Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by Zack Snyder
The day has finally come where DC and Warner Bros step up to the plate and take their best swing at catching up to Marvel before being left irrevocably behind the curve. There is so much about this movie that could go right and can also go horribly wrong. It’s the first movie that not only has Batman and Superman together, but is also the first appearance of Wonder Woman. It’s taking a lot of inspiration from one of the most revered Batman stories of all time. It’s setting up a DC universe that intends to rival that of Marvel Studios. All of this CAN be great if they can pull it off, but the sheer magnitude of this release and the expectations from not only fans but the studio itself does not bode well for a director who is already hit or miss an on screen interpretation of Superman that has gotten heavily criticized. Can they pull off the impossible as effortlessly as The Last Son of Krypton would, or is this going to be an atomic bomb of a mess that will shake Warner Bros to its very core? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins at the end of Man of Steel, only now we’re following Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) as he tries to save people in the city of Metropolis while Zod (Michael Shannon) and Superman (Henry Cavill) are having their big smack down. Needless to say that there’s not much he can do (especially outside of his Batman suit) and has to more or less sit there as the city falls apart around him due to these two men who have come from the sky and could crush all of humanity. Cut to a year and a half later, and we see a world that is very much split on Superman. Sometime between then and now there was apparently enough people who LIKED Superman to make him a memorial in the middle of Metropolis, but for the most part he’s being attacked on the news and constantly questioned about his true motivations. One such Superman naysayer is Lex Luthor (Jessie Eisenberg) who is trying to manipulate the US military and members of Congress to give him access to all the resources they have on Krypton (mainly Zod’s ship and his lifeless corpse) as well as permission to import some Kryptonite that was found in India. While Lex is working on that, he’s also working surreptitiously to undercut Superman’s acts of genuine good while laying traps and breadcrumbs for Batman (who I don’t believe he knows is actually Bruce Wayne) to become even more resolute that Superman has to be stopped before he becomes a true threat to humanity. Along the way, we’ve got Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) keeping Superman’s spirits high while he grapples with a world that hates and fears him (Lois is also working on a story about clearing Superman’s associate with something bad that happened in Africa), and we also have Bruce’s faithful butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons) trying to steer him on the right path and away from Superman. Still, the punch up is inevitable if the title is any indication, and the two of them have to hash out their differences before eventually working together to fight Doomsday alongside their new ally Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). Will they be able to stop Lex Luthor and his plans to… do bad things I guess? Will the world FINALLY accept Superman after he fights ANOTHER city destroying bad guy? Are they SERIOUSLY gonna try to launch an expansive DC film universe off of this movie? Can we just get to Suicide Squad already?
I’ll say this about Zack Snyder. He is NOT a boring failure. He’s not even what I would call a hack or incompetent. Every movie he makes feels like HIS movie and nothing else; The Auteur Theory writ large to rival other contemporaries like Michael Bay or even some less mainstream peers like Tom Green and Tommy Wiseau. Is this a good movie? Hell no. Not even by a mile. Is it FASCINATINGLY bad? Absolutely. This is the kind of bad that will require multiple viewings to fully understand the madness that took place here and just how wrong he got everything, from the point of view of an adaptation to just on basic filmmaking merits. This movie is like a man confidently running straight towards a precipice and leaping off it into the jagged rocks below while you are just sitting there watching it and wondering if they were really that crazy or if they knew something that you didn’t.
