Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) - Written Review
***CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS***
So, here we are. This movie has finally been released. Despite originally being planned for a 2001 release, and at another a 2010 release, and then a 2015 release, Warner Bros have finally released Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - the second instalment of their planned DC Extended Universe. Batman v Superman is not only the sequel to Man of Steel but also the reboot of Batman and the prequel to both next year's Wonder Woman movie and Justice League: Part One, not to mention setting up The Flash movie, Aquaman and Cyborg. I think you can gather that this film has a lot on its plate. Does it deliver though?
Well, that's a difficult question to answer. The film presented here is one that is trying desperately to be the launch-pad for a new shared movie universe, but also fix the mistakes of Man of Steel, and try to be a good standalone movie and it simply can't be all of these things.
I can imagine that there are some people who will absolutely hate this movie, and I can imagine that some will love it to pieces, but personally I enjoyed it a lot, but I'm not sure if I can call it a truly great film.
Batman v Superman is set 18 months after the events of Man of Steel, and the whole world is completely divided on whether or not to trust Superman. Despite his best efforts, Superman has become a figure of controversy across the whole planet, leading to a hearing lead by Senator Finch into his actions. Billionaire Bruce Wayne is one of those who does not trust Superman, especially after his responsibility for the destruction of Metropolis, and vows to find a way to stop the man of steel before he destroys the planet. As events grow ever more tense between the world and Superman, Bruce discovers ties to Lex Luthor - eventually pitting the dark knight up against the man of steel in a fight to the death.
Put simply, Ben Affleck is pitch-perfect as Bruce Wayne. Not only does Affleck capture the personality of Bruce, but he looks amazing in the Batman costume as well. When Batman appears on screen, he looks like he's walked straight out of a comic book or a cartoon, and his action sequences are some of the best moments in the film. Batman is pretty brutal in some scenes, and you can see why the Director's Cut is a 15. Most of his attacks play out more as they would in a horror movie than in a superhero movie, and anyone who's still bitter about Ben Affleck playing the dark knight is pretty much guaranteed to be proven wrong. The new batmobile and batwing look awesome, and Jeremy Irons makes for a pretty good Alfred. To be honest, the Batman stuff in this film is some of the best Batman I have ever seen on film, and I cannot wait to see Affleck's potential solo movie.
As for Superman, however, he is oddly enough barely present in a movie that bases its entire plot around him. I had hoped we'd see a more fully-formed Superman in this film, but all of his interesting character moments seem to have been left on the cutting room floor. Don't get me wrong, this film has much more of a definite idea of Superman's ideologies and his life outside of being the man of steel, but Clark Kent just never got enough screen time to make a presence. Which, given the ending of this movie, is pretty baffling. The film has so much to say about Superman as an icon, as a hero...but as a character it has very little. I understand that there isn't a huge amount you can do with a character like Superman anyway, but you'd think that Clark Kent would be a stronger character in his own movie sequel.
Oddly enough, Lois Lane seems to have more character and screen-time than Superman, even if she appears when there's trouble only because...well, she's Lois Lane. The rather contrived nature of Lois being a part of the third act in Man of Steel is repeated here in Dawn of Justice and there is an incredibly dumb moment in the film that feels like it's only present to rack up the tension further. Amy Adams is good here, and her interactions with Henry Cavill as Clark really does make me believe the romantic interest between the two.
But damn it was Laurence Fishburne awesome as Perry White! While I think that Fishburne did a great job in Man of Steel, his personality seemed to be ditched after his first scene so he could tell the audience about how important Superman is. In this movie though, he has some fantastic moments with Clark, Lois and the other folks at the Daily Planet that just brings so much life to his character.
And then we have Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. He is pretty much the marmite character of the piece. Some have absolutely despised Eisenberg's Luthor, but honestly I think he struck the right balance between being a complete nut-case and a manipulative and contemplative mental match for Superman. Some of the horrible things he does in this movie really make you detest his character, and oddly enough the "crazy quirks" Eisenberg employs actually work. This being said though, I can understand some people hating him in this film. Although, if he's the villain I guess you should technically hate him anyway... Point being that despite my reservations, I liked Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. He wasn't too annoying and actually has an interesting dramatic presence in the film. Luthor's big scene with Batman brilliantly summarises his power of brain over brawn.
And dammit was Gal Gadot awesome as Wonder Woman!
