BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016), the latest DC comics movie pits their two most famous superheroes against each other, Batman vs. Superman, and from the outset, this seemed like a silly premise to me.
Seriously, is there any doubt about the outcome? Does anyone seriously believe that when all is said and done, and the dust has settled, that one of these two will emerge the victor, or that they will remain enemies? Don’t we all know that at some point there will be a big fat superhero kumbaya moment? Of course we do!
BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE gets off to a very good start as we witness Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) watching the horrifying destruction of Metropolis at the hands of Superman and General Zod in the battle they waged at the end of MAN OF STEEL (2013) and the terrible toll it takes on human life. So we see from the outset why Wayne aka Batman is so down on Superman. He’s outraged and a little bit afraid of the destruction Superman caused.
And he’s not alone. The rest of the nation is also questioning Superman’s loyalties, including Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) who is holding hearings and being very vocal in the press about the need to hold Superman accountable for his actions and to put a lid on his acting unilaterally, although the last time I checked Superman didn’t work for the U.S. government.
As a result, Superman (Henry Cavill) is having an identity crisis and is going through some serious soul searching. Just who is he and what is his role here on earth, he’s asking? He’s also asking if he can be Superman and still enjoy his beautiful girlfriend, Lois Lane (Amy Adams).
Superman is not having an easy time of it in this movie. Perhaps a better title to this one should have been GET SUPERMAN! because everyone in this film seems to have it out for the Man of Steel. The government’s trying to control him, public opinion has turned against him, Batman wants to kill him, and oh yeah that new young villain Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) has gotten his hands on both kryptonite and General Zod’s ship and the technology that goes along with it. And just what do you think Luthor will do with all this stuff? Why, take down Superman of course!
Well, sort of. Luthor actually has bigger plans. I mean, why take down one superhero when you can take down two? Which is why he sets his sights on playing Don King and arranging the bout of the century, Batman vs. Superman.
Of course, when you think about it, you realize it’s rather a dumb plot point, because Batman and Superman hate each other and they’re on a collision course on their own. They don’t need Luthor’s help.
Which brings me to the number one reason why I absolutely did not like BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE one bit: it’s the storytelling, stupid.
While I have little problem with the performers here, I can’t say the same for the story and the way director Zach Snyder goes about telling it.
Remember how I said the film began with Bruce Wayne watching the brutal battle in the sky? That’s not quite accurate. Before this scene, we get to see yet again another variation of the scene where Bruce Wayne’s parents are killed. Why? How many times do we have to see this part of the story told? Right off the bat, I’m thinking, what a weak way to begin what is supposed to be an epic superhero tale.
Then we get to the battle, and this scene does work. It’s one of the few scenes in the movie that I did enjoy, and it sets up perfectly Bruce Wayne’s feelings towards Superman. But then the movie progresses in a series of scenes that do not flow together well at all. I’m not exactly sure what the problem was, but the first 30 minutes or so contains scenes that just do not seem to flow seamlessly into the next. Part of the problem is there is so little dialogue at the beginning. The movie is begging for dialogue early on.
Then there’s the odd choice of scenes. There are two in particular that I thought were poor ways to introduce out superheroes. The first has Lois Lane held hostage by terrorists in the middle east. There’s suddenly a firefight, and Superman arrives and rescues her in a scene that lasts about 30 seconds, and the next thing you know Superman is being blamed because a lot of innocent people were killed. Huh? This is a key plot point because it further sets up the public’s mistrust of Superman, but it’s muddled in its execution. All I saw was Superman rescue Lois Lane. Where’s the controversy in that?
For Batman’s first appearance, we see this really bizarre scene where two cops enter a dark building, find a group of terrified people who are babbling about some being who you can figure out is Batman, and one of the cops sees Batman lurking in the corner and opens fire at him before Batman flees without a word— there’s that lack of dialogue, again—. His partner chastises him, telling him that he shouldn’t shoot at the good guys. They also discover the criminal which Batman had left for them, and they see that Batman—now even darker than ever—oooh!!!—branded the Batman insignia into the bad guy’s flesh. Holy cow poker, Batman! Again, just a bizarre, confusing scene. It seems to be implying that Batman is bad, but then again, it shows he’s good, but really I think the filmmakers hadn’t a clue, and it shows.
The entire movie is muddled in its storytelling, a combination of weird filming choices by director Snyder and a less than remarkable script by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer. Terrio wrote the script for ARGO (2012). This is no ARGO. Meanwhile, Goyer wrote the screenplay for BATMAN BEGINS (2005) and MAN OF STEEL (2013). The screenplay for BATMAN V SUPERMAN should have been better than it is. It tries to do dark and foreboding, but without strong characterizations, it gives us dull and dreary.
The superheroes here do not fare well at all.
I’m a fan of Ben Affleck, especially in recent years, and while I don’t think he does a bad job here as Batman/Bruce Wayne, there are simply too many factors working against him here. The script doesn’t provide him with anything worthwhile to say. In fact, it’s the opposite. He says some pretty ridiculous things in this movie, chief amongst them his forced speech at the end of the movie, and his quick change of heart regarding a certain flying superhero.
His Bruce Wayne is dreary beyond belief, a man with zero charisma. As much as I loved the DARK KNIGHT trilogy, I was never a huge fan of Christian Bale’s Batman, but I found myself missing Bale here. Of course, my favorite film Batman/Bruce Wayne remains Michael Keaton, which always blows my mind, because Keaton is such a terrific comic actor that it’s amazing to think that he made such a cool Bruce Wayne.
I also did not like Batman’s robotic suit in this movie. Can someone say, “Iron Man wannabe?” It didn’t work for me at all.
Superman doesn’t fare any better. For a lot of the movie, Superman really isn’t Henry Cavill but a special effect zipping here and zooming there. In the scenes where he has dialogue, he’s actually pretty good, and I found myself enjoying his performance a bit more here than in MAN OF STEEL. But he still lacks that special something to make Superman work. There’s just something not-larger-than-life about his interpretation of the role. He’s sort of superman with a lower case “s.”
Now, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) who makes her debut here is another story. I liked Wonder Woman. A lot. But she’s in this movie for all of five minutes. So much for Wonder Woman! Again, bizarre choices by the filmmakers.
I also did not like Jesse Eisenberg’s interpretation of Lex Luthor at all. In fact, he’s probably my least favorite Lex Luthor ever. I think I even prefer Kevin Spacey’s over-the-top performance as Lex in SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006) more. Eisenberg’s Lex is sort of going for the chaotic insanity of the Joker, but he’s not even close. So here we have yet another disappointing superhero movie villain to add to our ever-growing list of weak superhero movie villains.
As much as I love Amy Adams as Lois Lane here, and make no mistake I enjoyed her in this movie, she really doesn’t have much to do in this movie other than be rescued by Superman. Jeremy Irons actually made for a pretty interesting Alfred, and I have no complaints about Irons at all, but you know things are bad when you’re talking about Alfred instead of the superheroes!
Likewise, Laurence Fishburne turns in a respectable performance as Perry White, reprising the role from MAN OF STEEL. I also really enjoyed Holly Hunter as Senator Finch, and some of her scenes were some of the better written scenes in the film. I liked the plot point of the public’s mistrust of Superman, and Superman’s own questioning about his role in the world, but again, the filmmakers didn’t really roll with this. It dies midway through the film.
It’s also a very long movie, clocking in at 151 minutes which for me was way too long. I was longing for it to end. I also saw it in 3D, and it was about as unspectacular as a 3D movie could be.
BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE is a dreary muddled movie that doesn’t seem to know how to tell a story to save its life.
Batman and Superman definitely deserve better.