By Jho (The Netherlands)
The main event is here! Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has finally arrived. Is this the origins of the Justice League? Yes. Is it well executed? Hmmm…not exactly. CAUTION – potential spoilers ahead.
Important notice: This review will assume that you already know the story and who the main stars are. It will not provide a synopsis. It will just dive right into my thoughts and opinions on this movie. On with the show.
I have always been a fan of superheroes. When I was younger, I was always intrigued by how these characters would be translated onto the big screen. The last few years have given me much to be excited about, with Marvel paving the way by creating a universe with connecting films and characters. If DC wants to play catch up, they need a solid game plan.
Batman has always been one that I look forward to watching. When Affleck was cast to take on the Dark Knight, I was interested in what he would bring to the table. For the fans, this was a very controversial choice, after his disastrous Daredevil. It is not the first time it has happened of course. Anyone remember the fierce petitions against Daniel Craig playing a blond James Bond, along with comments like he doesn’t even have a license to drive never mind kill? The lesson here is that meting fan boy demands aren’t necessary best for business. Sam Raimi’s Spiderman 3 anyone?
Superman for me has always been less interesting and the Man of Steel (MoS) film didn’t do anything to help drum up any enthusiasm neither. Cavill displayed little personality in his first performance and his second stint as Superman is more of the same. This is not entirely his fault however, being cast aside to make way for the Dark Knight to steal the show. Affleck’s Batman spews frustration, anger and manifests itself into some of the biggest ass kicking we have ever seen. If you have ever played the Arkham games, you can get a picture of what to expect. Affleck plays the role well as the weary vigilante who has grown tired of taking it easy against his enemies and unleashes some brutal justice (he now brands victims with a bat logo burned into their skins). You get a good sense of Affleck’s physical screen presence both as Bruce Wayne and Batman. He delivers a solid performance and becomes the highlight of the movie.
Jeremy Iron also needs a shout out too. He plays a very good, different and tactical Alfred, becoming the counterbalance to Bruce Wayne’s dark side. Batman would have certainly lost his moral compass if Alfred wasn’t around. The two come off as a couple that have been together for a long time, and with most long term relationships you start to get grouchy with each other. For them, motives, choices and approaches taken by the Dark Knight are the focus of their bickering. Moments between them show good chemistry and Irons injects a minuscule dose of humor in an otherwise overly dark and broody film.
Onto Batman’s new rougher, edgier and brutal approach to crime. He seems to have lost his moral code during his years of fighting. This guy really loves to dish out the hurt! There is no holding back. He is flipping over cars with people inside using his Batmobile, mowing down baddies with his mini gun on the Batwing, punching them so hard their heads slam into floors (seriously), stabbing them….just out for blood without regard to the consequences! I thoroughly enjoyed watching these action scenes take place and they were generally shot well. Snyder has a knack of directing good fight choreography with a nice flow (Batman’s warehouse scene in particular)…with the exception of the final battle when he does a Michael Bay and cranks it up to 11 (more on this later). The excessive violence displayed by Batman felt out of place and oddly out of character (although I can imagine diehard fans would argue that he is not a stranger to these methods – it’s just not the Batman that I know). Most fan boys would probably tell you that if Batman had a choice, he would consider his options carefully before taking someone out permanently. Same applies for Superman too, where early on in the film he blatantly obliterates a guy who holds Lois hostage. With his super speed, surely there was another way of diffusing the situation without the need to liquefy the poor sod through several walls (and, yes, I’m pretty sure that dudes dead).
It was great to see Bruce’s perspective on the events of MoS, the devastation that hit Gotham during Zod’s attack on earth. You see the impact it has on him as it affects his company and the people who work for him. It sets the scene up well in his reasoning’s for wanting to take down Superman. However, it is never built on any further. With the exception a few hate mails he receives (for someone who is supposedly the world’s greatest detective, he sure sucks at figuring out when he is being played) and watching the incident in the Washington Capitol, there isn’t much more that explains or fuels his motives. I felt it deserved way more attention and development, since it was what fans were expecting to see. Instead, the desperation of setting the foundations for future Justice League films takes priority and the main Batman vs. Superman story gets neglected. It is a shame as there was great potential to flesh this out and make it engaging and tense. Clearly a standalone film with just these two was in there somewhere.
Henry Cavill does an ok job. It is pretty much on a par with his MoS performance. A little bland but he is unfortunately a casualty of the focus on Batman. There is a re-occurring theme of lack of clear motives from characters and Superman also falls victim to this. His reasons for wanting to stop the Dark Knights brutal approach to crime are also never really expanded on. You would think he would do some more investigating (he is a journalist after all), especially after discovering his true identity. Instead, it is quickly glossed over with a few articles that he reads, photos received from someone and based on this, decides that Batman is a threat who must be stopped.
