Spoiler Free Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (dir. Zack Snyder, 2016)
Guest Review by C Cooper
So three years after Man of Steel, and what feels like an eternity after announcing Batman vs Superman, the DC Universe has finally arrived. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this as I was distinctly underwhelmed by MoS and thought The Dark Knight Rises was dreadfully paced, overlong, and incomprehensible at times. I also took a gamble by going with my wife whose only real exposure to Batman was watching me play Arkham Knight on the Xbox, and that Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain were the definitive Lois and Clark. My expectations were pretty low for the film considering the negative press, but I hoped that the overwhelming hostility from critics was based on what they wanted the movie to be rather than how good it actually is. The trailers hadn’t helped much either – could there be anything about the film not actually spoiled? If this seems like an overlong preamble, all I can say is that it is pretty reflective of the movie.
The key point from any review is “is it any good?” and, for example in MoS, there were simply too many flaws for me to enjoy it. Batman v Superman? Well it is a flawed movie, of that there is no doubt, but to my surprise I can live with that. I actually think for a lot of reasons, this is a pretty solid effort. Visually, it is stunning – Snyder has clearly got a good understanding of how to present comic art on the screen. There are times when Frank Miller’s vision simply leaps off the screen and there are several incredible iconic images which will leave fans very satisfied indeed.
In terms of the actors, the standout is Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Every time she’s on the screen you find yourself wanting more and it bodes extremely well for her solo movie. Gadot presents a sophisticated and surprisingly modern Diana Prince and dovetails nicely with Affleck’s Bruce Wayne. These scenes seems do feel a little bit like you’ve been transported to a Brosnan era James Bond film, but it works. It’s as Wonder Woman that Gadot really lights up the screen. The costume is sensational and Gadot radiates danger, skill, and is clearly having a fantastic time.
Affleck’s performance is interesting, his Batman is clearly extremely troubled with all his anger and frustration focussed on Cavill’s Superman. Although Affleck is fully committed to the role, it is strange that his role doesn’t feel more sympathetic. It’s hard to like the character even though it feels very real as it is clear that only a steely determination and focus is preventing a slip into madness. For the first time on screen, I would say the writers have really gotten Batman right. He is meticulously prepared, full of cool gadgets, and extremely dangerous in combat. Best of all, he actually gets to do some detective work. My only criticism is that he is so unhinged that it is hard to ascribe any rationality to any decision he makes in the movie. Perhaps that is intentional but it is hard to tell.
Cavill has definitely grown into the role of Superman compared with MoS. He is far more sympathetic than I was expecting, as I’ve never really found the character that interesting, but for such a long movie, he got surprisingly little screen time. I do worry that with all the negativity surrounding the film that several key scenes with Supes were cut as some plotlines feel rushed and unresolved. Hard to blame Cavill though as you can only really work with what you’ve got. I might possibly be the only person who thinks this, but I really wasn’t taken with Adams’ Lois Lane. She felt like a convenient plot device to drive MoS and was in similar form here. While her chemistry with Cavill was improved compared with MoS, she still just blunders around getting in the way and making things so much harder for the protagonists. Without spoiling the plot at all, her behaviour during the finale was just ludicrous. I found myself wanting to scream at the screen “Just stand still and do nothing you idiot”.
So you have to come to the elephant in the room at some point – Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. I think he is probably the deciding factor on how you feel about the film. I kinda liked it, but admittedly I am not as familiar with the source material as some. His Luthor is quite frankly Bat-shit crazy which to me defuses all criticism that there is no rationale for what he is doing. Who needs logic when you’re mad? While the energy and delivery is classic Eisenberg (classic in the sense of the same as every other one of his movies) it is effective in my eyes if you are prepared to accept that this is not the Luthor of the comics. I hope that future films will provide some explanation of what he’s trying to accomplish but do have a sneaking feeling that there simply wasn’t any long term plan.
So… the faults… Ok, there are quite a few in truth. The pacing is an obvious one. It is strange that a movie which probably tries to cram too many story arcs in is so unevenly paced. Some arcs drag and others are simply skirted over which is frustrating I have a strong suspicion that the director’s cut for the DVD and Blu Ray releases will address that issue, although it is entirely possible that the result will be that all the arcs drag. The music was the weakest part of the film in my view. Much of it felt out of place and jarring and with so many talented composers out there who would have been far better, they just got it wrong. The introduction of other Justice League members was quite underwhelming in truth and was probably unnecessary. I’ve heard and read a lot of good things about the “dream sequence” before and after watching the film. For me it was pointless, crude and mystifying and I absolutely hated it. While it is fine to tease future films, it was the Avengers: Age of Ultron Thor magic bath times ten. Can filmmakers just stop teasing films during movies? If you must do something do a post credits scene. Do not just ruin the pacing of a film for an advert! Rant over….
I must confess, if this were a spoiler filled review, I’d have a lot more to say. Particularly to discuss the resolution of the titular fight as I’m actually quite confident I can defend it (unlike most). So instead, I’d say Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is worth a watch. Not the greatest film ever made, but there was enough there to make me want to watch it again. Don’t worry too much about all the negative reviews, I genuinely think it would have been impossible for it to be acclaimed positively as critics have decided for some reason that the equally flawed Nolan Dark Knight trilogy was perfect and anything else pales by comparison. It’s still some way behind where Marvel is but I can’t deny that it was great to see Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman together kicking ass. Will we ever get a perfect comic book movie from DC? Suicide Squad to me looks like it might be a winner but for now BvS will have to do as a flawed but solid entry in the series.