Its title may read “Batman v Superman” but the “Dawn of Justice” subtitle is important. This long-awaited gloom-doom extravaganza features not only Batman and Superman in leading roles, but we also get our first sniff of the superhero team that both of these cultural icons would eventually become part of in the original comic books: the Justice League. The most prominent other member for now is Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot, and considering the ads, I’m spoiling nothing by unveiling this fact.
I don’t know why it was so hard for DC Comics to introduce heroes of their Cinematic Universe one-by-one just like Marvel did, instead of delving straight into crossover territory with Dawn of Justice. I assume they thought it was pointless since we already recognize these characters and don’t need all the build-up, but instead it is rushed, muddled and careless. You sense that, rather than fun world-building, this was about cashing in on a trend set by Marvel, and if the simple fact that this film exists is somehow not enough to prove that, you can just go watch it for yourself to see how little of a damn was given when this was cobbled together. Or the trailer, which utterly spoiled the whole thing because again: nobody cared.
Directed by Zack Snyder and written by David S. Goyer (only to be reworked by Chris Terrio), the movie basically tells of Gotham City-based vigilante/billionaire/high-tech genius Bruce “Batman” Wayne (a very good Ben Affleck) as he gears up to duke it out with the Kryptonian superhero turned bespectacled journalist Clark “Superman” Kent (Henry Cavill). The Superman is seen as a savior by some and a threat to humanity by others – namely those who saw Man of Steel – and agreeing with the latter sentiment, Wayne vows to do anything in his power to defeat the mighty alien beefcake. This involves everything from stealing Kryptonite to constructing a silly robo-version of the Batsuit made from a garbage can.
Amidst it all, there are signs of larger forces at play. As well as the vile Lex Luthor, a rich weasel of a man who has his own flimsily explained plans. He is played by Jesse Eisenberg – just to confirm it for those of you who still think that’s a joke someone made on the IMDb forums.
I’ve heard mixed things about Eisenberg as Luthor and while I’d say he’s entertaining, I don’t think his awkward performance makes up for the fact that he bears negative resemblance to the Luthor we all know. If anything, he will make you think of The Riddler from Batman Forever with a dash of John Travolta. My brother and I have had heaps of fun laughing at his delivery of such as lines as “The red-capes are coming, the red-capes are coming”, however. Good stuff.
Might as well discuss the rest of the superfluous cast while I’m at it. Laurence Fishburne, Amy Adams, Diane Lane and Michael Shannon return as their characters from Superman’s movie (one of them albeit as a corpse), and from Batsy’s franchise we have Jeremy Irons as an interesting take on Alfred the Butler (he’s more like Chip from Punisher) plus Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Lauren Cohan as Bruce Wayne’s deceased parents. Bloating out the cast further are shoehorned cameos from future Justice League members and an evil cartoon troll named Doomsday. Again, the marketing has done nothing to conceal any of this or keep it a surprise for the film itself so why should I?
There are also implications of characters like The Joker, soon to get his own film in the form of Suicide Squad, and Batman’s sidekick Robin, the latter seemingly having died by The Joker’s hands. Mix all of this together with alien demigoddesses, genetically modified Kryptonians, something about encrypted files, Darkseid foreshadowing, and loads of other stuff and you will have a solid idea of what this supposed “Batman fighting Superman” film is really about. There is so much going on, little of it interesting enough to keep anyone’s attention, that the rivlary between the two heroes often gets lost in the fog, not to mention insufficiently developed and believable.
Hell, it doesn’t even really make a difference since we can already infer from the trailers which one of them wins the fight at the end (neither; they team up with Wonder Woman) and how we reach that point. It’s one of the few films I’ve seen where the central plot is completely irrelevant, and it doesn’t get my hopes up for Zack Snyder’s work or DC comic book films in general (I won’t give away whether both survive Doomsday although that’s another thing).
I ever so briefly believed that Snyder had shifted gears when he made this one. From certain promos, it seemed he would incorporate a more colorful variant of Man of Steel‘s excessively gritty and dark style but opt for a more tongue-in-cheek tone overall, which is more fitting when you’re trying to adapt something as inherently silly as superhero comics and is the reason we still like Marvel’s Avengers movies. Perhaps, I thought, he was gonna try to mix that “not too serious” tone with a dark visual style more reminiscent of the old Frank Miller novels, instead of trying to be as deadly serious as Christopher Nolan was (successfully) with his Batman trilogy. Alas, there were few attempts at this in the movie itself and they couldn’t save such an overstuffed, messy, tedious, and often goofy film. And with all the heavy images, religious themes, pretentious dialogue, and the desire to be “smarter” than Marvel, who knows what DC and Snyder were truly going for?
Zack Snyder’s forté has always been style, but the substance is rarely anything to admire. As much of a mess as Batman v Superman is, it has several interesting shots and its dark world often looks inviting in a macabre way, even when it is obviously artificial and looking more like a video game. The difference between this film and The Hobbit would be that this one resembles a video game that I would likely want to play (not watch for 3 hours).
I went easy on Man of Steel. I had a blast watching it and gave it 4 out of 5, but those were my initial thoughts and my opinion regarding Snyder’s abilities has come to change. And boy is my skepticism ever reaffirmed with this movie. Snyder, I still give you Watchmen, but this one was nigh-insufferable. It is childishly easy to predict, its plot devlopments range from contrived to illogical to baffling, its scenes and plot threads are confusingly edited together (segues and establishing shots would’ve helped), most of its characters are empty vessels for important-sounding words, its set design is uninspired, its action is too overdone to be investing, its slomo shots are tiring, and its attempts to be oh so dramatic and deep only make it look dumber. I did enjoy the performances and a few of the foreshadowing scenes, so here’s hoping better things are on DC’s horizon.
For her first time on the big screen, however, Wonder Woman deserved better and so too did possibly those who’ve waited for a Batman-Superman fight film since that one joke in I Am Legend; if not longer. But I suppose that doesn’t matter since we live in an age where making fanboy money is easier than ever thanks to all the rampant superhero media and crowds will see just about anything with the right words on the poster – yes, even after they’ve been told how its main conflict, a showdown they’ve longed to see on the big screen for decades, ends.
Thankfully, I’m not fooled so easily. Now pardon me as I geek out over the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse movie and the one where Iron Man battles Captain America. Excelsior!