THEATRICAL REVIEW: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Produced by: Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder
Written by: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer
Edited by: David Brenner
Cinematography by: Larry Fong
Music by: Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Tao Okamoto, Scoot McNairy, Callan Mulvey
Based on characters from DC Comics
Well, this was pretty much was what everyone was fearing it would be…
It’s no secret that DC’s been playing catchup to Marvel for quite a while now, ever since they first announced the relatively comedic, adventurous Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern film and included Amanda Waller, whose work typically revolves around the Justice League and its villains. That movie bombed so hard, though, they basically scrapped all their plans and restarted everything over again with Man of Steel, a Christopher Nolan-influenced (and produced) film that looked at the success of Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and went the complete opposite direction from Green Lantern and even traditional Superman depictions in terms of tone. Unfortunately for DC (and their fans), a lot of people hated that movie, too, citing its dour and melancholy tone and even taking issue with the scale of destruction and collateral damage in the film, blaming most of it on Superman himself. I wasn’t one of those people, obviously. I still don’t see why the blame lies on Superman for all that, and nobody will ever convince me that people weren’t just reading into the film what they wanted and everyone just collectively agreed that this was true. The movie undoubtedly had issues, though, and even my opinion of it has tempered from when I first saw it and reviewed it. But I still like it! So when it was announced that DC was sucking it up, going forward with this continuity, and even introducing Batman into it, I was totally game. Heck, I was genuinely excited to hear that Ben Affleck was cast in the role! What a great choice!
It’s really a shame that the movie had to go and prove all the haters right about everything else, though.
Where do I even begin? Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is such a mess of a movie, I’m barely certain there was a coherent story to summarize here. The film begins with a slow-motion filled recap of how Batman came to be (For dead people, Bruce’s parents sure have a way of finding themselves depicted in live action a lot!), and then fast forwards in time to the battle between Superman and Zod in Man of Steel, where Bruce happens to be (not because he’s visiting, but because Gotham is apparently right across the freaking street from Metropolis in this universe). One of his buildings is toppled in the skirmish and kills off lots of Wayne Corp. employees, resulting in a deep seated hatred in Bruce for Superman, whom he sees as a threat. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (or is it Mark Zuckerberg?) also has it out for Superman because… he’s Lex Luthor, and that’s what he does? This paranoia and fear results in both men plotting against Superman, which, coincidentally, results in a big ol’ conflict that can only be solved by lots of uncharacteristically brutal violence being committed against one another until the inevitable resolution where everyone but Lex realizes it’s all one big misunderstanding. You know, because there’s that Justice League movie they’ve gotta rush into production
This film goes on a lot about how the people of this universe aren’t really coping well with the idea of beings from beyond, regardless of whether they see themselves as saviors or destroyers. It’s an interesting concept and one that I do believe is worthy of exploring in film, particularly after Man of Steel. I have no qualms with the core concept of Batman going against Superman, either. A lot of what has defined Batman’s own role in the Justice League has been that of his inherent distrust of everyone, including his teammates, so it makes sense for that to be here, particularly before all that Super Friends stuff comes to fruition.
The problem with this movie, though, is that every single one of the characters is either posturing at one another, shouting at one another, making threats towards one another, or just outright coming to blows with one another – regardless of whether they’ve ever met one another before – and I’m not even talking about just Batman, Superman, and Luthor. Everyone is just seemingly miserable. Holly Hunter’s character is angry – and I’m not even really certain which side the movie ultimately put her on, to be honest. Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White seems to hate everyone that works for him and is always yelling. Jeremy Irons’ Alfred has seemingly just given up pushing back on Bruce and drinks on the job. Lois is upset with Clark that he won’t stop being Superman for the sake of their suddenly incredibly close relationship with one another. I don’t think there’s a single depiction of pure happiness for the characters here. The characters either hate each other or they’re indifferent about each other for most of the film. It’s exhausting, and it’s only exacerbated by the number of other flaws in the film, such as its obnoxiously loud score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, who have both done good work before and recently but, much like the characters, there’s too much composer for one movie.
The film’s biggest flaw, though, is that Batman v Superman is over two and a half hours long, and yet it still doesn’t have time to tell all of its story in a coherent way. Scenes will seemingly begin with the expressed goal of simply getting to the parts where characters are either talking or smashing things into one another, and then they will end on the last word or punch or explosion and then begin again in the same way. This movie doesn’t understand that you need to have some moments to catch your breath and reflect along with the characters on what’s going on. And it’s not like there wasn’t material that couldn’t have been cut, either.
