REVIEW — “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (In Depth)
Bombastic and overwhelming to the point of exhaustion, Batman v Superman isn’t the creative success WB wanted – and needed – this movie to be, instead serving as a big sign that the studio’s DC Comics adaptations are in creative trouble. The burden of setting up franchises weighs on Batman v Superman, choking it into submission and bringing it to its knees, making it little more than a Justice League prelude - and a creative dud.
In 2013, Warner Brothers reintroduced Superman to the world in the “love it or hate it” Man of Steel, with the Zack Snyder-directed film going on to gross nearly $700 million at the worldwide box office despite poor reviews. Almost immediately after, the studio announced Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, with a planned Summer 2015 release date. The film – which would finally unite Batman and Superman for the first time in live-action – had a long journey from pages to screen, and in a lot of ways, a cinematic encounter between two of the world’s most popular and iconic superheroes has been in the works long before Man of Steel failed to give Warner Brothers the financial and critical response they undoubtedly hoped for.
As a lifelong fan of both Batman and Superman, the wait for this film began long before it was ever officially put into production – and long before Warner Brothers ever set their sights on an interconnected, cinematic universe that would further mine the field of superhero crossovers that Disney-owned rival Marvel Studios spent so much time cultivating. Not only is Batman v Superman – Warner Brothers’ launchpad for a hopeful DC Cinematic Universe – a letdown, it’s wholly discouraging. I’m hesitant to say “underwhelming” – so that my response to the film isn’t written off as a byproduct of hype and big expectations, rendering my criticisms for the film unsound – instead, with my expectations reasonably tempered beforehand, I judged Batman v Superman not as a film I’d been anticipating for a lifetime, instead critiquing it the way I would any other film.
The most unfortunate aspect of Batman v Superman is its regrettable burden of being saddled with setting up a slate of other movies, some of which may never come to pass. Batman v Superman should be the historic and unforgettable pairing of two of the world’s longest running superheroes in a theatrical feature, and instead, it’s more of a $250 million commercial and what feels like an obligatory pit stop on the way to things that are two, five, ten exits ahead. Batman v Superman, like Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, is the latest casualty that comes in the name of “world building,” with Warner Brothers overloading the narrative with so many gratuitous additions to the point of not only not caring what’s coming next – years down the line – but also being apathetic towards what’s happening here, now, in Batman v Superman.
Forget Kryptonite and supervillains: the biggest threat to our heroes are superfluous, redundant scenes that interject themselves into the narrative, having no place in the film other than to pay off years later. Hinting towards the future of the Justice League – that’s where the Dawn of Justice part of the title comes from – these scenes are obtrusive, jarring, and unnecessary, further bogging down a film that’s already plump with a copious amount of plot points and storylines to cover. These corporate mandated scenes are not only inorganic, they apply added pressure to an already stressed foundation – making Batman v Superman bloated and overlong, avoidably making the film suffer as a result.
The Shakespearean level of irony here is that Warner Brothers’ impatience to kick-start a cinematic universe lead to them cramming Batman v Superman with so many setups, winks, and nods to establish future movies, that those setups are a large part of what prevent the film from working – endangering those very movies the studio hopes to release and cash in on. Overused nightmare sequences do nothing but to confuse audience-goers who are unfamiliar with the comic books, so why bother? Does it matter that Darkseid – a name that means nothing to most of the audience – is coming? Will it matter if those subtle yet glaringly obvious nods hint towards a character who isn’t in this movie and who has nothing to do with it?
These moments feel clunky and shoehorned in, and that’s because they are. There was enough here, including a strong premise, for Batman v Superman to stand entirely on its own and to focus solely on the conflict between the titular heroes. Instead, there’s too much here to give any one area a large amount of focus, with fruitless additions ending up as ghostly chains like those of Jacob Marley in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: forever weighing him down and unable to be shed. Batman v Superman then becomes Jacob Marley, arriving to bring an ominous warning to others: beware your sins of forcing setups into your films, lest you suffer the fate of the clogged drain that is Batman v Superman.
