for Man of Steel, is the fact that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t an awful movie – just an incompetent one. While it’s certainly not good, the movie introduces several interesting ideas (even if it doesn’t quite know what to do with any of them).
Before I get to what’s wrong with the movie (numerous issues which start with the opening credits and run straight through the epilogue) let’s take a look at the main thing it gets right. Despite negative fan reaction to her casting, Gal Gadot is actually really good in the film. Of the three heroes on display, however, it’s sad that the one who gets by far the least screentime is the only one who truly earns a heroic moment (or any audience appreciation – at least in the packed theater where I viewed the film). Both in and out of costume, Gadot kicks serious ass and even outsmarts a certain Dark Knight Detective. While doing nothing to convince me that any of the other characters deserve more sceentime, either in a Justice League movie or their own individual films, Gadot actually sells me on her version of Wonder Woman enough for me to hope that this might be a bright spot DC could build on for the future.
The fallout from the Kryptonian battle which decimated Metropolis is the key to the entire set-up of the film. It works well, with Snyder and Goyer admitting the mistakes of Man of Steel and letting the audience who despised Superman’s (Henry Cavill) casual disregard for the carnage he helped cause in the first film have a voice in the film. However, it doesn’t go far enough. While the whole world seems to be embracing Superman as a savior we should see more than just Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), an emotionally overwrought Batman (Ben Affleck), and one average joe (Scoot McNairy) question the man’s methods and morality. What would have been far more interesting would have been to see Superman hailed as a savior outside Metropolis but viewed (legitimately given his actions in the first film) as chaotic disaster in a cape (something akin to the Hulk) in Metropolis itself.
Although I liked Cavill in the previous film, I didn’t like Goyer’s attempt to turn the spaceman/farmboy into a wandering nomad with daddy issues. Given that he’s playing something closer to the classic Clark Kent role this time around he comes off more naturally when not in the suit. Although, in just one of the many logistical problems of the script, the film has a hard time reconciling the length of Batman’s longtime vigilantism with Clark Kent’s sudden interest in “the Bat vigilante” as if he, and the local news, are just discovering Batman for the first time.
Moving on to our other caped crusader, Ben Affleck is actually pretty good as Batman. Given a larger role in the film than Superman (the movie opens with an awful slow-motion reinterpretation of Batman’s origin and insipid narration from Affleck himself), he handles himself well for the most part. It doesn’t help that the movie, in another of its logistical errors, chooses to make the attack on Metropolis personal to Bruce by having an elderly father figure die in the attack. The movie makes no attempt to explain who the character is (and given Bruce’s ranting over the phone I wasn’t the only one who thought I heard him say “DAD!” giving me pause as to what kind of screwed up history Snyder and Goyer are playing with here). At least the design of the Bat-suit works, even if there are inconsistencies to what kinds of attacks it can fend off (even in the same scene), but I have to say he certainly looks spry for a man of his advanced years. We even get an unintentionally hilarious Rocky IV training montage in the Batcave with Bruce preparing for his big throwdown with Superman.
And then there’s Jesse Eisenberg as Alexander Luthor. I’ll give Goyer credit for giving us a far different version of Lex than we’ve seen in the past. Still a genius with vast wealth at his control, this Luthor is far more of a loose cannon with series emotional problems. Although it’s an interesting take on the character, it doesn’t quite work for me. However, as we’re jotting down strengths and weaknesses of the film, Eisenberg’s performance probably goes in the former column. Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, and Holly Hunter all appear in the movie as well in relatively small and unimportant roles (other than the importance of one character’s name).
I’ve gotten this far without going too deeply into the movie’s plot (or even try to explain the CGI mess that is the climactic fight at the end of the movie). Trying to avoid spoilers there’s only so much about what the film bungles I can get into because so many of the movie’s problems come from the script. For those interested in viewing the trainwreck I won’t give away any big secrets. Of course even ignoring the issues with the script, Snyder’s vision and the odd editing of the movie (including shots and entire scenes not connected to any other piece of the story which are quickly introduced and immediately thrown away) are equally head-scratching. Here’s an example: Keep your eye out for Superman dragging a large ship over dry land and see if you can figure out what that sequence has to do with anything else in the movie. While the film is paced within an inch of its life the quick cuts don’t fit together naturally leaving us feeling like a yo-yo bouncing around disconnected scenes and plot threads Snyder couldn’t be bothered to fit together (such as one character’s baffling movements during the epilogue).
Is the Batman vs. Superman fight cool? Sort of, but it’s definitely a watered down version of what comic nerds love about The Dark Knight Returns. The movie is certainly not the home run DC fans were hoping for to get their cinematic universe back on track. In the end the movie that Dawn of Justice most closely resembles is the equally problematic Green Lantern (which given its sense of humor is actually more entertaining). It’s not the unwatchable turd I was half-expecting, but Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a mess of a film in every measurable way that, other than Wonder Woman, doesn’t offer much hope for the neck-snapper, Batfleck, and the rest of the Justice Leaguers to find success in any of DC’s upcoming slate of films.