It’s actually pretty disappointing that the movie turned out to be as big of an unholy mess as it ended up being because so many of the individual pieces, when taken on their own, are absolutely brilliant and could make for a fantastic movie about these characters (or more like five brilliant movies considering how much they try to stuff in here). The trio of Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, and Gal Gadot as DC’s holy trinity are well casted and definitely look the part with Gal Gadot being the MVP here as the first person to portray Wonder Woman onscreen. Her scenes are some of the more consistent highlights her and she shows some real acting chops as both the human Diana Prince and the fierce Wonder Woman. She’s only a small part here so we’ll have to wait for her own movie to see if there’s a lot of range (we only see Diana as a sexy high class party goer for the most part) but those scenes have sold me on her and whatever DC plans to do outside of this mess they have on their hands. Similarly, Ben Affleck is an amazing Batman with a great suit and pulls off Bruce Wayne with the aplomb you get from a seasoned actor like him. That’s not to say the prior Batman actors were slouches, but he manages to come out as my favorite (non-animated) Batman even if all we’ve seen him in is this unfortunate catastrophe which also gets some of his elements WAY wrong, but we’ll talk about adaptation problems soon enough. Unfortunately, the least of the three is Henry Cavill as Superman which isn’t really his fault as he’s easily the most poorly written character in this and so we can’t get a real sense of what the actor would do with a better and more light-hearted interpretation to work with. I’d put Jessie Eisenberg as Lex Luthor in a similar category as we do get a pretty solid performance out the guy, but his character has similar issues and some of the acting choices he makes are a bit off. I’m not really upset that they made Lex into a hair brained smarmy millennial douche nozzle; its more that this kind of character (or at least how they wrote him here) isn’t all that interesting as he comes off as too detached from humanity to give us any strong feelings about him one way or the other.
On top of that, the sets look great, the cinematography is solid and dripping in noir atmosphere (an improvement over the washed out realism of the last film) and the action is pretty good for the most part. I was a bit disappointed on that front actually with there not being THAT many fight scenes and the ones that are there aren’t too creative, but it does have some great moments and enough money to bring some classic comic book moments to life. That’s about it for what was good though, so we should start talking about why this movie is such a disaster. For me, the problems are split into execution and adaptation with there being plenty of gray area between the two as to where specific problems lie. In terms of execution, this movie is HORRIFICALLY edited together with zero flow between scenes and transitions to the point of incomprehension. You could take every scene in this movie, reshuffle them, and the resulting film could only be an improvement on how they put it together here. Characters come in at out at random intervals and seem to have been given character development off-screen which means they come BACK into the movie doing something you weren’t expecting them to. One of the most obvious offenders of this is Harry Lennix’s general character from the first movie who tells Lois Lane to piss off when she comes to him with something that unravels the current story about Superman’s actions, but then forty minutes later he’s spilling the beans to her. WHAT!? That’s just the tip of the iceberg as we constantly cut from one scene where a character doesn’t know a very specific details to only come back to them later and find out they found that out already! Characters will even come in to interrupt a scene and there’s no acknowledgement that something was already going on before they showed up!
The movie just never stops moving from place to place to place with no rhyme or reason and it makes it hard to care about ANYTHING that’s going on. We start in Metropolis, go to India, to Africa, to the US Senate and then we end up with Amy Adams naked in a tub; all within a ten minute stretch of the movie. Despite the utterly disjointed script, it doesn’t really feel like anything is missing or that they forgot to film something and had to cover it up. The story progresses, but it all just feels so damned contrived and nonsensical as if they were trying but failed to tell something sweeping and making a grand statement about humanity, but that’s not the movie they’re making. This is about three people primarily (Bruce, Clark, and Lex) and how they view each other in terms of their benefits and risks of humanity, and yet the movie can’t sit still long enough to be about them as people and characters we want to root for or against. It’s also weirdly structured as we have two third acts in this (the Batman v Superman fight and the Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman v Doomsday fight) and so all that BIG IMPORTANT WORLD CHANGING stuff that they’re trying so hard to make this movie about is crammed haphazardly into the first half of the movie and then movies into comic book fight mode for the second half. None of this gels together in the slightest and it honestly feels like we wasted a lot of time in the first half when the second half kind erases and glosses over whatever statements they were trying to make about whether someone outside the laws of man can peacefully coexist with us.
