Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Posted: March 31, 2016 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Zack Snyder. Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg and Gal Gadot.

batman-v-superman-trinity

It is eighteen months after the events of Man of Steel, and Superman has become a controversial figure. Is he messiah or menace? Is he a hero or merely a villain in waiting? In Gotham City Bruce Wayne (Affleck) has no doubts. He witnessed first-hand the damage wrought during Superman’s battle with General Zod.  Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) has similar fears about Superman and convenes senate hearings to discuss what kind of threat he poses. Meanwhile Lex Luthor (Eisenberg) tries to enlist Finch’s help to gain access to the crashed Krytonian ship, General Zod’s body and what remnants of Kryptonite that have been found on Earth.

Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent (Cavill) struggles to come to terms with Superman’s place in the world, but has no such doubts about his place in the heart of Lois Lane (Adams). Whilst Lois tries to track down who is behind a plot to discredit Superman, Clark has set his sights on his own journalistic investigation, into Bruce Wayne’s other identity as the masked vigilante Batman, though his editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) is less enthusiastic about this.

As Bruce Wayne, aided by butler Alfred (Jeromy Irons almost stealing the film),and manipulated by Luthor, investigates how to take down Superman he comes across a mysterious woman (Gadot) who has her own secret identity as Wonder Woman.

As the pressure mounts against Superman a confrontation between the Man of Steel and the Bat of Gotham seems inevitable, but Lex Luthor is leaving nothing to chance, he’s using General Zod’s body to create a weapon that can seal Superman’s doom, if Batman can’t get the job done…

 

The first thing to say about BvS is that it’s not as terrible as many critics would have you believe. The second thing to say about BvS is that this doesn’t mean it’s a classic by any stretch of the imagination. It’s too long— way, waaaayyyy too long— too bloated, too dark and far too humourless. But there’s a lot to like about it by the same token.

The main problem with BvS is that it’s so very obvious that DC are furiously trying to play catch-up with Marvel, and like any organisation trying to replicate another’s success they want to cut as many corners as they can. Long before Marvel debuted their first Avengers film they’d been laying the groundwork. Iron Man had two standalone films prior to Avengers Assemble, and both Captain America and Thor had had one apiece. Nick Fury might not have had his own movie but he’d shown up in three other films beforehand, and we’d seen Black Widow, Loki and Agent Coulson in earlier films. Heck there’s even a sneak peak at Hawkeye in Thor. Really the only main cast member who’s new to the party is Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner.

By contrast whilst Superman, Lois, Perry and Martha Kent were all in Man of Steel, BvS gives us a new Batman, a new Alfred, a new Wonder Woman and a new Lex Luthor. And this is even before they try and shoehorn in Aquaman, The Flash and some kind of Cyborg thing. Oh and Doomsday!

In many ways it’s surprising that the film is as good as it is given there’s everything but the kitchen sink in there. In fact late in the film as Batman smashes a sink over someone’s head! Zach Snyder really doesn’t do subtle metaphors, and there’s very little that is subtle here. Superman is Jesus you see, and you will see because Snyder will hit you over the head until you do.

He is a divisive Director, and even I can’t be specific about how I feel about him. I thought his Dawn of the Dead remake was actually pretty good (not as good as the original obviously, but still…) I liked Man of Steel and his Watchmen was better than it had any right to be. But by the same token he made 300, a film that doubled its run time by virtue of so much of it being in sloooowwww moootiion, and he also made Sucker Punch, one of the most god awful films I’ve ever seen. He has an artistic eye for a well framed shot, but his background in comic book adaptations often means that his films can seem a little static. It’s about the defining image rather than the scene as a whole, and BvS is no exception. There’s lots of meaningful shots of Superman hovering in the air, or Batman hiding in the corner of a room, or of Wonder Woman readying to fight. Individually these moments look great, but they can give the film a slightly ponderous feel, especially once you factor in the two and a half hour run time, a length not helped by surreal flash forward/dream sequences (that one can only hope relate to future films) that do nothing to aid this film, and nor do the ham-fisted attempts to reference Aquaman etc. Too often it feels like you’re watching a film whose raison d’etre is to set up future films. I realise most Marvel films were the same, but the process at least felt more organic there.

I’ve been negative enough so I’ll go onto some positives, and the biggest ones for me relate to the characters who inhabit the caves under Stately Wayne Manor. Make no mistake, Affleck is the best leftfield casting as Bats since Michael Keaton (Bale was great but I think most people assumed he would be, Affleck’s casting, like Keaton’s, drew a lot of flak.)   My only doubts really came from the fact that I’ve always seen him as a very working class actor, but he plays the scion of a corporate empire to perfection and I like his weary, experienced take on the characters of both Batman and Bruce Wayne—and whilst I’m not saying he is the best Batman or the best Bruce Wayne, he might be the best balanced in that he convinces as both. There’s an anger in him that the character should have, and a midlife angst about needing to leave something behind beyond the capturing of low level punks who are replaced, as he puts it, like so many weeds. His Batman is not just about punching things though, because he also gets to play detective, which is often the aspect of Batman overlooked. If there is a fault to the portrayal of Batman it’s that he seems so easily manipulated by Luthor, but that’s hardly Affleck’s fault.