Oddly enough the characters in this movie really clicked for me - with the notable exception of Superman - and I think that's down to Chris Terrio, who writes some truly wonderful dialogue in this film. While he's clearly not quite clicked how to juggle the three-hundred-and-one plot threads this film has going, there are some truly terrific scenes at the Daily Planet and in the Bat-cave.
Structually though, this movie is a mess. There is a huge chunk of the movie that is just there to set up the plot, where very little happens. In fact, the movie creates a whole new Superman incident that almost replaces the battle in Metropolis from the last movie as the reason for the US Government's concern about Superman. Wait, so Superman being semi-responsible for the destruction of almost an entire city is perfectly fine, but him beating up one guy - yes, one guy - in Africa calls for a hearing? Before all this though we do get a truly brilliant opening sequence, showing flashbacks of Bruce Wayne's parents being murdered, Bruce discovering the Bat-cave and then Bruce trying desperately to save the people in Wayne Tower in Metropolis. Not only is this the most visually striking section of the movie but it is also the most engaging, setting up Bruce as a character before we get to see his Batman. The soundtrack complements each moment perfectly and it's clear that Zack Snyder is a fantastic visual story-teller in these scenes.
However, it feels like a major misstep for Alfred to not be clearly seen in at least one of these scenes (preferably the funeral scene), and later on in the movie we find Wayne Manor burned down. Um...what happened there? I understand that this is a Batman with a lot of history to him, but this doesn't exactly require a 300 page monologue explaining all of this. Heck, we don't even get any flashbacks of Bruce's early days as Batman, making me wonder why on Earth Warner Bros didn't make a solo Batman prequel after Man of Steel to set-up this movie.
What's even more baffling is that Lex Luthor - the villain of the entire movie and potentially this entire franchise - doesn't get an actual introduction. Seriously, could we not have had at least one line - maybe in a news report - about how this guy is a billionaire philanthropist and made his money through technology or something?
This screenplay has some fundamental errors, and I'm seriously wondering if the improvements I mentioned above don't exist in the Director's Cut. If so, there is no reason to keep them out of the theatrical release. There is so much else that could be cut from the movie - including one scene with Jonathan Kent - that it just baffles me as to why some incredibly important things just aren't in the movie.
What's most bizarre about the screenplay though is just how contrived some of the major plot points are. Lex Luthor creates Doomsday because he wants to kill Superman, but at the point in the movie when Luthor starts creating Doomsday, he's betting his chips on Batman killing Superman - hence killing two birds with one stone. There is absolutely no reason for Lex to create Doomsday before Batman doesn't kill Superman. Doomsday as the movie's 'big bad' has pretty much no dramatic presence to him, and looks like a giant CGI mess designed by Weta to fight Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Why does Doomsday just automatically try to kill Superman? Isn't Doomsday in part a creation of the Kryptonians? The movie fails to address exactly what Doomsday is other than a "Kryptonian abomination", gives it no dramatic presence and the character only serves to follow a comic book storyline to make the movie seem much more dramatic and different, but just kills any chances of Doomsday making a presence on this movie or its sequels. When Zack Snyder said he was setting up Doomsday for the Justice League movie, I assumed that that meant that Doomsday was just going to have one big fight and run off to set up the next chronological movie. But no. Doomsday is just there for one big fight as the big monster for the Trinity to fight and that's it. Bravo, Snyder and co, it was really worth bringing him in.
In fact, the Justice League set-up is terrible. It's so in-your-face and poorly-handled that I'm seriously wondering how an average movie-goer is going to cope with Batman v Superman. While Wonder Woman's presence makes for an interesting foil for Batman, she just seems to be there to advertise her solo movie coming next year. But as for the Aquaman cameo...holy moly is that scene badly-handled. It's just awkward to watch Jason Mamoa stare at the camera and then give it a poke with his trident. It's not even a background cameo or anything - the camera zooms in on this footage. Not only could I not believe that Mamoa could breathe under water but I felt no desire to watch the Aquaman movie that his cameo is designed to sell. Cyborg's cameo is actually quite interesting but is definitely shoehorned into the film, and Flash's two cameos stood out with just how underwhelming the effect is. Seriously, how did a $250 + million movie provide a worse super-speed effect that the Flash TV show?