I’m not one to use this term loosely, but without any hesitation I will call this movie pretentious. So much of Superman, Batman, and everything else we love about DC and these characters is sacrificed and diminished just so the movie can feel self-important and weightier than it can possibly hope to be. Zack Snyder was able to pull this off masterfully in Watchmen which actually DID have something to say and managed to do so without sacrificing characters or making the movie incomprehensible, and that was a movie that CONSTANTLY jumped around in time and locations. If Zack Snyder was the kind of guy who had an ounce of self-reflection (which admittedly is something about him that has served him well for the most part), I can only imagine he would be tearing his hair out right now trying to figure out how he had so many great elements and resources to work with and yet can’t get the sum to be equal to the parts. Taking away your feelings about Batman, Superman, or anything else that should or should not be true about these characters, it’s still not a good film and needs to be held up as an example of why you can’t just slap adult themes and a GRIM AND GRITTY veneer on top a comic book movie and expect it to suddenly become “important” instead of “childish” or “disposable” or whatever fear has gripped the man about making a movie that doesn’t attract Mature Audiences exclusively.
For all intents and purposes, that’s my review of the movie. However, we haven’t even gotten into the problems in regards to this as an adaptation of these characters and the DC universe as a whole which is just as big a problem here as the technical and filmmaking issues mentioned above. I only save them for last as the problems here will get into spoiler territory, and problems of adaptation are much more dependent on who’s watching it than problems of editing or story structure. That’s not to say that we should dismiss issues like characters behaving inappropriately from the source material, as the movie is trying to sell itself based on that source material, but there are some people (myself included to some extent) that aren’t going to look negatively on these changes, though I’m sure they won’t be lacking on OTHER things to complain about. From here on out, we’re going to going in depth on those problems which means full on spoilers, so turn back now if you don’t want to know what to know everything that happens in the movie.
I forgave Man of Steel for a lot of things and was still optimistic about a Zack Snyder version of Superman once the character discovers who he is and who he truly wants to be. Maybe that’s still on the way in future movies, but right now this Superman is an absolute joke. If you thought the ending of Man of Steel where he snaps Zod’s neck (spoiler alert) was a slap in the face, you haven’t seen anything yet. While he may not actually kill someone in this film, he’s gone from a misguided and inexperienced child to a surly and disdainful teenager. He’s mean, he’s prideful, he doesn’t seem to give a shit about people, and he only seems to be a hero as a means to keep Lois and his mother happy. His handling of Batman is a great example of this as he never comes to him as a friend or an alley and just tries to bully him into stopping his war against crime. Hell, the big battle between him and Batman shouldn’t happen the way that it does in this movie as it really does come down to a pissing contest. Where Superman could have stopped this fairly easily and NOT played into Lex’s scheme to get them to fight, he’s just too damn prideful and in a bad enough mood that he starts throwing punches when he should have been explaining what was actually going on and reaching out to Bruce. The guy is just a big Grumpy Gus who I guess embodies the angst well enough (“I don’t fit in with the rest of humanity”) but none of the joy and hope that defines him as SUPER Man instead of just SUPER-POWERED Man is in this movie.
Batman is PROBABLY just as badly done in here, though I don’t think his changes are going to ruffle as many feathers as the ones to Superman will. Batman is a murderer in this. Flat out. No questioning or denying it. If there’s ONE GOD DAMN THING that we all know about Batman, it’s that he doesn’t kill people. In this, he blows people up, crushes them with cars, SHOOTS MACHINE GUNS AT THEM (seriously), and sets one mother fucker on fire to slowly burn to death in agony. Batman is one the biggest examples of a character whose fan base does not always understand them (along with Deadpool) so I’m sure there will be plenty out there who will find this new persona BADASS and HARDCORE, but it’s just another example of Zack Snyder not understanding what it is he is working with and trying to mold it into something it’s not. He’s also kind of an idiot in this movie and there are plenty of times where THE WORLD’S GREATEST DETECTIVE should know better than to think Superman had anything to do with the bad things that are happening in this movie. We just HAVE to have the fucking fight though, so let’s just have Batman NOT think for a second and do EXACTLY what Lex Luthor wants him to do. Oh, and the reason he STOPS fighting Superman? It’s ridiculously lame, though hilarious enough that I won’t spoil it here.
