Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Director: Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Man of Steel)
Starring: Ben Affleck (Gone Girl, Argo, Good Will Hunting), Henry Cavill (Man of Steel, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Amy Adams (Man of Steel, American Hustle), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, Zombieland), Jeremy Irons (High-Rise, Die Hard with a Vengeance), Gal Gadot (Fast & Furious 6, Furious 7), Diane Lane (Man of Steel, Trumbo, Unfaithful), Laurence Fishburne (Man of Steel, The Matrix), Holly Hunter (The Piano, Thirteen).
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had so much potential. It really did. You have two of the most iconic, fictional characters in one film, you have conflict between two people that are incredibly smart and powerful, and you have a director known for his love of comic books, his ability to create stunning imagery and most of all, slow motion.
It’s a wonder, then, that somehow this film turned out as nothing more than average.
Let me start with the good, the film is full with incredible imagery, that does lean on the religious side more often than not, given that Superman’s portrayal as a Christ figure is as subtle as a minority at a Trump rally. Director Zack Snyder knows how to frame a shot, and how to visually describe what’s happening without saying a word. Batman and Superman, these two behemoth characters, always have this immense presence on the screen. Whether it’s the protagonists, or Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, or Amy Adams’ Lois Lane, Snyder directs his actors with each shot to such a fine degree, as if he’s drawing from a comic panel in every frame.
It’s such a shame that as soon as this panel starts to move and character’s begin a dialogue, the film regresses back to mediocrity. While Snyder knows how to film a shot, it’s up to screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S Goyer to essentially fill in the blanks, but somewhere there has been a break communication. Even more of a shame is that with some coherent editing, this film could be better than average. But lousy dialogue coupled with disjointed subplots jumble the film around and just confuse instead of explaining.
But as promised, I’m beginning with the good elements. Gal Gadot’s brief appearances throughout the film as Diana Prince (though never named anything more than Miss Prince) A.K.A Wonder Woman always brings a shade of mystery and, well, wonder, to the screen. And the Wonder Woman theme? Some of Hans Zimmer’s best work. It’s a joy to see her, as she brings an emotion other than pessimism to the film.
Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne swiftly bests any other portrayal of the character (sorry Bale) and his rugged, caped-veteran Batman is interesting to view after a lifetime of origin stories (though we get treated to, yet again, to the death of the Waynes). Within the first ten minutes of the film you’ll understand what kind of man Bruce Wayne is, but better so, what kind of vigilante Batman has become. Every Batman needs an Alfred, and Jeremy Irons provides a charming, witty butler that departs a long way from Michael Caine’s emotive, caring portrayal. Irons in fact provides most of the joyous parts of the film, and is one of the few characters that doesn’t think the world’s going to end tomorrow.
Batman’s morality is horribly blurred to the point where he’s now branding the people he takes down. He’s a constant source of paranoia and pessimism, and his conflict with Superman appears feels unlikely and improbable. Batman and Superman have had conflict before, it’s a widely known fact that they don’t really get along. But Batman’s paranoia taking him to the point where he’s ready to kill Superman without ever seeing the full picture just seems…dumb. Wayne remarks ‘if we believe there is even a one percent chance that he is our enemy, we have to take it as an absolute certainty’. Like, no! No we don’t!
And Superman, after the events of Man of Steel, where he’s learned what he can do and become Superman, still remains glum, down and hopeless. He says it himself in the film, ‘I don’t care what they think’. You have one paranoid man wearing a cape up against a seemingly depressed man in a cape, there’s no hope in the film. Now I’m not saying they don’t have reasons for being down, both of Batman’s parents are dead, one of which is sort of Superman’s fault but not really. And Superman’s entire family and planet is gone, except that his Earth mother is still around and has hallucinations about his Earth father. And let’s not get started on why the ‘greatest gladiator match in history’ gets brought to a halt. The conflict resolution is as silly as the reason it started.
But at least the conflict and fighting comes with some wonderful choreography. Snyder’s confessed to drawing inspiration from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns comic. Batman stomps on Superman’s chest, Superman strikes back by throwing him through an endless amount of walls. Kryptonite is involved. It’s all there. Despite awful bits of dialogue occasionally interrupting the action, it’s truly a spectacle and worth the price of admission, though you’ll have to wait roughly 90 minutes into this 151 minute movie until you actually see it. The two expensive looking fights happen back-to-back, and then the film’s almost over.
So, what makes up the rest of this movie? Several more subplots that don’t really lead anywhere and serve only as an interruption to what you paid money for. Batman v Superman already sounds like two films put together, but actually it feels like more. There’s a real chance for some deep, political insight about the consequences of Superman’s actions in Man of Steel. We see people frightened of his power, but that’s already channeled through Batman. Superman attends a court but never gets to tells his side of the story, it’s almost as if he doesn’t care. Henry Cavill’s portrayal never comes off as charismatic, nor hopeful. We see him performing great feats, helping humanity in one quick montage, but never attempts more than one facial expression through the entire film.
Jesse Eisenberg’s Alexander Luthor (that’s Lex to you and me) plays the puppet master, but personifies Marmite. No doubt there will be people who think he’s the best performance in the film, but Eisenberg is an acquired taste, as if Snyder told him to crank up the Zuckerberg to 100. He’s mad, crazy, delusional, whatever you want to call it, but his motivations never seem clear and his plans seem obviously flawed. Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch is the only other person who has some sort of accord with him, but yet she falls into another subplot that doesn’t amount to anything.
These subplots wouldn’t be as unbearable if they weren’t so awfully structured throughout the film. Dream sequences and ‘Knightmares’ interrupt the narrative for little purpose. Imagine a MCU post-credits scene appearing 40 minutes into a film, that’s what’s going on here. Worst of all, these sequences aren’t bad, they’re interesting and obviously building up to something that will occur later in the DC universe. But this is to its detriment. Much of the film feels as if studio executives wrote it with a check list in mind.
Have we set up Wonder Woman? Check.
Have we given Batman and Superman a reason to fight? Check.
A reason to stop? Check.
Set up later films? Check.
Lois Lane needs to be rescued? Check.
Montage of training building up to the big fight? Check.
Oh, remind them that Justice League is coming. Check.
These create severe pacing and editing issues and film suffers from moments that make no logical sense, but serve only to transition to the next visual spectacle.
Fans of the characters will no doubt enjoy the film, as well as Affleck and Gadot’s new portrayal of iconic characters. However, anyone looking to come out the film waving their #TeamBatman or #TeamSuperman flags will instead leave them in the foyer. By the end of the film, both characters are equally uninteresting, and you’ll probably be wondering “when does that [insert Justice League character] movie come out again?”.
This 151 minute long advert for DC’s cinematic universe is disappointing with little in the way of plot. A visual spectacle that lets down with its CGI-heavy third act, leaving it as forgettable as a Thor movie. Religious imagery and disjointed storytelling see the film from start to finish, and it’ll be interesting to see if the consensus on this film changes with hindsight, after more of DC’s films release.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a superhero movie with no heroes.
Feature image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures