Despite what you probably have heard by now, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is not the worst film ever, nor is it the best. It is a beautiful mess. Visually, this film is stunning in parts, particularly the opening, and we’ve probably been treated to the best on-screen Batman we’ve ever had. But this film is all over the place. Clumsy writing, unclear character motives and strange plot decisions make this film incredibly frustrating.
Full spoilers form hereon.
Following directly on from 2013’s Man of Steele, BvS focuses on the fallout from the destruction Metropolis and Superman’s role in this. Turns out Batman (Ben Affleck) (along with many others) is pretty pissed off about this, not least because Superman (Henry Cavill) destroyed a Wayne Enterprises building (and probably killed a good few people in the process). Batman seeks to bring down Superman because, and I’m paraphrasing here, if there’s a 1% chance Superman is their enemy they have to take that as a certainty and take him out. He does this with nudges and encouragement from Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor along the way who for unknown reasons doesn’t want Superman around. Predictably, our heroes finally realise that they should probably be both on the same team (they have got that Justice League movie coming up) and team up along with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to take down Lex Luthor and his monster, Doomsday. The three combine to bring down the monstrosity with Superman dealing the final blow with the weapon designed by Batman to take down the Man of Steel himself (probably some metaphor there). In doing so however, Superman is stabbed through the chest by Doomsday. This was a genuine shock. Snyder handled the death of Superman excellently and theres a moving sequence at the end of the film giving the hero the send-off he deserves. But not really. He’ll be back for Justice League and also the standalone Superman films DC have promised us.
Tonally, this film is dark and the colours are saturated to make it feel that way. You’ll probably have read that there aren’t any jokes. There are a few, not many, but not everything has to be Marvel right? I’ve also read that this film takes itself too seriously but I don’t think that’s the case. There’s a couple of tongue in cheek moments i.e. when Perry White suggests nobody cares about Clark Kent fighting Batman and a moment later on in the film between Batman and Martha Kent. I don’t think it’s fair to criticise a film based on a lack of jokes when it’s not meant to be funny. Where Marvel has mainly stuck to the same formula for the majority of their films, it feels like Snyder is pushing the boat out here and really taking a bit of a risk. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy Marvel, I do, but that’s not what I want from my Batman, thanks.
Like I said earlier, despite a mauling by many of the critics, there is a lot to like here.
The opening ten minutes of this film is brilliant. We get a beautifully shot and edited montage of Batman’s origins which is superbly scored by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL. This film is visually stunning for which you’ve got to give Snyder credit. It’s is very comic book-esque. In fact, some shots are taken directly from comic-book panels, see the example below showing the Dark Knight in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns from which much of this film is based. This film really feels like a comic brought to life.
Batman. Ben Affleck really delivers. He makes an excellent on screen Batman and Bruce Wayne. In spite of some odd character choices (I’ll get on to that in ‘THE BAD’) and some non-existent detective skills, I think this is the best on-screen Batman we’ve seen. He’s brutal, rage-fueled and bitter – perfect attributes for a man who likes to punch people so hard in the head that their face smashes into the floor (that really does happen). There’s a fight scene in which he takes down a room full of about twenty guys and it’s phenomenal.
Superman. Zack Snyder gets a lot of stick for his treatment of Superman which is a little harsh. Superman, on the whole, is the epitome of good and is a symbol for hope. Snyder’s attempts to make a more complicated character has got him a fair amount of stick but it’s fascinating to see how disillusioned and conflicted Snyder’s Superman is in this early stage in his ‘career’. Just me?
The film also begins to ask important questions about morality too. Should Batman and Superman be able to work outside of government? Is it safe to have someone with the power of Superman accountable to no-one? Does Batman take things too far by kicking the shit out of people and torturing them? Yes he does, that guy has some serious anger issues. The problem is this. These questions are raised early on and then forgotten about when Zack Snyder decides it’s time to start blowing everything up. Explosions are fun though, right?
I also enjoyed what little we saw of Wonder Woman, she was pretty solid. Amy Adams and Laurence Fishburne were good in their roles as Lois Lane and Perry White respectively. Fishburne actually provides the majority of the levity and humour usually at Clark’s expense. Jeremy Irons’s Alfred is different from what we’ve seen before and that’s a good thing. He’s less of a butler and more of an accomplice to Batman and he’s obviously much more capable than previous on-screen incarnations.
