Director: Zack Snyder
Notable Cast: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Gal Gadot, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons, Laurence Fishburne, Holly Hunter
At this point, I kind of feel bad for the DC cinematic universe. I mean, DC has always had a lot of trouble bringing their material to live action screen (outside of Batman – even then I think Nolan’s films tend to be overrated) and 2013’s Man of Steel actually made me kind of angry with its ultra-serious tone and shifty muted approach to the material. So I was being cautiously optimistic for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice which acts as the second film of their official cinematic universe. There is a lot of fun ideas at play in the film, including pulling story elements from the all-time classic The Dark Knight Returns graphic novel, and I was actually quite supportive of Ben Affleck as Batman and their choice to go with an older, more gritty rendition of the character. It’s unfortunate that the film itself is such a gigantic mess. Warner and DC are obviously trying their hardest to play catch up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the desperation of their attempts at making money and crafting tent pole kick off films instead of good films reeks as Batman v Superman plays out. Enough so that I’m tempted to say it might actually be worse than Man of Steel – if only for its wasted potential.
Superman (Cavill) has created a rift in the people of the world after he saved it from destruction at the hands of Zod by killing a lot of innocent bystanders in the process. This has not gone unnoticed by Bruce Wayne (Affleck), aka Batman, who sees the alien hero as a potential threat to not just Gotham, but everyone. When Superman is framed for a few catastrophes though, Batman goes to bring the fight and defeat an unstoppable force…even if it begins to look like they are both being manipulated into doing so.
|"Look at heroic me, looking all heroic."|
The sped up timeline of Warner and DC trying to release a Justice League movie is the root of a lot of the really poor choices that arrive in Dawn of Justice. It’s not all of them, we’ll get to that in a second, but it certainly creates a film that wants to establish a foundation for the entirety of this franchise. Remember how Avengers: Age of Ultron spent most of its run time establishing plot lines and characters for new movies instead of telling its own story last year? Yeah, Dawn of Justice just made that look like brilliance. The film already had the tough task of introducing the audience to an older Batman (which brings up the huge question of why they started the film with his fuckin’ origin story…we already know DC so leave it be), but it also takes to task of establishing Lex Luthor, Wonder Woman, various other members of the Justice League, continuing the plot of Man of Steel, and then even goes as far as setting up future plot lines that come in the form of dreams to Bruce Wayne (?!) like hints at The Flashpoint Paradox and the future of Justice League regular villain Darkseid. For a movie that runs around 2 and a half hours, there is still too much material that Dawn of Justice tries to establish to get the ball rolling on this franchise and it makes for a horribly muddled narrative. A narrative that is both rushed to get exposition in and still ends up dragging through most of the first and second acts as it rushes to get exposition in. It also takes way too much time with the conspiracy to get Batman and Superman to fight – where reasoning essentially boils down to the fact that neither one of them likes the fact that the other is a vigilante that works outside of the law (?!). An oddly enough, we still get massive “plot conveniences” and plot holes that litter the film. It’s almost baffling that a film could overcomplicate this idea so much.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, one of the things I didn’t love about Man of Steel was the somber and bleak tone of the film. Don’t get me wrong, I like my movies dark but there has to be a balance at some point and Dawn of Justice fails to find that balance again. The visuals once again feel as those they exist in some kind of Instagram parallel universe and Snyder attempts to make things as dramatic as possible with heroes that cease to be heroic and seemingly grumble their way into saving the world. The film is so goddamn serious and forcefully sad that it kills any of the fun one might have with a movie where Batman and Superman have a beatdown session while a maniacal villain creates a super alien hybrid called Doomsday. What’s even worse is that we have a cast of very charismatic actors who are given almost nothing to work with and a tone in a film that should be up on trial for murdering their on-screen chemistry. You see interviews with Cavill and Affleck together and you think to yourself ‘boy, they sure are fun guys’ and then in this movie they talk to one another like a tree stump talks to another tree stump. The potential is there, particularly when Wonder Woman shows up to add some new dynamics, but Dawn of Justice drops the ball on that one too as she shows up too little and too late to add to the chemistry of the film. This is a theme that happens again and again in the film too. A wonderful cast is horribly misused and given nothing to work with. Jeremy Irons as Alfred? At least Michael Caine got to give fatherly speeches. Amy Adams as Lois Lane? She runs around as a plot device just asking to be saved. Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luther? Instead of a formidable presence of corporate greed and villainy, he’s an awkward and somewhat annoying representation of a religious subtext about how science and technology can’t kill God. I won’t even go into Doomsday who kind of shows up in a shoe-horned spectacle at the end (who looks more like a Lord of the Rings orc than anything else). Zack Snyder went for another round of somber superhero woes and it still doesn’t work.
Snyder even stumbles through the action set pieces. Outside of a great fist to cuffs Bat battle in one of Bruce’s dreams that had plenty of audience wondering what the hell was going on, the action here is either too heavily edited (Batman’s rescue mission) or it once again becomes white noise in the finale when our three heroes team up to take down Doomsday. Normally, I think Snyder is pretty effective at action, but his last two films have sacrificed his ability to visually pace a fight sequence for the sake of being more epic and modern. It left the B-action fan in me a little cold.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is, quite simply, a massive failure. DC and Warner Bros. seem so intent on jamming as much material into this film as possible that they forgot that they needed to craft a film that flows and tells its own story. The obsession with catching up to Marvel proves to be this franchises Kryptonite and it leaves this set up film as a jumbled narrative mess with less than charismatic execution to get there. Truly, the DC Animated films are not only superior in damn near every way – they might be the only way to go from here on out as DC and Warner need to take a long hard look at the quality of their films. Only quality will ensure a lasting franchise, not tentpole tactics and sensationalist movies.
Written By Matt Reifschneider