Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Review

 

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Following the events of “Man of Steel,” the United States government sets out to determine to what degree Superman should be held accountable for the destruction and loss of life in Metropolis during the invasion of General Zod. Lex Luthor Jr. doesn’t need an investigation, however, as he already made up his mind and firmly believes that Superman is a menace. Batman similarly believes Superman is a threat and begins planning for how to deal with him. The tension between Superman and Batman, as amplified through the machinations of Luthor, leads to direct conflict between the two legendary heroes. Who will come out on top – the Man of Steel or the Dark Knight?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

You would think saying that this is a comic book action film would make it fairly clear who this film is aimed at, but that doesn’t really work this time around. I’m torn over deciding who this movie is for.

Comic Book fanboys will probably not be pleased with some of the character modifications in this film. They will say it betrays the characters in the exact same manner they said “Man of Steel” betrayed them. Casual comic film fans, meanwhile, might find the very grim and dark tone to be off-putting, especially if they bring their children. Regular film-goers might find the lack of background for some characters confusing, and there are plot issues and obscure comic-book references that would further cloud their experience.

I think this film is for people who can accept that this is Zack Snyder’s unique vision, which includes some variation on classic characters and a gritty tone, who want action and spectacle, but have no burning desire for humor or deep characterization in a comic book film. I think these people will be relatively few. Almost everyone else will find something to dislike, and, if I know the internet, there will be some who actively hate it.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

I liked this movie. I think this will be a controversial statement. Those that hated it will think I’m stupid for not seeing how bad it is. For a lot of people in the middle, they will just be slightly disappointed, but not offended. They will forget it shortly afterward. For the few people who truly loved this movie, they will think I’m way too picky. In the end, though, for me, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is good.

The film has excellent actors doing a great job with the parts they are given. I completely buy into these actors as these characters. Henry Cavill is a great Superman. Gal Gadot is a convincing Wonder Woman. Ben Affleck, whom everyone was worried about beforehand, is a scene-stealer as Batman. While I don’t agree with Snyder’s choice for Luthor’s characterization (I can’t stand it, actually), Jesse Eisenberg still does justice to that choice.

There are cool action scenes that are impacting and enthralling to watch, even when some turn into a CGI fest. The motivations, while thin, make sense. The music works well. The costumes are cool. Batman has just the best toys, you guys. There is plenty to like.

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There is plenty to dislike as well. While the main characters are good, they are thinly portrayed. What they are given is a script that is overstuffed, slim on character building, and poorly stitched together. In fact, some plot elements are poorly explained to the point that they feel like plot holes, even if they aren’t. Some of the side characters are pathetically written. There is a lot of wasted potential.

Still, in the end, I feel that “Batman v Superman” had enough good to outweigh the bad. It was flawed, and it didn’t live up to what it could have been, but there was still plenty to enjoy. In fact, when it comes out on blu-ray, I think…

4.0-4.5 Rating - I'll Take it!

If you want to know more about my rating systems, check out what each rating means HERE.

Review Format 4 - The Long Take

There is no question that Ben Affleck stole the show as Batman. Of all the characters, it feels like Batman gets the most time and attention, and feels the most fleshed out. We see, briefly, his origin story told once again in a fairly artful manner. I feel like it dragged a bit, which isn’t helped by the fact that we see bits of it again later on, but it is still well done. Given a solo film for himself, I feel that he might very well end up being the definitive portrayal of Batman, even if his film overall doesn’t live up to Nolan’s “the Dark Knight.”

Afleck’s Batman is shown to have all of the qualities of Batman that make him the caped crusader. He owns the look, with the best batman suit yet, and he is physically imposing in it. He has the single best Batman fight on film to date. Being a gamer, I can’t help but feel it was inspired by the Arkham games, which is a smart move, if so. He is a detective, hunting down clues as to the identity and location of the “White Portuguese,” etc. He also does a good job being the charming billionaire socialite, though this is the face we see the least. I hope to see all these things fleshed out further in his upcoming solo film.

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That being said, there is a key issue that will rile fans of Batman, and might just make or break the film for them. This Batman kills people. He uses a minigun on the batwing to blow away some dudes firing on him. He shoots rockets. He drags bad-guys’ cars behind him, flipping end over end. Even in the fist-fights you get the feeling he is hitting some of these guys so hard they aren’t getting back up again.

