Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Directed by Zack Snyder
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS) is being met with major skepticism and criticism, even before the actual film has been screened for anyone outside of Warner Bros.’ camp. Director Zack Snyder brought a fresh reinvention of Superman and his origins in Man of Steel. He took the framework of a “first contact” science-fiction film, melded it with the character and his story and grounded it beautifully (minus the not-so-subtle Messianic allegory). Despite the fact that Batman v Superman was delayed a year and that this sequel to Man of Steel was reformed to be the platform for the DC Cinematic Universe, I maintained high hopes (perhaps too high), with a touch of skepticism. It’s safe to say that this film is for the DC Comics fans, but it’s not perfect.
Without giving away too much, which the second trailer did such a fine job of, the plot revolves around the aftermath of the Kryptonian final battle in Man of Steel aka the “Black Zero Event”. The world is torn between idolizing Superman (Henry Cavill) or fearing him. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), having a personal stake in the tragedy, takes measures to combat the alien should he show any further incline to being a threat to humanity. All the while, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) uses his power and influence to further his own agenda and machinations…
The run time for Batman v Superman is two hours and thirty minutes and, to me, that seemed awfully short, considering that not only is Batman being introduced, but Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, and the rumored cameos all needed to be crammed in. The film maintains a taut pace and despite never feeling rushed, the sheer amount of content having to be addressed hurts the movie…it doesn’t have heart. There aren’t any really strong moments where the narrative slows down and gives the material time to breathe. These are the scenes necessary to form the emotional connection to the characters and be fully invested in their journey. Dawn of Justice has some stunning elements that will shock and amaze, but they aren’t cohesive. Basically, it’s a series of powerful vignettes with poor connecting points and, as a whole, doesn’t culminate in a strong film.
The groundwork laid for the future of DC films is well done. It never feels shoehorned or random within the context of the overall story and to know that key sequences from this movie exist on celluloid/digital makes the kid in me cry out in joy. The attention to the comic mythology helps shape this path and there are plenty of juicy details and components that will leave fans with their jaws dropped and very happy. BvS borrows heavily from Frank Miller’s seminal work, The Dark Knight Returns (TDKR). The obvious allusion being the armored Batsuit culminating in a battle between the two icons, but there are other surprising nods to the comic that shows true attention to the source. There is another key Superman storyline that influences this film, but naming it will give away major spoilers. This is why I have usually backed Zack Snyder: he appreciates and understands the characters and the material and knows how to bring them to life on the big screen.
There are countless naysayers out there who scoffed at the notion of Ben Affleck portraying Bruce Wayne/Batman and I’m happy to report that he wears the cowl and cape extremely well! Now, it will be tough for some audiences to divorce themselves from the take on the character from Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, but know going in that this version is taken from the pages of Dark Knight Returns. He’s a brutal, world-weary vigilante and Affleck nails it. The picture highlights the Dark Knight’s scientific/detective skills and his impressive physical prowess. The serious demeanor and ideology of Bruce is true to character as well. The faithful Wayne family butler, Alfred Pennyworth, brought to life this time by Jeremy Irons, also is jaded from the years of being Batman’s partner in crime. Irons delivers sharp, sarcastic wit to his dialog and presents a tech-savvy Alfred. It’s a nice take in the vein of Batman: Earth One and TDKR.
Henry Cavill seems very comfortable in both identities. It’s in this story, where audiences will finally start to see their “definitive” Superman come into being. Those who were taken aback with Superman’s actions in closing moments of the previous film, will be pleased. Cavill capably shows the internal conflict of trying to be a hero to all and the consequences that entails. Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince (Wonder Woman), is a breath of fresh, fierce air. Prince is a woman of few words and lets her powerful actions speak for her, which is spot-on for an Amazonian warrior. The few lines of dialogue she speaks give the impression that she has experienced a life fully lived and carries much wisdom. Her introduction will make many excited to see her solo film next year. The arguably weakest link in the cast is Jesse Eisenberg. What is shown of him in the trailers is the exact characterization in the film, but more of it… My hope was that it would be a public façade and behind closed doors his intellectually devious side would present itself; sadly that is not Lex Luthor in BvS. His arrogance and crooked nature is present, but his superfluous and flamboyant persona just undermines those core qualities. Lex is reduced to being a sociopathic trickster and not a good one to relish in like the Joker or Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. He has one scene with Superman that gives a glimpse into how good Luthor could have been, but it’s a fleeting moment. Ironically, a lot of the plot holes in the picture are related to the character and could have been used in a way to bring him closer to a proper interpretation.
On the technical side of things, the cinematography is exactly what you would expect from a Zack Snyder picture – beautiful. The fight sequences are inventive, but not as much as in Man of Steel. Whether this is due to a change in cinematographers between the two movies or something else is a topic for another discussion. There are iconic shots that perfectly depict key characters; straight out of a comic book panel! The production design is, of course, so impressive. The attention to detail and functionality from the Batcave, to Batman’s equipment, to the heroic costumes, are all worthy of high praise. Batman’s suit blends Jim Lee’s and Frank Miller’s designs to make the most faithful version from page to screen. Superman’s suit has a few minor cosmetic changes worth noting and Wonder Woman’s armor, thankfully, does not oversexualize her. It’s an outfit fitting for combat and fairly true to her design. Hans Zimmer returns as composer along with Junkie XL (Mad Max: Fury Road, Deadpool). Listening to just the score alone, it’s evident it’s nowhere near as strong or melodic as some of Zimmer’s past work. Perhaps, collaborating with Junkie XL may not have been the best idea. Now, hearing it within the context of the film, it works very well. Yet, there are times where it overpowers scenes or is just overplayed in general.
Personally, I liked Batman v Superman, but wasn’t in love with it as I had hoped I would be. My high expectations may have affected my overall experience though. It’s tough to say, but there is no denying that this is not a perfect movie. Honestly, I’m looking forward to the extended, R-rated cut; that’s the version I feel may address some of the primary issues the theatrical cut had, but only time will tell. This is not meant for young audiences not only due to violence and minimal language, but also due to the fact that they would be bored with the socio-political context and subplots that are heavily embedded in the movie. This is worth seeing in a theater, especially in IMAX since certain scenes were shot in the format. Everyone should go and form their own opinion because there is no doubt that this will be as divisive as Man of Steel, if not even more so. It may not be the best entry in the subgenre, but it’s a great precursor to Justice League.