Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Packs a Punch That Hurts
Here we go. I have a lot to say on this film, probably too much to ever fit into this review. There are, however, some things that I initially need to get out of the way. Whether or not I enjoyed this film is an opinion, please remember that. If you loved Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, good for you. If you hated it, that's your prerogative. This review is solely my opinion as reviewing film is not an objective medium; it can't be. With that said, as most of you may know, I am a die-hard DC Comics fan. I have been since I was a child thanks to my father. Though my favorite superhero is The Flash, Batman and Superman are incredibly important to me on a level I can't quite explain. My goal here is to review this film two separate ways: 1. As a film critic, I want to look at this as just that, a film; not a comic book movie. 2. As a comic fan I also want to be able to make logical comparisons between these characters and their print counterparts. So let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice does a lot of things in a close-to three hour run time. The film, which is the true kick-off of the DC Cinematic Universe (DCCU) is being controversially received by fans and critics alike. There's a reason for this. The fans think the critics are being too hard on the film for being "gritty" and "mature". I don't see it that way. I don't want to make comparisons between DC films and Marvel films. They are two completely different beasts. DC should be a darker noir world as that's the way it's built. The issue being that everything director Zack Synder worked towards crafting with Man of Steel was somewhat undone in this film. The wrapping paper that was meticulously folded has been ripped open thus destroying the contents inside.
The wrapping paper that was meticulously folded has been ripped open thus destroying the contents inside.
There's a ratio issue in this film. We are given too many characters, too much time, and not enough of a compelling story. While the characters are as close to their comic origins as can be (with the exception of a huge Batman drawback I will discuss later) there isn't enough depth and true story-telling to make the relationships between characters interesting. I wholeheartedly believe that this is through no fault of the actors. In actuality, all actors in this film do a superb job; especially Jesse Eisenberg and Gal Gadot (Furious 7). The acting is top notch. It's the film itself that struggles to hold any kind of semblance between the characters. Ben Affleck's Batman could become the best Batman we've ever had, but it's just not there yet. His character is written lazily, with no meat on the bones. Writers David Goyer (Man of Steel) and Chris Terrio (Argo) depend on the fans to just kind of "get" Bruce Wayne's character. From their point of view, we all know his parents were murdered so we should all know the torments he's gone through. This doesn't work in the film. His Batman is flawed, in a good way but also in a bad way. He's tormented and has been destroyed for years. This makes him a great older Batman but the issue is that we weren't given a opening movie to experience his reasons for what he does in this film.
This brings me to my biggest issue with Batman's character. [Minor Spoilers Ahead]. Batman is a murderer in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. This I can't get behind and it's not because of his moral code which has been observed in his character for decades. Batman has killed in the past and of course this Batman is taken almost directly from the most gruesome Batman story around: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. I can understand that and I could be okay with it. The problem is I wasn't given time or reason to let that sink in. We weren't eased into this Batman’s persona which the film world has never seen. In the first Batmobile chase scene he blows up an SUV with three guys in it. Immediately I was questioning what the heck had just happened. Throughout the movie he probably kills 15 people. This isn't the Batman we needed right now (whether or not Synder wanted a darker, grittier character). There needs to be character development for these huge flaws, not just shock and awe. We need to understand what has made him become a killer. One of the biggest arguments in DC is that Batman refusing to kill the Joker ends up putting more lives at risk every single day, but he will not take a life. If this Batman is a killer, or soldier (whichever term you choose to use) what's to stop him from snapping Joker's neck in the upcoming Suicide Squad film? Boom! story arc over. Again, none of these faults are through Ben Affleck. Affleck does a superb job with what he's given. I'm very excited to see what he ends up doing with his DC directorial turn with The Batman and how his character expands in Justice League. But this is the issue that Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice starts us off with. His character will grow, but we needed to witness him grow from the start.
[The script felt] like a teenager found a ton of food in the pantry and threw it in a bowl without any regard to how it would all taste.
Batman's hatred for Superman is so forced and bullet-pointed, if you will. We know Bruce Wayne is afraid of him because of his powers, but he never really tries to assess the Superman situation which is something Batman would have done from day one. He just decides to go after Superman and stop him. By the end of the film we do have a mutual respect among the two but it took 3 hours to get to that point and it didn't feel like the proper pay off. Cavill's Superman is just as strong as he was in Man of Steel but along with Affleck, he isn't given anything to work with. Man of Steel was a focused film because it was only about him. This film has far too many eggs in its basket and there's no possible way to focus on anything.
In a movie that has three acts, the first act is completely built on cold opens. There's no solidarity among the cuts, the characters are introduced and let loose to run amuck. It felt like every scene was an introduction to a new character or plot point. The storytelling held no conventional formatting, no formula for how the script should have been written. It just felt like a complete misuse of property, like a teenager found a ton of food in the pantry and threw it in a bowl without any regard to how it would all taste. The city of Gotham felt paper thin, and kind of useless (which is surprising considering its dark, twisted, and often dense past). Again, Batman is not the focus of this film, the feud is, but everyone is looking at Affleck and the feud was lackluster at best. Gotham needs to be a character of its own, but it just plain wasn't.
One of the biggest points of contention with the film is that if you've seen all the released trailers then you've seen the film. There's nothing noteworthy that isn't derived from the trailer cuts. The characters have no other huge moments. The previews aren’t used as a sense of misdirection for anything in the film. In essence, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is a cookie cutter film. It has its strong points but it is overpowered by massive weak points. It sets up a universe by shoving thoughts, characters, and arcs down your throat. Zack Synder and his team want to force you into the DCCU by showing you what you could get out of it. They just never take the time to realize that in order for us to invest our time in something we want to see if it's worthwhile. This film represents a broken promise, an unfulfilled wish, to catapult us into the DC universe.
The place where this film shines the most is in the acting. Whether or not the script gave them much to work with, the actors did a great job at capturing the characters to the best of their abilities. From the characters we've already seen like Superman and Martha Kent, to the first timers like Batman and Alfred; all have something about them that make them hard to look away from. It is however, Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) that truly shines in his menacing turn as Lex Luthor (even if everyone in the film pronounced it "Luther" which is a huge pet peeve of mine.) His take on the character is both refreshing and comfortable. Eisenberg finds an excellent balance between the Luthor we've grown to understand as comic fans, and a new form of demented villainy that becomes a force to reckon with.
[Eisenberg finds] a new form of demented villainy that becomes a force to reckon with.
There's so much more to be said about Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. But, I truly do believe that if you're interested, you should go see this film. Please create your own opinion. If you end up loving it, that's excellent. I really hope you do love it because I wish I could. If you hate it, I understand why. If you're lukewarm towards it, don't have any opinion about it, I understand that too. There's a reason this film is being received so controversially right now. It's because people don't understand what really happened and neither do I. All I can say is that the DCCU is on the right path, it just needs to get there a little faster and hope they can catch up to the Marvel race. We need pacing, we need formula and passion; we need a lot of things. I personally need The Flash.
The below rating is my opinion. Let me reiterate that point, my opinion. My level of enjoyment or satisfaction should not dissuade you or anyone else from seeing this film. If you go see Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice I want you to love it. I want you to get excited for the universe to come. I will be happy that you love the film. I just wish that I could as well.