This isn’t Daredevil Season 2, with deep philosophical questions regarding how to deal with criminals. There is no introspection from Batman regarding this. There is no moral quandary. He just does it. This is a far cry from the Batman we see in the comics (forgetting his very first few appearances, to be fair), who disdains guns and has a fairly firm no-killing rule.

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This will definitely turn some people off. It is explained in the film, and there is precedent set in “Man of Steel” that this is the kind of universe these films inhabit, but that won’t stop many people from feeling like this is too out of character, and a betrayal of who they think Batman should be. I can’t say it is unjustified, but it wasn’t a terribly big deal for me, personally. I don’t know if that makes me a bad Batman fan or not, but it just didn’t affect my experience.

Superman got short shrift here. It’s not that he wasn’t well done. He has some good inner conflict about who he is supposed to be in this world, and what the costs are for there being a Superman. He is noble, but unsure. He is interesting as a reporter, and Cavill fits all parts of the role ably. However, he gets very little time to do any of this. He must have four or five times as many minutes spent fighting as he does talking with people. This is a real shame in a movie that centers so heavily on his presence in the world for other characters’ motivations and the plot. It is doubly shameful that this is the follow-up film to “Man of Steel,” when he needs a proper sequel.

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That said, his relationship with Lois Lane felt genuine and I bought them as a couple, even if I did have to remind myself that they had eighteen months to get to know each other better before the opening of this film. If I watched “Man of Steel” and this film back to back without the eighteen months thing, I would think they were moving a bit fast. Lois didn’t have loads to do in this movie, and I can see why people felt that made her just a damsel in distress, and yes she needed rescuing a few times. However, she got into those dangerous situations by being proactive, and she showed herself to be smart and brave at times. I don’t think the fact that she sometimes needs Superman’s assistance makes her less of a person.

The other major female character, Wonder Woman, similarly gets little time on screen, way too little, but she does a good job with what she’s given. I liked the tidbit we get about her past (yes, singular tidbit), and she kicks butt in the fight at the end of the movie. She’s also got the international woman of mystery aspect down to a “T.” I saw enough that I know I want to see her solo film, but I didn’t see enough for what I wanted from her for this film.

Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Lex Luthor is the only major character whose portrayal I couldn’t stand. Instead of the peak-human mind, imposing presence and surety of willpower and determination that is the comic’s Lex Luthor, we get Joker-light in Jesse Eisenberg. I don’t blame this on the actor. He was chosen for this role because Snyder saw that he would play the role as he envisioned it, and Eisenberg did this perfectly. The problem, and blame, lies solely in Snyder’s vision for the character, or whoever made the decision to take him in this direction. It isn’t just one element that isn’t true to the comics, like Batman’s unconcern for the well-being of the criminals, it is almost the entire package. I’m afraid I have to continue to wait for a proper big-screen Luthor. Well, there is one plus. He’s not all about real-estate anymore. Sorry Hackman.

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All side characters, outside of Lois and Jeremy Iron’s solid portrayal of Alfred, are at best serviceable, but largely forgettable. Would now be a good time to mention how poorly written Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White is? I mean, do the writers even actually know how newspapers are run? Are they even serious with this?

You might see a theme here. The characters simply weren’t given enough time to develop. Their motivations and character interactions are almost one and all restricted to a scene or two. The film has a serious case of Zach Snyder Disease. It’s a terrible affliction, wherein a film will put action and style over substance. Not as bad as Michael Bay Syndrome, but still pretty bad.

The lack of time for character development means that the emotional moments of the film don’t hit very hard. They exist, and it’s not like I didn’t care at all, but it was a sort of light concern. The lack of plot connective tissue makes the film jump around with no purpose, and things don’t make sense unless you really sit back and mull it over, but then you discover that the plot isn’t really worth the time to figure out.

This all makes me really want to see the three hour director’s cut to see if there was a better film here originally, and thus the studio’s fault for ordering a shorter cut. Or if it was a truly unneeded half-hour, then it can all be laid at Snyder’s feet. Time will tell, I guess.

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Dan Murrell from Screenjunkies.com made a great point when he said in their review of the film that there are actually five different films in this one. There is a solo batman film where he is fighting crime. There is a superman sequel focusing on the senate hearings and the question of “should there be a Superman?” There is a Batman vs. Superman film. There is a Lex Luthor focused movie that deals with his machinations, and there is a justice league origin film. There are too many threads here for one film, and it bogs down the plot where it is explained, and makes it unclear when it isn’t. Warner Brothers is trying to rush into the DC Cinematic Universe too quickly, and it is hampering them in the process.

