Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), PG-13, 151 minutes - In preparation for this film, I revisited 2013's Man of Steel last week. I remember having enjoyed that film for the most part, but I had not re-watched it since I saw it in theaters three years ago. As I gave it a second viewing, I realized that what I was watching wasn't the Christopher Reeve Superman that I grew up with, or even the Superman man that I knew from the comics. This Superman, while having saved people here and there, had been avoiding the public eye and didn't fully grasp the extent of his powers or have full control of them. As he was battling Zod, he was thrown into the fire and had to mature on the field of battle.  Realizing that, the destruction of Smallville and Metropolis in the film was still devastating but was more understandable and not as out of character as I had originally believed it to have been. That's not to say that there weren't other issues with the film, but once I wrapped my brain around the idea of not trying to force Man of Steel into the mold of what I knew and expected Superman to be, I actually enjoyed that film in its own right.

Now I realize that this was a bit of a clunky way to begin this review, but it informs what I'm about to say about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  I enjoyed it.  I'm not head over heals for it and I don't hate it. I was entertained for the entirety of its two and a half hour run time. Like its predecessor, the film has some issues. There are plot holes (some more glaring than others) and as I touched on earlier, these are not the versions of these characters that I grew up with. They are different. And that's ok.

As most of you probably already know, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the direct sequel to Man of Steel and is also Zack Snyder's springboard to the rest of the expanding DC Cinematic Universe (DCCU). The film opens eighteen months ago, reliving the final battle from Man of Steel with a twist: this time it is seen from Bruce Wayne's (Ben Affleck) point of view. He rushes into a crumbling Metropolis as the battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) and Zod (Michael Shannon) devastates the city, including the destruction of the high rise that housed Wayne Financial, killing many employees. This experience of loss forms Wayne's opinion of Superman: that he is too powerful and needs to be held accountable. The film then jumps to the present, where public opinion is split between whether Superman is a hero that should be accepted or if he's a dangerous threat. This is were the plot gets a little convoluted. The short version is that Batman and Superman literally come to blows thanks to Lex Luthor's (Jesse Eisenberg) manipulations. After a battle worthy of the name of the film, they realize that things are not as they seem and that Luthor is the actual threat and then join forces to thwart Luthor's plans. We also see the introduction of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to the DCCU, along with Doomsday and future Justice League members Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher).

While the story has some weak spots, the cast is actually quite strong for the most part. Henry Cavill continues to be a very good Superman. This time around we get to see him split time between being the Man of Steel and his alter ego Clark Kent (something that didn't pop up until the very end of the 2013 film). And for all of the negative reaction to Ben Affleck's being cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman, he's one of the best parts of the film. His Batman is an older, heavily experienced Batman based on Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight from 1986. Amy Adams continues to be a great embodiment of Lois Lane although I wish she had been given more to do in this film worthy of her abilities. Lois is basically relegated to damsel in distress in this film which is unfortunate. I did really enjoy that we finally see a big screen version of Lex Luthor who is conniving and manipulative and not just obsessed with real estate, but I was a bit underwhelmed with Eisenberg in the roll. His Lex was unbalanced and even flighty at times, which seemed to undermine his more brilliant 'smartest man in the room' moments.  I also wasn't terribly impressed with Jeremy Irons' Alfred either, which pains me to say because he's a great actor.  In my opinion, the best part of the entire film was Gal Gadot's Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. She steals every scene in which she appears, including her participation in the stand off with Doomsday. I'm now even more excited for her solo film next year than I was before.

