Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Review
Warning: There may be small spoilers below.
For the first time in cinematic history, powerhouse icons Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are brought to the screen in the fabled start to Warner Brothers’ new DC Cinematic Universe. Arguably the best comic book characters of all time, this holy trinity of heroes finally gets put to work in the long awaited Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice which has been teased relentlessly since its Comic Con announcement back in 2013. After a few years and an insane amount of advertisement the film is here and it is hoping to launch what could be the end to Marvel’s box office reign, but as DC Comics and Warner Bros. attempt to catch up to the success of Marvel they end up drastically falling behind.
The story of Batman v Superman feels like a run on sentence that director Zack Snyder pitched to Warner Bros. in hopes of keeping his job for just a few more years. My guess is that Snyder’s pitch went something like this: “I think I can do this Superman thing again if you just give me another shot so let me just make everyone hate him because of Man of Steel and then maybe… maybe Batman can possibly be in it? Everybody wants to see Batman again, so he will be there, and they could… fight each other like that one comic and then maybe we also have Lex Luthor? Yeah that could work but this time lets make him insane, like a more eccentric Mark Zuckerberg, and he can make some scheme to get rid of Superman because… I guess he hates him because everybody hates Superman because of Man of Steel, remember? And we could also put all the other Justice League members as cameos to set up our Justice League movie like Marvel does… maybe we should have Wonder Woman play a more prominent role in this movie too? That’s all I’ve got guys… Maybe also throw in Doomsday somewhere at the end because Superman fans seem to like whoever that character is and it would look cool for a fight”. Imagine Snyder’s surprise when the studio said “Yes, do all of that, please”, and of course, do all of that he did. The film is a mess of ideas that are poorly pasted together by Oscar winning screenwriter Chris Terrio and the less notable David S. Goyer. That’s not to say that all of these gummed ideas were awful, but the storytelling as a whole is disjointed, weakly paced, and at times detrimentally tough to watch.
The film begins with a beaten to death retelling of Bruce Wayne’s tragic and traumatic childhood with the death of his parents, which has been done better about a dozen different times. Then we get to see yet another attempt at showing us a boyish Bruce falling into the well and being barraged by hundreds of bats, a scene that was much better in Batman Begins and is actually laughably odd in this film. Finally, after ten minutes of what would seemingly be a new Batman solo film, we see Bruce Wayne witnessing the events from Man of Steel, as Superman and General Zod hurdle through the city destroying everything in a disastrous carelessness. These are the moments where Snyder attempts to fix his mistakes from Man of Steel, showing the horror and trauma on the streets of Metropolis as these events unfold. In some ways he is successful at showing us a world in hesitance and terror from its last encounter with the omnipotent hero but in every other way he fails to capture the true good of Superman and the potentially brutal motivations of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Instead the film opts to avoid meaningful storytelling in favor of sluggish set up and all too brief action set pieces.
It is blatantly apparent from the introduction to Batman v Superman that the writers, Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, and director, Zack Snyder, all know that the thing people want to see most is the first name in their overlong title. This is the first major issue that the film never truly gets past, the filmmakers never show an interest in giving any real character to Superman. This makes the entire film and its stakes irrelevant because who really cares about what happens to the stiff and unlikable hero. Their next and most glaring issue is the same one that destroyed Spiderman 3 and The Amazing Spiderman 2, there was just too much hastily thrown in and the writers couldn’t handle the amount of characters they decided to juggle. With Batman/Bruce Wayne, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, Clark Kent/Superman, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor Jr. and a sprinkling of Justice League set up, Batman v Superman becomes an overcrowded film that never gets to focus on any one thing for enough time.
Batman v Superman isn’t all bad though, with a decent score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, some beautiful yet overly filtered visuals from cinematographer Larry Fong, and some fun action, especially the title fight sequence albeit a bit too short. Another highlight is Ben Affleck, who portrays Bruce Wayne/Batman with considerable ease and gives the best performance of the entire film, but that isn’t saying much when you see who he goes up against. Henry Cavill gives a performance slightly better than a wooden plank could have, injecting no real feeling into any of his choppily written dialogue and Jesse Eisenberg gives a laughably obnoxious performance as Lex Luthor Jr. Side characters like Lois Lane and Martha Kent, phoned in by Amy Adams and Diane Lane, are there to scream for help and they only ever take away what little momentum the film was building up towards the end. The overly advertised Wonder Woman, played adequately by Gal Gadot, is honestly underwhelming and is in the film for all of 15 minutes. Luckily thanks to the aforementioned score I was at least able to listen to some decent music when I closed my eyes in hopes of a brief escape.
It is evident that the creators of this film are in a desperate thirst for Marvel sums of money and decided this could be their big shot at bringing their DC Cinematic Universe to that prized level of revenue. Instead of carefully constructing a world in which all of these characters can come together over time and build believable relationships, Warner Bros. thinks it’d be a better idea to cram it all together in the hopes that they wouldn’t have to spend more money on separate films to build to this point. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice aims to be a hopeful stepping stone for the long awaited Justice League debut in 2017 but it ends up being another let down from the studio that doesn’t understand why people didn’t like Man of Steel.