'Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice'
After three years of studio hype and internet hate, ‘Batman v. Superman’ is finally here. Predictably, the first wave of reviews have been overwhelmingly harsh. However, for the most part, that reaction has been a little overblown. ‘Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice’ (just rolls off the tongue, don’t it?) is neither as good as the fanboys and fangirls might have hoped, nor as dire as internet pre-hate predicted.
In fact, chunks of the film (normally involving punching) are truly thrilling. The problems are those that have become obvious for anyone following the project. The thing is just too overstuffed and conceived by committee in an attempt to jump-start an entire universe worth of sequels. The movie is also impossibly earnest and serious for a flick that climaxes with multiple characters shooting lasers out of their faces. Surely there were better ways for the movie to be dark and self-aware, but we’ll never know. This is the ‘Batman v. Superman’ that we’re stuck with. At least it’s not a total failure, even if it’s far from a total success.
Things kick off with a retelling of Batman’s origin story, because you’ve never seen that in a motion picture before. Then we jump ahead to see Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) running around the wreckage of Metropolis from the ending of ‘Man of Steel‘. As a result of all those unnecessary deaths, Bruce isn’t too thrilled about this Superman character. In fact, he’s downright sceptical about having a being on the planet with so much power.
You know who else doesn’t care for that concept? Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). He’s a youngster billionaire wiseass who has a big plan brewing in his brain about making Batman and Superman fight. (To be fair, the guy knows what we all want to see.)
Meanwhile, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is researching this Batman vigilante who beats the crap out of criminals in neighboring Gotham City. In fact, he’s starting to think that he might have to take a break from his globe-hopping and human-saving to punch a little sense into that Bat guy’s head. Oh boy! I smell a fight.
That’s the gist of the setup, but it’s barely scratching the surface of all the ground that Zack Snyder and his writers David Goyer and Chris Terrio need to cover. Also in the mix are a military conspiracy, an American government terrified by the existence of Superman, Luthor’s obsession with the corpse of Zod, the discovery of big chunks of kryptonite, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) getting up to all sorts of investigative reporting trouble, the mysteriously wondrous woman played by Gal Godot, and a bunch of pipe to lay for the upcoming ‘Justice League’ flicks.
That’s a whole lotta plot, and even at 2.5 hours the film can barely contain it all. It feels at least half an hour too long for a movie about a pair dudes in rubber suits bashing each other silly, and it lurches awkwardly from one overly serious sequence to the next. On a scene-by-scene basis, the movie flies by at a tight clip, but often while sacrificing logic, consistency and flow. The first 90 minutes or so just feel like a rush of stuff happening that’s only kind-of connected. Weirdly, Superman barely ever speaks even though he’s in the title and this is technically a ‘Man of Steel’ follow-up. I get that Batman is more popular and ‘Man of Steel’ is routinely mocked, but the last thing I expected I’d have to say about ‘Batman v. Superman’ is that there isn’t nearly enough Superman. Yet, here we are.
As for the big fight we’ve all been waiting for? It’s pretty “Meh.” The biggest moments are stolen right out of ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ graphic novel, but the overall fight is somehow less satisfying than the one that appeared in the recent direct-to-video animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batsterpiece. It’s also oddly too contained to a single location.
The main reason the fight is so lackluster is because the real climax comes when Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman team up to fight mutual foe Doomsday. Sadly, Doomsday looks like a cave troll from the ‘Harry Potter’ franchise. (Perhaps Warner Bros. also plans to combine these cinematic universes eventually?) Still, I can’t pretend it didn’t do my geeky heart good to see DC’s holy trinity together on the big screen for the first time. Gal Godot is also quite good in her role, even though she isn’t on screen that much and should have been kept out of the trailers for maximum impact.
For all Zack Snyder’s flaws as a storyteller, the guy knows how to craft pretty pictures and vast cinematic spectacle. The po-faced sincerity and heavy-handed “darkness” will get snickers at times (it was tough to keep a straight face when Superman walked into Congress in his silly suit and everything was treated ominously), but the smashy-smashy beat ’em ups deliver the goods on the big screen as well as any contemporary blockbuster. When Snyder’s cooking, he has a way of bringing splash panels to life that’s hugely effective (especially in IMAX), and that often makes up for the fact that you might not care why the big action scenes are even happening.
It also has to be said that Snyder and Ben Affleck have delivered a very satisfying Batman. This is the first time the character has felt fully at home as both Bruce Wayne and Batman (the playboy image came across as little more than a disguise in both the Burton and Nolan editions) and also the first time that Batman feels like a genuine threat and a beast when he fights. The costume isn’t too stiff to move and (unlike the Nolan trilogy) the film hasn’t been shot so that you can never quite see what Batman is doing. He’s a force to be reckoned with and master of misdirection in a manner that’s very amusing. Affleck even does a good job of portraying the depressed and damaged elder statesman Batman, enough so that a solo spinoff might actually be welcome. However, it must be noted that purists will be irritated by the sheer volumes of bullets Batman fires from a variety of vehicles and guns. Apparently this Batman is over that “no guns” policy and might even keep a NRA membership in his Bat-wallet.
There are certainly things to enjoy in ‘Batman v. Superman’ (although Eisenberg’s painfully over-the-top portrayal of Lex Luthor is NOT one of them). I’d imagine the tentpole will even match the studio’s high expectations at the box office based purely on the IMAX eye candy alone. However, the movie is deeply flawed on a variety of levels, and all of them are ones that most fans saw coming from miles away.
Batman aside, the DC characters are tough to do in live action because they were created so many years before the concept of psychological complexity in superheroes, and are very much the dated myths of another age. They’re both earnest and goofy in a manner that’s incredibly difficult to get right with actual human beings in the costumes. Zack Snyder’s “Darker is better” approach kind of works as a means of contemporizing things, but feels a little too one-note. That’s especially a problem when you consider this film as a pilot project for the studio’s entire DC Universe. It’s going to be tough to watch these things roll out one dour film at a time without Batman around to justify all the sadness.
Sigh… Why can’t we just be Super Friends?