My biggest fear prior to this film being released was that it was going to be too cramped, that in the attempt to get their own connected cinematic universe off the ground, that DC and Warner Brothers would overload this film in an effort to play 'catch up' with what Marvel has accomplished with their films. I will say that it is more coherent than I had originally feared it to be, but it is a very busy film which leads to the story line problems that do exist. The overall perception of the film seems to be negative despite its cashing in the largest March box office opening ever. Friends that I've talked to seem to be fairly evenly split. Some love it. Some think it's garbage. I fall somewhere in the middle. Batman v Superman is entertaining but has its flaws.  If I can remove myself from comparing it to Christopher Reeve or Michael Keaton (who I consider 'my' Superman and Batman respectively), I can enjoy it for what it is: a film that gives us a classic comic book style showdown between two classic heroes. If you liked Man of Steel, you'll enjoy this film as it is more of the same.  If not, don't waste your time.  Now that DC/WB have begun this phase of expansion to their cinematic universe, I am hopeful that the solo and team films to come aren't quite as dense and are more easily followed and enjoyable as a result.












*****SPOILERS*****

- I loved the inclusion of Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman but, honest question here, can anyone tell me why she was in the film? She 'borrows' the data that Bruce steals from Lex but wasn't even aware of the file including her and the other meta humans until Bruce sent it to her via e-mail. She was then skipping town completely until seeing Doomsday's destruction on the news. So as much as I enjoyed her part in the film, I can't figure out what her motivations actually were (other than surveilling Luthor for some reason). Was the sole purpose of her inclusion in the film to introduce her prior to her stand alone film in 2017?  Even if that's all it was, I geeked out when she used her bracelets/gauntlets to deflect Doomsday's attack and again when she broke out the Lasso of Truth!

- I grew up with Lynda Carter as 'my' Wonder Woman, but I felt that in this small tease of the character, Gal Gadot was worthy of the mantle.

- Bruce has a dream/vision of a giant Omega symbol in a desolate area outside of a ruined city. He also sees himself shooting and fighting men while being swarmed by what appear to be Parademons. My DC comic knowledge isn't as vast as that of Marvel, but I think these are signs pointing to the coming of Darkseid.

- Speaking of Batman shooting people...did this only occur in his vision or did he shoot someone at another point in the film?  Batman has long been anti-gun, and I've seen this point raised online as being out of character, but I only remember him doing it in his dream...making it acceptable in my book as it wasn't reality.  *UPDATE - I have been reminded that Batman shoots multiple men while rescuing Martha Kent.  Yeah, this definitely isn't the Batman I grew up with. Not sure how OK with that I am...

- In the same dream/vision sequence, Bruce finds himself taken prisoner by the forces of Superman and is unmasked by the Man of Steel himself. This is clearly influenced by his feelings towards Superman's being a destructive force from early in the film.

- Bruce's dream/vision is interrupted by someone in red warning him of something. It appears to be The Flash. Is this, along with the Omega symbol and Parademons, a sign of a 'Crisis on Infinite Earths'-like story?  If it was a vision not a dream, since when does Batman have visions?  It was hard to tell exactly what was going on as he appeared to wake up twice?

- I have never before made the connection that both Batman's and Superman's mothers were named Martha. Not sure how I missed that!

- At the beginning of the film, as Bruce is racing into Metropolis, he's speaking to a man on the phone.  I could have sworn he called him 'dad' multiple times, but then later in the film he tells Alfred 'I'm now older than my father lived to be'.  So it couldn't have been Thomas Wayne right?  What was he saying on the phone that sounded like 'dad'?  Anyone know?

- I liked that other than a quick glimpse of the death of Bruce's parents to help set up the connection he had with Superman over their mother's that we didn't get another full-on origin story for Batman. Pretty much everyone knows it already from the previous on-film incarnations of the character.

- I wish we had seen more of Luthor's interaction with the Kryptonian vessel. He gains access and then he's performing mad science turning Zod into Doomsday. I know he told the ship to 'tell him everything' but that seemed like a bit of a leap. Despite that, I did like the connection between Zod and Doomsday (which didn't exist in the comics).

- Even in the middle of a battle with Doomsday, Superman drops everything to go save Lois. I understand that they are trying to show us his evolution into the hero we all know and want him to be, but considering that this film takes place a year and a half after the events of Man of Steel, I'd like to think that he would have already matured beyond putting her safety above and beyond the safety of an entire city.

