Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Batman_v_Superman_posterRelease Date: March 25, 2016
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot
Director: Zach Snyder
Studio: DC Entertainment, RatPac Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel and Unusual Films
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Genre(s): Superhero
Rating: ?????
Review Spoilers: High

Based on DC Comics Characters

IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes | Wikipedia

There’s a lot of things wrong with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice that really overshadows the good parts of the movie. And there were good parts. Despite what some hard critics may say, BvS is an enjoyable watch, but only if you don’t think too much about it, and only if you have a wider, cursory knowledge of the DC universe.

I am a deep lover of the DC comic universe. In the rush of critically and generally appraised Marvel movies, I secretly (maybe not so secretly) harbored the deep desire for DC to rise from the ashes and blow us out of the water. But, no matter how much I want that, BvS was not that movie. That’s not to say it doesn’t have the potential to be an image of something better, it does, but it needs to change first.

No, I'm no god, but yes you are allowed to worship me as I distance myself emotionally from you all. [Warner Bros.]
No, I’m no god, but yes you are allowed to worship me as I distance myself emotionally from you all. [Warner Bros.]
As a franchise, imposing this kind of slightly desaturated film with doom and gloom overtones can be successful, as we’ve seen with Nolan’s Batman-verse. But when you offset characters like Batman and Superman together in a film, it should be universally acknowledged that characters who oppose each other should be tonally different. The problem with BvS is that we barely see an opposition.

Sure, the two guys fight one another in a loud, explosive, distracting fight, but it shouldn’t distract the fact that Superman has about a page of lines and you never really get to the heart of his character. Clark Kent is arguably one of the most well known characters in the world, not just in comics, he deserves more than what he’s given. Henry Cavill does his best with what basic plot he’s fed, and it’s a valiant effort. At best, Clark comes off as an aloof but sympathetic hero; you know he wants to protect people but he’s so far removed from them he actually seems alien. And while biologically that’s true, Clark is still the all-American farm boy from Smallville, Kansas. He should be relatable and he should be the ideal of what we all hope to be.

Please, someone give me more lines and more character development. [Warner Bros.]
Please, someone give me more lines and more character development. [Warner Bros.]
He shouldn’t just be playing foil to Batman and Lex Luthor.

On the plus side, Ben Affleck’s much anticipated Batman was a hit for me. Despite some shortcomings in his plot, like his Knightmares or vague references to past tragedies within the Bat family or his surprising lack of detective skills, he also is a strong addition as the new caped crusader. He’s not perfect, and feels vastly different from the world’s greatest detective, but Affleck slips into the role with ease. It also helps that we’ve known a very serious and grim Batman after Christopher Nolan’s reimagining, and Affleck’s Batman emulates a similar vibe.

The fault isn’t in his acting, it’s in the writing. His dream sequences are awkward, often making me frown with displeasure more than contemplate in wonder. Scenes like a young Bruce floating with bats or a Batman wielding a gun firing off killshots made the movie tedious and almost criminally unbelievable for a fan of the character, and it chopped up an already poorly edited film.

A scene they might have lingered on a little too long. [Warner Bros.]
A scene they might have lingered on a little too long. [Warner Bros.]
Which is how we get to this movie’s greatest crime: editing. Whatever skills Zach Snyder has in art direction is completely obliterated by the inability to piece a story together with so many moving parts and make it coherent. Aside from a sparse script, the cuts and editing make the movie clunky, jumping from the desert to Metropolis to the Arctic to Gotham to DC to Smallville. He’s trying to tell one story and making it look like seven different ones.

Unfortunately, I wish I could say that it was merely Snyder’s poor directing and editing skills that made BvS disappointing, but this was a movie with Jesse Eisenberg as a twitchy, ranting, not-Mark-Zuckerberg Lex Luthor. I wanted so much for Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor to merely be a young social media mogul thirsty for power, but instead of creating a charismatic meglomaniac, this Lex read more like an actual psychopath lacking any ability to control himself from slipping into his own crazy.

I'm totally not psychotic Mark Zuckerberg, guys. It's Lex Luthor. [Warner Bros.]
I’m totally not psychotic Mark Zuckerberg, guys. It’s Lex Luthor. [Warner Bros.]
There’s a scene where he addresses a crowd at a charity gala and in a speech that lasts about a minute he probably alienates the entire crowd with a less than stirring speech before leaping away to be snarky and annoying to our leading protagonists. Half way through the movie he takes his crazy up ten notches, but he never really explains any of his motives. The entire climax and problem that Superman and Batman face gets lost in his weird agenda. He talks a lot about power, along with everyone else in the movie, but none of it really makes sense in the context of his grand plan. He acts like an agent of chaos and seems more like Joker than actual Lex Luthor.

