WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS
Set 18 months after the events of Man of Steel, the world remains divided on whether or not Superman (Henry Cavill) is a hero or a threat. Haunted by the destruction of Metropolis and the loss of countless lives, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) fears that Superman could turn against them and prepares to stop him. Unbeknownst to them, a sinister figure manipulates events from the shadows that lead the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel on a collision course, seeking to destroy both heroes in one swift stroke.
As a comic book fan, the prospect of having Batman and Superman share the screen in live action has been a long time coming. Over the years, fans have been treated with Batman/Superman team-ups, but only through the various animated TV series. When it came to live action, there have been numerous attempts to get the two on screen, including several film pitches within the last decade, but nothing ever got past the production stage. The most noteworthy attempt was on Smallville during the show’s 2nd and 3rd seasons. Showrunners Alfred Gough and Miles Millar wanted to bring in a teenage Bruce Wayne as a romantic interest for Lana Lang, but Warner Bros’ desire for a new Batman film (which resulted in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins) restricted the use of its related characters, resulting in a new character named Adam Knight, who despite having a name referencing 1960’s Batman Adam West and Batman’s title as The Dark Knight, was not connected to Batman in any way, shape or form. Smallville would eventually introduce Batman to its universe, but only through the Season 11 comic book series.
So, here we are in 2016 and we finally have Batman and Superman sharing the screen in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. As a fan, was it the ideal story I wanted? Did I think it was the greatest comic book movie of all time? Did the film deliver on entertaining me? Did it fulfill a comic book fan’s dream of seeing two epic heroes on the same screen?
The main story takes place 18 months after the Battle of Metropolis, which saw the city devastated by the destructive battle between Superman and General Zod. In the time that’s passed, Metropolis has managed to re-build, but Superman’s become a topic of debate. Many people consider him as Earth’s hero, a godlike being to save them all, while others, including former Wayne Enterprises employee Wallace Keefe (Scoot McNairy), blame Superman for the city’s destruction and tragic loss of life. A victim of amputated legs from the disaster, Keefe goes as far as to refer to Superman as a “false god.” The Superman debate is enough to get the attention of Batman/Bruce Wayne, who remains haunted by the loss of lives at Wayne Enterprises during the battle. Bruce has constant nightmares of another invasion on Earth, one with far more dire consequences than the Sword of Rao, General Zod’s Kryptonian army. Rather than risk the chance of Superman turning on humanity, he takes the mantle of responsibility to stop the threat before it could occur. It sets up for a showdown between both iconic heroes, but when a far more serious threat emerges, both have to work together to protect humanity.
The film’s plot isn’t without some minor plot holes and vague moments, although they weren’t enough to derail the film. There have been interviews that several scenes were cut from the theatrical release, including scenes involving Jena Malone as Barbara Gordon and a critical scene with Lex Luthor experiencing the same nightmare/vision that Bruce experienced (which has since been posted on YouTube). We can hope that those vague details will be better filled when Ultimate Cut DVD/Blu-Ray comes out in July, which will restore those scenes into the film and potentially address some unresolved questions. Hopefully the Ultimate Cut, or perhaps information that’s withheld for future films, will provide some answers, but as for the theatrical release we’re given, the plot is still a great follow-up to Man of Steel.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice draws heavy inspiration from iconic DC Comic stories such as 1986’s The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller and 1992’s The Death of Superman story arc, which introduced Doomsday. The merging of the two stories didn’t result in a perfect fit, but Batman v Superman manages to balance it enough to not go completely over the top. The film manages to pack a lot in, but not let it get too out of hand, which was the downfall of another superhero film, The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Batman v Superman manages to hold back enough, but still pulls off an immensely satisfying and appealing movie for longtime DC fans that have been dying to see big screen adaptions of those iconic stories.
Zack Snyder returns to the directing chair and takes a bit of a different approach to the sequel. While he still has his signature zoom-in style that carries over from Man of Steel, the color in the film isn’t as bland and he strays away from the hand-held shaky camera, helping to keep the action sequences more focused and making the fight between Batman and Superman a thrill to watch. Although there are more scenes shot in a night-time setting, it’s still bright enough that you can see the action without missing anything. Despite the filming changes, Snyder continues to be criticized for his direction of the films, with both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman constantly being compared to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, Christopher Nolan’s Trilogy and Richard Donner’s original Superman film. Like I stated in my Man of Steel review, based on what I’ve seen of Snyder’s work in Watchmen and 300, I believe Snyder stays true to the source material and puts considerable effort into the story, the visuals he creates, and most importantly, the cast.
