Check out Our Review [WITH SPOILERS] of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
Hey, you know there’s a new superhero movie out? Unless you’ve been living in the slums of Apokolips, you probably have read, wrote about, discussed, argued, debated, angsted over, nerded-out to, or wondered about Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. There are a ton and a half of opinions out there regarding the latest installment in DC’s cinematic universe. Well, here’s another one.
Before I begin, let me qualify the whole thing by saying that I’m a lifelong DC fan, a lifelong comic book obsessive, a watcher and lover of all of DC’s current TV shows, and a person who did not like Man of Steel. I dug it after the first viewing, but subsequent viewings left me cold.
All that being said- Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is a very pleasant surprise. Nowhere near perfect, this movie entertained me through most of its entire, bloated run-time. Now, this movie was far from perfect and succeeds in spite of Zack Snyder’s almost constant attempts to derail it. Snyder’s weaknesses as a filmmaker are glaring but the film is so immersed in DC lore, it stands under its own merits. I can see why many people are deriding this film; it has glaring weaknesses. It’s almost four films in one and not all of those films are successful. This film is a problematic mess that somehow overcomes the sum of its parts to successfully kick-off the DC Cinematic Universe in earnest. Let’s break it down:
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is a terrible Superman movie as Snyder continues to prove he just doesn’t understand this character. There is no joy to Superman; he is a sullen, petulant brute who has developed more of a heroic heart than he had in Man of Steel, but he still has the messianic complex and frowns like he is minutes away from non-elective surgery. This is emblematic of the problem that has been rampant through DC/Warners through the last decade. The company just has no idea what to do with Superman. It spent ten years deconstructing the character and stripping it of any semblance of tradition in Smallville and continues to feature media projects that run counter to the tropes of traditions that make this character so great.
Hell, when was the last time DC published a traditional Superman comic? This film just continues the Batman-ization of Superman and it will piss off Superman purists. The good news is that as this movie progresses, Superman kind of becomes a bit more heroic. Yeah, he tries to bully Batman after he busts Batman’s ride (and really, this was one of the most wrong-minded and disgusting scenes in the film). Yeah, there is another scene involving Martha Kent trying to convince Clark not to be a hero (proving once again that Snyder has zero understanding of the importance of the Kents). And yeah, once again, Snyder chooses to hammer home the clumsily obvious Superman as Jesus thing.
I promised myself I wouldn’t mention Marvel in this review because the whole nerd-driven DC versus Marvel thing is getting beyond tiresome, but it is very telling that Marvel managed to infuse its new version of the Punisher with more humanity than DC has managed to imbue into its film version of Superman. That’s not good. But by film’s end, thanks to a shocking plot-choice, Superman becomes the hero he is supposed to be. Hey, maybe by the next film Superman might even, dare I say it, smile. The good news is that Henry Cavill seems more comfortable in his role and this Superman does have a presence but again, there is no joy in Smallville because this is one unpleasant Superman.
An even bigger sin is the stripping of any joy from Clark Kent. Listen, I don’t need a Cristopher Reeve riff, but there needs to be some humanity to Clark Kent, or why bother? The film finally gets Perry White (Lawrence Fishburne) right as he is one of the few pleasantly comedic elements of the film, but man, is the Daily Planet a depressing workplace. The film wouldn’t know Clark Kent if he punched it in the face, but it clearly understands what makes Lois Lane (Amy Adams) so special. Lane was front and center in the film trying to unravel a mystery on how a group of mercenaries (led by KGBeast of all people) connects to one Lex Luthor and she was one of the bright spots of the film.
Which brings us to Lex. At first I despised Jesse Eisenberg’s performance. He was more Wily Wonka than Lex bringing an almost Asperger’s like ineffective quirkiness to the classic villain. But the film does brilliantly twist all that and reveals Lex for what he is as he commits two acts that are so evil that It made me hate the character in the right way. The Lex at the end of the film is a classic Lex Luthor and that made me very happy.
But all this works in spite of Snyder who forces his own will onto the Superman archetype. Someone needs to tie Snyder to a bed frame and explain a few things to him. 1. 9/11 riffs are not edgy, funny or cool, and he really needs to remove them from his bag of tricks.
2. People do not want to see Batman or Superman kill, and shoehorning superhero murder into a storyline does not do anything for the story or the properties and seems like just a giant ‘F-you’ to the fan base.
3. These are not just your toys, Snyder, so stop breaking them. Folks, Jimmy Olsen is in the film and he gets shot in the head after about a minute. That is a giant middle finger to DC fans as it prevents future (and hopefully superior) filmmakers from using the character.
While I’m beating a dead horse, let me vent a bit more. This movie has an overreliance on dream and prophetic sequences which makes the film confusing, bloated, and dumb. Snyder doesn’t even change the lighting or color palette of these scenes so a viewer can discern a dream from reality until a few minutes into the scene. It’s just confuses a film that already has tons of plates spinning and it exposes Snyder as a one-note creator that has no interest in helping his viewer or the plot progress. There was one prophecy sequence that foreshadows the arrival of Darkseid (yeah, I did nerd out, I admit it) that is undermined by clumsy editing and almost indecipherable camera work. And man, the non-comic reader must have been completely baffled.