I don’t participate in the “Marvel versus DC” feud some fans insist on encouraging – I like both – but it would be ignorant to say the two companies aren’t in competition with one another. They are, and competition should be encouraged to ensure both companies put their best foot forward. But in this situation, Marvel Studios is the tortoise and WB is the hare – slow and steady wins the race, and fast and brash gets you Batman v Superman. It displays an utmost lack of confidence to team your heroes up first in Justice League – having them ride the coattails of two popular heroes, Batman and Superman – and then spinning them off into their own films. Marvel Studios has had a string of hits, including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and Ant-Man – none of whom were A-listers before their respective theatrical features. You didn’t see Marvel inserting Ant-Man into the upcoming Captain America: Civil War first and then giving him his own solo film, did you? Marvel had confidence in their character and their story, and it paid off, with audiences now invested in a character who, before, was largely unheard of.
Batman v Superman bears the brunt of having other, less notable superheroes dragging around its ankles. “You flew too close to the Sun,” says Luthor in the midst of his evil plan, accurately summing up Batman v Superman: it’s not overly ambitious, it’s grossly overstuffed to the point of grotesque gluttony. Limitations were exceeded, and the currently rotten Rotten Tomatoes score is an accurate reflection of what will unfortunately stand as a $250 million dollar monument of Warner Brothers’ hubris. The unfocused narrative and the importance of visuals over substance is a Snyder staple, you may say, but there was so much here that could have made for a movie that would have soared, that it’s disappointing to see the diamonds in the film covered up by the humongous mounds of sh-t you’d find littered across the dinosaur-populated land of Jurassic Park. Batman v Superman is an overstuffed suitcase that won’t zip shut: the essentials – your clothing, your toothbrush, your passport – are left behind in favor of frivolities, peripheral items that do nothing but prove to be excess baggage. Had all the inessential, extraneous aspects been left behind, Batman v Superman could and would have soared. There’s a fantastic movie in that suitcase, somewhere – buried deep down and impossible to reach until the excess has been removed and placed aside.
That’s not to say the film is all bad (it’s not) and what does work, works well. In his debut turn as a rebooted Batman – a worn and weary twenty year veteran of crime fighting – Ben Affleck delivers the best Batman yet, offering a Batman who is angry, tired, and violent. Some of the younger fans in the audience may find this harder-edged Batman a bit scary, but the best scene of the movie – which finds Batman brutally dispatching a roomful of armed thugs – depicts a Batman who, as he fights, made me feel as though I were finally seeing the comic book character properly realized for the first time in spite of how good past cinematic iterations may have been. This animalistic Batman may be a point of controversy to longtime fans, who are most familiar with a Batman who famously has a refusal to kill, but the filmmakers did a fine job of making Batman feel fresh despite there being seven previous Batman movies since 1989.
The same can’t be said of Henry Cavill’s Superman, who doesn’t say much and ends up feeling like a burden in a movie where he’s the co-star. (Cavill himself made note that Batman v Superman isn’t a Man of Steel sequel, instead pointing to the film being its own entity – a summation that proves to be wholly correct). Superman here is not too far from the iteration as seen in 2006’s Superman Returns, wading into mopey, brooding superhero territory. Cavill isn’t at fault here – he isn’t given much to do aside from bemoaning his lack of a place in the world – covering much of the same ground that was already extensively delved into with Man of Steel. How many times do we need to see Clark Kent travel the world to find himself? I wasn’t expecting a fully formed Superman just two years after the events of Man of Steel, but it was retreading old ground in a film that didn’t have time to spare. I don’t need this cinematic take on Superman to be a carbon copy of Christopher Reeve’s untouchable portrayal, but it’s a shameful missed opportunity to have a Superman who is as every bit as dark, grim, and brooding as Batman. Superman is the day to Batman’s night, the open, smiling face to Batman’s scary, masked visage – and whereas Superman could have stood in contrast to Batman, Superman as presented here comes off as ‘Batman-lite.’ They lack that interesting dynamic, becoming just two bleak, aggressive figures beating each other into submission.