The performance of the cast has been relatively ignored by critics and is something to be appreciated. Henry Cavill continues his under-appreciated performance as Clark Kent/Superman. Superman has grown as a hero in the time between films, doing everything he can to make a difference in the world. In Man of Steel, Clark struggled with figuring out his place in the world, and when the threat of General Zod and the Sword of Rao to Earth, Clark was faced with embracing his destiny as a hero. In Batman v Superman, we’ve seen the growth, but we also see his internal conflict with his role as a hero. Throughout the film, Superman finds himself questioning motives and actions, and it takes a toll on him, something we haven’t seen in a Superman movie to date. Although he knows he’s an outsider, he’d do anything to protect his adopted planet and the two most important women in his life: his mother, Martha (Diane Lane) and Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Unlike Man of Steel, Clark has the support of Lois to remind him that despite all his special abilities, he’s just as human as the rest of us. Lois and Martha were great anchors for Superman, with their support helping Clark navigate through a tough time for Superman.
I found myself really appreciating Lawrence Fishburne, who has more screen presence as Perry White than he did in Man of Steel. With the film’s serious tone, I saw his portrayal of Perry in a comic relief role, although nowhere near as comedic as Jackie Cooper‘s portrayal from the Christopher Reeve films. Fishburne’s portrayal maintains the tough as nails editor that is displeased when his reporters aren’t doing their assigned tasks, but his sarcasm and witty remarks helps to lighten the tone of the film.
Ben Affleck finally makes his debut as Bruce Wayne/Batman, nearly three years after the Internet became outraged over his casting. I defended his casting from Day 1, feeling that Affleck had the capability to do justice to the role based on his performances in Hollywoodland, Argo, and The Town. He had big Vessi waterproof shoes to fill from Christian Bale’s take on the character, but I felt Affleck was more than capable of playing the role well – and he did just that. Affleck’s portrayal is vastly different than what we’ve seen in the past, playing a darker, weary, and older Bruce Wayne. His Batman is more violent and darker than previous interpretations, going as far as to kill. His actions are a result of the toll and emotional drain of being a vigilante for 20 years and seeing little to no progress made after all that time. While it’s understandable that the toll may affect his stance on killing, this may not sit well with the enraged fanboys, who like to point out Batman’s no-kill policy. However, I’d like to point out that Michael Keaton’s Batman killed people in the 1989 and 1992 films, so this isn’t anything new.
In addition to being haunted by the events of the Battle of Metropolis, Bruce finds the motivation in past failures to keep going. His sidekick, Robin, was presumably killed by The Joker. As a reminder and motivation for him to continue his vigilante activities, Bruce keeps damaged and graffiti covered suit is displayed in a glass case next to the Batsuit. One of my praises for Affleck’s portrayal is that we can see and hear the growth in his voice during the course film, as evidenced in the battle against Doomsday. By the end, he’s determined to gather meta humans like Wonder Woman and unite them against potential threats to Earth, evolving from an isolated and angry vigilante to a more heroic individual that is open to working with others in order to protect humanity. I felt like Affleck fit this role perfectly; although Christian Bale is still my favorite Batman portrayal. I kept an open mind with Affleck’s portrayal and I feel that he’s a worthy successor in wearing the Batman cowl.
I also have to point out that Affleck’s Batsuit is by far my favorite Batsuit out of all the Batman films to date. Instead of the full-on black armor shown in previous films, this suit is grey and made out of a cloth-like Kevlar material, looking like a panel out of the comics has come to life. His Batman also makes use of a microphone in the throat area of his cowl, which causes the deep and indistinguishable voice. I really liked this addition to the Batsuit; and I think it is a practical idea for Bruce to protect his identity, considering his highly intelligent foes such as The Penguin and Hugo Strange. I also found it much more intimidating sounding than Christian Bale’s laryngitis sounding voice.
