After his Metropolis-totalling battle with Zod, Superman finds himself the feared enemy of many and the saviour of others. Meanwhile a world-weary billionaire is looking for revenge and means to put an end to the destruction caused by a God-like superhero whose actions can no longer be left unchecked.
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot
Run Time: 151 Minutes
Release Date: Out Now
For years many fanboys have argued over who would win; Batman or Superman?
After reading about their battles in the pages of comic books, those same fanboys may now finally be able to answer that long-asked question. Following Man of Steel, many people wondered – as well as what Zack Snyder had done to their good boy superhero – who would step up and challenge Superman, who would take over from General Zod in opposing Metropolis’ newly-adopted hero? Not many, in fact barely anyone, would have guessed what Snyder had planned. Rolling into San Diego Comic-Con, we had a feeling that we would hear something about the planned Man of Steel sequel, so it was widely assumed that the question would be answered. But when Harry Lennix took the stage and read a passage from the seminal The Dark Knight Returns, we had our answer.
We had Batman v Superman.
After one bombshell came the next one; Ben Affleck would don the cape and cowl, he would be our new Batman. Inevitably, the internet exploded. How could Affleck, whose last foray in the superhero world brought us a Daredevil that has only now been fully consigned to history thanks to Netflix, follow in the footsteps of Christian Bale? Meanwhile on the other side of things, Henry Cavill had found himself somewhat unfairly criticised for Man of Steel. Yes, that film had its faults – many, in fact – but Cavill could hardly be blamed. Scripting and directorial choices hampered that outing, but now all involved had a chance at superhero redemption.
Following the Batman reveal and subsequent reactions, we then learned that this would be the first step on the road towards the DC Cinematic Universe, with all roads leading to the Justice League. Wonder Woman came on board, then Aquaman, followed by Cyborg and The Flash. So with a franchise to build, a new Batman to introduce, and a story coming out of Man of Steel to tell, how does Snyder do?
Right, let’s start with the good points; Ben Affleck is wonderful as both a tortured and morally-tired Bruce Wayne and as a vengeful and grizzled Batman. For years, criticisms of Keaton, Kilmer, Clooney and Bale have centred on their suitability to portray both Wayne and his crime-fighting alter ego. Here, Affleck has an advantage over the others, for this is not a young Mr Wayne, still coming to terms with his ability and struggling to find his moral compass that will lead him in the direction of right. This Bruce Wayne – and Batman, for that matter – has seen a lot, experienced a lot and has no issue with his moral compass (Bats’ no-guns and killing policy that was a staple of Christopher Nolan’s vision is nowhere to be seen here). Possibly fuelled on by the legion of naysayers that criticised his casting from day one, Affleck delivers in spades and quite easily steals the show. His relationship with Jeremy Irons’ Alfred is also very different to previous films. Different Bat incarnations have meant different Alfred Pennyworths, ranging from Michael Gough to Michael Caine to the Sean Pertwee version currently being seen in Gotham, and all have varying father-son dynamics between he and Bruce. Here, Jeremy Irons lacks the warmth of a father, firmly replaced by gritty cynicism, though this is probably to be expected given Wayne’s similar demeanour following all they have experienced in Gotham over the years.
It isn’t just Affleck holding this one up though, and what’s more he’s helped by someone who only shows up for the movie’s explosive conclusion. For years studios, both movie and television, have struggled to deliver a Wonder Woman that can rightfully do the comic book heroine justice. But maybe, just maybe, we finally have one. Gal Gadot’s powerful cameo, which sees the Lasso of Truth make a welcome – and long overdue – arrival on the big screen, offers early hope for her solo outing next year. It also seems that the film’s brooding score knows Wonder Woman is something special, for her high-energy appearance is the only time that the soundtrack picks up.
A quick word on the other characters – or metahumans – that will eventually end up comprising the Justice League; we do get brief flashes (pun intended), but here is not the time nor place to truly introduce them. Jury will always be out on Aquaman, though.