Topping off a somewhat questionable movie is a more questionable soundtrack by Han Zimmer and Junkie XL, an unlikely duo that produced a bizarre soundtrack. If the tonal shifts in setting weren’t jarring enough, here’s some orchestral shifts in music style to confuse you even more than the realization that Batman doesn’t ever seem to find out on his own who Superman truly is.

And of course, Dawn of Justice is poorly named. It means little in the context of the actual Justice League until the closing act of the story. Below this is major spoilers on the ending of the film and big easter eggs, so proceed with caution.

Just another Saturday night, branding criminals and thinking about my dead parents, Negan and Maggie. [Warner Bros.]
Just another Saturday night, branding criminals and thinking about my dead parents, Negan and Maggie. [Warner Bros.]
Doomsday’s killing of Superman means so little in the context of the movie, given that we all know he’s going to make a comeback and since he barely knows Batman and Wonder Woman, his pain is only felt on a surface level. Clark’s interactions with Amy Adams’ Lois Lane are enjoyable, the two have more chemistry in BvS than they did in Man of Steel and it’s nice to know that. However, Clark and Bruce go so quickly from enemies to allies that it almost became one of those movie moments where “if you just talked about it, none of this would have happened”.

If it was so easy for Clark to merely utter his mother’s name to Bruce, for him to stop Bruce’s unrelenting rage, couldn’t he have opened with it? Like, hey Bruce, I know you’ve been crusading for years because Batman is probably a common topic in the news so I know you’re essentially a good guy, crazy Lex Luthor has my mom Martha and wants to burn her for being a witch, that’s why I have to fight you. Was it so hard to give him a single line like that? I acknowledge that we actually want to see Batman and Superman fight, but come on. Also I refuse to believe Superman can be beaten by a bathroom sink, even under kryptonite influence.

Save me from poorly interpreted supervillains, Superman. [Warner Bros.]
Save me from poorly interpreted supervillains and uninspired storytelling, Superman. [Warner Bros.]
Regardless of simple things like communication, the movie only hints at the Justice League, with Superman’s death being the catalyst. There’s great easter eggs of Cyborg, the Flash, and Aquaman, which actually give me some hope for the upcoming movies. The first look at Ezra Miller’s Flash shows him saving a storekeeper from a stick-up using his powers while he’s buying milk. He’s a far visual cry from Grant Gustin’s Flash, but the short scene did give me some hope. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman looked less like the King of Atlantis and more like Ariel scavenging for human objects in a wreckage, except he’s got his triton and the meanest face Khal Drago can muster. I know Aquaman is kind of a joke to most people, but I sort of love him, so despite the jab about Ariel, the teaser actually really hyped me up? We get a very small look at Ray Fisher’s Cyborg being created, seeming more Frankenstein’s Monster than anything else upon initial inspection.

And of course, we get a look into Wonder Woman’s past with a tiny cameo from Chris Pine in the form of a photograph from the early 1900s with a fur cloaked Diana Prince. Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince is thoroughly enjoyable and alluring in her scenes, despite getting even less dialogue than Superman and little to no development. It’s a paltry look at a legendary character, but Gadot’s performance is great and shuts down any arguments I might have had about her. All this is found in Lex Luthor’s personal file on metahumans, and presumably discovered by Batman and Wonder Woman. It’s not as far fetched as it seems, given LexCorp’s creepy watch on everyone, and does give the impression that LexCorp is farther reaching and more curious than the average corporation.

No Diana Prince outfit is complete without obscenely obvious gold accents. [Warner Bros.]
No Diana Prince outfit is complete without obscenely obvious gold accents. [Warner Bros.]
Final Thoughts: There’s a lot of great implications in Batman v Superman, implications about being a superhero and being a vigilante that franchises like Marvel have only just started to touch on, but it gets bogged down by crappy writing and poor directing. Walking away from it, I was a little disappointed and tired, but I could see some hope. The leads embody their characters despite creative shortcomings, and could hold up a strong Justice League if the franchise is given some new directorial talent and some room to breathe.

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