Note: This is a Spoiler Free! Review of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. If it wasn’t in the trailer (a disappointingly large amount was) or the 1st act, I won’t reference anything too directly. There are so many universe building moments and DC Easter Eggs for a Geek to pour over that I will likely cover in a follow up discussion full of spoilers in the coming days.
How many reviews have you read for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice that were written by someone who has seen it twice? How many reviewers are self proclaimed amateur Batman Scholars? And yet, not so blindly obsessed with the Caped Crusader that he proclaims a ridiculous “20 out of 10! Best Movie Ever!” Well, soon you will have read one such review!
Batman V Superman is not the best superhero movie ever made, in fact, it doesn’t come close, not even cracking my top 10… or likely even top 20 Comic Book based films. Yet, it’s also far from the worse. Neither should be a surprise in today’s world where we have received 2-6 Superhero Films a year since 2002’s Spider-Man.
BvS is both better than I expected, yet still a bit of a visually beautiful mess. After all, Zack Snyder is at the helm; the controversial Director behind a horrible film (Sucker Punch), a fan favorite I hate (300), an incredibly average comic book film (Man of Steel), and another beautiful mess that I have a soft spot for (Watchman). Snyder continues to showcase the same weaknesses (plot, story pacing) and strengths (incredibly rich CGI visuals that truly brings comics to life). Luckily, Snyder has help from writer Chris Terrio who has written Academy Award nominated films like The Town, saving BvS from being the complete train-wreck it could have been.
The opening credits scene is a perfect sampling/representation of the film as a whole.
The movie opens with Martha and Thomas Wayne’s funeral (yes, we’ve seen this before), which flashes back to the Wayne Murder in Crime Alley (something we’ve more than any other Comic Book scene). I went to Batman V Superman with my best friend, a self proclaimed Superman fan, who has watched everything Batman with me from The Dark Knight films, to animated features like Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns, and even TV’s Gotham, in addition to having read countless comics. More than most, this friend has a hatred for the Wayne Murder that pops up in all these stories, especially the once artistically genius choice to showcase Martha’s pearls crashing to the ground; that by this point has become just as repetitive a image as as young Bruce Wayne screaming under the spotlight of a street lamp.When we saw the funeral, and then the flashback to a family walking out of a Zorro film, yet again, we both sighed. Then something amazing happened… Zach Snyder actually presented the scene in a way we’ve never seen it before with an very creative and bold choice. Instead of Joe Chill (the man who murder’s Bruce Wayne’s parents) ripping the necklace off Martha’s neck, he slips his gun against her throat so that the gun’s hammer holds the necklace tight between her neck and the gun. When the gun fires, the hammer recoils, splitting the pearl necklace and dropping the pearls in a very visual pleasing, surprising, and brutal way.
The film as a whole (with one giant exception) offers great visual takes on heroes and action set pieces we’ve seen before (in one case, literally, but that in a later…), much like his Watchman film flawlessly captured what looked like actual panels from a comic book. It’s not just perfect CGI, it’s great choices including a visual tone that doesn’t just feel richer than Man of Steel‘s faded look, but also more true to a comic than Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (visuals and a certain actor being the ONLY way the film tops the now sacred trilogy). The characters, costumes, settings, and action look fantastic from this new take on the “Pearl Scene” to the rained out battle between Superman with a fantastic rendering of the Batman “Battle” suit that’s even better than how Frank Miller was drew it in The Dark Knight Returns.Visually, things do fall apart in the grand finale, where you have a boring flaming backdrop (EVERYTHING is on fire!) and messily animated Heroes literally lunging/flying at each other over football stadium length for epic punches, even when said characters are not known for flying.