Worse, there’s plenty of ample opportunities to put this Superman under the microscope and examine him, but much of his plight isn’t dramatized and he gets little to do other than mope in mid-air. When a particularly famous element is introduced, it comes with an interesting concept: how does a man who has spent the entirety of his life being invulnerable react to a man-made weapon that actually has the ability to make him feel pain and kill him? I can’t tell you, because the movie doesn’t cover it. It would have been covered if Batman v Superman gave scenes time and space to breathe, but that’s not the case here. Reactions go unseen and unexplored because the film immediately propels itself into the next breathless action beat. Superman himself lacks soul, relegating him to little more than a plot point. Batman v Superman wants to talk about Superman’s role in the world without actually exploring what it means to be Superman. He’s the subject of a lot of political discussion and the target of aggression from Batman, but the character is without his greatest superpower: his heart.
Two of the greatest heroes in the world find their adversary in the
Joker – sorry, Lex Luthor Jr (Jesse Eisenberg) – a Jolly Rancher-popping chimp with a machine gun. He lacks the quiet intensity and the steely, cold intimidation of modern Lex Luthor, appearing here as a bad impression of Jim Carrey in Batman Forever. A neurotic, unhinged goofball, the character is so silly and out of place in this ultra-serious movie, that he shines in only the briefest of moments before disappearing from the film altogether save for a rushed wrap-up scene. Eisenberg manages to border on scary as he confronts Superman – who he only comes face-to-face with once – but this aspect of the character is overlooked and even lost as he babbles and prattles on, with pretentious, verbal-diarrhea that probably comes from Luthor having an obsession with The West Wing.
Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is serviceable, though not a standout, and any actress portraying the greatest female hero of all time should be more than “good enough.” It’s unfair to judge Gadot wholly as seen here, as she makes but the briefest of appearances to the point where Wonder Woman is a superfluous component. The uniting of the trinity – Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman – should have been a moment of heroic triumph, but not only was this moment given away in the trailers, it was representative of an element that had no business being present. Wonder Woman has no impact on the plot, so why is she there, other than to entice people to see her solo film in theaters next year? This movie is Batman v Superman, and the stars of the show are continually pushed aside to give the spotlight to characters who should have been left in the screenplay’s first draft.
Wonder Woman also has the misfortune to have been part of the worst sequence of the film – the entire third act. While the majority of the film sort of lifelessly plods along through flow, pacing, and transition issues, the titular confrontation between the two heroes comes too late in the film and is immediately followed by two more consecutive action scenes. The action becomes tedious and it’s not engaging. Worse, the fights were uninteresting, with the film devolving into a big, dumb, loud, overcrowded, bloated mess that even Michael Bay would be ashamed of. It took so long to get to the action that, by the time it happened, your anticipation has weaned and you were left uninterested. The time had passed. Then – signifying the fact that Zack Snyder learned nothing from Man of Steel – the film overwhelms you with action to the point of disinterest. It’s overbearing and relentless and, in the end, it’s too much.
Batman v Superman is paradoxical. It strives to be deep and serious and philosophical, and yet there’s a big, dumb, loud, contradictory fight scene straight out of Transformers to close the film. “The discovery of the story is that Batman fights Superman. Now move your superhero chess pieces so that can happen. And it can happen in a credible and interesting way,” Snyder said of the titular bout that would find Batman and Superman engaged in conflict with one another. “It’s just incredibly satisfying and fun to dig into these two mythological characters and find a through line that allows them to come into conflict in a way that not only is philosophically satisfying, but also physically real.”
