28 Mar REVIEW -‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’
With a movie as grandiose (and that’s putting it lightly) as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I always think it’s best to wait a few days to let it all sink in before sharing my thoughts and feelings. Too often people share their initial reaction, be it positive or negative. I’m not saying that’s wrong. Sometimes your gut reaction is spot on. But with so much crammed into one film (more on that later), it’s impossible to really know how one felt without proper time for reflection.
Now I’ve seen a lot of shit heaped on this film. Monumental levels of shit. Shit you don’t see thrown at a film every day. Some of it deserved. Some of it wildly unfair. And I have to take a side-step to rant for a moment, so just scroll on down if you want to get to my opinion of the film itself.
Look, this movie is by no means perfect. I will admit it has some problems…okay, it has a LOT of problems. But the way most critics are speaking, you’d think it was the worst superhero film of all time. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s amazing to me how quickly some people have forgotten last year’s monumental disaster Fantastic Four. Or DC’s massive misstep in 2011 with Green Lantern. And take a journey back to 1997’s unmitigated clusterfuck Batman and Robin if you really want to see how not to make a superhero film. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is not in the same ballpark as those crimes against cinema, so I don’t understand the white-hot vitriol it’s receiving.
A lot of fans (and the cast and crew) are laughing this criticism off by saying superhero films are simply “not for critics”. I disagree. A great film will shine through, no matter what genre it is. Films like Guardians of the Galaxy, Deadpool, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier were all adored by critics, so it’s clearly not impossible for so-called “intellectuals” to love this genre.
The issue here (and merely my personal opinion) is that too many critics are reviewing it with the same form of critique they would apply to, say, an Oscar movie. That does not and has never made a lick of sense. Films like this don’t look to hit the same beats as a film like Spotlight or even something like Gravity. This is popcorn entertainment. Nothing more. Nothing less. This is leave-your-brain-at-the-door kind of cinema. The exact kind of cinema Zack Snyder is well-known for. If a critic can’t see this, it seems unfair for them to badmouth this film so vehemently.
You don’t have to love this film (and for the record, I definitely did not), but mercilessly destroying something for seemingly the mere fun of it is not only grossly unnecessary, it’s tacky as hell. And you can cry all you want about this film not having the gravitas of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, but guess what? Neither do any of the films in Marvel’s franchise either, and I don’t see you twisting the knife into their films like this.
With that unexpected rant out of the way, I’m simply going to break down what I thought worked and what I thought didn’t work but first some general thoughts and I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers, especially the great, big whopping one aka the film’s ending.
I will openly admit to being a fanboy of Batman, Superman, and the Justice League. If you twist my arm, Superman may just be my supreme favourite comic-book character above all others. Sorry, Cap. You’re a close second. I have lapped up everything Kal-El has ever appeared in. I was even one of the 12 people that actually really enjoyed both Superman Returns and Man of Steel. If there was anyone out there that really, really, really wanted to love this film, you’re looking at him. Sadly, I did not love this film.
Ultimately, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is just one big, beautiful mess. This film is screaming with so much potential but, for the most part, it fails to capture that potential at every single turn. Every time it gives you something great, it follows it up with a plethora of things doing the exact polar opposite. This is the kind of cinema that really makes you want to pull your hair out from sheer annoyance. That’s what makes it such a genuine and overall disappointment. It ends up being so incredibly frustrating to watch, both as a fanboy and a fan of cinema in general.
What makes this film even more disappointing is how long they had to get it right. This cinematic showdown has been years in the making. Decades, even. Its release was even delayed an entire year to allow the creative team more production time. So how on earth did they still manage to mess it up?!
In saying that, it’s not all bad. There are more than a few bright points here and genuine hope for the future of the franchise.
The opening sequence. Choosing to showcase the destruction of Metropolis from Bruce Wayne’s street perspective is a stroke of genius and easily the best set-piece in the entire film. Plus it serves as the perfect set-up for Batman’s mistrust of Superman.
Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Remember when his casting set the internet into a meltdown? Clearly we were all wrong. I won’t say he’s the best on-screen Batman there has ever been, but he comes damn close. The toughest part for any actor playing the dual roles of Batman and Bruce Wayne is finding a way to nail such vastly different characters. That was Christian Bale’s crowning achievement and it’s Affleck’s too. The franchise is in safe hands.
Gal Galdot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. Again, there was equal confusion and disgust when Galdot was announced as the Amazon princess, but again, we were wrong. She’s the biggest surprise package of the entire film. The cinema burst into applause at her first appearance as Wonder Woman. How often does that happen? My only complaint is she wasn’t given enough screen-time, but this just increases my anticipation for her solo film next year.
