Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016): A Beautiful Mess
For years, many people were looking forward to the day where the two highest profile heroes would finally be in the same film together. That hope came to fruition with Zack Snyder’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice in March of 2016. However, the film was divisive to say the least, with critics blasting the film. Thoughts are still heated on the film, but how does it stand up over a year after its release? The following review will be spoiler free.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is directed by Zack Snyder and stars Ben Affleck as the Caped Crusader and Henry Cavill reprising his role as Superman along with Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams, and Jesse Eisenberg. The film handles the aftermath of the destruction in Man of Steel which fuels Bruce Wayne to take action against Superman as he considers him a threat. Tension between the two heroes continues to increase until a showdown ensues. All the while, Lex Luthor (Eisenberg) is pulling the necessary strings to make the conflict become realized along with other nefarious plans.
For many, Batman V Superman was their most anticipated film of all-time. Who couldn’t get excited for a film with both Batman and Superman?
Warner Bros. felt the pressure from fans everywhere, micromanaging the film to the point where serious studio interference occurred. Initially, Zack Snyder wished for the film to be a three-hour long epic that was R-rated (this version would later be seen in the Ultimate Edition of the film). Panicked that the studio would lose out on a large sum of money that would be used to fund other projects, Warner Bros. quickly forced edits to the film. The end result was a two and a half hour film that was rated PG-13.
Unfortunately, these alterations didn’t appear to improve the film as Batman V Superman plummeted to a 28% on Rotten Tomatoes while putting the future of the DCEU into question.
What I Liked
For all its issues, there’s some quality moments in BvS.
Ben Affleck is the obvious standout as Batman. Although his character makes some questionable decisions regarding his code of ethics that stray from the basic understanding of Batman, that is more of a writing problem and less of an Affleck problem. Visually speaking, Affleck’s Batman is easily the most intimidated we’ve had. Not only is his physicality responsible for easily the best action sequence of the film (a sequence that Batman V Superman‘s toughest critics even admit that they enjoy), but it adds another layer to Batman that we have yet to see. Affleck makes a beloved, well-known character completely his own.
When BvS works, it’s because Ben Affleck is so convincing. He has three distinct characters that he utilizes: Bruce Wayne in public, Bruce Wayne in private, and Batman. Whether he’s snooping for intel or beating up baddies, it’s obvious that Affleck came to play.
What I Didn’t Like
Before we go any further, yes, Jesse Eisenberg is atrocious as Lex Luthor, maybe one of the worst villains ever. We all know this, so let’s move on to other details.
I like Zack Snyder. When given the right material, he can make a quality film. Just make sure that that film doesn’t have a somewhat complex story. His sentimentality lacks a certain subtlety that makes heady themes come off as incredibly pompous and hollow. While the severe edits and deletions for the theatrical cut certainly didn’t help Snyder’s vision, the ideas behind the lackluster execution are flawed. There’s certainly some deserved praise somewhere in this review for Zack for trying to make an incredibly ambitious film (especially in a time full of safe blockbusters), but the issues are too noticeable.
A large portion of this film is long diatribes about what is good and the purpose of gods in sermon-like speeches between characters. Not only is this discussion flimsy and depressing, it shouldn’t be the focal point of a movie containing both Batman and Superman. In a film trying to introduce a new Batman, the foundation of the Justice League, Lex Luthor, Doomsday, Wonder Woman, Darkseid, and parademons, there isn’t enough space to have a full length discussion of these topics. So when they take place, they have no payoff and only slow the pace of an already long movie.
I understand why someone would paint Superman as a Christ-like figure, but it’s way too heavy-handed to be praised.
What I Didn’t Like…Continued
Batman V Superman makes the cardinal sin of relinquishing its main character to practically nothing of importance. From what through-lines BvS contains, it’s clear that the film is actually Superman’s movie. In fact, BvS was came from an idea for a sequel to Man of Steel. It’s the story of Supes coming to terms with his mistakes, ill feelings, and his acceptance of Earth as his new home. With the way the arcs of the characters are setup, Superman should be the main character. The problem is that Snyder and Co. want Batman to take center stage.
I think Henry Cavill is fine as Superman. However, this is frustrating since he has hardly been given any material to work with so far as the character. We’ve seen him give very charismatic performances in films such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E, so it’s obvious that he’s capable of more than what he showed. He’s left to mope around and look angry without conveying any pathos. How am I suppose to care about a character if he’s given nothing of substance?
This leaves the film to have a horribly contrived motivation for Superman to fight Batman whereas Batman had plenty of solid motivation from ample screen time.
Every character, for that matter, other than Batman has pretty lousy motivations. Lex Luthor wants to destroy our two heroes because…reasons.
What I Didn’t Like…Continued…Continued
Lastly, and possibly most importantly, BvS, for all its length, is void of a lot of substance. Within its already apparent pacing problem, is a more serious issue. Events occur onscreen but fail to move the plot forward in any fashion. There are some very neat, beautiful looking scenes in this film that almost act as a non-sequitur to the story that Snyder and David S. Goyer are trying to tell. A screenwriter should be concerned with the idea of how a scene adds to the story and the themes that the film is trying to convey. If it doesn’t improve upon these concepts, then why is it in the script in the first place?
BvS isn’t an absolute atrocity to film. The issues presented are just more compelling to discuss then saying “Ohh, that looks neat.” But, it is an incredibly underwhelming feature that fails to do justice to its esteemed characters. A film with Batman and Superman should be more than that. It gets a C-. There are some great moments in this film that include great action and a thrilling score, but they don’t overcome the serious issues within the plot, performances, and character expression.
For the curious ones out there, I would urge you to watch the Ultimate Edition of Batman V Superman. It certainly doesn’t fix all the issues of the film, but it certainly fleshes out Superman’s part of the story while clearing up crucial plot points.
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