Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice


One of the most anticipated and talked about movies of 2016 is Warner Bros. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The follow up to 2013’s Man of Steel is a sequel and the first DC Comics/Warner Bros film to set up a DC Cinematic Universe similar to what Marvel Studios has with their properties.

Inspired by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, BvS picks up during the Superman (Henry Cavill) and Zod fight that leveled Metropolis in Man of Steel. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) was in Metropolis at the time and witnessed their battle take the lives of thousands, even some of his employees.

The overly complex plot that can be outlined in a few points – 18 months after the events in Man of Steel , Bruce is preparing to take on Superman, Superman is struggling with how to be a hero, Clark Kent is puzzled about why nobody is reporting on the Bat vigilante Gotham, and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is running around with a bullet nobody cares about. Meanwhile Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is trying to import kryptonite into the country to forge a weapon against Superman.

All of this leads up to an inevitable showdown between Batman and Superman with Lex Luthor playing the role of Don King.

Ben Affleck as Batman is the second best Batman behind Christian Bale’s performance in Nolan’s trilogy. This rendition of Batman trades in all of Bale’s tricky, misdirection, and cunningness for brute force and physical dominance. He moves around during his fight more like a UFC fighter than a member of The League of Assassins. Along the same lines, Jeremy Irons may be the best rendition of Wayne’s butler/confidant Alfred Pennyworth. Irons provides some of the films much needed lighter moments and has great onscreen chemistry with Affleck. If they’re both on board for the Batman solo film, fans of The Dark Knight should be ecstatic.

As lively and energetic as Affleck’s Batman is, Cavill’s second round as Superman leaves a lot to be desired. He’s supposed to be the central figure in the story, yet he spends most of the film as a fixture in everyone else’s story. Superman is the world’s saddest orphan and has zero motivation outside of rescuing people. It doesn’t help that he’s straddled with an unnecessary relationship storyline with Lois Lane. Their whole relationship adds nothing to the film. Snyder had a chance to unleash a newer version of Superman; instead they neutered him for 120 mins.

Gal Gadot shows up in a very minor role as Wonder Woman. She isn’t given nearly enough to do. Gadot is charismatic enough to keep this version of Wonder Woman interesting. When Wonder Woman finally gets in on the action during the final fight sequence, she’s impressive. The film could’ve improved greatly with more Wonder Woman and less of Lois Lane and the magic bullet.

Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor isn’t as threatening as we’re use to our recent comic book movie villains. Eisenberg’s fast talking, mop top, ADD version of Lex may not sit well with some fans that are use to a certain type of Lex Luthor. This Lex doesn’t feel like a supervillain. He’s not intimidating, scary, or frightening. He’s master manipulator with sinister ideas who weasels his way around and creates trouble for the good guys. His motivations are almost as unclear as Superman’s but he’s just evil enough to keep the plot moving.

Zack Snyder adds all his Snyder touches to BvS – slow motion shots, tons of darkness, plenty of rain, and CGI fight sequences. For all the good he does in this film (there is some), Snyder can’t get out of his own way. The score for the film unnecessarily blares throughout the movie and accompanies scenes that don’t need it – i.e Batman reading a paper.  BvS really suffers with its tone. The entire movie has the same dark and serious tone to it. It’s like a 5 minute song with no chorus. The chorus allows a song to breathe a little and helps build a bridge to the last verse. And that’s exactly what BvS is missing – some lighter moments that help lead into the climatic third act.  Because the tone never shifts, when the big spoiler happens it falls a little flat.

Snyder fails to give the film a coherent structure that’s easy to follow. There is plenty of Batman, Superman, and Justice League material to pull from. There’s even a successful cinematic universe to look at if you need a blueprint to draw from. Artistry and bold choices can work in come book movies. However, if the movie fails to commit to a structure that makes sense those bold choices can suffer because of it.

The film is bloated with a needless Lois Lane side story and its many attempts to set up the upcoming Justice League movie through Bruce Wayne’s dream sequences and hints at other League members. The time set aside to set up the other film(s) isn’t bad, it’s how that attempt is executed that doesn’t work. The story does a lot to point towards this bigger world, but it never goes all the way. The information that story gives  isn’t a big enough payoff for the time they spend on it. Maybe that level of vagueness works for comic book fans, but it’s a little to ambiguous for the common moviegoer.

Batman v Superman isn’t the blockbuster many hoped it would be. There are some amazing scenes in it and some things to build on. Affleck, Irons, Gadot and the big fight between Bat and Supes is worth the price of admission. As entertaining as the film is, it’s clear DC Comics and Warner Bros still have a lot of work to do if they want to build a cinematic universe that thrives.

Grade: C