Character and plot complaints aside, the action scenes were very good. The fight between Batman and Superman weaves back and forth between who has the upper hand. I could track the action without any problems or confusions. Batman fought smart and made a case for how a mortal man might bring down a demigod. Superman kept struggling despite Batman’s strong tactics. The only problem was how the fight concluded. If only that was given as much care as the fight itself, the sequence would have been perfect.

In later fights, at the end of the movie, the CGI kicks in pretty hard and heavy when Doomsday shows up (it’s in the trailers, it’s not a spoiler), which may turn some people off, especially when he looks like a smaller version of the cave troll from Lord of the Rings. Beyond that, changes to his backstory will frustrate hardcore comic fans.

Batman v Superman - 05

Still, I found him to be suitably challenging and menacing for the trio of heroes, and I enjoy seeing them all kick each other around. It’s the kind of fight that takes place all the time in the various animated series and comic books, but has not been translated to the big screen properly until now.

That might sound like fun, right? What with all these cool action scenes with costumed people flying around and fighting the big-bad monster. The thing is, this brings me around to my final flaw with the film – the tone. Now, I get it, Snyder is building a grittier world than Marvel’s comedy-hour antics (and don’t take it as an insult! I love those films’ humor), but this film remains almost universally dour. There is no real moment of levity. There is no dynamism. Aside from one or two half-jokes, the movie is serious throughout. People get hurt. People die. People struggle, fight, and grieve. There is almost never any laughter. There isn’t any banter. Heaven forbid anyone have any fun at a superhero movie.

The tone is reflected in the color pallet Snyder chose. I saw a hilarious, though crude, facebook post wondering if Synder had been molested by a rainbow as a child because of the lack of color in this film. We’re worlds away from anything Marvel has done, and any of DCs older movies. Not even Nolan’s films were this grim, and I say this loving a good and dark superhero film.  

Conclusion and Star Rating:

You know, it can be easy to focus on the bad things in life. Looking back over this review, I know I’ve said good things about this film, but it feels like I’ve spent most of the time picking it apart. I feel I must make it clear again, here in my conclusion, that “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is good. I enjoyed it, despite its many flaws. Coming out of the theater, I didn’t feel like I had wasted my time. In fact, I had a great time.

Maybe I benefited from the lowered expectations that come from reading so many negative reviews. Maybe I’m too much of a superhero fanboy. Maybe I’ve got a bit of Snyderitis in me (I did like Watchmen, after all). I don’t know. Either way, I find myself wanting to see future films in this DC Universe. I want to see the solo films with Cavill’s Superman, Affleck’s Batman, Gadot’s Wonder Woman, and all the others. I want to see the Justice League films. I want to see the spinoffs.

It may be a bumpy start, but I’ve bought in, and I say let’s see where this crazy train takes us. “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is a “Good” movie.

3 & One Half Stars

Three and One-Half Stars

Review Format 5 - Spoiler Talk

When doing these Spoiler Talk segments I tend to let my brain just fire scattershot with whatever comes out in no particular order, so sorry about that ahead of time.  

Let’s be honest. That trailer, you know the one, spoiled everything. Ok, well, just about everything. There were exactly three surprises in the film for me, and maybe if I had thought about it harder, two of them wouldn’t be so surprising. The plot follows the trailer more or less exactly. Batman has a beef with Superman because he thinks he’s too dangerous. Lex Luthor wants to facilitate this fight for his own nefarious ends. They fight each other, but end up putting aside their differences to fight Luthor, but (uh-oh!) he has created the abomination named Doomsday to kill Superman in case Batman failed. Batman and Superman struggle to fight him when (surprise!) Wonder Woman shows up to help out.

I’ll get to the parts that actually surprised me later on, but I just want to say that whoever was in charge of the marketing campaign for this film made a huge misstep with that trailer.  The film would have benefited immensely by hiding Wonder Woman and Doomsday.

The Batman and Superman fight really was great. However, I did wonder why superman didn’t try to shout out that they were being tricked by Luthor more insistently. I know he was struggling with whether or not he had to kill Batman, and hadn’t decided if it was unavoidable yet, but surely that could have been the first thing he shouted out. Maybe he should have even backed off to shout it out from a distance or something. Ah well. They wanted to make sure they fought, I guess. That ending, though… I think with some tweaks it would have made sense, but the way it was done managed to feel both overplayed, and way too vague at the same time. Beyond that, it felt like they were instantly buddies the second Batman decides not to kill superman.

