Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

03/27/2016  By  Joseph Wade     No comments

It’s been a long time since we’ve done this, but I feel compelled to start this review by laying down some expectations. Unlike most of the internet, I greatly enjoyed Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, and hoped that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice might build off of it in ways that underlined some of MoS’s core themes while also branching out into the larger DC universe. How much authority are we willing to give to those who protect us? Are we okay with them killing in the name of our own safety? These are bold questions for a superhero film, and I’d hoped that BvS might follow through. This film quickly makes abundantly clear that it has no interest in answering these questions. In fact, the only question on the mind of BvS is “Who’s going to appear in Justice League?” The answer may not surprise you.

The film has some inspired moments, to be sure, but they’re scattered throughout a disjointed mess of a story that has gigantic corporate fingerprints smeared all over it. This isn’t just the work of a director given too big of a sandbox to play in; it’s the work of a studio desperately trying to catch up with the competition by any means necessary. BvS feels less like a natural sequel and more like a series of story notes and merchandise memos hot-glued together in the form of a 2 ½-hour movie. And to top it all off, this is by far the angriest, nastiest movie Batman or Superman have ever appeared in.

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Not to mention the straight-up weirdest. What the hell is even going on here?

We pick up the story during Superman’s disastrous battle with Zod that left Metropolis in ruins at the end of Man of Steel. This time, we see things from the ground-level perspective of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck). Seeing his building destroyed and his employees killed enrages Wayne, and when we skip ahead a year later, we find an obsessive Batman dedicated to making Superman pay for the carnage he perpetrated. His butler, Alfred (Jeremy Irons) has long since given up trying to guide Bruce and is now simply along for the ride. Meanwhile, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) are now living together. While Lane is on the trail of some experimental weaponry that ultimately goes nowhere, Kent begs editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) to let him report on the Batman, but to no avail. MEANWHILE, billionaire tech mogul Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) has designs on engineering his own Superman deterrent by acquiring a giant chunk of Kryptonite and/or the corpse of the long-deceased General Zod (a nude puppet of Michael Shannon) against the wishes of Senator Finch (Holly Hunter), who wants Superman to appear before Congress to answer for himself.

Didja notice how little Superman figured into all that plot?

That’s because BvS is far more concerned with the characters surrounding Superman and their reactions to him than the Man of Steel himself. For all intents and purposes, this is a Batman movie that takes place in the Superman universe. The film pauses just long enough for Clark to consider the ramifications of the things he’s done, but his mother Martha (Diane Lane) makes it clear to him that he doesn’t owe humanity a thing, least of all an apology. His dad (Kevin Costner) even comes to him in a dream (?) and tells him a horrific story about saving the family farm from a flood while drowning the neighbors’ horses in the process. Actions have consequences, but also you can’t please all of the people all of the time. There’s a scene early on where Clark walks in on Lois taking a bath, and when he jumps in to join her, she warns him that he’s going to flood the apartment. He doesn’t care, though. Zack Snyder and co-writers David Goyer and Chris Terrio have brought us a Superman who not only doesn’t care about how his actions affect others, he’s a brazenly selfish ass about it.

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Tell us how you really feel, Zack.

The clear highlight of this film is Batman. This is a Batman who’s already seen plenty of horrors in his twenty years of crime-fighting, and it’s turned him sour. (There are hints and callbacks littered throughout to half a dozen Batman stories we’ll never get to see.) He’s escalated from capturing criminals to branding them with his bat logo, a move some consider a prison death sentence. Batman spends most of this movie investigating Lex Luthor’s hunt for Kryptonite, primarily because he’s hunting for it too. As Bruce Wayne, Affleck channels his own millionaire playboy persona into the character, making Wayne into a charming douche with a heart of gold. As Batman, Affleck acquits himself nicely in the suit. The look of this Batman is very much of the Frank Miller variety, but unlike Dark Knight Returns Batman, this Batman uses guns like they’re going out of style.