Gal Gadot’s portrayal of Wonder Woman was done well. I liked her scenes, especially the soundtrack number that shrieks when she is in action. She did a passable job, although nothing really special but enough to please the fans I’m sure. She has a few scenes in the film but her motives (once again…maybe you want to start taking count of how many times I mention this) are a little muddy. I guess she served her purpose in hyping up the Justice League, but it felt forced and sloppily done. (SPOILER ALERT) Wonder Woman discovering the existence of meta-humans by way of an e-mail is pretty lame. And who the hell in Lex Corp felt was so important to create logos for each of them?).
Amy Adams delivered the emotional side of the story but she felt sidelined, as if they didn’t know how to make Lois Lane’s role relevant to the story aside from being the love interest. A shame as Amy is a good actress, but she was clearly underused and added little to the narrative. To make up for this, it felt like they tacked on a (SPOILER ALERT) dream sequence with, who we assume is, the Flash delivering a message to Bruce Wayne to emphasize her potential key role in future films. Unfortunately for this time round she was creatively wasted.
There are a lot of haters of Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor! I was really expecting to dislike him, but he was surprisingly not as annoying as I had expected (and I am probably in the minority here). It was a little irritating to watch his twitchiness and high pitched voice delivering some balls out weird lines. For me, he was just too odd for my taste. His motives were (again) really unclear and too underdeveloped. I struggle to remember scenes that tried to explain why he holds such a grudge against Superman. Are we supposed to just accept his reasons for wanting to kill Superman and also deciding Batman needs to be eliminated too because, why not? He also wears a cape so he automatically gets added onto his hate list!! One thing the film wants you have, is a sense that he is an evil super manipulative genius. His oddness unfortunately overshadows this and you are never left convinced that he is able to conceive a cunning plan to pit the two titans against each other. For a film of this caliber, it is important to have a good villain, but what is left is an underwhelming, zany and wiggy performance.
The main fight everyone was looking forward to was executed well, if too brief. As quickly as it starts, Batman has a change of heart (very, very unconvincingly) and they are buddy buddies not long after. It will be of no surprise to those who previously watched the trailer. It is a memorable scene but leaves you wanting more. Then you are introduced to Doomsday (i.e. the cave troll from Lord Of The Rings). Doomsday felt like he was added on at the last minute just so Snyder had a reason to overdose on CGI. This is where the contrast differs significantly between the two halves of the film. Like MoS, it cranks up the special effects and action to the point where becomes hollow flash and bang, without any physicality, weight or excitement. I was never a fan of the second half of MoS and watching this made me realize that Snyder didn’t learn from his mistakes. It leaves you asking yourself why he didn’t just focus his energies on making a great (and longer) BvS fight.
The pacing and narrative is off in this two and a half hour film. It is slow off the blocks and (of all things) begins with the origin story of Bruce Wayne. Did they need to tell this again? You would think that the majority of the viewers would know this already right? This is almost foreshadowing the dominant character of the movie, at the expense of poor Cavill. The first half tries to map out the story, but gets distracted by too many other elements fighting for the spotlight. What you end up is a disappointing mish mash of ideas shoehorned into the story and leaving you satisfied with none. There are scenes which appear and are then casually forgotten about. We have (SPOILER ALERTS) Lois in the desert investigating something (which ends up being kind of pointless in the end), Superman being framed for murders, something about Scoot McNairy’s character losing his legs and wanting revenge, a political slant on whether Superman should be held responsible for his actions during MoS and is then never really mentioned again, Lex Luthor taking control of the Kryptonian ship where Doomsday is created etc. There are so many fragments here that it becomes convoluted and Snyder ends up struggling to keep it all afloat. You can’t help but get a deja vu feeling of The Amazing Spiderman 2 all over again.
I come off as a big hater. The truth is, it is just so easy to pick faults and plot holes. I really wanted this to do well. Despite the colossal mess, I did enjoy the film and it was enough to keep me entertained. The overall feeling I had was that it was a missed opportunity in making this great instead of average. It does injustice to its fans that deserved a more coherent film. I still don’t think Snyder is the best man for the job as he doesn’t fully understand the characters he is directing. Mark Kermode, the famous BBC critic, does an impression of the director where he mockingly puts on a silly voice and says “It’s all about the costumes”. Over the top, but I get where he is coming from. Snyder makes good looking films, but at the expense of telling the story properly. It is a missed opportunity due to DC’s attempt to sprint before it can take baby steps. Future Justice League films could end up being great, but it doesn’t change the fact that this is the film that launched their debut, and it was a seriously disjointed attempt. Would I recommend this still? Yes, I would. There is enough here for fans to enjoy. But you will come out of it unsatisfied and with a gnawing feeling this should have been much better.