✦ This review is spoiler free for the enjoyment of your cinematic viewing experience.
Please don’t spoil the ending! ✦
You’ve probably already seen many of the reviews, quite a few of them bad, so I am going to buck the trend here and say right off the bat that I enjoyed Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Is it perfect? No. Does it have some story issues? Yes. Is it a travesty of filmmaking that some people would have you believe? Not at all. There are just some people out there who have been lying in wait to trash this movie, and no matter how good it is, they’re not going to say a kind word about it.
I don’t follow the comics, I don’t have any long-held connection to the characters except through various incarnations in movies and TV shows. The Zack Snyder/Henry Cavill Superman is not the Christopher Reeve Superman, or the Lois & Clark Superman. Not even the Bryan Singer Superman. Snyder’s Man of Steel took Superman to a darker, grittier place, bringing the character into a more realistic world, a world that faces terror attacks from our fellow humans on a daily basis that is more the norm than the exception, and the arrival of an alien who could either be our savior or our destruction touched a bad nerve in a lot of hardcore fans who only want Superman to be a benevolent protector. This movie is not going to change those minds.
Batman v Superman picks up right in the middle of the very controversial battle from Man of Steel between Superman and Zod that angered so many fans of the character. As the city of Metropolis is being destroyed, we see Bruce Wayne trying to save the people who work for him as his building is being destroyed. With all of the death and destruction around him, Wayne makes it his mission to rid the earth of the alien scourge that is Superman, because if there is one being from beyond the stars who could destroy the planet, there have to be others as well.
That is really the basic plot of the film which serves as a sequel to Man of Steel and sets up not only a Justice League movie, but stand-alone films featuring other DC Comics characters including The Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman and Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman, aka Diana Prince, also features heavily in this film as a mysterious woman trying to recover an item of hers in the possession of Lex Luthor. Luthor is also a pivotal character, collecting data on meta-humans for his own nefarious purposes as well as being the real driving force behind the Batman/Superman face off.
So let’s get into the good and bad of the movie. Many people just hate the Lex Luthor character because of his twitchy, manic persona. I attribute that to the casting of Jesse Eisenberg, who is always twitchy and manic in every role he plays. The also don’t like this Lex because he’s not the “traditional” interpretation of the character. I’ll justify this by pointing out that this is basically a Lex origin story within this particular cinematic universe, and he doesn’t really become the Lex we expect until the end of the movie. I’m okay with this characterization.
Many also hate the Superman character, or at least this version of him. Most versions of the character have been grounded in a more idealistic world where the worst threat was a comical Lex Luthor and his henchmen Otis and Miss Tessmacher. We live in a world today where people fly airplanes into buildings and blow themselves up in concert halls and subway stations, where political candidates want to propose banning all immigrants (aliens) from crossing our borders. How would the world react to a being from beyond this planet with powers of great destruction at his fingertips? Exactly the way they react in the movie. Some would worship him as our savior, one who could solve the terrorist problem with one hand behind his back, and others would see him as someone who could enslave us all as more of his kind arrived. I don’t have a problem with this depiction of the character or how people react to him. I just wish Snyder would put a little more of that classic character to work, having him do interviews with the Daily Planet so he isn’t so feared. I also think they made a huge mistake of having Lois know the Clark/Superman connection so quickly in the first movie, but this isn’t a ditzy Lois who is fooled by a pair of glasses. But without that bit of mystery and seeing both characters as more than just one-dimensional, I can see why people don’t like this particular interpretation. It doesn’t bother me that much, but there is room for improvement.
What I didn’t think worked particularly well with Superman was the subplot that involved Lois going to the Middle East for a story, almost being kidnapped, people dying (the film has quite a large body count), and Superman being pinned for the deaths. It really made no sense because Lois was there and she had a crucial piece of evidence that she only brought to the attention of one person, but that evidence would have cleared Superman. As it stands, this event is constantly referenced as a reason to fear Superman, and when he finally agrees to speak at a Congressional hearing, that moment is taken away from him (and us) in a terrorist attack (which, at least, is not also pinned on him). It was just a clunky plot device to further one of the characters’ agenda. That is my biggest problem with the movie.
What’s great is Ben Affleck. After all the snarky comments about Affleck’s casting, he completely steals the movie. Some of the past actors have made good Batmans or good Bruce Waynes, but it’s rare to find someone who can pull off both roles believably … and Affleck does it. He makes Bruce Wayne his own, an older, wiser Wayne who has already battled a rogues gallery of colorful characters (a preserved Robin costume tagged with graffiti a painful reminder of that past) who makes it his mission to protect his city and his planet from the alien menace. Affleck’s Batman is also a darker, grittier, more violent creation, perhaps even more so than Christian Bale’s take. This Batman would be right at home in Snyder’s Watchmen cinematic universe. If I have any complaint about Affleck, it’s that he’s a bit too bulked up, making him look almost overweight when he’s just wearing a business suit. My one other minor issue is that even though there is a 25 year age difference between Jeremy Irons and Affleck, this version of Alfred (which I found entertaining) seems much too young to have raised Bruce after the murder of his parents. I did like Alfred’s world-weary attitude and his banter with Bruce/Batman, and I’m more than a little stoked now for more Affleck Batman movies.
Then there’s the issue of the mysterious woman who steals something from Wayne as he is stealing something from Luthor. You have to have been living under a rock to not know this is Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman. They do keep her identity under wraps for quite some time — too long for some people — but I liked the build-up to when we finally see her in action with Batman and Superman. Some of criticized the trailer for ruining that particular moment, but our screening audience still went wild for that one shot of the three of them for the first time (again, people just love to nitpick). Of course, the introduction of Wonder Woman also lays the groundwork for the other superheros who are glimpsed briefly although not as integral parts of this story. (Well, except maybe for one of them.)
That leaves us with what the title of the film promises – Batman fighting Superman. They do, finally, and it’s a pretty brutal battle but it’s also over pretty quickly … which is more than you can say for the movie. We already know Jena Malone’s character has been completely excised from this version of the movie, but it could still use some tightening up particularly when Snyder indulges himself in very slow pan and tilt shots, like when the camera tilts slooooooooooooowly up to the sky to reveal the Bat Signal. But with an even longer version headed to home video (with an R-rating), movie-goers should be thankful that this version is only two-and-a-half hours long.
On the technical side of things, production design, costumes, makeup and special effects are all top notch and I have to give a special shout out to Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL for a pounding, sometimes a bit too bombastic, score. A bit much in some places but still a great driving force with the visuals.
Is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice the best superhero movie ever made? No. I think it can be argued that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is at the top of that heap, but it’s miles better than Avengers: Age of Ultron which just copied too many of the first Avengers film beat by beat. Will you like Batman v Superman? That’s entirely up to you. Go in with an open mind, take it for what it is, and perhaps you’ll come out appreciating what DC and WB are trying to build.
Did you see Batman v Superman? Tell us what you thought in the comments below, but please – NO SPOILERS!