The long awaited Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice has arrived and just like many other Zack Snyder films, it has divided critics and audience alike and while some are very critical and some are glowing with praise I am planted firmly in the middle. The film has some brilliant highs but also some very unforgivable lows.
The film introduces many new characters as the second film in the new DC Cinematic Universe and the set up film for the coming Justice League films, most prominent of which is Ben Affleck’s Batman. While a controversial casting choice when it was first announced it is shown to have been a good one as Affleck is one of the best cinematic portrayals of the charismatic billionaire, Bruce Wayne, as well as the playboy’s alter ego crime-fighting vigilante, Batman, better than previous actor Christian Bale in my opinion. Affleck conveys the troubled psyche of Wayne almost to perfection both through his actions and mannerisms, this is one of the most troubled and damaged versions Bruce Wayne ever to appear on screen. As evident throughout different plot points the film he has gone through many things in his many years of vigilantism, such as the previous history with the already established Joker. As with most iterations of the character, Bruce Wayne is joined by his butler and guardian, Alfred Pennyworth, portrayed in this universe by seasoned actor Jeremy Irons. Though only a small role in the film, Irons plays Alfred perfectly as you would expect from an actor of his pedigree, perfectly balancing the roles of father figure and side kick of Bruce’s, although not to the same extent as Michael Caine from the Nolan trilogy. One of the casting choices that hasn’t worked out as well as hoped is Jesse Eisenberg, who brings to life another new addition to the new universe, Lex Luthor. Despite a strong opening performance Eisenberg’s portrayal of the character exponentially gets worse as the film goes on and his character slowly starts to randomly shout phrases that seem disjointed to the current situation and becomes more eccentric and crazier, nowhere near the quality of Michael Rosenbaum’s take on the same character in the Smallville TV series. It’s almost as if Eisenberg got confused and thought his character arc was for Lex to slowly descending into Heath Ledger’s Joker from 2008’s The Dark Knight. This is an extreme shame as his character’s backstory and motivations are interesting and in some ways relatable as he strives to grow more and more powerful, a direct result of what happened to him in his childhood.
The final major addition to the universe is Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman, portrayed by Fast and Furious star, Gal Gadot. Unlike the previously mentioned actors, Gadot gives a wooden performance from the start and doesn’t get much better as the film goes on, which is a shame and I hope she can build upon this performance, especially because she will soon have to helm her very own superhero film and appear in future DCCU films. In addition to all these new faces in the DCCU there are a few familiar ones in the shape of Henry Cavill and Amy Adams. While Cavill has learned from his first outing as the Son of Krypton in Man of Steel and is a more complex character this time around due to the trails and tribulations he faces as a direct result of his actions at the end of the first film, he is still outdone by his co-star, Ben Affleck. However, Amy Adams’ portrayal of Lois Lane is by far the weakest performance of the whole film, consistently playing the damsel in distress stereotype and coincidently being involved in everything that happens in the film. Despite this fact, she does nothing to actually further any of the many plot points.
In terms of plot, in seems that Zack Snyder and the screenwriters, Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, were told they would be working on a film to boot up the DCCU and decided to cram in every popular timeline from the comics, Injustice, Blackest Night, Flashpoint etc and ended up with too many plot threads that in some parts did more damage than good. The film is littered with dream sequences from the point of view of Bruce Wayne giving us a greater insight into the character and his fears for the future as most of his nightmares are centred around his concern about the unrestricted power of the Man of Steel, leading to scenes similar in aesthetic to the Injustice storyline. One criticism I have of the way Batman works in this film is that he is calling out Superman for having no regard for human life or the destruction he causes, this would lead you to believe we would be seeing him be stricter with his moral code than we have ever seen him before in order to avoid hypocrisy, a word he fully understands as he uses it early in the film. However this is the complete opposite as he freely uses lethal weaponry, viciously beats up thugs and causes a lot of property damage while driving the Batmobile, more like Thomas Wayne in the Flashpoint storyline than the Bruce Wayne we are used to. Now, maybe destroying only a handful of buildings during a chase doesn’t seem all that expensive to a billionaire but it’s not him who is paying for the repairs, and if it is, Bruce Wayne’s bank account is going to drain very quickly if he is going out and doing this every night. While all this is going on there are parallels between Superman is struggling to both help people and avoid criticism for his heavy handed approach to those same situations, all the while being under scrutiny for his part in the destruction of Smallville and Metropolis at the end of the previous film, comparable to the problem’s his cousin Kara Zor-El faces at the start of the Supergirl TV series. To add even more to the spinning plates of plot points Snyder is attempting to keep going, Lex Luthor spends the film with about three different plans on the go leading to a slightly confusing narrative with some threads left hanging and others wrapped up in a nice bow. One of the more interesting plot points is the introduction of other meta-humans, Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg, played by Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa and Ray Fisher respectively. The way they are introduced, and a Jason Todd easter egg in the Batcave, shows an already established world of superheroes and supervillains that will probably help Snyder, David Ayer and other directors moving forward in this universe, or it could hinder them by restricting the material and stories they can work with, either way I am interested to see how it turns out. The end of the film is equally intriguing and definitely shows a sense of progression in the universe in regards to the Justice League’s foundation.
The cinematography and audio for the entire film was great. The soundtrack matched the tone of the film and the sound effects during the fight sequences really conveyed the brutality of the fighting, moving the style away from Nolan’s martial arts based combat and closer to that of the Rocksteady Arkham games, with a loud thud every time Batman lands a blow on a henchman. While the dark and gritty colours remain from the Instagram filter style of Man of Steel’s visual aesthetic, and works in differentiating the film from the colourful Marvel films it is rivalling as well as suiting the tone you would associate with Batman, it makes some of the fight sequences harder to understand than they need to be. However there is one fight in particular, where Batman is facing off against criminals in a warehouse, that is a joy to watch with fluid combat that flows well as Batman switches his focus from thug to thug.
In the end this film is not a terrible film, but at the same time is not a superhero film on par with the likes of The Dark Knight or Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s a film that has some great nods and references for fans (some subtle and others more direct), and some great action for the more casual audience. Affleck shines as the Dark Knight, wholly redeeming himself for his lacklustre performance as Matt Murdock in the almost forgotten 2003 Daredevil film. Despite these highs it also has some glaring problems that drag the film down, be it a lack of enthusiasm from some of the actors, or problems with aspects of the plot. But I am prepared to give this film a pass on that and recommend you see it, if even just to be caught up on the cinematic universe for upcoming film Suicide Squad and the ones further off in the future (Wonder Woman, Aquaman etc). One thing you will have to keep in mind though is that this is not the same kind of style of superhero film you would be used to if you’ve watched the MCU films, this is a film based on comics where Joker brutally beats Jason Todd (The Second Robin) to death with a crowbar and Barbara Gordon finds herself in a wheelchair after a run in with the very same villain. So if youre going into this film expecting the same mix of comedy and action as the Marvel films you will be disappointed, there is comedy in parts and some of the dialogue is laughable at times but this is a film focused more on action. So, in conclusion, yes, go see this film, don’t listen to the critics (yes, I recognise the irony in that comment) but do not get your hopes as high as the fanboys did, I still don’t think DC have found the director that is going to do for them what Joss Whedon or Jon Favreau did for Marvel.