Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Review
“Mm, Bruce Wayne meets Clark Kent. Ah, I love it! I love bringing people together! How are we?”
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is not a good movie. In truth, it is less competently constructed than Man of Steel and comes off as more of an overall mess, but in an odd paradoxical way, I actually enjoyed it a bit more because of that. Man of Steel often felt like a movie that was on the cusp of some good ideas, but was clotheslined by poor writing and directing. There are certainly moments of Dawn of Justice that feel that way as well, but, usually, when Dawn of Justice makes a misstep, it does so in such a spectacular fashion that it ends up being unintentionally amusing. During the lead up to this film, I often found myself serving as the voice of moderation pointing out to others that it could potentially be good. However, I don’t want anyone to confuse my defense against preemptive backlash for a declaration that the movie actually would be good. My only argument was that it was best to simply wait and see, so I waited… and I saw… and it isn’t good. I actually brought a small notepad with me into the film, and I once I left the film I found it kind of fun to flip through the various notes that I took once the film was over. I’ll include most of the observations I made regarding the film in my standard Notes and Nitpicks section, but it was nice to find that not all of the observations I made were negative. Most of them were, but there is nothing wrong with at least a little bit of positivity being sprinkled in.
So let’s start with what is positive about the production. First of all, the acting is largely pretty good. There really isn’t any actor whom I felt didn’t either deserve praise for scraping together a decent performance from what they were given or deserve a pass due to what the script was demanding of them. Ben Affleck really deserves to get a Batman movie that is made by people who understand the character. Despite all of the moronic choices that his character makes and a number of bizarre moments that don’t fit with how he has been popularly characterized in the past, he still comes off as a pretty decent Dark Knight. If his character didn’t have an odd habit of mowing people down or get manipulated throughout the majority of the film, then he might have been in the running as one of the best live-action portrayals of the character. Likewise, Gal Gadot proves to be a pretty good Wonder Woman, though she benefits from having only a handful of lines. As a result most of her acting is done via mannerisms and expressions, and there isn’t much of an opportunity for the script to add inconsistencies. The film includes a number of cameos from real life reporters like Soledad O’Brien and Anderson Cooper, and, while such cameos usually annoy me since they tend to disrupt my immersion, I felt they were actually competently implemented. Finally, the action scenes were decently handled. They weren’t anything spectacular, but they were utilized better than they were in Man of Steel, and they were distributed more evenly throughout the film. During the climax, things do get a bit too chaotic, but, had I been emotionally invested, I could easily imagine myself overlooking that shortcoming.
That is it for the plus column. Seriously, the only good things I made note of in this film were that the cast did an admirable job with what they were given, the action was competent, and that the cameos were okay. The plot, however, was a complete mess. The movie bends over backwards to give Lois something to do in this film, but that only drags attention to how superfluous she really is. Amy Adams tries her damnedest, and even succeeds in occasionally bringing an inkling of pathos to her role, but she can’t save the movie from this abundantly obvious flaw. Batman is homicidal in a way that is honestly pretty ridiculous. After two films, it is starting to feel like Zack Snyder’s idea of a hero is an individual who kills people for the flimsy reason of “Justice,” and then stands around being grim about it in the ashes and rubble of the city our hero ostensibly saved. Batman actually has a car chase that feels as if it is torn from the pages of the infamous All-Star Batman and Robin where he drives the Batmobile around pulverizing henchmen that were working for Lex Luthor who, at that moment, had only committed the simple crime of transporting an illegally imported item, all while the overblown score blares triumphantly. It is at moments like these where the film is tone-deaf to the point of being comedic and it is an interesting ride to observe. Speaking of Lex Luthor, neither he nor his plan make any sense. I’ll avoid getting into specifics of his plan for the sake of those who don’t want to have the plot spoiled for them, but it hinges on far too many unknown variables for it to have worked, and when he actually plays his trump card, which we see in the trailers, it almost backfires spectacularly. I like Jesse Eisenberg, and, as I stated earlier, I’m not blaming any of the actors for the bizarre characterization that they are expected to convey, but let’s just say that he has the most bizarre characterization of them all. He is presented as unhinged and manic, and the film never succeeds in making this representation interesting or even slightly engaging. Instead he comes off as a bit grating and annoying rather than menacing or capable. In that regard, he is not unlike the Tim Story version of Doctor Doom, though even that villain felt more dignified and like he was more of a threat.
The main problem with this film is one that we’ve seen before. It was the primary issue behind Man of Steel. Zack Snyder cannot construct characters and imbue them with a sense of pathos. Sometimes, like in the case of Watchmen, he can rely on his actors and story to infuse the production with a sense of emotion, but even in those instances it is a muted shadow of the material that it is drawing from. Here, none of the characters have a clear sense of agency or motivation. They are simply chess pieces being shuffled across the board to move us inexorably towards the Justice League movie. Even when characters do make claims towards having motivations, they feel like hollow excuses that the narrative clung to in order to justify their actions. It seems clear that Warner Bros. is determined to stick with the grim, ponderous film structure that Man of Steel introduced us to, and it is reaching the point where each new trailer is beginning to feel less like a promise for things to come and more like an unfortunate inevitability.
Before I wrap up a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- I went with the rest of the MediaWhorz review team, and one of the trailers we got before this movie was Deepwater Horizon. I had only one response to that trailer: “You Can Fuck Right Off.” Maybe it’s a horrible representation of what the movie entails, but either way, I was legitimately morally offended by that piece of shit trailer.
- You could probably make a drinking game out of the dream sequences in this movie. They’re filmed the same as everything else, and so it can take you a while to realize what you are watching is supposed to be a dream.
- In the same way that Ben Affleck could clearly make for a good Batman, Jeremy Irons has the makings of a great Alfred.
- You know that scene from the trailers where Lex Luthor walks up to Clark and Bruce at a party? It’s just as the trailers showed it. The only note I had for that moment was “Kill me.”
- At six different points during the runtime, I wrote notes asking myself, “What is the plot?”
- One of my notes was written verbatim from Caveman who was sitting next to me. It was right at the point when Batman decided not to kill Superman because of his mother’s name that he said, “I can’t believe they’re using that as a plot point.”
- This film has an odd habit of killing off beloved characters like Jimmy Olson and Mercy for no apparent reason.
- Jimmy later noted that a more appropriate title would have been Punisher v Superman: Dawn of Justice, given Batman’s newly found appreciation for the 2nd Amendment.
With a jumbled plot, bizarre superhero cameos, and very poor characterization, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice plays out more like a two and a half hour trailer for what is to come. Unfortunately, it seemingly forgets what it needs to do to be an actual movie in its own right. The end result isn't devoid of enjoyable elements, but they hardly justify the price of entry.