A Droid Premiere: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
It feels like this movie has taken forever to get to the big screen. I vaguely remember Wolgang Petersen being attached at one point in the early 2000’s. This was before ‘Superman Returns’. Before ‘Batman Begins’. And then there was that Times Square billboard in ‘I Am Legend’, teasing the possibility that the two most famous superheroes of all time would one day go toe to toe for our viewing pleasure.
‘Man of Steel’ was released in 2013, and went on to become a big, but not massive, hit. It also proved to be divisive, with a portion of the audience dissatisfied with the enormous destruction during the films finale. Others were justifiably disappointed that there weren’t more scenes with Rusty riding space dragons. But with the DC brain-trust eyeing off Marvel’s money making machine/shared universe, DC decided to alter course from the originally planned ‘Man of Steel’ sequel, instead deciding that the best (ie. most profitable) way forward would be launching DC’s equivalent to the Avengers. ‘Man of Steel 2’ morphed into ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’, which introduces as many of DC superhero’s as humanly possible all at once. While Marvel have had the luck to play the long game, DC are going all in hoping to hit paydirt.
18 months after the devastation in Metropolis which saw buildings tumble and thousands perish, Superman is worshipped by most of the world. Most, but not all. Across the bay in the sister city of Gotham, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is boiling with rage. Wayne Tower in Metropolis was one of those tumbling buildings, and the human cost of the destruction has led to Bruce unretiring the Batsuit and upping the ante on the brutality. He’s taken to branding his victims before handing them over to authorities. Once in prison, a Batman brand is essentially a death sentence. Taking umbrage with these methods is bespectacled Daily Planet reporter Clarke Kent (Henry Cavill), who has the unpopular view that Bats should probably dial it back a notch.
Back in Metropolis, Alexander Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is cooking up a showdown of epic proportions. None too pleased with an alien with god like powers livin’ it up under the yellow sun, he’s taken it upon himself to draw Bats into a royal rumble with Supes. He manipulates his way into gaining access to Zod’s crashed ship, collects kryptonite fragments from the Indian Ocean, manages a death squad, researches meta humans and generally talks and acts like a total creep. At one point he insists on feeding a piece of candy to the guy granting him access to Zod’s ship. It’s weird.
When Plan A, manipulating the fight between Bats and Supes, doesn’t yield for Lex the desired results, Plan B is thrust into action. Except that Plan B would have been inevitable since it was developed concurrently with Plan A. Either way, Doomsday is unleashed and does battle to the death with the now united Bats and Supes, as well as Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). The holy trinity of DC comics on the big screen together for the very first time. Should be a home run, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not. Which is really a pretty big disappointment, because the pieces are in place here for a great movie. Ben Affleck is very good as Batman. His Bats is skilled, imposing, and brutal. Incredibly brutal. Which is also one of the films problems. As far as my knowledge of Batman goes (a couple of comics, the movies and the Arkham games), he doesn’t kill. However, this Bats leaves a lengthy and bloody trail of bodies in his wake. It feels against character, and makes him difficult to root for. As Bruce Wayne, Affleck isn’t allowed a lot of breathing room. He’s filled with rage for the majority of the film, and there’s little in the way of levity to lighten up proceedings. There’s a longer scene at Lex’s party, but even then Bruce is all business.
As Batman is such a dark, merciless character in this film, you tend to root for Supes. Henry Cavill is given a bit more of an opportunity to show some emotions other than rage and fury, and his scenes with Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) help humanise the film. Both Adams and Lane are welcome presences in a very testosterone heavy, overly serious movie. As for Lex Luthor, well he’s a pretty terrible character. He’s weird, irritating, and aggravating, and never really comes across as incredibly smart. But the biggest problem with the character is that he’s clearly a nutjob. Jesse Eisenberg’s performance, complete with rapid delivery, exaggerated ticks and mannerisms, only compounds the dismal failings of the character. It’s a fundamental misconception of the character.
This is Zack Snyder’s second crack at a DC movie, and for the first two thirds of the movie he does a pretty decent job. The showdown between Bats and Supes is good overall, and the standout action sequence of the movie is Batman taking down a room full of armed baddies (as seen in the last trailer). The action in these two sequences is pretty straightforward, well-staged and satisfyingly entertaining. But trying to juggle the holy trinity, plus Lois as well as Doomsday seems to be too much for him. The last act is a confusingly edited bukake of visual effects. Every shot is lashed by streams of electricity, clouded in smoke and dust, battered by flying debris, and blasted by CG characters hurtling themselves towards each other. Zack Snyder has declared all-out war on your retinas.
The first half of the movie also features numerous dream sequences, including the old faithful dream within a dream. There is really no reason for these to be in the movie. The major one, which contains imagery familiar to funny book fans, serves little purpose and only really confuses the average viewer. You can argue that it further establishes Batman’s fear of Superman’s immense power, demonstrating his point of view, but we’ve gotten that information already so it’s unnecessary and unwanted. There are far too many moving parts in this film, including Holly Hunter’s Senator and Jeremy Irons’ Alfred, and the story needed to be streamlined instead of expanded. I mentioned the dream within a dream, and I won’t reveal anything in detail about it, but it’s truly baffling and it’s something that I have to assume will be explained/pay off/make sense in a future film.
Which is a nice segway into my next point. Whereas Marvel had the opportunity to layer in little nuggets of information and foreshadowing in the post credits scenes of their 16,843 (so far) films, it feels like ‘BvS’ wants to stuff it all in this one movie. Hence you get the aforementioned dream sequences, as well the meta-human research which is handled in an astonishingly clunky and forced way. Not to mention the fact that a film with Batman duking it out with Superman STILL needs to accommodate the introduction of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. The character’s not given a lot to do. She’s in Metropolis because of the research Lex was conducting, and that’s about it. She pops up here and there, mainly to flirt with Bruce, and then shows up in the jam-packed finale. This is not to say Gadot doesn’t make a decent Wonder Woman. She does enough to make me curious for the standalone. It’s just that, like a lot of the film, she’s crowding the main story between Bats and Supes.
And then there’s Doomsday. While I realise you need a big threat when you’ve gathered these three together, there’s simply little interest in a fight with an enormous, roaring, hideous “unkillable” monster. If you think of all the best villains in film, it’s normally because they’re good characters first, and played by a good actor second. The Joker, Hans Gruber, Norman Bates, Harry Powell, Bruce the Shark. To name just a few. All great. Whoever thought Doomsday was a good idea needs to have a good hard look at themselves.
‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ is a real disappointment. There’s enough that works, enough to like, to make it worth checking out, but it’s also a huge missed opportunity. During the couple of scenes where it’s at its best, it’s very good. But DC and Zack Snyder have stuffed the movie to the gills in an attempt to catch up to Marvel. From this evidence, I don’t think Marvel has anything to worry about.
I hereby bestow ‘BvS: DoJ’ with 2 confused looking superheroes out of a possible 4.