Jeremy Irons becomes the latest actor to take on the role of Alfred Pennyworth, but takes on the role in a different way and performs exceptionally well. While he is still a servant of the Wayne family, this version of Alfred, while formal, is more tech-savy than previous interpretations. Alfred goes as far as to upgrade and build new gadgets to help Bruce increase his performance as Batman, helping to compensate for Bruce’s age. He also serves as the voice of reason to Bruce, trying to convince him that Superman is not the enemy.
One of the more unusual castings was Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. Eisenberg plays a vastly different version of Lex than we’ve been accustomed to. For starters, this Lex is the son of Alexander Luthor Sr., the founder of LexCorp. This younger version Lex doesn’t come close to the portrayals by Kevin Spacey, Gene Hackman, John Shea, or Michael Rosenbaum, but he plays evil in a different way. He’s more than just the intelligent, scheming bad guy who uses power and intimidation to get his way. In fact, Eisenberg’s version of Lex appears as a shaggy haired, scrawny and non-threatening individual. But there’s more than meets the eye: he’s neurotic, eccentric, and a master at manipulation. He manages to make his presence felt on just about every character in the film, and it shows throughout. Eisenberg’s performance may not appeal to people who prefer Rosenbaum’s Lex, or even Hackman’s portrayal, but he pulls off evil in his own twisted and psychological way. He’s a fascinating character and nearly steals the show away from Batman and Superman.
However, the show-stealing role belongs to Gal Gadot, who brings Diana Prince/Wonder Woman to life on the big screen for the very first time. Although her role is limited, her presence is felt immediately. Her involvement during the climactic battle was something I’ve been dying to see outside of the comics and we finally got to see her battle as a warrior rather than simply tossing bad guys and deflecting bullets off her bracelets that we’ve been accustomed to seeing from the 70’s television series. Her mysterious presence in the movie leaves a number questions and high interest of her character, providing a great set-up to the Wonder Woman origin film that will be released next summer.
In the visual effects department, Batman v Superman is much improved in comparison to Man of Steel. While the movie still relies on a good amount of CGI, it looks much better than it did three years ago. The highlight of the film was the battle with a CGI Doomsday, which, while not perfect, resembles his comic book counterpart much more faithfully than the prosthetic makeup Doomsday portrayed in Season 8 of Smallville. This Doomsday is much more menacing and dangerous, and while he has some minor power differences from his comic book counterpart, it’s a much more faithful adaption both visually and in portrayal.
Hans Zimmer returns to compose the soundtrack, but this time it’s a collaboration with Junkie XL, who recently did the Deadpool soundtrack. Zimmer’s score for Man of Steel, while great, didn’t take that many risks from his earlier work on Nolan’s Batman films. With the added flare from Junkie XL, this soundtrack resulted in one of the most exciting soundtracks in a superhero film in quite some time. All three themes for each hero have their own distinct sound, but Wonder Woman’s theme gave me a mixture of chills and excitement all at once. I enjoyed the movie’s score so much, I actually purchase the Deluxe Edition soundtrack hours after seeing the movie. I trulyhope Zimmer and Junkie XL will work together again on the Justice League soundtrack, which could be absolutely phenomenal.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is far from perfect, but it’s certainly better than the negative reviews the critics have given it. I can’t help but wonder if the critics even watched the same movie as I did, let alone bothered to read the source material. I also found criticisms such as “too much action” and “not fun” highly questionable. Superman Returns was more beloved by the critics (not so much the audiences), but was criticized for lack of action. Now, we’ve had two films with Superman involved in plenty of action, and it’s “too much”? It comes off as a bit hypocritical. As for it being “not fun,” it sounds the critics simply copy and pasted their problems with Man of Steel into their reviews. It’s been established years ago that DC’s movies are influenced by Nolan’s Batman trilogy, which mean the tones of the films will be more serious and contain subtle moments of humor. This is not new information, so to act surprised as to how dark the film was is just ignorant. Dawn of Justice was made for entertainment and specifically for the DC Comics fans. If you can’t allow yourself to be entertained, then what’s the point of going to a movie?
Those are my thoughts on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as a non-conventional film reviewer. But how did I feel as a comic book fan? Was it the ideal Batman/Superman movie I wanted?
Did I think it was the greatest comic book movie of all time?
Did the film deliver on entertaining me? Did it fulfill a comic book fan’s dream of seeing two epic heroes on the same screen? Did it leave me with excitement for future DC Films?
You’re damn right it did.
Grade: 4 out of 5