A Film Review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
By Lawrence Napoli
Not even one day released to the American viewing public and the only headlines regarding this film revolve around poor receptions and dreadful reviews. Ouch! Is this film really that bad? Are the fanboys being too critical? Are the trolls having too much fun? Is it being unfairly judged for not being absolutely spectacular? I’d be lying to you if I didn’t admit just a hint of glee over this project’s initial, global reaction for a number of reasons: poor casting choices, using The Dark Knight Returns plot for introducing a Justice League cinematic universe and Batman upstaging Superman’s sequel (to list a few). The details of this production had me shaking my head in absurdity light years beyond the casting of Mr. Mom as Tim Burton’s Batman back in 1989 so much so that its present day difficulties seem a foregone conclusion.
Rather than rubbing salt into open wounds, this review will be more concerned with simply critiquing what we have on the screen, and it begins with this film being Batman’s movie from the very first second to its very last. In a way, it makes sense for the story to be so Bat-centric because “this” version of the Dark Knight has not yet been established in this particular cinematic universe. It is more than just the plot featuring Batman or its themes, framework or even the outcome that makes it so. The feel, sound and look of this entire film are “Batman” through and through. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this tactic outside of the cost of sacrificing every other character and their subplots as window dressing to Batman’s mission. As such, Superman is all but designated as a formal antagonist if the story weren’t also interested in introducing the audience to the Justice League as well as a major tease for a destined conflict against one of DC’s Ultimate Evils in subsequent films. The fact is that this story is so much more than just Batman and Superman that it crumbles under the weight of its own lofty ambitions. This leads to a bit of distraction and incoherence which requires the viewer to make frequent leaps of faith to traverse the plot holes.
Then there’s the pacing of this movie which does a fine job at mimicking the overall flow and tenor of Man of Steel. We start off pretty slow as Zack Snyder clearly makes conscious efforts at establishing intrigue. But then, the film stays at that same tempo because we need a ton of exposition fed to us in order to appreciate what is going on thanks to advancing the plot more than a year past the destruction of Metropolis at the hands of Zod. With little screen time left to build upon any drama or suspense, the burden falls squarely on action sequences to break things up and sometimes they get the job done. It’s neat seeing Batman drive his car, fly his plane and beat up (and kill) bad guys. [Yes, this Batman kills – more on that later] Unfortunately, Batman isn’t Superman; meaning those awesome Dragonball Z live-action combat sequences from Man of Steel are nowhere to be found in this film, not even during the climactic battle against a conveniently placed plot device.
I understand that Zack Snyder is essentially doing the same thing as the competition, but trying so desperately to differentiate by doubling down on the gravitas. These films may not be taking place in a Chris Nolan reality, but there is no denying the tone of seriousness here. I for one am all for making these blockbusters as poignant as any art house, indie obscurity. However, the fun factor should not be hunted down and eradicated like some Thanagarian Snare Beast. No one needs to tell this production staff about the importance of finding the right balance between gravity and levity so you can all be assured that the next DC film, Suicide Squad, will be layered with silliness as a counterweight, but hopefully not too much.
When the action happens, it is captured quite well featuring some extremely diverse Batman combat both inside and out of vehicles. Meta-beings are relegated to flying at stuff, punching stuff and eye beams.
Fairly static camera setups for dialogue scenes and much more animated during combat. Better than average.
Batfleck wasn’t terrible, but he might have been if he had to “act” his own, gruff “Bat-voice” instead of relying on sound filters. Henry Cavil is just plain solid, and I am pained that he’s totally overshadowed in this film. Both men put in the serious wrench time at the gym for these parts. Speaking of overshadowed: Amy Adams is superb, but did anyone really care?
Gal Gadot has the right presence for WW, but is basically as skinny as she has been for Fast and Furious films. Michael Shannon surpasses himself playing a cadaver of the character he played in Man of Steel. But Jesse Eisenberg produces a whimpering, erratic shell of some character meant to be Lex Luthor – not unlike many of the characters he’s made a Hollywood career by playing. Also, Jeremy Irons’ Alfred was WAY too sarcastic for me.