There are a number of baffling scenes where the events aren’t really happening or don’t make sense now but may make sense in the future – either by the end of the scene, or a few scenes later, or even in freaking future movies that aren’t even out yet. The problem is, when Marvel does this type of thing, it’s brief, it’s fun, and largely not intrusive to the story of the film you’re watching, and it’s neat to go back after future installments and see where plots began in the background. The way DC has done it here, though, is incredibly clumsy and distracting. They have no real bearing on the plot at hand, and yet the story basically puts everything else on hold. They’re like commercial interruptions for future DC projects – some of which DC doesn’t even seem that committed to, as the films have been shifted to the backburner since the scenes were shot so that they can skip right ahead into the Justice League film – or, rather, Part One, since they’ve also decided to do that thing all the cool movies with lots of money are doing, too.
That’s… that’s a whole lot of negative, wasn’t it? I didn’t even touch upon the disappointingly clumsy battle between the two heroes, or the absurd coincidence that leads to it, or the once again almost inconsequential Lois, or the absurdity of how Gotham and Metropolis’ proximity to one another apparently means that they’re touching borders and yet their criminals from here on out will apparently be honoring their respective city limits, or the completely out of his mind portrayal of Lex Luthor in Jesse Eisenberg’s hands. I mean, I like the actor in certain roles, but I’m sincerely hoping that Lex Luthor, Sr. is still out there somewhere to smack this punk Alexander around a bit.
Okay, so, yeah, perhaps I should talk about the positive stuff now, before I blow a fuse? It’s not like the movie was completely devoid of good points, after all. I’m particularly glad to have been vindicated in being on the right side of the whole “Batfleck” casting controversy, for example. Fans are going to have their issues with the uncharacteristically willing to kill portrayal of Batman himself (a fault even the Michael Keaton version also had), but apart from that, Affleck is terrific in the role, having the right physicality, the right amount of righteous rage, and the best blending of Bruce Wayne and Batman personalities. I’m honest to God honest when I say that, with a better script, he could be the best live action Batman we’ve ever gotten, and I’m only regretful about his casting in that it didn’t happen earlier in his career so that we could enjoy more of it in potentially better films. His Batmobile and Batwing are also pretty awesome.
I also really enjoyed the brief moments we had with Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, even before she dons the costume. She doesn’t have much to do, mind you, but even though I also would’ve preferred a more Amazon-like actress in the role, that’s not necessarily Gadot’s fault. What she gives us is a perfectly mysterious and well-acted Diana Prince and a true warrior when she puts on the Wonder Woman costume. In fact, she’s the only one who seems happy to be doing what she does in the film. So, I take back what I said earlier about nobody being happy – she’s the one faint glimmer in this overwhelmingly dark film. I also look forward to her movie, particularly since it’s from a completely different team and takes place during World War I.
And… that’s really about it. This movie is just not very good. It’s not Superman IV or Batman & Robin levels of bad, but I definitely think it’s going to make people rethink the way in which they see the unfairly maligned Superman Returns, for sure. There’s a lot pulling down on this movie to get it to such lows, but it’s the editing and excess of plotting that really sink it. Sure, there’s an extended cut that’s been promised that might restore some moments of rest and arrange things in a more coherent manner, but the fact that it was only announced after the success of the R-rated Deadpool and that the extended cut itself will also be R-rated has me feeling completely cynical now with what DC’s got planned for the next few years if they’re going to be that reactionary about what their competition’s doing.
I just… I feel so betrayed. I just can’t engage in the schadenfreude a lot of you are enjoying right now! As a lifelong fan of these characters, I was coming into this movie with low expectations already, but I was still enthusiastic and hopeful that it might exceed those expectations and all the rumors of turbulence behind the scenes, and even when the negative reviews started coming out, just because I wanted to like this movie on som level! But no. Both fans of the comics and casual filmgoers will likely find themselves baffled and frustrated with Batman v Superman. Fans will be horrified of the sloppiness with which these iconic characters and storylines have been smashed together like rabid dogs thrown into a cockfight. Casuals will almost certainly be left confused about what the heck is going on in certain scenes and why everyone hate each other when they’re all supposed to be on the side of good and need to consult fans to have all the holes filled in. This movie should’ve been a momentous and celebratory occasion – the first ever meeting between the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight on the big screen – with not just years but decades of movies cheekily referencing one another, never fulfilling those promises. And now that we have the film we’ve all been waiting for, it still feels as though that promise has been left unfulfilled.
I think I’m going to go have a beer now…
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 2 / 5