And then there’s Jeromy Irons as Alfred. As with Batman it’s no mean task to bring something new to the role, but Irons manages it with his resigned, acerbic butler, who seems more of a technological handyman, and most of the film’s few laughs come courtesy of him. I really hope we get a solo Batman film now.

Henry Cavill is less well served as Superman, in part because he’s already established, but also because the character treads a fine line between noble and boring, because despite trying to paint him in shades of grey, he really is a boy scout, a decent man and often they can seem a little dull. Cavill has charisma (just watch The Man from UNLCE for proof) he just doesn’t get much opportunity to display it here, and even his Clark Kent feels too rigid and upstanding. He’s Dudley Do right in both roles, which just makes Batman even more interesting. The wonderful Amy Adams is similarly ill served as Lois, too often little more than rescue bait. Adams is a good actor and deserves better.

A lot of people have really taken against Eisenberg as Lex, but I actually quite liked his performance—though maybe it’s because I haven’t seen The Social Network as I understand he’s just doing a riff on his Zuckerberg performance. Still for me he was good (certainly a better Lex than Kevin Spacey, which sounds so wrong but is true) and any issues I have with the character again come down to the script rather than the actor.

As Diana Prince Gadot isn’t actually in the film very much, mostly swanning around fancy parties in a fancy frock. People seem to like her, I can’t say I was overly impressed, not even when she finally dons the outfit but when she’s the centre of attention in her own film perhaps she’ll display more screen presense.

On the whole the actors are very good, it’s just that the film has too much plot, and so much of it makes no sense. Yes Batman and Superman have fought before, but when Frank Miller had them battle it was a fight based on decades of animosity. Despite the plot telling us how much Batman has an issue with Superman, I never quite buy it. In a month or two we’re going to see Captain America go toe to toe with Iron Man, now that will have some emotional heft, because we’ve seen Evans and Downey Jr. butt heads before, we’ve seen them fight side by side and we’ve seen them be friends, BvS in contrast tries to force that kind of connection with no history and it just doesn’t work.

The fight, when it finally comes, between Batman and Superman is very good, probably better than the fight between the eventual trio of superheroes and Doomsday, which is just yet another CGI snooze fest to be honest. Batman’s battle with a bunch of kidnappers is very well realised, and Affleck’s regular batsuit seems more flexible than any iteration of Batman has had before (well to be fair Adam West’s wasn’t that cumbersome) and this really helps sell him as a real threat, and is another thing that adds to this version of Batman being a very good one.

The film is dark, which is fine, I’ve always thought of DC as being a little darker than Marvel anyway and I don’t want them to slavishly go down the witty Marvel route, but still, a bit of levity on occasion wouldn’t hurt, too often BvS is so rigid and serious you expect the film’s back to break, and even the film’s palette is muted—as was Man of Steel’s. Again Batman is best viewed in the shadows, but Superman has always been a much more colourful presence in the comic books and it’s a shame a better balance between the two couldn’t be found.

Much like the film, I fear this review is bloated and too long, so I’ll end soon. The most annoying thing about this is that it isn’t a terrible film, somehow despite the inconsistent plot jammed full of enough ideas for a trilogy, despite the at time ponderous direction, despite the excessive length, I did enjoy this, I just feel like DC should have created something punchier, something more fun. The aforementioned Captain America: Civil War is going to be dark, but that darkness will be balanced by at least the odd smidgen of light, and given the genuine history its protagonists have I’ll go on record right now and say I’ll be amazed if it isn’t a better film than BvS, and given we are talking two of the greatest superhero characters of all time here, that’s a shame.

See it. Enjoy it. Just don’t expect it to blow your Bat socks off.

Advertisements
Comments
  1. It’s odd to think of DC playing catch-up – they’ve got two of the biggest characters in cinematic history. I’d rather see them go for standalone character films than try to take on the Avengers with ensemble films.

    My heart belongs to Marvel, though…

    • Kibbin says:

      I’m not always sure they realise this though, heck then start the movie (no spoiler) with the death of Bruce Waynes parents as though there might be somebody out there who doesn’t know this fact about him.

      In reply to Paul and his review however I would struggle to see Superman as a boy scout in this movie, though he is indeed in the comics and Marvel have shown that it is possible to do boy scouts and have everybody like them. But here in the movie they have cast him as too much of a rogue and vigilante, maybe to give something for Bruce to grasp onto when he complains about aliens or maybe because they think people won’t watch a big blue boy scout.

      • starkers70 says:

        This is true, which I think is a tad unfair on Cavill. I’m not sure how people are so willing to believe a man with superhuman strength who can fire laser beams out of his eyes had to use guns to wipe a bunch of guys out!

    • starkers70 says:

      I’ve always been a fan of Batman and Spiderman so guess I’m on the fence between Marvel and DC. I think they’ve seen how much money Marvel have made and want a piece of the pie!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s