Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (***)
Running Time: 151 minutes
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gail Gadot, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons and Holly Hunter
(Movie House Dublin Road Screening, 23/03/2016)
Fearing that the actions of Superman are being left unchecked, Batman plans to take down the Man of Steel before he becomes a possible threat to humanity. Whilst these two heroes go toe to toe with each other, megalomaniac Lex Luthor unleashes a creation upon Metropolis so powerful that it might require even more than Superman and Batman to destroy it.
NOT even Kal-El himself could bear the heavy weight of expectation that comes with the release of Zack Snyder’s Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice on his mighty shoulders; it’s a film that serves as both a sequel to his 2013 feature Man of Steel, a reboot of the Batman franchise and more importantly a launchpad for DC Comics’ new Justice League cinematic universe. Sadly the film simply buckles under this heavy burden, as it’s lumbered with a terrible screenplay that tries to do far too much within its runtime and ultimately fails to deliver a satisfying cinematic experience.
The film’s central problem (other than Jesse Eisenberg’s onscreen eccentricities) is that it’s simply trying to do in one film what Marvel Studios did with their Avengers franchise over five years of careful planning. Subtlety is out the window as Wonder Woman, Cyborg, The Flash and Aquaman are thrown into the mix; even if some of these characters are merely viewed on a computer screen, it’s nowhere near as subtle as Captain America’s shield being used as a Paperweight by Tony Stark in the first Iron Man movie. There’s also the small matter of completely rebooting the Batman series with the introduction of Batfleck as DC are now paying the price for allowing Chris Nolan the freedom to make his Dark Knight trilogy such standalone entities.
If some viewers thought Man of Steel’s tone was too sombre, it’s nothing compared to the dark tone of Batman vs Superman. Shot in the same washed out, gloomy style as Snyder’s previous film, it’s an approach that perfectly fits Batman’s character but not Superman’s. They’ve taken DC Comics’ all-American Boy Scout and made him a character that’s riddled with self-doubt and guilt over his actions; Cavill gives a performance that’s moodier than a teenager going through a self-loathing Goth phase and it simply doesn’t work. I’m sure I’m not the only person who found it really difficult to engage with his character, considering the events that unfold throughout this movie it’s a real problem for the franchise that we simply don’t care that much about Superman.
In my opinion Snyder’s film is guilty of paying too much lip-service to comic book fans as it tries to bring iconic moments from classic graphic novels like The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman to the big screen. These sequences might be glorious CGI filled spectacles, but they’re ultimately left meaningless because the narrative that binds them together is so tedious and clunky. It talks about ideas and concepts, without ever really expanding upon them; worse still its attempt to make these two pop-culture icons go toe to toe with each together just feels so terribly forced and contrived.
Despite these problems there’s some strong performances littered throughout the feature, particularly Affleck’s Dark Knight and Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Affleck’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne in particular is near-perfect, he’s a suave and debonair billionaire in public, but a hard-drinking individual filled with anger in private; Bruce Wayne has always been a tortured soul, but we’ve never seen quite as dark as this before, in many ways his character could almost be considered a villain as he plots the death of Kal-El. His anger over past failures, which are only briefly alluded to, is only fuelled by the actions of Superman at the end of Man of Steel.
Early on within Batman vs Superman we see that film’s finale unfold but this time from Bruce’s perspective, with heavy nods to 9/11 we watch as he tries to save his employees while most of Metropolis is destroyed during Kal-El and General Zod’s final confrontation. He’s obsessed with taking down the Man of Steel, terrified that he might one day pose a possible threat to mankind and worried his actions are being left unchecked by the US Government.
Whilst Affleck is superb I sadly can’t say the same for Jesse Eisenberg, the actor hams it up as Lex Luthor and gives a similar performance to the one he gave as Mark Zuckerberg in David Fincher’s The Social Network. It’s admirable that he tries to do something different with a role previously played by great actors like Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey, but it just doesn’t work here. I enjoyed his portrayal of Luthor as a character riddled with jealously over Superman’s godlike abilities, it makes make for an interesting character dynamic between the two, but it’s never really evolved and ultimately he’s left as little more than a Doctor Frankenstein like character who unleashes his ‘doomsday ‘monster upon Metropolis.
When you’re film’s entitled Batman vs Superman viewers have every right to expect some sort of confrontation and after nearly an hour and a half of teasing and Inception– esque dream sequences the much-hyped faceoff between the ‘Son of Krypton and the Gotham Knight’ finally comes, but it just feels so terribly contrived. It might deliver on the spectacle, as someone who’s a huge batman fanboy it’s hard not to get a little flutter of excitement as Affleck dons the iconic armoured Bat-suit, but the confrontation between these two pop culture icons just feels so forced and unnecessary; their motivation due to heavy manipulation by Jesse Eisenberg’s character just didn’t really work for me. Since we know these two can’t stay mad at each other forever, there’s a Justice League coming movie after all, but the reason for the resolution of their differences just felt so stupendously stupid that it almost defies belief.
While it’s great to see Wonder Woman finally making her big screen debut, Diana Prince’s appearance does feel a little shoehorned into the overall narrative, popping up with a few cameos throughout the feature before showing up in full costume in its finale; nevertheless her arrival lifts the tone of the entire feature. Whilst it’s great that the writers have put such a strong female character front and centre within their franchise, it’s a shame they’ve completely forgotten about the film’s other female characters. Amy Adams’ Louis Lane and Diane Liane’s Martha Kent aren’t really given that much to do, with Adams in particular left as little more than a mere damsel in distress throughout the movie on at least three occasions. Other than Gadot the only other strong female presence within the film is Holly Hunter’s character Senator Finch, but sadly her screen-time is all too brief as she faces off against Eisenberg’s Luthor.
To summarize Dawn of Justice isn’t a terrible movie; it’s just one that’s been lumbered with a screenplay that’s being pulled in every direction by producers overly keen to establish the foundations for their new franchise. It’s a real shame because there’s some solid performances within this film; hopefully we might see something much more coherent and satisfying in the future.
Whilst my anticipation for the Justice League movie and even Suicide Squad might have been dashed, I’m still hopeful for next year’s Wonder Woman and the possibility of a future standalone Batman movie. This film’s finale only further proves my belief that producers and writers don’t seem to have much confidence in Superman as the central character for their franchise; they’re clearly happier with the Caped Crusader being their leading man and with Ben Affleck I really feel like it’s in more than capable hands.
- Batfleck and Jeremy Iron’s Alfred
- Gail Gadot’s Wonder Woman
- Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s score
- The Script and overly revealing trailers
- Too much lip service to comic book fans
- Essenberg’s Doctor Frankenstein Lex Luthor and Cavill’s ‘mean and moody’ Superman.
Check out other Batman and Superman films in our movie club