Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)


I think the best way to describe this film is disappointing. Putting two of the most iconic heroes on the big screen together for the first time should have been an easy home run. It isn’t though. Is it as terrible as the 27% Rotten Tomatoes rating would have you believe? Probably not, but it isn’t great either.

There was so much pressure on this film to succeed. It was meant to be the unveiling of DC’s film universe, continue the story introduced in Man of Steel, be a lead-in to the greatly anticipated Justice League, introduce a brand new interpretation of Batman, and be a shot in the war against Marvel. There was far too much going on with this film. I understand that DC doesn’t want to be seen as copying Marvel with their own films, but this does feel incredibly rushed. The reason The Avengers worked so well is because Marvel had four films to introduce their characters, which meant a lot of character development was already done. Batman v Superman struggles because it tries to do too much with one film.

I actually like the story. After Metropolis is destroyed in Man of Steel, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and his alter ego Batman, are out to ensure that Superman (Henry Cavill) cannot enact anymore damage to his world. His paranoia is encouraged by the dastardly Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who, spoiler alert, may be pulling the strings to get these two heroes to destroy each other. In the background, there is Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) who seems to be shoe horned in so we can eventually see the holy trinity of super heroes on screen for the first time. I feel like her scenes are wasted, and there is no reason for her to be there other than for the audience to say ‘Oh look, there’s Wonder Woman.’ Not that she isn’t cool. I really liked her, and am excited for her solo movie next year, it just felt like there was already so much going on with this film, there was no need to add a third Justice League member. Even though she is incredibly cool, seeing Bats and Supes duke it out was going to be reward enough.

I think it is pretty clear what I did not like about this film. It was cluttered and overly long. My other major complaint is that it is so dark. It felt like director Zack Snyder wanted to make a Batman film and got stuck with Superman. The Superman character feels extremely wasted here, largely becoming not much more than a pawn in Lux Luthor’s game. Henry Cavill seems bored, and Superman/Clark Kent barely has any dialogue throughout the film. This is Batman’s movie for the most part. Superman seems shoehorned in, which is a problem because his name is in the title.

My other big problem with the film is Eisenberg as Lex. I had massive reservations about this casting to begin with, and Mark Zuckerberg didn’t let me down. He seems to be playing one of the lesser calibre villains from the 60s Batman TV show, not someone I would expect to go toe-to-toe with Superman on a regular basis. His evil plot is generic and boring, which makes it even less of a surprise when the two heroes eventually start to work together. I’m hoping future incarnations of Lex will grow on me, because I do like Eisenberg as an actor, but here he just seems to be twirling his evil moustache a little too much. It doesn’t really fit with the dark and gritty tone that Snyder is going for.

The tone is something I also don’t agree with. I think the executives at DC took all of the wrong messages away from Nolan’s Batman films. They were great, but not because they were dark and gritty. The Nolan films, and any good film adapted from source material for that matter, are usually good because they are true to the character. This film fails in that regard because Superman is not meant to be sad and depressed. He is meant to be bright and have a can-do attitude. This film is far too dark to be a Superman story. I think Batman should accommodate him rather than the other way around. As you introduce more members of the Justice league, the tone will only get lighter. Flash and Green Lantern are incredibly lighthearted characters, and I am struggling to see how they can exist in this world and still be true to the comic book source material.

That doesn’t mean that the movie is all bad. There are some great parts of this film. By far the highlight for me is Affleck and his portrayal of Batman. Following in the footsteps of Christian Bale and the Nolan films was always going to be difficult, but Affleck is fantastic as the Dark Knight. I think eventually he will go down as the best interpretation of the character (sorry Adam West). He perfectly captures the paranoid behaviour we so often see from Batman in the comics, but the movies generally glosses over because ‘he’s a hero’. I was so excited to see Affleck in the role as soon as he was cast. The uproar following his casting was ridiculous. Anyone that had seen his work from the last five years would know that he would do an amazing job. Most people who were complaining pointed to his terrible Daredevil movie as evidence that he would screw this up. They neglect to mention however, that Daredevil was nearly 15 years ago, and the problems with that film were certainly not Affleck’s doing. He was one of the better parts of that movie. Affleck’s Batman is easily the character I am most excited to see more of in this universe. That starts shortly with an appearance in Suicide Squad, but I really can’t wait for his solo appearance, which has also been confirmed to have Affleck as a director. Anyone who has read my review for Argo will know that I have a lot of time for Affleck, particularly behind the camera, where I think he excels even more than what he does as an actor. I also enjoyed the Wonder Woman character, in what ends up being not much more than a cameo. I am excited to see her solo outing next year, too.

