Doug Reviews: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

This review was tough to write. A lot of anticipation has built up around Warner Brothers’ Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and not just the three years’ worth since the movie was announced at San Diego Comic Con. For decades, fans have been waiting to see the two most iconic superheroes on screen together. I saw it on an early screening and enjoyed it. Then, I saw all the negative reviews and thought, “Did we see the same movie?” So, I decided to wait until my second viewing to write my review and I’m glad I did, because while Dawn of Justice isn’t as terrible as some are making it out to be, it definitely has a lot of flaws.

I’m not saying that I let other people influence my reviews, but I decided to wait because of the experience I had with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. When I saw that film, I exited the theater and said to myself, “I don’t know….” Then I saw it again, free of expectations, and the movie improved on that second viewing. I still had issues with it—it’s no Empire Strikes Back—but I enjoyed it. So I wanted to give Batman v Superman another look, free of the rush of seeing Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) for the first time and this latest iteration of Batman (Ben Affleck)—both are highlights of the film. I still enjoyed the film, but the cracks definitely showed up better on that second take.

Unlike my usual reviews, I really don’t want to delve into the plot too much so as to avoid spoilers, but it’s also because the central conceit of the film is one of the problems I have with it. I will say, though, that Dawn of Justice is very much Director Zack Snyder’s Batman film. Batman drives most of the action, which is odd considering this is essentially supposed to be a sequel to Man of Steel. Keep in mind too that this film is unrelated to Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films. Treat the movies as separate universes. So, the film opens with a quick recap of Batman’s origin. Then we cut to the events of Man of Steel. Bruce Wayne is racing through Metropolis to get to the Wayne Financial building while Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon) duke it out in the skies and buildings of the city. Wayne sees Superman’s power up close and personal and immediately sees it as a threat. Cut to 18 months later and Superman is hailed as both a savior and devil. Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is thinking along the same lines as Batman, albeit more sinisterly, and attempting to make the public see Superman the way he sees him. Meanwhile, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is trying to clear Superman’s name after he saves her early in the film and a bunch of people get killed. Superman didn’t kill them, but the world believes differently. As Batman turns his current investigation to Luthor, a new player emerges in mystery woman Diana Prince. What is her role in all this? It all, eventually, leads up to the title fight and another big fight after that, paving the way for next year’s Justice League film which will also be directed by Snyder.

The movie, for me, had to do three things right: 1. Introduce a new Batman 2. Introduce Wonder Woman 3. Prime the pump for Justice League. It does all three of these things and does them well, I think. The problem I found is that the film leaves the audience to do a lot of inferring and assuming of what’s going on throughout the story. I was able to follow along, taking the story as they gave it to me, but I can totally see the structural problems that the film has. Certain things don’t add up, especially concerning Luthor’s plans upon plans. It’s tough to see what his ultimate goal is. I think I may have sorted it out from a late scene he shares with Batman, but my idea is only a theory—once again, being called upon to infer what is going on and I could only do that because I know the comic books, which brings us to both a pro and a con of this film.

Zack Snyder made this film 100% with comic book fans in mind. As has been the case in his other comic book adaptations, there are images and scenes torn straight from the pages of DC Comics. This film mostly pays homage to The Dark Knight Returns, which explains why Ben Affleck’s Batman is the most violent Batman we’ve seen yet and why we’re even getting a Batman v Superman film in the first place—the two icons fight at the end of that mini-series. This is fine if you’re just throwing in Easter eggs for the fans, but in this film, there are whole scenes that the general moviegoer will not understand without pre-knowledge of the comic books. When Marvel introduced Thanos after the credits in Avengers, it was a neat little bone to toss to the fans and those who didn’t know who he was could Google him after the film. What Marvel didn’t do was stick a whole bunch of hinting at Thanos in the middle of Avengers leaving audiences confused. The scene I’m referring to in Batman v Superman has been shown in the trailers—a third major problem with the film—and personally, I loved it, but I know Dirty A sitting next to me had no clue what was going on there. So, there’s a lot of fan-service in this film and some of it is shoehorned in to the detriment of the movie as a whole. Great for fans who know the source material, but terrible for those who don’t. You’re already alienating half your audience. I will say that I liked the introduction cameos to some of the members of the Justice League. I thought those quick scenes worked well in the context of Batman v Superman without overwhelming the film. But at times, it really felt that all Snyder wanted to do was make a live-action adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns—if comic books aren’t for you, there’s a very good animated version from Warner Brothers.

However, while Batman and Superman fight at the end of The Dark Knight Returns, their fight isn’t the entire point of the story like it is in Batman v Superman. The very premise of the film is flawed in that the title tells you all you need to know about it: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Okay, Batman and Superman will fight and we’ll see the beginnings of the Justice League—got it. I’m not one of these comic book fans that needs to see the heroes fight. I would have liked to have seen Batman and Superman’s big fight come in the middle of the film and then see them overcome their differences to truly work together. The whole film amounts to a decent Batman film that builds up to a single fight. To me, that’s a flawed concept for a film that’s not called Rocky. Please watch the video attached to the end of this review. It’s from Superman: The Animated Series from the 90s and a story entitled World’s Finest, where Batman and Superman meet for the first time in the DC Animated Universe. It’s pitch perfect. This is all I wanted to see in Batman v Superman, but what I got was the final fight from The Dark Knight Returns without the decades of buildup.

Finally, the last major problem with this film is in its marketing. While the trailers and TV spots didn’t spoil the plot, as they didn’t give much context, they did manage to spoil basically every single cool scene in this film. It definitely takes the *oomph* away from Wonder Woman’s entrance when we’ve seen it a hundred times online and in the theaters before the film even opens. It was frustrating and led me to predict what was going to happen in the film. All they should have shown was the basic conflict and some of the fight between Batman and Superman. That’s it. The film sells itself, really.

I did enjoy all the performances for the most part. I like Cavill as Superman, but I don’t think he’s getting the best direction from Snyder—and this is coming from someone who liked Man of Steel. The film is very dark, and I don’t have a problem with that, but I did have a problem with it being so morose. I think if we’d had some more scenes of Superman actually feeling good, it may have balanced that out. Batman’s supposed to be a miserable bastard, so the tone worked for him. Affleck is great as Batman and Bruce Wayne. All the haters can step off. Christian Bale will always be my live-action Batman, but I’m confident going forward with Affleck. I’m really looking forward to his solo film. While Gadot doesn’t have many scenes in the film—she’s completely a supporting player here—she shines when she’s onscreen. Her solo film releases next summer and it can’t get here soon enough. Amy Adams is very good again as Lois Lane. I really enjoyed her scenes with Cavill. I also loved Jeremy Irons as Alfred and Laurence Fishburne as Perry White. They provide what little humor there is in the film. Eisenberg was good as Luthor, but he was a little squirrelly at times to me. Like I said above, that may have been due to what he discusses with Batman, but again, that’s only a theory on my part. I will say, though, that Eisenberg is the first live-action Lex Luthor that I can totally see forming the Legion of Doom or something similar in a future film. So if the cast is good, the problems here are mainly with the script from Chris Terrio & David Goyer and the overall direction from Snyder. There’s just too much material here for one film. It’s the classic case of trying to stuff too much in and spoiling the soup.

Batman v Superman has some great moments in it and I stand by my initial reaction that it is a great setup for the DC Expanded Universe, but the film by itself has too many issues to be considered a great film. The producers just tried to stuff too much into one movie and it doesn’t hang together as well as it could. See it for Batman and Wonder Woman, but don’t expect to love it.

 

 

Rating: C+

 

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