Ever since I was younger, I always imagined what the “world’s finest” would look like if they were to ever share the big screen together. Batman and Superman are two of the most beloved (and easily the most recognizable) DC Comic Book characters. So, I (among countless others) was incredibly excited when director Zack Snyder announced that the sequel to 2013’s Man of Steel would not only include Batman, but also serve as a prequel to the Justice League movie. Well, flash forward to 2016, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is finally upon us. Does the movie live up to the hype?
The short answer to that question is, no. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice doesn’t live up to the lofty expectations that we all set for it. There’s a ton of great things in the film, but each one of them is shrouded in the overarching “doom-and-gloom” cloud that is the Zack Snyder DCCU (DC Cinematic Universe). With a running time of two and a half hours, there’s a lot to unpack in Dawn of Justice, so let’s jump right in.
The good. Ben Affleck comes out swinging as the new Bruce Wayne/Batman of the DCCU. His Bruce Wayne is the antithesis of the Man of Steel. Affleck’s Wayne/Batman is a much older, broken down version of the character that we all know. At the beginning of BvS we find a Batman that has already let the darkness overrun him. For this Batman, there is no “code” that he abides to. This is evident in the first scene we see of him where even the people he’s saving are afraid of him.
This Batman’s so dark that he runs around branding his “victims” so they know to fear him. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking, “Hey, Batman doesn’t kill people, he’s a good guy!” For the most part, I agree with you. But, you have to get something through your head. For the most part of BvS, Batman is kind’ve the … bad guy. *Gulp*
Blinded by rage, the only moral compass Batman has in this film is in the form of Alfred, his butler (who is played brilliantly by the amazing Jeremy Irons). Without him, Batman probably would’ve went off the rails, years ago. Yes, I have similar reservations when Batman flat out kills numerous people in this movie, but I think it’s important that we see the darkness in him, before we can see the light (which happens at the end of the movie). Look, there’s so many characterizations of Batman over the years and since 1989, we’ve see nine (!) Batman movies. It’s easy to raise your fist in the air and yell when you see a version of the caped crusader that you don’t like. That being said, Affleck brings the brevity of this broken down Batman to life. I’m excited to see what you do with the stand-alone Batman movie.
Superman on the other hand, is another story. His character is all over the place in BvS. Now, let’s get this out of the way. Warner Brothers has already come out and said they essentially bastardized this movie on the editing floor to cut the run time down by over 30 minutes. A lot of the material that was taken out had to deal with the man of steel. When I heard that, I was so deflated because it really does show throughout BvS. Superman’s role in this film really is to get Batman to where he needs to be to begin forming the Justice League (more on them later).
Continuing from where 2013’s Man of Steel left off, we find the world hasn’t taken to Superman like one might think. After the destruction caused at the end of MoS, people are split down the middle on whether Superman is a friend or a foe, whether this “God” should be allowed to run around and do the things he’s able to do. For all this hullabaloo about the destruction caused at the end of MoS, that plot never really goes anywhere! When Superman is called into Congress to talk about his actions, it’s about the events that take place at the beginning of BvS in West Africa. What a missed opportunity. Those events serve as nothing more than a jumping off point for Bruce Wayne’s rage and to set up an entirely forgettable sub-plot with actor Scoot McNairy.
Superman was very much a character of his time. Introduced right before World War II, he quickly became a symbol of hope and what it meant to be the best of something. I think that the world has evolved past the time and spirit Superman was created for (and in). On top of all that, to attempt to make a more grounded Superman, it’s asking a lot. For example, I think Clark Kent’s name was mentioned about three times in the entire film. It’s like Snyder has Superman stuck in the costume and he’s screaming to get out.
A big problem with both Batman and Superman in this film are that they lack heroism. For me, superheroes are meant to save people, to inspire, to go all-in when the chips are stacked against them. And while I think these characters do that towards the end of the movie, I think that Snyder’s doom-and-gloom cloud shrouds their heroics in this dark universe. There’s a montage in the middle of BvS where Superman saves a young girl from a burning building. Next, you see him saving the crew of a failed rocket launch.
