Zack Snyder delivers the ďsuperĒ in superhero in BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE but he struggles mightily with the ďheroĒ portion of the equation. Itís something of an odd choice to launch a shared universe with what is essentially a deconstruction of the two title characters, which leans heavily on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, highlighting their flaws and failings and only briefly pointing towards a potentially less gloomy future in the last moments. Weíre essentially deconstructing the images of characters that weíve never really seen at their most heroic in this cinematic universe.
For the most part, that works with Batman as heís been a major cinematic presence since 1989 and the film establishes him as a character thatís broken by loss. I think many will struggle with a Batman thatís so broken that he has little issue snuffing bad guys in fights and is willing to kill Superman over things he thinks Superman might do, rather than things he thinks Superman has actually done. It begs the question of why The Joker is still alive in this universe. But this Batman is a compelling character brought to the screen with real commitment from Ben Affleck. Affleck makes both Bruce Wayne and Batman compelling characters and has real chemistry with Jeremy Irons. And Batman is an exciting and scary figure to watch under Zack Snyderís direction. I donít think thereís any doubt that the most exciting Batman fight scene shot to date, and feeling ripped from the comic books, is in this film. I might take issue with the fact that Batmanís code has slipped so far under the tragedies heís endured, but Iím also eager to see much more of this Batman in action. This portion of the film might not be a total triumph under Snyder and Affleck, but it is a success and it feels like thereís real vision and passion behind it.
Unfortunately, it doesnít work at all with this Superman. Itís no fault of Henry Cavill but rather of a script and direction that present the character as a gloomy, tentative man who can effortlessly lift large objects but struggles mightily under the weight of the world. Between the muted colors of his costume and the fact that this Superman never smiles, he presents no compelling reason to view this version of Superman as any sort of inspirational character, besides being told it. Even when he saves a girl from a burning building, he just stands around glumly; being neither a source of light or much of a man of action. He doesnít even have the courage of his convictions to haul Batman off to jail when he decides Batmanís gone too far but lets him off with a simple warning. Superman doesnít even have the moxie to come out in public and present his side of the story. Instead of being a story of a clash of light and dark, or two compelling charismatic figures, the film sides with Batmanís view of the world.
It makes you wonder why Lex Luthor even bothers with Superman. Eisenbergís Luthor is at least a confident character; even if he openly wonders what ďknowledge without powerĒ makes him in this world. Eisenberg is all tics and nervous energy, and youíre never really convinced that heís a major threat, but he at least brings energy and a bit of fun to the dourness of Supermanís storyline. The script fails him by never having him engage with Clark Kent or Superman on a deeper philosophical level though. Or, even via proxy through Lois Lane. The closest it gets to that is through Holly Hunterís Senator Finch, who does a lot with a little, but sheís sitting in the middle and isnít really being a champion of either side.
The failings of the film to present deeper arguments pro or con Superman makes the seriousness of the film look like pretentiousness. That would be a minor critique if the film was a tight machine of plotting and story, but itís a surprisingly sloppy construction. Superman is essentially framed for an international incident to kick off the film, but a) since when is an incident where people get riddled with bullets convincing of Supermanís guilt and b) the incident seems so minor that it serves as a weak spark. Superman bringing down a dictator of a significant country, like the fictional Kahndaq, seems like a more legitimate spark than this trumped up incident. Itís a weak foundation for the film and it never gets stronger. Luthor never tries to co-opt Superman and while his plan to acquire Kryptonite as a deterrent makes sense, all of his other manipulations and ultimate plan which results in the creation of Doomsday are surprisingly short-sighted. Trading the potential threat of Superman for the active threat of Doomsday, whoís more powerful than Superman, is an absolutely stupid plan. Amy Adams, who is giving shockingly little to do, struggles mightily to unravel the frame job which is beyond obvious. And the resolution of the Batman and Superman fight is absolutely facile.
Itís not helped at all that the editing is a mess. The cameos by Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash are as shoehorned in as things get. Perry White, for no real reason, will wonder where Clark Kent is and instead of the film cutting to a scene answering that question, it will cut to an unrelated subplot. Characters know things or jump to conclusions with no connective tissue. Lois Lane, in Gotham, rushes to retrieve an item thatís needed, even though she has no clue whatís going on in Metropolis. Batman, through nothing more than a hunch, figures out who a kidnapper is. Characters are tugged along because the plot demands it, not because it flows organically from what comes before.
But, for everything that doesnít work, there are things that do. One particular highlight is Gal Gadotís Wonder Woman. Yes, itís little more than a cameo, but Gadotís Wonder Woman has a playfulness with her as Diana Prince, chemistry with Ben Affleck, and is memorable in battle. It helps that she gets to smile in both her identities. Coupled with a memorable theme, I think a lot of people are going to come out of the film looking forward to the WONDER WOMAN film. I wonít say she steals the show, but she comes out of it completely unsullied by the filmís faults. Too bad they didnít find a way for her to interact with Superman, Luthor, or Lois Lane more.
Where the film really shines is in its action and cinematography. The action is exciting and brutal, although I do wonder why even in this iteration the film isnít R-rated. And, Larry Fongís cinematography is among the best the superhero genre has ever seen. The film is replete with images that would make wonderful splash pages. Even though the climax shares the common fault of too much CGI, the images are so well composed and powerful that it carries the viewer through. Itís pure cinema. Nobody is ever going to accuse this film of looking like television and itís the films purest triumph.
Ultimately, BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE is the very definition of a
mixed bag. Itís a triumph of spectacle and style, features a compelling Batman and Wonder Woman, but it drops the ball with Superman and its storytelling is a mess. The problem with the film isnít the serious tone; the problem was that itís not well thought out. The film wants to make the case that comic books are more than adolescent power fantasies where might makes right, this would bolster that argument. Unfortunately, the power fantasy is the part of the film that consistently works. - Robert Reineke
Robert Reineke is a Civil and Environmental Engineer residing in Wisconsin. Heís earned a BS and MS degrees from the University of Wisconsin and has been reading Batman comics since the 1970s. Heís of the firm belief that there are plenty of Batman comics written before Frank Miller that are worthy of discussion. Heís also writing a monthly column on the films of Akira Kurosawa at Where the Long Tail Ends.
BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE hits theaters on MARCH 25, 2016! CLICK HERE for all of BOF's BvS coverage!
Fearing the actions of a god-like Super Hero left unchecked, Gotham Cityís own formidable, forceful vigilante takes on Metropolisís most revered, modern-day savior, while the world wrestles with what sort of hero it really needs. And with Batman and Superman at war with one another, a new threat quickly arises, putting mankind in greater danger than itís ever known before. Directed by Zack Snyder, the film stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter and Gal Gadot. Snyder directed from a screenplay written by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, based on characters from DC Comics, including Batman, created by Bob Kane, and Superman, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The film is produced by Charles Roven and Deborah Snyder, with Wesley Coller, Geoff Johns and David S. Goyer serving as executive producers. Warner Bros. Pictures presents, an Atlas Entertainment/Cruel and Unusual production, a Zack Snyder film, ďBatman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.Ē The film opens nationwide in 3D and 2D and in select IMAX theaters on March 25, 2016, and will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.