Warning: The following review will contain SPOILERS!
Well after three years of waiting, analyzing every released and leaked image, arguments over cast announcements, and questioning DC’s world building strategy, the end result has finally arrived. Batman V. Superman is upon us and the fate of the DC cinematic universe is on the shoulders of these two heroes. Can the might of Superman and the intellect of Batman bring the DC cinematic world into the fold?
The answer is…..yes and no.
Dawn of Justice does good deal right. Ben Affleck is a great Batman. I never understood what the fuss was about regarding his casting. He’s a proven actor and he really sells an aged, bitter, and angry Batman. Gal Gadot is actually a pretty decent Wonder Woman. I actually wanted to see more from her. I’m looking forward to what she can do in her solo movie. Henry Cavill does all right in this continuation of Superman. However of the trinity he has the least amount of lines it seems. His scenes really boil down to him showing up somewhere but not saying anything while things happen around him. Which is too bad because some of the lines he is given are pretty good and hint at a greater internal struggle that I would have liked to see more of. For example when Lois is trying to remind him that his symbol means hope and it’s all that some people have Clark responds with: “It meant something on my world, but my world doesn’t exist anymore.” He follows that up with: “Superman was the dream of my father. The dream of a ghost….” Superman losing faith in himself and his purpose is great material. Rarely do we see Superman doubt himself like this. (At least in movies).
The action sequences are incredible. Batman steals the show with a lot his action scenes. How he takes down criminals is lifted right from a comic book page. The titular fight between the World’s Finest is fantastic. It highlights the strengths of both characters. My favorite bit would have to be when Batman starts to pound on Superman but begins to realize that his kryptonite gas is wearing off. His punches start to become less and less effective. And Superman becomes more and more annoyed.
The fight with Doomsday where all three heroes show their stuff is probably the highlight of the film. My favorite part had to be when Superman takes up Doomsday into space. Showing that YES, he DID learn from Man of Steel, and the government in all their wisdom, nukes them both.
Zack Synder in the lead up to Man of Steel said that they made Superman weaker and that a nuclear missile could possibility kill him. Well this film answers that question and the answer is, OF COURSE NOT! Superman takes the nuke head on and floats into space to recover, then flies down and slams into Doomsday ready for round two. There’s an awesome heat vision vs. heat vision beam battle briefly.
The shot of the DC Trinity standing together to face down Doomsday was a money shot. I wished I could rewind the movie so I could watch that part again.
However, for the good it does, Dawn gets many things wrong. It falls into the same trap as other films that have attempted to build a share universe, which is spending too much time setting up the next film that they neglect the plot and characters in front of them. There is an entire sub-plot of Wonder Woman looking for an old photograph of her from World War I that Luthor stole for some reason. Other than setting up for her solo adventure this plot-line really doesn’t have a purpose to the main conflict between Bats and Supes.
We’re introduced to the other Justice League members through Batman, who is seeking out other metas. Once again for no apparent reason other than to introduce them to the audience. There’s some throw away line about a “meta theory” but it’s never mentioned again. Batman also has some crazy dreams that once again seem to serve no purpose but to set up future movies. This wouldn’t be so bad if so much time wasn’t spent on it.
And now for the elephant in the room, Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. Long story short, he just does not work. I can understand trying to do something different with the character but Eisenberg’s portrayal is so far off the mark I have to wonder just what Synder and the rest were looking for. Based on his performance, I can only guess that they wanted Riddler but somehow Lex Luthor’s name got mixed up. Eisenberg is not intimidating, he’s not smooth or charismatic, and makes you wonder why anyone in the movie takes him seriously at all.
Not only does Eisenberg’s Luthor fail to live up to his comic counterpart, he fails completely as a villain. We get no insight into why he wants to take down Superman. There’s a few throwaway lines hinting that if gods and heroes existed and were all good, he would have been saved from his abusive parents. But that small pathos gets buried in nonsensical babbling and incoherent actions. I was very disappointed that Synder went from a great and noble villain like Zod to the mess that was Eisengerg’s Luthor.
In addition to Lex Luthor not acting like himself, neither Superman nor Batman are acting like themselves either. This incarnation of Superman is frustratingly passive. A suicide bomber takes out a building that Superman is standing in. You would think that as Superman with his super hearing, telescopic vision, and x-ray vision he would pick up that something was amiss and try to clear the room the second he realized something was up. Or take the suicide bomber away from the area. But instead he just stands there. The bomb blows up and his face hasn’t changed at all. If he’s trying to prove that he’s here to help, he’s doing a very poor job of it. Which is once again too bad because we see glimpses of the classic idea of Superman in small bursts. He leaves a fancy party to go save people trapped in a burning building. He drags a trapped ship off the ice, he rescues an exploding space shuttle. So the Superman we know is in there somewhere, but for some reason isn’t allowed to take off.
Batman himself does a poor job as well. This Batman uses guns, appears to kill and has no problem with it, and brands the criminals he catches with his logo so that they can be assaulted in prison. Huh? For the entire 2 hour and 30 minute time span, not a single line of dialogue was used to explain or justify this sudden change in character. A simple “You haven’t been the same since Robin died” from Alfred would have sufficed. Dawn spends a great deal of time with information we already know about Batman (his parents’ murder) but not any time at all to explain what’s different about him and why he’s different.
The titular fight between heroes while great is all too short and the basis of it is rather weak. It all boils down to a simple misunderstanding and poor communication on the part of both parties. Something that is more appropriate for a brief scuffle upon first meeting but not nearly enough to base an entire movie around. For something of this scale and magnitude, both Superman and Batman should have legitimate grievances with one another. Neither of them should be strong armed into this fight.
How the two settle their differences is also very weak. It all boils down to the fact their mothers have the same exact name. That’s it.
Doomsday himself is given very little explanation. Apparently Luthor using a combination of the Genesis Chamber left in the city (Clark, why did you just leave that lying around?), his own blood, and Zod’s corpse, Luthor just magically creates Doomsday. One of Superman’s greatest foes is just treated like an afterthought. And moreover, looks nothing like the actual Doomsday and looks more like a generic monster from a low budget SyFy movie.
To round it off, Dawn decides to do an extremely brief and unearned adaptation of the Death of Superman story-line. Not only is it a strange twist and ineffective death that we all know is not going to stick (Superman had literally came back from getting a nuke in the face minutes earlier), the placement within the story makes no sense. Superman has only been around for 18 months and in that time never really hit it off with Earth’s population. He’s done a few good deeds and acts of heroism but not enough to really earn the endearment of the people it seemed. Now all of a sudden he’s dead and gets huge military funeral from people who all throughout the movie were calling for his head? What?
I imagine for Justice League they might do a Search for Spock angle or when Darkseid shows up and starts hammering everybody, Superman is going to smash out of his coffin and rush off to save his friends, a la Son Goku during the Frieza Saga. Either way it was an unneeded twist and unnecessary lead in for an already crowded movie.
All in all, Dawn of Justice like Amazing Spider-Man 2, Iron Man 2, and Avengers 2: Age of Ultron (noticing a pattern?) just tries to do too much at once at the expense of its characters and plot, the two things that make a shared universe worth watching. There are moments where the characters actually behave like their comic book counterparts but they are far too brief.
It’s great spectacle and the sight of the DC Trinity on the big screen makes it almost worth it but if DC really wants to be a powerhouse in the movie arena, the executives and other big wigs should take a page from Superman’s philosophy and strive for better. A shared universe means nothing if the characters aren’t interesting to watch and the plots are too hammered down by ham fisted foreshadowing and winks to future movies.
Still worth a watch will most likely make money. But more was expected from the two most recognized heroes on the planet.