Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Review
By David Baldwin
I have always loved Batman. I watched the VHS tape of Tim Burton’s 1989 film religiously as a kid, played with plenty of action figures and playsets, read the comics, watched all the movies, played the video games — I even wrote my fourth-year university thesis on the character’s representation in film up to that point. So no matter how good or bad the trailers for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice looked, I still held out hope it would be great and remained excited for its release.
As I wrote yesterday, I did not hate Man of Steel, nor do I hate director Zack Snyder’s admittedly uneven body of work. And while it used to be embarrassing to say out loud, I have always liked Ben Affleck as an actor and even more so as a director. So with tempered expectations, I ventured into the so-called “fight of the century” tonight knowing it was taking a beating from the critics. But can it really be that bad? Or was my faith rewarded?
In a word, Batman v Superman is a train wreck. There is no other accurate way to describe it. The cast and crew are defending the film as being made for fans, but I am fairly certain even they have no idea who it was made for.
If you watched the trailers, then you know Bruce Wayne (Affleck) has a grudge against Superman (Henry Cavill) for his role in the destruction of Metropolis. Wayne brings the Batman out of retirement in retaliation, and his actions become increasingly more vicious and violent. Superman wants to investigate, but is in hot water over actions that lead to civilian deaths in the Middle East (but inexplicably not for the deaths he caused in his own city).
This only begins to crack the surface of what happens over the course of Batman v Superman‘s 152-minute running time. The film only credits Oscar-winner Chris Terrio and DC go-to screenwriter David S. Goyer for the film’s screenplay, but there are quite literally enough ideas and story threads to fill two writer’s rooms. I understand this is the film Warner wants to build it’s DC Extended Universe on the back of, but at what expense? The effects are pretty great and the IMAX scenes look quite spectacular. But the film is so preoccupied introducing characters, teasing out future films and paying homage to specific comic frames that it forgets to give more than vague motivations to any of the characters who are actually in the movie. Worse, it seems perfectly content to pick up and then do away with ideas on a whim with virtually no explanation (and seems obsessed with dream sequences for some reason).
But the truly atrocious editing may be more to blame than the cobbled together script. It is almost painful to consider how many abrupt cuts there are, not to mention jumps in logic, location and allowing the screen to slam to black multiple times for no reason. Entire scenes appear to have been excised for inexplicable reasons, leaving behind blackhole-sized plot holes in their wake. Yes, some of these elements may have been cut for pacing. But then how do we explain the lengthy Justice League introduction scenes that seem to have been pasted into the film in the most amateur way possible? I had heard and read about cameo appearances, but never imagined these scenes would be ridiculously out of place. I was told that I very audibly yelled “what the fuck?” during one of these scenes. And thinking back to it, I still feel the same way.
The film’s score is another point of contention — as it seems to belong to another film entirely. We get to hear portions of Hans Zimmer’s awesome Man of Steel score again, but the rest of the film is made up of an otherworldly Junkie XL score. It is meant to be epic, loud and booming, but it comes off as eclectic and downright baffling. Wonder Woman’s (Gal Gadot) theme is of particular note because it is played at a louder decibel than anything else, and does not seem to flow naturally with anything happening on-screen.
And if it has not already been said previously, I sincerely hope this is the last time we see Bruce Wayne’s parents get killed on film. I appreciate Snyder not lingering on it for long, but the circumstances of their deaths have been beaten into the minds of viewers everywhere. Just because it has a freshly stylized coat of paint does not mean anyone forgot what happened to them.
Thankfully the acting makes up for the film’s many faults.
As I had hoped, Affleck is terrific as Batman. He plays the master detective quite well, and does a better job at brooding than I think anyone could have predicted. There is an anger in his eyes that never dissipates, and the darkness that envelopes him is easily comparable to Christian Bale’s take on the character. I was surprised by how little he got to act as Bruce Wayne, but his rendition of the uncompromising vigilante already has me excited for his solo adventures. I just hope the performance does not get overshadowed by everyone dog-piling on Batman being okay with killing dozens of people who get in his way.
I liked Cavill before, but it is great seeing him settle into the Superman role even further here. He still does not know his place in the world, and the film gradually builds on that pathos and confusion. He continues to make Superman a gritty and realistic hero, and even at his most Christ-like moments, I still felt the humanity Cavill brings to the character. I was even more impressed by Amy Adams, whose Lois Lane is a lot closer to her comic persona. Sure she still acts as the damsel in distress, but at least she does more than just act as a glorified plot device.
Jesse Eisenberg does a great job chewing up scenery as Lex Luthor, even with his stilted dialogue. Jeremy Irons is an awesome Alfred. But they are both no match for Gal Gadot, who steals every single scene she has as Wonder Woman. We have waited a long time for the legendary character to make it to the big screen, and Gadot delivers in spades. She is a warrior like no other, and the film could have only benefited from using her more. The trailer ruins her big reveal in the final battle, but it is one that will instantly increase your anticipation for her solo film next June.
On the whole, I did not hate Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as much as many critics did. But there is no denying that it is a complete mess that narrowly avoids being a total disaster. Warner rushed into this film to capitalize on the success Marvel had with The Avengers, and it shows in how truly unprepared the film is. The storyline is all over the place, the references and allusions to future films play out like expensive commercials, and the editing is truly deplorable. Thankfully, Affleck, Cavill and especially Gadot more than make up for the film’s shortcomings. Here’s hoping Suicide Squad washes the bitter taste out of our mouths of whatever this was.