These are the moments I wish we had more of in BvS. Instead we get cumbersome CGI fight scenes and a rising tension through an awfully disjointed plot, just so our two heroes can meet one another in battle. (Spoiler: Batman and Superman fight one another in this movie).
It’s one thing when a movie asks its viewer to get from point A to point B. However, I think BvS asks the viewer to get from point A to point Z and does very little to help them get there. One thing it does do, is designate an entire character’s (current) relevance towards it. Lois Lane serves no more than to help the audience member try to figure out what exactly is going on, what the bad guy’s motivation is in this movie. Oh, and don’t worry — she plays damsel in distress at least three times throughout the film. One thing BvS does do well is show us that Lois really is Clark’s world and that he would do anything to save her.
There are a few bad guys in BvS. The most notable (for the time being), is Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor Jr. This is not your typical Lex Luthor implementation. He’s younger. He’s inherited his father’s company, and he wants to get rid of Superman. Wait, that last part is normal Lex Luthor. However, Lex’s motivations in this film (especially in the final act) are so asinine, that to try and fully go into them would make me vomit over the keyboard. That being said, it’s sad that Eisenberg’s performance didn’t help Lex’s character. I think (besides his motivations), Lex was written fairly well. It’s just … Eisenberg did his “I’m the smartest guy in the room, and I can talk really fast and make a lot of hand gestures” routine and I think it doesn’t work for the film.
Another thing the movie has to (try) and do, is set up the Justice League. Now, DC is ten years late to the party when it comes to trying and building a cinematic universe. Whereas Marvel methodically gave each one of their characters room to breath before giving us an Avengers movie, BvS tries to shoehorn them all into Dawn of Justice (although briefly).
It’s the equivalent of writing an essay and then minutes before it’s due, you read over the syllabus and it tells you that you need an entire paragraph on XXX. So before you turn it in, you write that section in with a colored pencil. It was a pretty awful implementation of these characters, but I understand why they had to do it. Where Man of Steel felt like a stand alone Superman movie, BvS feels like a stepping stone to get us to the Justice League. It’s just that, it’s a very slippery one.
One Justice League character that is well represented is Wonder Woman. Played by the fantastic Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman steals the few scenes that she’s in. The biggest applause from the audience I saw the film with was when she showed up in the final act to kick some butt. When her theme started playing, it re-energized the audience. The way Galdot commanded the scenes she was in made me excited for the stand alone Wonder Woman movie that we’re getting in 2017, and I can’t wait to see more of the character.
Are you still with me?
We’ve talked about a lot of the pieces of BvS, and while (some) of them work well, when they all come together it becomes a bloated mess. DC and Snyder were trying to set up too much, too quickly, and because of that, the movie doesn’t work as a whole. I haven’t even gotten into the one (of many) dream sequences that are in the film. Dubbed “Knightmare,” the biggest dream sequence servers to help set up events of the possible direction that the Justice League movie could go. It’s a pretty neat scene … just, one that comes so out of left field you wonder if someone hit the “insert” key on the editing board by accident.
I wrote about what I personally want out of Superhero movies. Unfortunately, there’s very little of that in Batman v Superman. Moments of Superman flying through the air as onlookers wonder if it’s a bird or a plane, moments of Batman having to make those tough choices to save the city? Those are gone in favor or ten minute diatribes with dead relatives, 30 minute CGI action-scenes, and a mountain of dead bodies that Batman sits atop of. The DCCU that Snyder has established is one built on turmoil, more than magic.
Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (a mouthful) is a movie that should’ve worked better. There’s so many ways that we could’ve gotten Batman (and the audience) from point A to point “It’s time to fight Superman.” Unfortunately, the direction that Snyder chose to go just doesn’t work incredibly well. There’s still some great moments in the film, and Affleck’s Batman (albeit a violent one), was well done. But, when the title of your film is Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and two of those three things are done poorly (Superman, Justice League); you’re going to have bad time.
When the movie ended, I turned to an 11 year old kid who was sitting next to me in the theater and asked him if he liked the movie. He said no. And while I want a superhero movie to be accessible to all ages, it’s a damn shame when the younger generation; the generation that will have posters of these characters on their walls and toys under their beds, can’t find enjoyment in a movie with beloved superheroes like Batman and Superman in it.