When Zack Snyder’s film adaptation of Watchmen released in 2009, it was observed by many that not only did the movie take fairly liberally from the comic in terms of imagery and cinematography, but it seemed that even the way in which it was edited and written made it feel like a comic book. This was viewed as both a criticism and a commendation, depending on who you ask. It was jarring for traditional audiences and critics, but fans felt more immersed than ever. Most of the other superhero flicks out there pretty strictly adhered to the forty year old blockbuster formula. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is very similar in that regard, but imagine that rather than one comic book, it tries to weave together an entire crossover event featuring multiple books. The results, unfortunately, are mixed.
The film opens with a montage retelling of The Dark Knight’s origins, one that is in many ways unnecessary other than to be called back to later (which in itself was unnecessary). While it was certainly beautiful, audiences know this story and, ultimately, the Batman before us doesn’t need it to explain his motives in the film. The subsequent carnage in Metropolis, through which Bruce Wayne fearlessly fights his way to try and save his employees, does that in five minutes of action. We then cut to some country in Africa where Lois is interviewing a terrorist; again unimportant besides the fact that there are mysterious security contractors that are trying to frame Superman. Cut to the Indian Ocean, where some kids are swimming by the wreckage of the World Engine from Man of Steel , then cut to – do you see what I’m getting at? None of these scenes lasts for longer than a few minutes and you can almost smell the smoke coming off of the reel as the movie tries to power through four of five different stories at once.
This is unfortunate because two of those stories. The reaction to the events of Man of Steel and Batman’s response are great and deserved far more screen time than they were given. This is a Batman that has felt powerless now that a God roams the Earth and that drives him to act rather violently out of fear. Jeremy Iron’s Alfred states at one point that everything has changed and the film makes you believe that. It’s something we haven’t seen from any onscreen depiction of the character and I wanted more exploration of it. The same goes for the dilemma that Clark Kent faces as his efforts to do good are bogged down by the question of whether he should exist. Ultimately, Lois is meant to be his anchor in that regard, but again, the film is too preoccupied to make that subplot fully pay off.
Thankfully, the performances help to prop up the story. Ben Affleck owns Bruce Wayne/Batman and this film does a great job of, if nothing else, hyping up the audience for future appearances and solo films. His little speech about the early generations of the Wayne family and how they were hunters just sold me on the character. While Henry Cavill, unfortunately, is given some poorly written lines during the more dramatic segments of the film, his Clark Kent is absolutely fantastic when interacting with Amy Adam’s Lois Lane. This was something the film desperately needed more of, even more so when considering the finale. Despite some wooden dialogue, however, Cavill nails it when it counts, especially in a third act interaction with Lex Luthor.
That brings us, of course, to Jesse Eisenberg who’s depiction of Lex will be very divisive. Right off of the bat it must be said that this resembles in no way the comic book incarnation of the character. In fact, it’s not him – it’s his son Alexander. There are moments where the deviousness shines through and Eisenberg really nails it and there are moments where he comes off as a campy, eccentric scientist. It was an extremely mixed bag for this critic. Unfortunately, his character seemed written almost purely as a plot device to both set up the action and to foreshadow future elements of the DC cinematic universe, as it’s made fairly clear that he is a pawn of larger forces. Fortunately, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, while not having enough screen time to warrant a real appraisal, was good enough to get me excited for the character. If there is one thing I could say, it’s that the actress did a good job of setting up an intimidating character to make up for her somewhat subdued physical appearance. That grin in the final battle as she wrestles with her foe really sold that DC’s Wonder Woman will be the warrior we wanted.
Speaking of battles, I would be remiss to not discuss the film’s action, because it is here that it does its material the most justice. Not only do these fights outdo any DC film before them, but I was more engrossed than I have been in any comic book film period. Zack Snyder is a visual director (for better or worse) and he beautifully conveys the weight and intensity of every punch and lunge. The audience feels the pain as Batman pulls a sink off of a wall and brutally mauls a foe with it. If you came to see an action movie, those scenes will not disappoint you. Just be prepared for an hour and forty five minutes of plot moving at a breakneck pace to service four movies in one.
One of those movies is simply a bridge that Warner Brothers felt necessary to insert as a launching pad for their broader cinematic universe. I must say, some of these plot points were very exciting as a DC fan. The Flash traveling through time to warn Bruce Wayne of a dystopian future – I was delighted as a comic book reader. The vision Wayne receives, where there is a clear Omega symbol branded on the scorched earth and Parademons running amok – great stuff. But then there are the introductions of the rest of the Justice League and things start becoming a bit over the top.
“Found footage” of the Flash and Aquaman come off as a bit forced, and we see the same picture of Wonder Woman from 1918 at least three times with the same musical cue playing awkwardly in the background. It felt like Snyder was beating us over the head for those who might not have realized that she was in this film. Furthermore, many of the more obscure references are left unexplained when they actually seem pretty integral to the plot and character motivations. Most obviously is Lex, who if I am correct, was meant to have been an agent of Apokolips. He is constantly referencing Darkseid throughout the entire movie and this is made even more clear in one of the final scenes. Yet, for the casual viewer, this would go right over their head and a simple shot of the Omega symbol tattooed on his neck would have gone a long way towards making everything click.
Finally, the film’s finale, while an admirable risk, isn’t carried out with the finesse it should have. I am talking about the death of Superman. Now, some have claimed that it is because it was too soon. That, however, is nonsense. While in hindsight we now know better, for audiences in 1980 Han Solo might as well have been killed in Empire Strikes Back. But that film had set up a strong love story with Leia to anchor the character and give us a reason to care. The anchor here was clearly meant to be Lois, but as I said earlier, we were not given enough time with their relationship for it to pay off. There is some resonance, mind you, and the funeral scenes are done beautifully, but those final minutes could have been a far more powerful punch to the gut.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was exactly what it sounds like: two movies forced into one. The painful part is that I can see where Snyder was going with the former, and the potential it had, and where Warner Brothers probably imposed the latter. No script could have balanced what they were packing into this film. Thus, the movie is somewhat akin to Marvel’s Iron Man 2 or Age of Ultron – it is not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, but it is bloated and will probably be viewed far better when placed in between Man of Steel and Justice League.
If you were not a fan of what DC is doing, you will hate this film. If you liked or were even just okay with it, it does exactly what Warner Brothers wanted: serves enough action to make money at the box office, and gets the viewer excited for the possibilities going forward while giving fans some great takes on familiar characters.
– Acting is, for the most part, solid all around
– Ben Affleck makes Batman his own and nails it
– Action is superb
– For fans, there is a lot that will make you giddily laugh in your seat
– Story is stretched to service unnecessary scenes and subplots
– Pacing is way too fast
– A lot of exposition and references aren’t made clear to casual viewer
– Major plot points don’t have enough resonance because those stories are neglected