Back to the opening scene: though presented in a brand new brilliance, we’ve seen it all before… many, many times. So follows the rest of Batman V Superman; though we’ve never watched Batman fight Superman in live action, we’ve seen all the pieces before. Superman’s scenes don’t feel fresh, which isn’t a terrible crime as this film is direct sequel to Man of Steel. Though he’s never looked so good, we’ve seen Batman in a ridiculous amount of movies. Marvel has already stolen the magic of bringing multiple titans to the same battlefield, and the destruction of the finale may be over red burning ground instead of Man of Steel‘s grey rubble, but really, what’s the difference (besides the not subtle at all lines about how everywhere anyone fights in Gotham or Metropolis is “uninhabited”)?
The 2nd scene, though one of the best in the film (if not the best), is not just a repeated image like the death of the Waynes and the ever present Pearls, but a literal repeat of the Battle of Metropolis from Man of Steel, this time from Bruce Wayne’s (Ben Affleck) perspective. The scene is visceral and real with painful yet effective 9/11 imagery, from Bruce’s race to the Wayne Fiances skyscraper to the building’s collapse and the remaining, living victims. The destruction is more real and seems to be on an even larger scale when we are watching the laser vision of Zod and Superman (Henry Cavill) rip Wayne Fiances to pieces from a far, with the two “Gods” (really Aliens) just specks in a sky flying around giant ships exploding, destroying nearly everything.
It’s not just the visuals that make this stand-out scene so emotional, for the film’s other greatest strength is also essential in saving what could have been boring Batman/Bruce Wayne scenes in any other Batman actor’s hands. I’m of course referring to Ben Affleck, who is indeed the Batman AND Bruce Wayne we have always deserved (no actor has pulled off both sides of the coin so evenly). His brooding and anger are the only real thing in this film (because all those visuals I’ve been praising were manufactured in a computer).Quick props to Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor and Jeremy Irons as the latest Alfred Pennyworth for both not playing their roles conventionally, yet still delivering satisfying versions (especially Jesse Eisenberg!).
Back to the opening of the film: it’s a dream! And this film has an overabundance of dreams/possible visions, from Bruce’s apocalyptic “Knightmare” (get it?) of a world run by a heartless Superman, to Clark Kent seeing Pa Kent (Kevin Costner) in the mountains. These kind of scenes drive the story forward (and even begin to set up the greater universe including the Justice League) in a movie that feels surprisingly slow with so many characters packed in.
A great fear of mine going in was that, not unlike Watchmen (which also had soooo many characters and events to cover) or overstuffed semi-messes like Spider-Man or even Avengers: Age of Ultron, this film would feel rushed, trying to get to the big battle referenced in the title as quickly as possible with little thought and space given to the connective plot tissue.Quite the opposite is true, in fact. The movie is almost too slow, allowing the themes of what it means to be just a man in a God’s world and absolute power corrupting to breath for the 1st two acts. That is, before any theme or reason from earlier in the film is quickly forgotten in favor of “Smashy, Smashy, Punch Time” in the 3rd act.
Are there plot holes? God, yes, but I don’t want to go in so far as to spoil any plot points, nor am I trying to be “Honest Trailers” or “How It Should Have Ended.” Some plot holes and choices do make more sense as a comic fan as they are less of a stretch for someone who has read variations of these stories in the comics. Others are just dumbfounding, but even the Marvel films are guilty of that sin.
One thing The Avengers did pull off that BvS fails at, is giving Batman something to do when fighting a villain meant for the likes of the more powerful Superman and Wonder Woman. While armies of aliens or robots in the two Avengers films gave heroes with no powers (Hawkeye and Black Widow) or limited ones (Captain America) something to fight, Batman runs and stands around more than he fights in the grand finale, waiting for Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot, who is okay, but doesn’t shine) and Superman to do all the real fighting.
So, there you go! A review written by someone who had the chance to put the thoughts generated by not one, but two viewings of Batman V Superman down on (digital) paper.
Is this a Batman V Superman that rivals The Avengers? No. Is it a watchable film that actually makes you excited for the prospect of Justice League: Part One? Absolutely!
The old, classic, Zack Snyder mixed bag.