Poised on the brink of an immersive and expansive mega-franchise cinematic playground, DC and Warner Bros. offered up a film to introduce audiences to their very own “DC Extended Universe.” Or at least they tried…I think… Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a mess. It’s just all over the place. One of the best ways I’ve heard this film described was by internet personality Angry Joe: “I hate this movie! I love this movie!” Believe it or not, I started writing this review three days ago but was never satisfied with its representation of the product. Actually, that’s a fantastic title for the style of this film – a product. It reeks of desperation from studio executives who want to hurry up and cash in on their own version of Marvel’s The Avengers before the superhero movie saturation bubble bursts. Simultaneously it feels incredibly creative and satisfying. Read on for my spoiler-free in-depth look.
Ok, so let’s point out the biggest problem with this film, the storytelling. DC has two major fears that may have impacted this: they don’t want to be compared to Marvel and they want to cash in while superheroes are immensely popular at the box office. As such, what is billed as a “Batman vs. Superman” movie really feels like they took five different movies and mercilessly threw them into a blender. Contained within the two-and-a-half hour runtime are “Man of Steel 2,” “Batman 1,” “Lex Luthor: The Movie,” “Batman vs. Superman,” and (perhaps the most forced) “Dawn of the Justice League.” Each of these sub-films with the exception of “Lex Luthor: The Movie” made me very excited to see a full version, but DC and Warner Bros. are desperately trying to get to the upcoming Justice League Part One as fast as possible. As such, we skip over establishing solo films for Batman and Wonder Woman – two key players in this film – to try and set up some notably shoddy motivations for building the Justice League. Honestly, “motivations” is perhaps the keyword for what DC seems to be doing wrong. Dawn of Justice could very well have worked better if they had taken the time to build better motivations for all of their characters. The Batman v Superman fight? Tantalizingly brilliant and a highlight of superhero filmmaking in general – but the reasons for why it happens are mind-numbingly contrived. The conclusion of that fight and the ensuing team-up of DC’s Big Three? Well, it was…a novel idea. Comic book fans may find it clever, but almost assuredly mainstream audiences will hate it. I found myself rolling my eyes at the end of that final battle and thinking “DC, calm down! You’re rushing it!”
And if none of this has yet left a bad taste festering in the back of your mouth, don’t forget about Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. It feels like Zack Snyder and his team sat down and said “How can we take one of DC Comics’ most beloved, intimidating, formidable, and spectacularly multi-faceted villains and translate him to the screen?” Then, the drunkest person in the room suggested “Let’s make him a quirky, obnoxious, unfunny, gross hipster who acts like a cross between Caesar Romero’s Joker and Daffy Duck!” Lex Luthor is not a bad part of the film. He is easily the breaking point. This sniveling moron is not only an adaptation of a beloved character on-par with X-Men Origins: Wolverine’s Deadpool, but grossly out of place in this dark and cynical movie. After the film, ask yourself what his motivations were for absolutely anything he did in the film and he becomes even worse as you realize nothing he does makes any logical sense whatsoever. Really, he seems to appear for the sole purpose of being a “through-line” for the multitudes of subplots and future film trailers in this congested movie – and even then he barely works. Perhaps his only redeeming quality is that he utters the only intriguing line in the film (oh yeah, did I mention this is definitely not a thinking man’s/woman’s movie? This is literally the only line that grabbed my attention and made me think.) – “God is tribal, God takes sides! If God is all-powerful He can not be good, if God is good He can not be all-powerful!”
So now you’re probably sitting here thinking this movie sounds like a waste of time and money (and I didn’t even talk about the Justice League previews…those border on the edge of potential spoilers, so suffice it to say they’re all unnecessary, disrupt the flow of the film, and one scene literally made at least a third of the audience audibly utter a rousing chorus of “Huh? What the hell was that?” while my best friend and I sunk into our chairs muttering “Oh God, he looks sooooooooooooo bad! What the hell are you doing, DC!?”). Here’s the thing, though, I think overall I enjoyed the film. Well, if I don’t analyze it. Maybe? Ok, here’s what works:
BEST. ON-SCREEN. BATMAN. EVER! When Ben Affleck was announced to play Batman the world cried out in anguish. There was even a major petition by fans to remove him from the role. However, if this movie did nothing else for me, it made me simply overjoyed at the prospect of the upcoming Batman solo film and the chance to see him again in this summer’s Suicide Squad. He is an aging Bruce Wayne who sees Superman as a threat to the safety of the world. His motivations for fighting Superman are perhaps the strongest in the film, though that’s not saying much. Regardless, every action scene featuring Batman is a highlight and frankly Jeremy Irons’ performance as Alfred is unforgettable as well. As with much of the film, there is an interesting idea for a sub-plot between Batman and Wonder Woman, but it gets condensed and overshadowed by all the other sub-plots wantonly thrown together here.
Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, and Gal Gadot all turn in impressive performances as Superman, Lois Lane, and Wonder Woman respectively. Gadot’s appearance even managed to hype me for 2017’s solo Wonder Woman film, though when you look back and think about it she really doesn’t do a whole lot in this movie. It very much felt like she was included by an executive’s order for the film to have a “girl power” or feminist component. While that is not inherently a bad thing and I do hope to see more prominent female superheroes in film (Black Widow doesn’t count, guys…she’s a spy, not a superhero. Let’s see a Scarlet Witch solo movie or get hyped for 2019’s Captain Marvel!), this very much has a “corporate commandment” feel to it. She’s not really needed to advance the story and does kind of add to the overstuffed nature of the film. Even so, Gadot makes a character who is half-god (seriously, she’s the daughter of Zeus) seem believable, likeable, and frankly just badass.
Unfortunately there’s really no easy way to sum up this film. I suppose the best way would be to call it an absolute cluster$%&# of incredible action, mostly-impressive performances, terrible storytelling, and executive orders coming in to
save the day muck it up. While I would recommend seeing it, I do suggest non-comic book fans do at least some basic research first as many characters and concepts remain largely unexplained by the film’s conclusion. If you want to go braindead and watch some awesome action scenes for a couple of hours, this movie definitely delivers in the best of ways. If you’re looking for something with a strong message for you and/or your children to take away, better wait for the next Marvel film. I suppose I agree with Angry Joe: “I hate this movie! I love this movie!” Considering what works in this film is sensational and what doesn’t work is horrendous, I really have no choice but to rate it a 5/10 as the good and the bad cancel out and leave it in the no man’s land of ratings right in the middle where “it’s just ok.” Here’s hoping Suicide Squad can deliver!
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