At this point you must be saying, “But hey Mr. The Source reviewer, I thought you said you liked it”
Well, I did, and now let me tell you why.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is a very good Batman film. This shouldn’t surprise anyone as DC/Warners has proven that, while it completely is in the dark on how to successfully deliver Superman to the masses, it certainly understands its company tent- pole -the Dark Knight. I know that when Ben Affleck was announced as Bruce Wayne/Batman, it was like the nerd world imploded. But let me tell you, Affleck kills it. Affleck plays a Bruce Wayne film-goers have not seen before. He is broken, angry, bitter, and almost Ahab-like in his pursuit for justice. He is a Batman that burns a brand into the worst of the scum he fights so they will be killed in prison for their actions. He is a loner that does not have any allies save Alfred (Jeremy Irons, who is spot-on perfect, by the way). This is a Batman driven by anger and fear. This (after some manipulation from Lex Luthor) brings Bruce Wayne into conflict with Superman. But again, by film’s end, Batman became the Batman of old, and the Dark Knight becomes the Caped Crusader thanks to his encounter with Superman. And this, my friends, is where the film works.
Until the epic fight between Superman and Batman, the film is a stumbling mess with good ideas and poor execution, but once the main event starts, the movie suddenly becomes solid and intense. This is what fans came to see and they got their money’s worth as Batman uses Luthor-discovered Kryptonite to battle his godlike foe. Superman’s motivation during the conflict is the battle’s greatest triumph. Luthor kidnaps Martha Kent and tells Superman that she will die if he Kal-El doesn’t kill Batman. All of a sudden, Superman is fighting for something and the film just doesn’t seem so nihilistic anymore. It’s this love for parents that unites Batman and Superman and leads to the film’s best action sequence as Batman goes to save Martha Kent. This scene might be the single greatest Batman moment in the filmic history of the character as it perfectly captures the hero’s comic book flavor. It is high stakes and awesome, and bodes very well for any future Affleck Bat films.
And this is where the film should have jumped the King Shark, but somehow, stayed on course. The Batman versus Superman thing was over and now, boom, Doomsday arrives. Doomsday is indeed Zod so that little bit of dangling plot thread was tied up as Luthor used Kryptonian tech to mutate Zod into Doomsday and a big, dumb, self-indulgent but for some reason fun and classical 90s comic book battle ensues.
At this point let me say, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice becomes a good Justice League film because by the bristling beard of Zeus, was Wonder Woman perfect! Now, don’t get me wrong, the character is totally shoehorned in the film, but Gal Gadot brings a class and dignity to the character that Wonder Woman fans have been dying to see for generations. She has sex appeal, strength, grace, athleticism, and a warrior’s spirit. Seeing the DC Trinity actually fighting together on a big screen, it should melt the heart of even the most hardened DC hater. I cannot wait for Wonder Woman’s solo film, because Gadot is masterfully cast.
So with the Trinity formed, the three take on Doomsday, and oh yeah, they went there: Superman is killed. Now, you would think any film that tries to combine The Dark Knight Returns with The Death of Superman is doomed to failure, and you would almost be right. It feels like the new DC Cinematic Universe did not earn this moment. If you think about it, Superman has been in two major battle: in one, with Zod, he kills, and in the other, with Doomsday, he dies. That’s really not a good record. But despite all this, somehow the move pulls it off and leaves the audience wanting more.
Now, don’t get me wrong, you have to be a comic fan to like this film. The cameos will leave muggle fans scratching their heads. The brief glimpse of the Justice League via a Lex Corps’ computer file is completely disconnected from the rest of the film and while Wednesday warriors will be all, “Cool. Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg,” regular film-goers will be like, “Why is the big guy from Game of Thrones underwater and why is there half a kid hanging on a wall?”
There’s just too much going on in this film and the director does not have the chops to make it work but somehow, through the strength of the characters, it still comes together into a satisfying experience. I don’t think any director has the chops to make this many distinctive storylines work in one film. There are more dream sequences than a Nightmare on Elm Street film and the direction is mind-bendingly muddled. Superman is unlikable until he died and this new DC film universe is a world where dreams go to die. I think Snyder is still trying to make his version of Watchmen with Superman as Dr. Manhattan, Batman as Rorschach, Wonder Woman as Silk Specter, Luthor as Ozymandias, and Doomsday as the giant squid that Snyder rerained from putting in his first Watchmen attempt. Buu somehow, perhaps through the power of the cast or just through the power of the strength of these iconic characters, somehow there was a smile on my face throughout most of this big, dumb, dopey, fun mess.
Somehow, this film is still fun and at times epic in scope despite the fact that it is hobbled with a creative vision that ignores Superman’s legacy and a petulant director that can’t get out of his own way. Despite this, I left the film invigorated; I left the film angry; I left the film smiling; I left the film frustrated, but most of all, I left the film looking forward to seeing where the DC film universe takes me next. So, I guess despite the big, dumb, fun, vague bombastic mess, that’s a win.