- Just as he begins to show maturity in his actions - getting the Kryptonite spear and, despite its effects on him, flying it head on into Doomsday - he dies in that final altercation.  Which was a little surprising to me that just two movies into the DCCU that they have already played the 'Death of Superman' card. One can only assume that he will be brought back during one or both of the upcoming Justice League films. 

- Comic book story lines that I recognized as having parts or elements adapted in this film:
  • 'Batman: The Dark Knight' (1986) by Frank Miller
  • 'Death of Superman' (1993) by Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson, and Roger Stern
  • Possibly 'Crisis on Infinite Earths' (1985) by Marv Wolfman and George Perez 
 
- *UPDATE - I missed this in the credits, but it has been brought to my attention that this is the first time (in film at least) that Bill Finger is credited as being a co-creator of Batman.

- Still no Jimmy Olsen in the DCCU.  I am about convinced that Jenny at the Daily Planet is an analog for him. *UPDATE - I missed it myself, but have been informed by a handful of others that Jimmy Olsen does appear in this film.  He was played by Michael Cassidy and I'm told he was one of the undercover CIA Agents that was with Lois Lane in the desert towards the beginning of the film (and gets killed).

- I liked the various ways that Batman weaponized the Kryptonite in preparation for his battle with Superman.  It illustrated his need to have a solution to any member of the Justice League going rogue (in the comics).

- I also liked that the cameos by Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg were the short video clips in the files stolen from Luthor. I wondered how on Earth they were going to work in so many characters without making too much of a mess. I thought introducing them in this way worked pretty well.

- Along with the Wonder Woman solo film next year, I am really looking forward to the Aquaman film coming in 2018. Partially because I have enjoyed recent stories of his from the comics (beginning with Geoff Johns' run in 2011), and partially because it is scheduled to be directed by James Wan. I'm intrigued by a noted horror director taking on the King of Atlantis.

- Justice League Part 1 is currently slated for 2017, with Part 2 due in 2019. 

- As much as I love The Flash, I'm actually not all that excited about his solo film (also scheduled for 2018). I know that DC has set things up to be playing out in the multi-verse, separating their television and theatrical universes , but I really, really, love Grant Gustin's Barry Allen from The Flash on the CW. The DCCU Flash is supposedly also going to be Barry Allen but will instead be played by Ezra Miller. Nothing against Ezra Miller, I'm not familiar with him at all.  I just know that I'm going to have a hard time accepting a different Flash.

- I don't have much connection to Cyborg from my comic reading history (I've never been a big Teen Titans guy), so at this point in time I'm kind of indifferent in regards his solo movie (not due until 2020).

- Bruce's parents were played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Thomas Wayne) and Lauren Cohen (Martha Wayne)

- Were there any other comic related Easter Eggs that you caught?  Let me know!  I'm curious since I'm not as familiar with the history of these characters as I am with those from Marvel.

Comments

  1. I didn't see him, but the credits did list an actor as Jimmy Olsen, so he's in there for at least a moment.

    I'd have resolved the Flash issue by using another character instead, with Green Lantern or Martian Manhunter as obvious possibilities. It would be a smart move on DC's part to leave the door open to tying the TV and film universes together at some point down the road. Of course, since we've already seen multiple dimensions on The Flash television series, it might not be that tough to tie them together anyway.

    I'd say there's little doubt that they are laying groundwork for Darkseid as the main villain in the JL movie(s).

    I thought most of the dialog was good for Luthor, but Jesse Eisenberg's performance was wretched. I'll be amazed if he doesn't get a Razzy.

    And yeah, I'm pretty much 100% certain that Superman returning will be a core plot point for Justice League.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've updated the spoiler section to reflect Jimmy Olsen actually appearing. You and a couple others pointed that out. I missed it completely, so thanks!

      I agree that Luthor was well written, but that the performance was very inconsistent. There were times when I thought 'yeah, that's the guy I know' but most of the time it just felt off.

      Thanks for checking out the blog!

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