The supporting cast (minus Eisenberg, see below). It’s little surprise that packing a film with a supporting cast full of Oscar winners/nominees (Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Laurence Fishburne, Holly Hunter, Dianne Lane) is a smart move. Nolan knew this, and so does Snyder. Each is given limited screen time, but they steal every moment they are part of, particularly Adams as Lois Lane and Irons as Alfred Pennyworth.
The visuals. If nothing else, this film is a glorious visual sight to behold. Typical of Snyder, the film is a feast for the eyes. Stylistically, it’s unlike anything we’ve seen in a superhero film since the Tim Burton days. The production design blends seamlessly with the visual effects which ultimately crafts something truly special. And I still maintain this is the best designed Superman suit there has ever been. Henry Cavill isn’t hard on the eyes either…
The action. While it takes an exhaustingly long time to arrive, the climatic fight sequence is really quite spectacular. The cinematography is sublimely achieved, giving the audience a glorious front-row seat to something they’ve been aching to see. If you came to see Batman and Superman beat the shit out of each other and nothing else, you won’t be disappointed. The fight choreography in the sequence where Batman faces off against Luthor’s goons is also wildly impressive, and clearly borrows heavily from Rocksteady’s brilliant Arkham game series.
The ending. This is hard to talk about without spoiling something huge, so all I will say here is Snyder’s choice of ending is extremely bold, incredibly daring and altogether very surprising. I think it’s safe to say we know what will inevitably happen in the next film (the last 5 seconds of the film practically confirm that, which is a genuine shame), but it still packs an enormous punch.
From my general thoughts about, you would know I felt the majority of this film missed the mark, and here’s a few main sticking points.
What didn’t work
The dark tone. I’m usually on-board with the dark and nasty side of cinema, but good god is this film just too damn bleak. By the end, you will be begging for something light. There is one sequence involving a government hearing at the Capitol building that just goes way too far. I understand what it was ultimately setting up, but good lord, did we really have to go there in a superhero film? The terrorism parallels are just way too much for something like this. Popcorn cinema is supposed to be about escapism. This sequence makes the 9/11 parallels from Man of Steel feel tame by comparison. And I understand the sub-plot related to Superman struggling with his place in the world is important, but just like Iron Man 3, I want to see my heroes at the top of their game for the majority of the film. Give me darkness, but balance it out with some fun and some light and something that makes me smile. While I praise the bold choices with the film’s ending, it ultimately leaves you feeling completely hollow and empty. You definitely do not leave the cinema smiling. That is the true tragedy.
The editing. Sloppy, lazy, confusing, messy. All words I never want to apply to the work of the editor. But this film is absolutely teaming with editing flaws. There are several dream sequences that seem like continuations of the story until Bruce suddenly wakes up. I’m not saying we need “this is a dream” flashing on the screen, but these sequences seem so grounded in reality that it’s impossible for the audience to distinguish the difference. One sequence goes on so long that it’s genuinely jarring when the audience is thrown back to reality. Even with all these editing problems, the film is still far too long. If you’re going to give me a film that runs for 2 hours and 35 minutes, it better be filled with 2 hours and 35 minutes of great entertainment. Otherwise, I’m left wondering what the hell was cut out at all. Maybe the 3-hour long director’s cut that’s coming with the Blu-ray will be more cohesive. Given the theatrical version is a complete shambles, I can’t see how a longer version won’t be even worse.
The setup up for Justice League. I completely understand one of this film’s main purposes is setting up the DC franchise and the Justice League movies to come, but the way they go about it is just disgracefully lazy and incredibly forced. There is no finesse to the way several characters are introduced. I don’t want to spoil it, but the way the audience is literally handed these characters in one neat little package is really quite pathetic. It feels like they didn’t even try and just took the easy way out. Maybe they thought dumping Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash all in one place would be a fanboy’s dream, but it seemed to elicit far more moans than cheers in my cinema. And if you were thinking there would be a surprise Hal Jordan/Green Lantern appearance, drop all hope of that now. They clearly still have no idea what they’re doing with that character, so they’re just going to ignore it until they do.
The trailer spoils everything. This is a problem facing many movies these days, particularly those of the superhero genre. I get the filmmakers want to show off a film’s most impressive moments to ensure as many people as possible rush out to see it on opening weekend. But in doing so, they often take all element of surprise off the table. Such is the case here. Besides a few minor surprises (mainly the Justice League cameos and the shock ending), the best parts are all seen in the trailer. Things like the majority of the Batman vs Superman showdowns, Wonder Woman’s first appearance, Doomsday being Luthor’s “secret” weapon or Robin’s Joker-vandalised costume on display in the batcave. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know these moments are coming. These all should be “oh, wow!” surprises, and yet, none of them are because we’ve all seen them numerous times already. That takes a lot of fun away from the film experience. It’s times like these I actually wish I just avoided trailers altogether. I swear it would make for a far more enjoyable ride.
Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. It kills me to say this, but Eisenberg is the weakest link here. By a long way. I love him as an actor. His work in The Social Network was Oscar-worthy. But therein lies the problem. He’s seemingly transposed his Mark Zuckerberg performance into Lex Luthor, and the result is horrendously bad. I understand we’re not witnessing the Luthor we’re used to. He’s young. He’s a brat. He has daddy issues. He’s socially awkward. He’s maniacal for no apparent reason. None of those qualities scream Lex Luthor to me. And yet he’s supposedly the big bad that manages to pit two of the most powerful superheroes against each other? No. His performance is far more Riddler than it is Lex Luthor. None of it seems to fit properly and it’s actually quite agonising to watch. It just never really seems plausible for a character like that to have such control over such stronger men, particularly Superman. A superhero film is often only as good as its villain. Think The Joker in The Dark Knight or Loki in The Avengers. Those films soared so high thanks to their villain. This film falls so low for the same reason. Perhaps if we were just introduced to him in this film and then later in the franchise, he became the Luthor we know and loath. That kind of character progression would actually be wonderful to watch. Luthor being present but not in complete control just yet makes far more sense. Sort of like how Thanos sits back in Guardians of the Galaxy and lets others do his bidding for now. But DC doesn’t seem to have the patience to allow this sort of character progression to take place, and that is a major problem that even a wonderful actor like Eisenberg cannot overcome.
The “Martha, Martha” scene. When you see it, you’ll know what I mean…
The screenplay, the pacing and the plot. This is the film’s biggest problem, and probably where I will ramble the most, so strap yourself in. The screenplay is a complete and total disaster. And the main reason for this comes down to one problem – DC are clearly trying to get ahead of themselves and overload this film with far too much, so as to get on with their cinematic franchise. Big mistake. Monumental, in fact. This genuinely feels like three or four films crammed into one overloaded mess. It’s simply too much. There are just far too many things going on in this film, and none of them are given the proper amount of pacing and timing to fully develop.
I understand why DC is nervous. Marvel is killing them, and they are terribly behind. But rushing to try to catch up to them is not the answer. There’s a very simple reason why The Avengers was such a success – it had five setup films preceding it. We met these characters in their own worlds and got to know them intimately. Sure, they were all moving towards a common goal with the Avengers Initiative, but each film still managed to stand alone as its own great piece of cinema. The greater purpose was joining together, but each film and its characters had their own minor purposes to touch upon first. We don’t get that with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. We get one film that attempts to capture those setup films in one go. That’s not only lazy, it’s doomed to fail.
If only DC had realised this and slowed things down. The Batman elements of this film work wonderfully well. So well, in fact, they could easily have been their own standalone Batman movie. We’re dealing with a totally new Bruce Wayne/Batman here, and not just in terms of the actor playing him. Allowing the audience to fully absorb that would have made so much more sense. And it’s because of this focus on Batman that we lose the ability to learn and love Henry Cavill’s Superman even more. It’s really far more a Batman movie that just happens to have Superman in it.
Superman deserved a proper sequel. We needed more time with Cavill and co. to fully embrace this new direction, particularly after the lukewarm fan response to Man of Steel. We needed to fall in love with Superman and appreciate Cavill as our new Clark Kent. Then give us a new Ben Affleck prequel-style Batman film, ending exactly where this one begins. Batman witnesses Metropolis’ destruction. He sees the Wayne Enterprises building collapse. We zoom in and get a close-up of his angry, vengeance-filled eyes. The screen goes black. It’s on. Is that not the perfect way to setup a film where the two end up battling each other?
There’s a reason audiences adored The Avengers so immensely – we actually gave a shit about every single member (okay, maybe not Hawkeye so much). That’s hugely important. And it’s the one element severely lacking here. We’ve barely met Batman and Wonder Woman, and yet we’re already expected to care about them coming together to save the world. You’re asking too much too soon. It’s just far too forced. You may have fanboys already loving these characters, thanks to years of other incarnations, but relying on that love and not earning it with your own properly developed characters is shamefully lazy and the film’s biggest downfall.
Maybe the expectations were just too damn high to ever be met. I honestly believe there is a great film to be found here, hidden amongst all the chaos and confusion. This is why I refuse to accept the criticism that it’s amongst the worst of the superhero genre. There is still at least some things to love about this movie (unlike, say, Fantastic Four which has no redeeming qualities whatsoever). But the search for that greatness ultimately ends up being entirely exhausting and relatively fruitless.