I know I’m an adult, because I desperately wanted to see Batman and Superman talk to one another. Hashing out their issues with fisticuffs – the way so many superheroes have before in their first meetings in the comic books – was welcome, and it was something I was looking forward to. But when the filmmakers go so far to set up a philosophical situation and moral dilemmas and ground it in very real human emotions, as they’ve done here, it makes no sense to throw that away in favor of Batman smashing Superman over the head with any blunt object he can get his hands on, with Superman and Batman literally trying to murder each other in a brutal fight that ended up being not exciting and fun to watch, but a complete turn off. It’s mean spirited, it’s somber, and it’s not fun. Behind-the-scenes machinations lead to Batman and Superman’s knockdown fight, which is one of the biggest aspects of the movie. They aren’t fighting because of a clash of ideals – despite what the trailers will have you believe – and we’ll leave it at that. It renders the title useless, because it ends up referring to nothing more than a five-minute plot point in a two and a half hour movie. This movie is called Batman v Superman, but it’s not about Batman versus Superman.
The movie drops the ball on the Batman and Superman relationship, especially in regards to their interaction, and it’s unforgivable. The pair barely get to interact with one another, and when they finally do come face to face, it’s a big, dumb fight where the most they say to one another comes in the form of mostly grunts and angry yells. For a movie that pertained to see the characters come in conflict over their ideologies and their philosophies, the characters never get a chance to talk or come to understand one another. Seeing two superheroes fight is something we’ve come to expect in blockbusters, but there has to be something deeper to offer. Not only do Superman and Batman never get to connect – they’re barely on screen together. Superman drops by, threatens Batman, and flies off as fast as he came, and the next time they meet they’re trading blows. Where’s the exploration of their philosophies? Maybe you just wanted to see Batman and Superman fight like a pair of action figures — I wanted to see some of that, of course — but I also wanted to see a deeper conflict between the two with each of them getting into it verbally, and not just physically. When only ten minutes out of a two and a half hour movie have your heroes sharing the same space, the ball has been dropped, stomped on, and carelessly kicked into the street where it’s now been run over by a bus. (A bus that then explodes in a fiery ball of CGI fire, with the accompanying “boom”).
I didn’t need Batman v Superman to be the often breezier, lighter fare that Marvel offers – only Marvel can do that – but the heavy handedness makes Batman v Superman a pretentious drag, which isn’t what I wanted to say about a movie that, for all it has to offer, should have made me feel like a kid while simultaneously offering the analytical, adult part of my brain something to chew on. A huge moment of the film should have been the most emotional moment of the movie, but when it happens, you’re left colder than Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. Not only is this moment unearned, you’ve been so numbed by mindless action that any emotion that’s tried to be shoved in feels hollow and is far from genuine. The entire, final emotional beat of the film doesn’t work, rendering it inert and, worse, it wastes a comic book storyline that could have had major impact had it come in a later film. It’s another sign of Warner Brothers’ impatience, and an unfortunate sign that Snyder learned nothing from the mistakes made on Man of Steel – including the callous destruction, where not one, but two cities are damaged by the block. It’s explained away by exposition telling us “the work day is over, everyone’s gone home,” but the whole, entire point of this movie – both in the world of the film and in the real world – is to take a look at the traumatic damaged caused at the end of Man of Steel, and Batman v Superman ups the destruction ante, except this time it’s with the big, stupid, CGI abomination known as Doomsday, another wasted and unnecessary plot point that further buries the film in a dizzying mess of CGI and explosions.
Bombastic and overwhelming to the point of exhaustion, Batman v Superman isn’t the creative success WB wanted – and needed – this movie to be, instead serving as a big sign that the studio’s DC Comics adaptations are in creative trouble. Batman v Superman adapts the two most famous and most iconic comic book tales in Batman and Superman’s respective storied histories, mashing them together, like barreling a giant Tonka Truck down a thin, orange Hot Wheels track. What should have been the emotional climax of the movie could have resonated and heavily affected its audience – had it come in another movie. Here, it’s not only not merited, it stands as nothing but an example of Warner Brothers’ restlessness. The audience has been robbed of something that could have been one of the most powerful moments in any comic book movie, all because of Warner Brothers’ impatience and their refusal to hold back, be reserved, and let both the characters and this infant universe earn that moment.
