In theory, a movie depicting the “greatest gladiator battle in history” (as promoted by Jesse Eisenburg’s Luthor) should entice and involve you from beginning to end. While also appeasing every comic book enthusiast or every-day superhero fan alike. In reality, however, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is tedious, muddled and does an occasionally inspired – but mostly just competent – job of setting up the next “Justice League” chapter in the DC franchise.
Co-written by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer (“Blade,” “Dark City”) and directed by Zack Snyder (“Man of Steel”) we begin, quite repetitiously, with Batman’s origin story. Starting with a flashback of young Bruce Wayne witnessing his parents’ murder by a run of the mill mugger. However redundant this opening may seem, it does an impressive job at paralleling the scene following it, which is a replay of the battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon) in “Man of Steel”- from the point-of-view of Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck). We see Bruce fearlessly attempt to save several hundred members of Wayne Enterprise, his second “family” in a sense. To which he is unsuccessful once again at saving those he loves—a unique way to build the resentment Batman will feel towards Superman/ A God-like figure.
This opening sequence brings forward the flaws in a very unaware Superman, who allows hundreds of casualties to occur around him while facing off against General Zod. The drawn out “God v Man” motif in the film solidifies here with the realization that Superman could be one bad day away from becoming another Zod. With this realization Batman harness’s his helplessness into a full out war against Superman with the belief that he is a “false god” who must be neutralized in order for humans to thrive and survive without the fear of being one day ruled by “aliens”.
Speaking to the representations of the superheroes themselves—Batman was written as a manipulated and “always one step behind”, more man than hero caped crusader. A disappointment I believe to most long-enduring Batman fans. However, the final scenes in which the Bat took down several men, single handedly, had a Batman: Arkham-esque style to it that I am sure appeased many Batman video game enthusiasts. Superman/Kent, in contrast, seemed to have been given far more screen time, uniting man and hero rather than dividing the two selves as portrayed in Bruce/Batman. Even in the absence of a cape we see Kent struggle to pursue and attack Batman through his journalism at the Planet, and he also experiences several relationship woes with his lover and co-worker Lois Lane (Amy Adams).
The other characters we see throughout the film are overwhelming, and sometimes lead to an underwhelming experience and feeling towards (some) not all DC characters depicted. Including a cartoonish, psychotic and incoherent portrayal of Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). Some may see this as refreshingly unique, others (like myself) felt like the traditionally intelligent and calculated Luthor just cannot be envisioned in graphic tees and shooting hoops in vans. This says more, once again, about the script than about the actors themselves. A quite different approach was taken in the depiction of the ageless Amazon warrior Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot); her cunning nature, beauty and strategy all fit the bill for everything a Wonder Woman should be. Reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) fell short for me in this movie as the number of times Superman had to fly in to rescue her outnumbered the amount of times she was useful to plot development. Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s Butler (Jeremy Irons), did not have enough lines or screen time, in my opinion, to be allowed the opportunity to hold a candle to previous depictions of Alfred in other Batman films.
Although this film does not lack DC universe elements, “Batman vs. Superman” in many instances, takes a sledgehammer to your face. Rather than leaving traces of themes and ideas for the audience to pick up on Snyder continuously points to thematic overlaps between the superheroes. If several flashbacks of the late Dr. Wayne uttering “Martha” as his final words weren’t enough to draw the connection to Superman’s mother also sharing the same name, we are then given several images of Martha Wayne’s tombstone. Lest I touch upon Batman’s “vision” in the desert, which compels me to once again ask “why?” The answer, I believe, is that this movie is less concerned with explaining its spider-web-like subplots, and is more interested in building a franchise around this sequel-spawning movie. This intensifies to the point in the film where we are briefly introduced to The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg, which to be honest was a moment when my inner-fan girl came out. Nonetheless, one must be reminded that the potentially best parts of this movie existed outside of the “Batman v Superman” plot.
The film attempts to cover these flaws with its sheer scale and volume. Sitting at two-and-a-half hours long, with shaky-cam footage that would rival the Bourne Identity series, the beautiful cinematography and special effects call upon both figurative and metaphorical images of light and dark. This figurative work speaks to the overarching theme, again, of ‘God v Man’ – and finding a common ground between both. In addition, the ending scenes of the movie depicting the all-out battle between the “big three” and Luthor’s mutant monstrosity, Doomsday, was well done and drew out essential elements from the graphic novels upon which the film is based.
Like the opening and closing scenes of this film, there are brilliant moments. The acting is mostly strong despite the weak script, and there are enough genuinely enjoyable moments that, if feeling charitable, one could piece together an epic superhero film. If one is feeling critical, “Batman v Superman” will leave you feeling let down and disappointed. The critics and audience seem to be at odds end with this film, whereas I believe one should watch this film with an open mind as I had; either to thoroughly enjoy and satisfy your craving for a superhero free for all, or else become dismayed in the rubble that is a lost opportunity.
Artwork for this review was graciously provided by: Frank Fiorentino