Batman v Superman should have been so great. Two titans of the comic book world on the big screen for the first time. Unfortunately this humourless dark film tries to cram far too much into two and a half hours, which is ultimately its undoing. Outside of a terrific action set piece, Affleck’s portrayal of Batman and the introduction of Wonder Woman, the film feels like a massive disappointment. Which is not something I would have expected if someone had told teenage Ben that I’d get to see Batman and Superman fight each other in a movie one day. Is it as bad as people say? No. Is it great? Well, it’s not that either. DC would do themselves a favour if they took a few plays out or the Marvel playbook and slowed things down a bit, while adding a bit of light fun to go with their brooding Batman.

Rating: C

Let’s cut to the chase here: Batman v Superman is not a great movie. It’s better than a lot of the reviews make it out to be, but obviously DC has no idea how to handle its roster of iconic superheroes.

I could easily write a review detailing all the ways in which this movie went wrong. The story goes no where, Lex Luthor comes across cartoonish, it’s too long, there’s too little humor, there’s way too much going on, etc., etc., etc. Instead, I made a list of the parts I liked, or at the very least did not hate:

Wonder Woman – I was wary of Gal Gadot’s casting, but she more than proves that she’s capable of filling Diana Prince’s shoes. My only complaint is that she was probably only included in this movie to draw in more women. Wonder Woman should have been saved for her solo flick, then introduced into the burgeoning Justice League. (But more on this later.)
Ben Affleck – Again, I was not initially happy about this casting. I could not imagine Affleck as Batman. Maybe Bruce Wayne, but even that was a stretch for me. However, given the context of the story, this casting now makes sense. Affleck plays an older, more cynical Batman. He’s war-weary, causing him to make some questionable choices. Batman/Bruce Wayne is the best developed character in the film, with Affleck absolutely nailing the portrayal.
The Setup – The beginning of this movie is actually really good. It sets up a premise that makes complete sense in the context of this universe. Why should humanity trust Superman, an alien with nearly unstoppable powers who answers to no one’s authority but his own? Of course Bruce Wayne would see him as a threat, while at the same time shrugging off any similar accusations aimed at Batman. Unfortunately, the film completely pivots away from this premise. This begs the question, why present these weighty issues if you’re not even going to attempt to address them in a meaningful way?
The Action – I may not like the relentlessly dark universe Zack Snyder is creating, but he does know how to stage an action scene. The movie could have done with a couple fewer, but at least the ones shown were well done.

The real problem I have with Batman v Superman is that it feels premature. Marvel is killing it with their movies, and for good reason. There were five solo films before the Avengers assembled. Audiences knew the big players and the universe as a whole very well before the roster of superheroes finally shared the screen. BvS doesn’t have that familiarity. Man of Steel is a very flawed movie, but immediately throwing its Superman together with Batman is not the way to coalesce a new DC universe. More time needed to be devoted to introducing the ‘second tier’ Justice League members (Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg) and fleshing out their shared world before getting into the action. Man of Steel should have been followed by Wonder Woman’s origin movie, then a Flash/Cybog/Aquaman solo flick, then maybe, maybe it would be time for BvS.

My biggest concern now is how much more pressure this puts on the upcoming Wonder Woman film to succeed. It already has the weight of being the first solo female superhero movie on its shoulders, but now it has to also pick up Man of Steel and BvS‘s slack. I’d hoped that Suicide Squad would help take some of the pressure off, but as of this writing it’s getting abysmal ratings, too. I’ll reserve my judgement until I actually see the movie, but so far DC’s cinema efforts are not impressing me.

Rating: C-

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