The only action scene that works is the aforementioned Batman versus the thugs scene, which is the sole action scene in the movie that doesn’t suffer from an over-reliance on CGI – proving Batman v Superman works best when its relatively small scaled, compared to the rest of the film – which goes way too over the top as it descends into an incoherent and unfortunate mess. The only one who escapes unscathed is Affleck, whose debut outing as Batman deserved a better movie. And so did we. Cavill could work wonders in the role if given the opportunity, and the verdict will be out on Gadot until she has to carry her solo feature next summer, but Batman v Superman does little to put any kind of faith or confidence into Warner Brothers’ desperate attempts to cash in on the interconnected universe Marvel Studios pioneered. You have to crawl before you can walk – as Marvel did, putting in the time and being rewarded for their patience – whereas Warner Brothers has rocketed out of the womb and took aim at the moon before their feet ever touched carpet.
Instead of getting me on board for this dawn of justice, Batman v Superman only lessened my enthusiasm for Justice League – which begins production on April 11th, with Snyder once again at the helm. In light of Batman v Superman‘s critical failure, Warner Brothers will most likely make that solo Ben Affleck Batman film a priority, and it will be interesting to see if Justice League moves forward as planned – or if two critical bombs in a row force the studio to acknowledge the poor fan response and even worse critical reception, leading to a creative shakeup on Justice League.
The burden of setting up franchises weighs on Batman v Superman, choking it into submission and bringing it to its knees. Things happen without any sort of connective tissue, leading to a disjointed and jumbled arrangement of scenes that further lessen any impact or momentum Batman v Superman could have had. There are a lot of interesting ideas introduced, but never explored – with Superman serving as a messianic figure and Luthor’s man-versus-God theme chiefly among them – that it’s a shame that Batman v Superman proves to be nothing more than a shallow and empty flick, served up to the audience with the brute force of an angry Superman. The lack of clapping and cheers from my pre-screening audience – and the resulting quiet, shuffling out of the theater from audience members who could have been mistaken for funeral visitors – spoke volumes about Batman v Superman, and you didn’t have to have Superman’s super-hearing to pick up on it.
An unfortunate creative dud, Batman v Superman isn’t “the greatest gladiator match in the history of the world” – it’s a Justice League prelude that would have been better off focusing solely on the world’s finest. What should have been a momentous, historic occasion will be written off as a disheartening failing that even Batman and Superman couldn’t save. Three of the world’s greatest heroes come together in a film where heroism is frowned upon and actively discouraged, offering up not the world’s finest but a glorified UFC match. “You don’t owe this world a thing,” says Ma Kent, making it quite obvious why Superman – once the definition of a hero, who has traditionally inspired everyone around him, including Batman – isn’t the hero he’s supposed to be. The kind of hero the world can rally around. But then, this is a Superman who spouts such inspirational pleasantries as “No one stays good in this world.” Is he Clark Kent or Thom Yorke? What happened to the Superman who is supposed to give us something to strive towards?[wpdevart_youtube]NhWg7AQLI_8[/wpdevart_youtube]
Batman v Superman isn’t inspiring, and it’s not a triumph in any sense of the word – it’s a grim-dark and disheartening tale that fails to live up to the grandiose heroism that Batman and Superman have always stood for. No one in this movie is concerned with being a hero: in the DC Universe, it’s about brute force and tearing people down, brutally, instead of building them up. Superman may not owe the world anything, but Warner Brothers – and Snyder and co. – sure as hell did. They owed us a lot more than this.
Directed by Zack Snyder, written by Chris Terrio (Argo) and David Goyer (Batman Begins), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Holly Hunter, and Laurence Fishburne. The film opens this Friday, March 25th.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
★★½ / ★★★★★