The fight between Batman and Superman — the thing that the ad campaign, posters, and even the title all hinge around — is abrupt and anticlimactic. Superman gives Batman exactly one warning to knock off his Bat-shenanigans (thwarting a chase with Lex Luthor’s goons, no less), but he only makes good on his threat after some poking and prodding from Luthor. This fight scene is painful and ugly, because despite the movie’s entire reason for being, it’s a fight that we all know should not happen. The movie does enough legwork to explain Batman’s hatred of Superman, but it can’t quite make the same leap for Superman. His reasons for fighting Batman are 100% born out of plot necessity, and it’s some of the cheapest, laziest storytelling in the entire film.

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But in this case the movie agrees with Superman’s motives. That’s why he’s on the right.

Let’s be serious, though, the actual highlight of this film is Wonder Woman.

Her inclusion is a mystery, only existing to set up her own solo film, but once you put Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) in your Batman/Superman movie, you might as well put her to work. Her role in the story doesn’t make any real sense, though. She shows up at Lex Luthor’s house party (that Clark and Bruce have also been invited to) to steal a photograph from Luthor’s files. Turns out it’s a photo meant to set up the solo Wonder Woman film, but the only things it tells us are A) that the movie takes place in 1918 and B) Chris Pine is in it. You can tease this stuff in a press release and it wouldn’t clog up an already overlong movie. Why does she even want the photo to begin with? What would keeping that photo a secret even accomplish? Maybe she’s making a scrapbook or something.

Still, the moment Wonder Woman shows up in full regalia to help Supes and Batman fight Doomsday (PS: Doomsday’s in this movie), is when the movie finally starts to click. The score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL suddenly becomes energized, and with the foundation of the Justice League suddenly teaming up and ready for a fight, the movie finally becomes fun for ten minutes. It’s almost as though even the movie realizes Wonder Woman is the most interesting thing in the movie. This is what we’d been teased and primed for, and for a brief moment, BvS actually delivers on its promise.

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The only moment in the film that my theater cheered for anything.

Never mind the fact that Lois Lane gets involved in the final fight for some reason, and the only person actually capable of defeating Doomsday leaves the battle for a minute to go and rescue her out of her third or fourth deathtrap. Lois Lane’s role here is to deliver all the relevant exposition by going to warzones and finding it for herself. Then, when shit goes from bad to worse, Superman flies in out of nowhere to rescue her. She constantly shoves herself into refrigerators, so to speak, except for the one instance where Lex Luthor does the shoving. Where Lois was proactive and halfway competent in Man of Steel, we find her here willingly throwing herself into harm’s way, knowing she has a lifetime Get Out Of Death Free card flying around.

Too much of this movie refuses to make any sort of logical sense; from Lois Lane following a breadcrumb trail of Lex Luthor’s custom-made bullets, to Wonder Woman’s weird 12 Monkeys-esque photo hunt, to Batman’s nightmare sequence where he fights Superman’s personal army in the desert. It all feels like a story built atop two separate foundations. On one side, we have the fallout from Man of Steel, and on the other we have the clumsy birth of the Justice League. In between are a collection of scenes meant to bridge the two, completely failing to do so through scattered plot developments and questionable character motivations. You know you’re in for a rough Superman movie when Lex Luthor gives us a lecture on the innocence of power being a crock and you realize maybe he’s right. (I never even got to how loopy and nonsensical Jesse Eisenberg is in the role. He’s a billionaire bibliophile who loves rattling off nonsense about mythology and feeding people jolly ranchers. It’s bizarre.)

There’s no two ways about it: Batman v Superman is a massive corporate boondoggle meant to cater more to stockholders than fans of comics or movies, and I do not blame anyone for not wanting what this series plans on selling us next. For my part, I’m intrigued to see how the super team they’ve assembled will operate later down the line, because honestly, it has to be better than this. Or hey, maybe not. Maybe it’s all downhill from here. If DC manages to deliver on the tease they promise at the end of this film, it’s going to be one hell of a circus.

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About Joseph Wade

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Joseph Wade is secretly three bulldogs in a trenchcoat. Their favorite movie is Turner & Hooch.

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