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Doomsday had ups and downs. I liked how menacing he was. He felt like he really was more than a match for the trio combined without the Kryptonite spear. I also liked how he evolved every time he got hit, and I liked the nuclear response by the government, and how it did nothing but make him evolve. (I also liked the scenes with Superman floating in space, withered, until he is recharged by the sun. Cool stuff.) But, I didn’t like the change in his origin. For that matter, I feel like he was unneeded in this film.

There was a lot of wasted potential for the multiple movies that comprise this one amalgamated movie, but the big one for me is Superman’s death. This ties into why I feel that Doomsday shouldn’t have been in the movie. The death and return of Superman is a much bigger story than this film. It deserves its own film. The emotional impact is barely there because we don’t know this superman very well. What could have been! What happens in a world without Superman? That would be great to find out! Now, we’ll never know because we all know he’s already alive again per the last scene.  

Batman’s visions and the Flash time travel stuff is cool and all. But I actually think that the visions would have been better, and made more sense if Wonder Woman was having them, and that was her motivation to get involved in the proceedings. It was cool to see Flash coming to warn Bruce from the future, but I think it actually would have worked better as a post-credit sequence instead of taking away time spent with the plot and the characters.

The same goes for the cameos of the rest of the JLA. don’t get me wrong, I loved to see them, but they felt a little shoehorned in. Some worked better than others, too. I liked Cyborg’s sequence, but Flash and Aquaman’s fell flat to me.

So here are the parts that managed to surprise me:

  • The bombing at Congress. That was a great scene, too, with Superman standing amidst the fire, unharmed, but clearly devastated.
  • Luthor kidnapping Clark’s mom. That was brutal, and Clark’s reaction was one of the moments where I really felt Cavill’s ability to portray emotion well. Again, he needs more time and material to do that.
  • The Death of Superman – Yeah, I know, they had Doomsday and I still didn’t think they were going to kill him. Boo on me for missing the obvious.

I’m personally left wondering how all this will work with the Suicide Squad movie. Still more tone issues! Suicide Squad looks like a very different universe from this one, to me, and yet they aren’t? I don’t know. Marvel managed it with their various projects, but DC has yet to convince me.

So how would I have changed all of this? Superman would have gotten a proper sequel dealing with the hearings, his relationship with Lois, and self-identity issues while maybe fighting Braniac or something – I don’t know. As for this movie, well, I would have cut Doomsday for a start. This movie should have been almost entirely about Superman and Batman as characters and how their philosophies differ. Maybe treat it a bit like Daredevil and the Punisher from Daredevil Season 2 on Netflix. Sure, they can team up at the end, but let’s not fight Doomsday, let’s fight something else, please. Let the film be primarily about them. In the end-credits, have the Flash come back to warn Bruce about something vague, realize he came back too early and then gone. Superman and Batman Stand-alone films each, maybe some of the other JLA members individually too. Justice League 1 – Doomsday and the Death of Superman. Justice League 2 – Darkseid and the return of Superman. Boom.  

As a final little treat, I’m going to rank both the Batman movies and the Superman movies I have seen (and remember clearly) including BvS, so you can get a feel for how I feel this film stacks up in both legacies. Keep in mind I’m still ranking by my opinion on overall quality, not one particular facet of the films.

Ranking the Batman Movies:

  1. The Dark Knight
  2. Batman Begins
  3. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
  4. BvS – Yes, I went there. I had a good time, guys!
  5. The Dark Knight Rises – I have so many retrospective problems with this film. I need to watch it again to be sure of myself, though.
  6. Batman Returns – I don’t remember these following movie so well, so I might have shuffled things around more if I did.
  7. Batman ‘89
  8. Batman Forever
  9. Batman & Robin

Ranking the Superman Movies

  1. Superman
  2. Superman II
  3. BvS – Holy Cow! This high? I didn’t even think I would go there. Guess it shows what I think of most superman movies?
  4. Man of Steel – Yes, I liked it. Sue me. I actually think it’s a better made film than BvS, but I just disliked so many choices that film made.
  5. Superman 3 – A distant fifth, I assure you.
  6. Superman IV – *shudders*

I never saw Superman Returns, so I can’t judge it. *shrug*

That’s it for now. Until next time!

 – Druidan

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