And what about that other superhero involved here, that other guy in the movie’s wordy and franchise-building title? As with Man of Steel, Henry Cavill unfortunately again proves that he can frown and look forlorn, instead of show real emotion or personality. A large part of the blame for that has to go to Snyder, who it seems cannot – or will not – permit himself to actually make Superman a character that we should get behind. This is a fine Batman film, though you suspect not one that Affleck and his chosen crew will have a problem bettering when they get their crack at Bats’ next solo outing. Problem is, this isn’t supposed to be a Batman film. Snyder’s affection for the Dark Knight character is clear, with plenty of time given for backstory (yep, more pearl necklace shots. No, not that) and exposition telling us why Wayne is how he is. I know we have already seen Superman’s story in Man of Steel, but a little more here to really give us an insight into Clark Kent’s feelings that he is now being challenged by Gotham’s vigilante wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Aside from the heroes (?) of the piece, far too much time is afforded to Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, who just doesn’t seem to work and isn’t believable as someone that is given so much power in the story. In amongst the nervous tics and mumbled words, Luthor is unappealing, uncharismatic and not the villain that this film so desperately needs. Chalk another one up for poor storytelling and character development.
Unfortunately, that isn’t Snyder’s only misstep here, with his main one being the decision to make this film so long; there is absolutely no reason for this movie to go two and a half hours, and there are many scenes that quite simply do not need to be here. With some ruthless trimming and better storytelling and editing, this whole tale could be introduced, explained played out in 90-100 minutes. Furthermore, it is nothing less than careless and poor work from all involved in the making of the movie that for a film this long, there are no real surprises. Every major moment, both crowd-pleasing and story-furthering, in the movie have already been seen. Yes, marketing companies want to make those all-important trailers hook you in, but something has to be left for when you’re actually sat in the cinema. Nothing was left here and that is not good enough.
Aside from the bloated runtime, another major problem here is that, as shocking as this sounds for a first-time big-screen battle between two of the biggest superheroes of all-time, this film is rather dull. Snyder has proved himself more than capable of making a film look good, but we are still waiting for evidence that he can put a coherent, capable script together. Too much of the dialogue falters, with some lines bordering on laughable. When you title your movie Batman v Superman, it understandably brings expectation that we are going to get lots of fighting, masses of testosterone-fuelled anger and destruction. So leave it to Mr Snyder to prefer talking over action. Of course.
After such a long and drawn-out opening and middle act, the film finally gets its act together for the last hour, going balls to the wall and finally delivering that action that should have been there from the outset. As the title promises, we finally get Messrs. Kent and Wayne duking it out, in a suitable and well-choreographed clash, but even once it reaches it’s apparent conclusion, up pops again the lacklustre storytelling to drag it down. Well that, and a rather ridiculous and unnecessary CGI overkill that drags the overall presentation down a further notch. Quite frankly, for a film with a reported $250m budget, Doomsday should look better.
A quick note, also, about the movie’s tone. Yes, it’s a serious situation, what with God-like aliens and other-worldly monsters ripping cities apart, but holy “Why So Serious”, Batman…would a little humour have hurt?
At the end of the day, despite the marketing-friendly title and spinoff-building appeal that it had to many at Warner looking at those income totals, you are left with the feeling that maybe – just maybe – these two comic book behemoths just work better alone.
Dawn of Justice should have been something special, and rather easy recipe to concoct. If you’ll allow me to go all Jamie Oliver for a moment, all you had to do was take two mega superheroes, throw in an Amazonian goddess who lets no-one stand in her way, add a sprinkle of franchise- and spinoff-building foreshadowing and introduction, coat it all with some basic storytelling that explains to us why everything is happening, and heat for 100 minutes. Unfortunately – though not surprisingly – the mixture measures were messed up and the whole thing was left in the oven for far too long.
Depressingly, my final thought when I left the cinema was that if you like Man of Steel, you’ll love this movie. I have no more conclusive closing than that.