Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice begins in medias res of The Man Steel climax, showing in this case the perspective of Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne. As he runs headfirst into the rubble of a crushed Wayne Enterprises building, he has a number of save the cat moments. This, despite the later scenes in which he brands criminals with the bat-symbol, which pretty much nullifies this initial scene.
18 months later, an alien artifact from the battle of Metropolis washes up on shore somewhere in the Indian Ocean and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is working with the CIA to catch a suspected terrorist. As Superman (Henry Cavill) flies in to save Lois, he is simultaneously being condemned by the U.S. government for his crimes against Metropolis. Batman, too, has grown cruel in his old age (note the aforementioned branding, as well as the scene where he bets on fight club-style bouts). These are our DC Superheroes: thuggish, pessimistic, brooding, admittedly criminal.
The film gets off to a snail’s pace. Random tense interactions are mistaken for narrative rising action. A tepid script fuels unrealistic conversations. And the eponymous versus duo seem to hate each other simply because the title requires it.
At the head of these awkward interactions is Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). Not only is Luthor not threatening, but his depiction is an attempt at over-stylized menace that worked so well with the likes of Cillian Murphy, Heath Ledger, and, to a lesser extent, Tom Hardy. Only, this attempt falls egregiously flat. His zany delivery may have worked with a better script, but each one of his scenes start to devolve into something tonally different than the rest of the film. The character does fit better with the second half of the film, but his early scenes are simply hard to get through.
For what it is—a CGI wasteland in an industry climate where practical effects are lauded above all else by critics—Batman v Superman looks fine. Over-saturation or grey dominate most scenes, leaving even the brightest of day scenes looking drab and depressing. But, mostly, it is just fine, and the visuals also get better as the movie progresses.
The plot of the film is needlessly complicated, and the moving parts aren’t all that interesting. Action scenes are flashy, and by that I mean literally flashy, with gun fire blinding the screen and overly-choreographed hand-to-hand combat appearing slower than intended.
Not a single actor in the cast exercises a firm grasp on non-verbal acting. One pivotal scene shows Adams, Cavill, and even Diane Lane failing to show adequate sadness. That same scene ends with the blank slate that is Ben Affleck’s angry Batman face.
Beyond this, the acting is passable, but no role stands out. Cavill and Adams work through a poorly developed relationship to the best of their ability. Affleck and Jeremy Irons have a few quality interactions with each other. And Gal Gadot’s character feels simply thrown in for the sake of setting up the inevitable DC sequels, even though her performance, as small as it is, is relatively strong.
Those who come into Batman v Superman looking for shut-off-your-brain spectacle get their wish. Eventually. But it takes two hours for that satisfaction to come. The film attempts a massive amount of world building that is insufferable by act three. And, while the third act has its moments, namely the showdown that the title boasts, it still isn’t worth it following the elongated setup.
Batman v Superman is, to put it generously, an overblown spectacle with far too much exposition. Less generously, it is messy storytelling with a backdrop of action in the last half hour that attempts to hide that fact.
If this trend continues, Justice League will be a 3 hour, 14 minute movie with a minimum of three villains and too many balls in the air for anyone to make heads or tails of why we’re watching in the first place.
I’ll save this space for some spoiler talk. So, that said, Spoiler Alert.
- The reasoning behind the end of the showdown between Batman and Superman is downright laughable. Logically speaking, Batman would have straight up murdered Superman had one of their parents been given a different name. That turn around is narratively unsound, and it continues to bother me as I write this review.
- Bruce Wayne makes one comment midway through the film that seems to stoke the flames of rumors that Jared Leto’s Joker is really Robin. I don’t have the exact quote, but he mentions how the number of heroes in Gotham has been dwindling, and the number of heroes that stayed heroes is equally small.
- That series of Justice League clips took me right out of the film completely. As it happened, I could just picture the marketing team at DC throwing this together last minute in an attempt to create a DC Cinematic Universe. It could have been a cool easter egg, but it just wasn’t executed correctly. Also, that Cyborg clip…webcams can’t make jump cuts or change angles at a whim. That isn’t how “found footage” like that works. That really bugged me.
As always, thanks for reading!
Have you seen Batman v Superman? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments!
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)