The quality echoed by the iconic theme music of The Dark Knight Trilogy normally gives Hans Zimmer an A+ when it comes to music, but then I heard his theme for Wonder Woman. Ugh! Also, not enough Superman’s theme is featured in this film.
Fake Batman voices are to be preferred to whatever Batfleck would have come up with. Thank you audio effects. Thank you.
“Moving” = 18/33
The CGI within this film is text book for pristine excellence for a Hollywood production of this budget. A full point is deducted for the not so inspired monster design of Doomsday being a gray, Ninja Turtle, knockoff.
Explosions are solid as is gunfire and bleeding effects. Practical effects shine during the Bruce Wayne charging into Metropolis sequence.
I wasn’t in love with Superman’s suit in the first film, but it has grown on me. Batman’s suit is great from the neck down. Lex Luthor’s apparel is fitting for a genius tweaker who couldn’t be bothered by the concept of “respectable attire.”
Hair & Makeup
Neither exceptional nor horribly out of place.
Kent farm exteriors were perfect. Cityscapes (only slightly) less so.
I must say that I was impressed by this iteration of the Bat Cave.
“Picture” = 23/33
Batman sees first-hand what the damage of meta-humans can do to a city of mere Earthlings and feels mankind may need to go to war with Superman to survive.
So the world’s greatest detective would not have thoroughly explored all avenues, investigated all the players and exhausted every last resource before forcing a physical confrontation with a god? If he did, he would not have been played so easily by the bad guys.
Batman and Superman just formally met, so to witness this contrived mutual respect they suddenly upgrade to is ridiculous.
I sometimes hear Daredevil narration when Batman speaks. Superman easily has the best lines if for any other reason he isn’t flapping his lips all the time. Every line of dialogue for Luthor equates to ear rot.
The audience gets just enough to comprehend what’s happening in this film only and absolute zero for everything that happened off screen in the time immediately after Man of Steel. Also, these scenes aren’t blended particularly well with the action to help with the pacing.
Superman kills. Batman kills. And Lex Luthor is a tool. These are all certainly unique takes on these particular characters historically, but also demonstrates a fundamental disconnect with the cores of who they are. If Superman kills, his principles are no longer his greatest strength. If Batman kills, his ironclad will and excellence of execution and preparation is rusted. If Luthor has no backbone, no level of intelligence or resources will ever make him a viable threat because above all else, he is defined by his own hubris.
Amazingly enough, I relate to Superman the best in this film because despite his amazing abilities he isn’t trying to lord anything over anyone and is really just trying to do the right thing the best way he can. I’d understand Batman’s perspective if it were based on something more than vengeance. I have no motivation to relate to Luthor as I mentally switch him off whenever he’s onscreen.
“Story” = 13/34
Overall MPS Rating: 54/100
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is an average blockbuster. It wasn’t atrocious, nor was it anything spectacular, but apparently that’s enough for its crucifixion. An unfocused story combined with questionable casting and inconsistent performances demonstrate major weaknesses for perhaps one of the most hyped and anticipated film fictions of all time. The expectations were clearly impossible to satisfy, but one film attempting to do so much in a mere 2.5 hours was all but inviting disaster. A simpler story focusing on an introduction between Batman and Superman and how their credos differ in almost every way would have been more than enough to fill out a full time slot. Then again, what made this plot work in The Dark Knight Returns is the fact that these two characters had a long history of conflict and disagreement that built up to a direct physical confrontation which clearly doesn’t fit in Batman v Superman. Simply put, this was not the fiction to rip-off to launch this new generation of heroes, and that is Zack Snyder’s fault. Taking a risk by inventing a brand new framework for licensed characters is not something indicative of a Snyder production. His history is adaptation through emulation and that brief stint with originality gifted us all with Sucker Punch. Need I say more?