As I said earlier, Wonder Woman is pretty well realized for what little screen time she has here, and I will say that the cameos here by the other super heroes (The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg) aren’t all that intrusive and are fine for what they are. They’re completely unnecessary in the film, but I will take what they do here over having them actually show up and then get nothing to do. Flash does have a bit more than the other two, but his extra scene is incredibly confusing and I don’t think it ended up amounting to anything in the movie. I THINK it’s a reference to something he does in Flash Point, but then I think it’s ALSO a dream sequence in the movie so I have no idea. It was one of the funnier confusing moments in the film so at least it managed not to piss me off. The last one to talk about would be Doomsday, and honestly I don’t give a shit about him as a character so him being a really boring villain in here didn’t manage to have hat extra sting of BETRAYAL on top of it. He’s just a boss that they have to beat at the end of the movie and for that he serves his, albeit unimaginative, purpose. They COULDN’T just leave it at that though, and I guess this brings me to my final point. The movie in terms of theming and characterization is primarily based on The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman. Because of this, Superman does indeed die at the end of the movie in his fight against Doomsday. MAYBE if we didn’t know that Justice League and probably a bunch more DC movies were on the way, this could have carried some weight. MAYBE if we didn’t already know how underwhelming the Death of Superman storyline ended up being in the comics, this wouldn’t seem like a pointless exercise. The last fifteen minutes of the movie is a funeral for Clark Kent and Superman, which is an EXTREMELY down note to end a movie on, and this just does not earn that ending or this story so early into the film series. It’s just too soon to feel this will actually mean anything and we have yet to get a good read on Superman who right now is just a surly dick.
At least when they’re aping The Death of Superman, you can get an idea of what they were going for. With that, there’s some built in dramatic weight of having a hero sacrifice themselves for the greater good of humanity. The Dark Knight Returns though? That’s basically a gimmick in the film. See how many times we can force a line from that book into the movie without context! There’s the line about Bruce drinking his way through Wayne Manor’s entire alcohol stash, but without the context of him having retired and in need of a distraction. Batman takes out a bad guy holding threatening to kill someone, and then says “I believe you” only in THIS version he doesn’t merely shoot the guy (or wound him; the comic is a bit ambiguous about this scene), HE SETS THE DUDE ON FIRE. The Dark Knight Returns is a fantastic story. The Death of Superman isn’t, but there’s no denying its impact. Trying to cram both of them without context into this movie is the absolute worst way of handing fan service, and forcing the fight from the former and the death from the latter in this movie (along with the stupid “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” moments) drag this movie down considerable and just don’t fit together. Then again, NOTHING in this movie fits together so I guess you can’t really say the inclusion of those was any worse than any of the other ideas they had here.
In its own strange and fucked up way, I kind of like this movie. It’s not like Sucker Punch where it has a sense of genuine intent that was not fully realized, but it’s not some studio hack job made by cynical busy bodies like The Fantastic Four (also known as Fant4stic) or even Batman and Robin (also known as AGONY). It’s gonna be interesting to watch people dissect this one, at least until Suicide Squad comes out, and the fact that people are talking so much about how flawed this is just means I’m gonna have a lot of fascinating articles to read and videos to watch as this movie runs its course. In The Fifth Element, Gary Oldman’s villainous motivation is that destruction brings about progress and innovation in people so that we can grow and keep ourselves busy (and he can make money). I kind of feel that way about this movie which I find much more fun talking about and hearing people talk about than any of the recent really bad movies that have come out like Fantastic Four or any given Adam Sandler joint. In that sense, I would recommend you go see it. It’s an interesting version of bad which is by no means makes it as good as say… a GOOD movie, but it’s better than most bad movies that are out there. In a year where I had to sit through Dirty Grandpa and will soon have to sit through Gods Not Dead 2, I’m willing to be a bit kind to this movie which at least manages to have SOME good elements strewn within the unimaginably horrible decisions that made this Frankenstein monstrosity. Go see it, bring some friends along, and have a great time tearing it to shreds once you get out of the theater.
If you like this review and plan on buying the movie, then use the Amazon link below! I’ll get a percentage of the order it helps keep things going for me here at The Reviewers Unite! In fact, you don’t even need to buy the item listed! Just use the link, shop normally, and when you check out it will still give us that sweet, sweet, percentage! You can even bookmark the link and use it every time you shop! HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?