Firstly, this film is a bit of a mess and it feels over-stuffed at times. But my main issue was that there are some strange character motives and plot devices used to move the story forward. The Batman v Superman conflict is really contrived when it didn’t really need to be. Lex Luthor’s plan to pit the two against each other by blowing stuff up and sending some hate-mail to each of them is almost laughable. Even more laughable that the world’s greatest detective would fall for it. And kind of pointless, considering he was spawning Doomsday regardless. It started actually quite promisingly with Lex trying to poison the world against Superman and highlight the Dark Knight’s brutal brand of justice to Clark Kent the journalist. But the writers don’t build on this effectively. Batman’s issues with Superman could have been resolved with a simple conversation and vice versa. Lex Luthor’s plan to pit the heroes against each other is flimsy and it’s not believable that either of them would be this easily manipulated. It feels like the the character’s decisions are there to serve the plot regardless of whether its in keeping with character or not. For example, for almost 2 years Batman fails to do ANY research on Superman, the man he wants to kill. He’s supposed to be a genius detective. Anyone could figure out in 2 minutes that Superman isn’t a bad guy, yet he fails any research so that they can have a bust-up. It’s annoying because there are ways for them to have a genuine, interesting debate, followed by the aforementioned bust-up, if only the writing had been stronger. Saying this, I did really enjoy the Batman v Superman show down when we eventually got to it.
There are also some odd character choices. Batman kills people. A lot of people. With a minigun. There’s also a bit where he sends a car flying through the streets with two gunmen in it. He then attaches it to his car with a grappling hook and rampages through the streets using it as a kind of wrecking ball to flatten another car. With more gunmen in it. That’s got the Bat-fans all riled up. Whilst Batman’s no kill rule is well known, he has killed people in the comics or at leasts he’s left people in mortal peril. That he’s placed them in, in the first place. He’s hardly innocent in the Burton or Nolan films either as pointed out by the excellent Mr Sunday Movies (you should definitely listen to his podcast ‘The Weekly Planet’) in his youtube video below. Apparently Zack Snyder used this as his bible for BvS. Still seems a bit anti-Batman though right? Why doesn’t he just kill The Joker already?!
There is a line of dialogue where Alfred warns Batman that he’s becoming cruel, maybe this blowing people up is a new way of dealing with his anger issues. Anyway, Snyder should probably ease off the killing in future films. This being said, Affleck is still the best on-screen Batman we’ve had.
For my taste, there’s not enough of Batman and Superman being Batman and Superman in the two and a half hours. The first time we get to see either of them in action (barring the murder car chase scene discussed above and a brief montage of Superman carrying the helpless to safety) is way too late in the film. The two should meet sooner and interact more frequently. This could be an interesting moral and character conflict. This is touched on in an early scene but is never really revisited until they start kicking the shit out of each other. Their conflict should also be resolved sooner to allow more development time to the Doomsday plot. That whole plot thread feels so rushed as if it’s just been tagged on at the end of the film. This is probably because it was. The vast majority of it is CGI added in post-production.
The Justice League tie-ins were clumsy and shoehorned into an already over-stuffed film which neither served the plot of this film or effectively gave us an effective introduction to the characters for the lay person. There’s also some odd dream sequences, which I’m going to write another article on, which again don’t really serve the plot. Although again, they are cool and have great visuals. It took me two viewings with prior comic-book intel to figure out what they might mean for the DC universe.
I really wanted to like this film, and I did. Just about. I didn’t love it, though. After a three year wait, it came as a disappointment. As a huge batman fan I was excited to see what Ben Affleck did with the character, and his performance was the best thing about this film. Zack Snyder had a tough task here no question about it. He had to address the backlash of what happened in MoS and provide us with a superman sequel. He had to introduce a new Batman and one who was faced with plenty of backlash when he was cast. He had to introduce us to Wonder Woman and set-up the justice league. Did he pass? Just about.
AVERAGE. But definitely worth a watch. It’s likely to be very divisive. But for me, the good outweighs the bad – and there is a lot of good here. It’s just a shame that some lazy writing somewhat soured the experience.
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