I'm 1, 889 words into this review and I am just struggling to comprehend some of these script errors. As much as some of the dialogue is great, the structure of this film and the way it handles the kazillion plot threads is just apalling.
After all of that bashing though, let's talk about some good stuff with the screenplay. Bruce Wayne's arc in this movie is - believe it or not - really well-handled. Bruce starts off as a bitter and violent vigilante with a vendetta against Superman, so much so that when Lex Luthor starts framing Superman for murder, he just all-out decides to kill the man of steel. He finds the Kryptonite knowing what it is capable of, and when Superman tries to talk to him, Bruce is so blinded by his anger that he just straight up starts shooting at Superman. The two heroes' big fight is so spectacularly one-sided that even if you're a fan of Batman, you are forced to root for Superman as Batman almost completely destroys him. In fact, Bruce is just about to flat-out murder a weakened Superman with a kryptonite spear when the only thing that stops him is Superman saying "Martha".
Now, this is a really interesting moment. While most seem to have just taken it as Batman going "hey Superman, my mum and your adopted mum have the same name!", this barely crossed my mind in the film, mostly due to the editing. Bruce's father's dying word in the flashback is "Martha", a word that is etched in Bruce's mind from the night his entire life changed. It's at this moment when Bruce realizes that he has become almost as bad as the person who murdered his parents, and therefore physically can't kill Superman.
Bruce then actually steps back and listens to Superman, realizing his mistake and saves Clark's adopted mother, almost apologising to Superman - whom he now realizes was the hero all along. Henceforth, Martha Kent is saved and Batman teams up with Superman to confront Doomsday, save the world and actually become a hero. For most of this movie, Batman has been walking the fine line between vigilante and criminal, but at this moment the dark knight decides to become a hero. Then, the Doomsday fight ensues, Superman dies and Bruce asks Wonder Woman to help him find other meta-humans like her to form a team and prevent disasters like Doomsday's attack from ever happening. By the end of the movie, Bruce accepts that Superman was the real hero all along, and hopes to continue his legacy, hence his line "I failed him in life, I won't fail him in death".
As for the rest of the production, Zack Snyder's direction is pretty good. I think that the action sequences are handled much more competently in this movie than in its predecessor, and the destruction more controlled, but I can't say that Snyder would be missed if he wasn't to return for Justice League: Part 1. His direction isn't bad, but it's clear that he operates under a "you know what would be cool" method of making his films. Had the screenplay been tighter though, I wouldn't hold this against the movie much.
The costumes, however, look amazing. When Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman come together for the final fight, they all look like they've jumped off the pages of a comic book. Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL's score is pretty good, the visual FX are mostly good and the overall production quality of this movie showcases its $250 million budget.
Overall though, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a film that simply doesn't quite work. There is so much set-up for the next movies that Dawn of Justice fails to work as a standalone sequel to Man of Steel. There are dream sequences and time travel ideas that won't make any sense until explained presumably in the sequel, and Wonder Woman seems to be biding her time for her own movie next year. Superman has surprisingly very little presence in a movie that practically revolves around him, with Lois Lane seeming to have more screen time but little relevance in the actual plot.
Ben Affleck shines as the new Batman, however, with almost every single one of his scenes being the highlights of the movie. This is a much more brutal and violent Batman than what we've seen before, but I can't deny that it really works well. I think that had Batman v Superman done something akin to Daredevil: season 2 with Batman as the antagonist but Superman being the main focus of the movie, this could have been much better. I can't deny though that I am pretty excited for a new Batman solo film, and Jeremy Iron's Alfred gets some of the best lines in the movie.
Lex Luthor is the most marmite villain ever, but Doomsday is quite possibly the worst super-villain in a superhero movie to date, with practically no explanation revolving around what he is, what he wants and what the actual point of him is. The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg cameos feel forced into the movie merely to sell the future sequels Warner Bros supposedly have in the pipeline and I can't help but feel that the creative side of the film has been drowned out by the business side.
Despite all of its problems though, I can't say I hate Batman v Superman. This is the definition of a mixed bag. There are some truly great moments in this film, and some truly dumb moments. Maybe the planned Director's Cut will sort out some of my issues with the film, but this film is unnecessarily cluttered and poorly-structured. This isn't like Age of Ultron where there are a hundred and one things going on but is still a really awesome movie, this has a hundred and two things going on and a screenplay not strong enough to justify this.
I give Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice a 5/10.