Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: A Review
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice marks Zack Snyder’s beginning in the DC Universe, with it being an overstuffed, operatic Blockbuster that doesn’t quite fulfil its potential.
The film follows the story of Superman and how he has become the most controversial figure in the world. With many still seeing him as an emblem of hope, an increasing number of people begin to consider him a threat to humanity. As far as Bruce Wayne is concerned, Superman is a danger to society. Fearing for the future of the world, Wayne dons his mask and cape to right Superman’s wrongs. However, a new threat arises, a man who has a power greater than the both of them.
The main issue with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the simple fact it could have been broken in half and used for two separate films. The first, Batman v Superman would have been able to focus on the two titans and their ideological differences which couple circumstance and cause them to come to blows. The second, Dawn of Justice would suit a film that explored the wider DC world, establishing characters and setting up for a promised Justice League movie. The fact that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice attempts to do both in just one is a bold attempt but not an entirely successful one.
Through keeping these two separate ideas and plopping them together into one film, it gives the movie a messy feel. Some scenes feel truncated to get to the next story beat, while others seem as if they were mandated from up on high, forcibly shoehorned in to get the shared universe up and running. This really comes through at two specific points, which are definitely the bum notes of the entire film – and thankfully, are forgotten as the odd pacing momentarily becomes a strength as it speeds through the next couple of scenes, and returns to more palatable plot points.
After a second viewing, the odd editing stands out even more, completely shattering the experience of the world. But in saying this, some individual scenes play out better the second time around, showcasing some foreshadowing that may have been missed upon first glance.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice does, believe it or not, have a lot of strengths. The most obvious is the stellar cast. Led by Ben Affleck (Batman), his performance brings one of the most comic-accurate portrayal of the caped crusader yet. His Bruce Wayne is a tortured soul, reliving his parent’s murder over and over, and subsequently, seething with rage. When he puts on his cape and cowl, the film really sells the audience on the idea that he is, ultimately, the Hades to Superman’s Zeus – playing up the contrast brilliantly between these larger than life characters and their respected worlds. Henry Cavill doesn’t get as much to do, compared to Man of Steel, but he gives the character a real presence and strength, choosing to highlight his inner turmoil and psychological struggles in a couple of quieter scenes with Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane).
The most controversial it seemed of the casting for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was the role of Lex Luthor, played by Jesse Eisenberg, who was disliked by some comic fans who were hoping for someone who was a better lookalike for the comic version. However, his take is a fresh one, with him playing Luthor as a silicon valley-type who doesn’t wear a shirt and pants when he turns up to his open-plan office. This makes the audience underestimate him, leaving us shocked when the extent of his villainy is revealed.
The film itself has an obvious sense of scale and spectacle that sets itself apart from other superhero films. The grand images of gods and monsters doing impossible things really hark back to the comic source material.
The major touchstone for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the acclaimed comic, The Dark Knight Returns. First published in 1986, it tells the story of an older Bruce Wayne drawn out of retirement and into conflict against a Superman who has become the tool of Reagan administration. Written and drawn by Frank Miller, who has had numerous cinematic adaptations of his work (Sin City, 300), the film takes passages of dialogue, recreates specific panels and even adapts a few scenes straight from the comic. For fans of the material, half the fun of this film will be recognising these moments. The film is stuffed with nods to the wider DC universe, ranging from characters cameos to future plot teasers that aren’t entirely explained in the film but are sure to be the driving force of future instalments. This alone shows Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to be a labour of love, and a true celebration of all things DC.
Thematically, the movie is intriguing. Writers David Goyer (Man of Steel) and Chris Terrio (Argo) deal with religion and xenophobia in equal measure. The audience gets to see how the world reacts to Superman, with many fearing him while others treat him as though a messiah. It’s an interesting point of view that isn’t particularly considered in many films of the genre.
The film plays well also as an allegory for the USA’s Islamophobia in the wake of 9/11, hearkening back to Dick Cheney’s one percent rhetoric used to justify detaining and interrogating Muslims indefinitely, all in the name of national security. The way Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice shows both sides of the conflict, following both Batman and Superman, allowing the audience to ultimately understand what drives these characters to act the way they do is perfectly handled. The end point of the conflict and the resolution carriers an emotional beat that feels true and relevant in the world we live in. But for every satisfying moment there is another that is undercooked, a piece of the puzzle that is pruned back from reaching its full potential.
The score, composed by Hans Zimmer (Pirates of the Caribbean) and Tom Holkenborg (Mad Max: Fury Road) is loud and brazen, building on Superman’s themes from Man of Steel while also bringing in very different sounds for newly introduced characters. The highlight of these has to be Wonder Woman’s theme which features a searing riff from an electric cello, played with unrelenting intensity to highlight the character’s warrior side. Lex Luthor gets a theme that is a clever distortion and inversion of Superman’s music, which says a vast amount about the character.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice doesn’t aim for laughs and looking back at the last live-action Batman film that did, and it’s probably for the best. Even though it is structurally messy, thematically ambitious, grand in scale and operatic in tone, the film does has a lot to offer particularly to those well versed in DC comics.