Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice (aka Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice) 2016 USA Directed by Zack Snyder UK cinema release print.
I had it all worked out that I’d deliver a scathing critical blow by calling this review The Brave And The Dulled when I came to write up this movie. However, after having seen said movie, I realised that was impossible because, contrary to both my own expectations based on the awful previous movie, Man Of Steel, and the negative reactions by the press... not to mention terrible word of mouth online... it turns out that Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice is actually a pretty good little movie. It has a few problems, for sure, and you can bet I’ll be pointing them out in a minute, but... ultimately, it’s both a vast improvement over director Snyder’s former Superman movie and it delivers a nice spin, although not an original one, on some of DCs flagship characters. I’ll fess up and say I’ve seen almost all of the director’s previous movies and Man Of Steel is the only one I didn’t like... so I’m happy that this movie sees a certain ‘return to form’ for the director. At least as far as I’m concerned.
So the good stuff here is that the film doesn’t change or in any way pervert the characters like the previous film did... and fans of Batman who are saying it does, really need to look back to both the character’s origins and, also, the history of comic books, for a little enlightenment there. I count myself as an ardent admirer of the character over the years and this certainly does him justice. Also, the problems in the last film of Superman making the decision to kill General Zod and also not being able to stop gazillions of innocent people being killed are used as a motivator on the plot point on this movie’s ‘bout of the century’ and the weight it’s given in the script does make amends, somewhat, for Snyder’s choices on Man Of Steel. Although Supermanstill doesn’t wear his underpants on the outside here and that’s a detail that definitely needs some correcting.
Okay, so I can guess that some non-comic book fans or, more, people who don’t know the rich legacy of multi-character cross-overs, don’t understand the politics of character ‘team ups’ and I can imagine a lot of the movie going feeling short changed on this movie over what is, frankly, a little punch up towards the end of the story between the two title characters. But it is a greatly misleading title and one which, I’m sure, a lot of comic book fans discounted as being in any way truthful very early on in the marketing of this movie... especially when the subtitle Dawn Of Justice was added. Now, personally, I think they should have stuck to the legacy of the two characters crossing over because, after the first few times they did it in one or other of their comics, back in the 1940s I seem to remember, they were doing it a lot under the title World's Finest... and that was a comic that ran for many decades, if memory serves me correctly. I wish the studio had been more honest and less ‘marketing monded’ with the general public and called it that. Perhaps, then, there’d be a few less disappointed audiences out there on this one.
Either way, this is how a comic book cross-over works in both the DC and Marvel Universes... and you already saw a little bit about how this plays on film in Marvel’s The Avengers (reviewed here). So the characters would meet and they’d basically start fighting each other over a disagreement or because they’ve been duped by one or more villains. This is even how it happened in the famous, first 'cross-company' oversized comic book in the 1970s... Spider-Man Vs Spiderman. The heroes will fight for a short while and then find the error of their ways and spend the rest of the time teamed up against their common villain/s. And that’s pretty much the way this movie works too... except the prelude to the fight takes most of the movie and leads up to a kind of prelude to the final act. But getting their is entertaining enough, even if the showdown is a bit of a damp squib of a battle.
Okay, so no surprises in this film and lots of nicely shot, nicely edited and well acted drama. It’s a cool piece of work with Henry Cavill still being a good fit for Superman... and with a script that helps him do that, this time around. Ben Affleck was always going to be a perfect fit for Bruce Wayne and he decides to play him very cynically here but it still works pretty well. Jeremy Iron’s Alfred is pretty cool too, and I prefer him to Michael Caine’s recent take on the character in some ways... although neither of these versions are in any way faithful to the original Alfred Pennyworth in the comics, it seems to me. Gal Godot as Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman is pretty great in this movie and... yeah, she kind of steals it by the final act, that’s for sure. Looking forward to seeing her in action in cinemas next year which presumably tells the story of her exploits in World War One, referenced in a photograph in this movie. Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor is a little off with his ‘madness’ it seems to me.... although he does have an interesting quirk where he invades the space of other characters regularly by touching them, which was interesting. Amy Adams is pretty cool and Holly Hunter is wasted but certainly knocks her role out of the park. All pretty good.
Okay... there are a couple of problems.
Right from the start the writers wisely gets through the whole Batman origin story by cross-cutting the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne with the discovery of the bat-cave, during the credits. Good. This saves time in the rest of the film and the director can hit the ground running. However, there’s a point in that opening which had me growling my head off until I realised that it had been mixed into a dream sequence (for the record, Batman can’t levitate) and this sets up the fact that Bruce Wayne has a lot of ‘dream state’ visions in this movie and it’s a way over-relied on ploy by the film-makers to access some beautiful scenes (at least one of which owes a very strong debt to Frank Miller’s classic Batman tale, The Dark Knight Returns) but it really is a ‘have your cake and eat it’ kind of scenario and the problem is that you can never tell if you’ve suddenly gone into a ‘dream moment’ or not. Which means a scene which seems like a foreshadowing of disaster, and may or may not return in a future movie, is not to be trusted and seems like a nonsense at the moment. So that’s a bit of a shame.
Another problem is the physics of this universe, which seem to have changed since the last movie. In that movie Superman warned Lois to move further back and then further still so he wouldn’t hurt her with the aftermath of him taking off to flight from standing still. Fair enough but in this movie, he can do it standing right next to her on a balcony with no warning and no consequences... doesn’t make sense, does it?
Okay, now four other members of the Justic League of America make appearances in this film, three of them small, and a larger role for Wonder Woman. The problem is that the sequence where the other three are shown means that in a scene set in water, later on in the film, you assume a certain other character will make a return appearance and, when he doesn’t, it leaves you a bit disappointed. Secondly, if the whole thing seems shoehorned in to give the DC cinematic universe something to quickly combat the slowly earned and built up Marvel Avengers movies to rake in the cash... well, yeah, it does seem like it and it does kinda hurt the film, to be honest. The exception being Wonder Woman who is carefully worked into the story right from the start and who appears naturally in a scene which shouldn’t have been used in the trailers because it’s such a great entrance.
Another problem is that there’s another very famous character, and I’m not talking about Wonder Woman, featured in the last trailer for the movie and as soon as comic book fans see that character, they’ll have another pretty good idea of just where the producers are going with this movie. Yes, they do make it a partial adaptation of a very famous Superman comic and yes, we are left with an ending to the film that none of us really believe, and with good reason. There’s no post credits scene in this movie but viewers would be advised not to blink as they get to the end of the very obvious final shot of the film.
Okay, what else? Well, for a two and a half hour movie, the action is flat and minimal. Personally I don’t mind that but I think some audiences are going to be disappointed with that. It’s not great fun, nor probable when you think of the way Batman’s ‘gun’ works, that Superman can be taken down so easily in certain scenes. The physics seems slightly ‘off’ but it’s okay, I guess... just not very interesting. A bit dull. But it serves the story so, what the heck.
Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s score (plus a load of others if you read the fine print at the end of the movie credits) is not terrible in that it at least builds upon the leitmotif that Zimmer used in the previous film and their are definitely some thematic elements for the other characters. Wonder Woman’s one is kinda interesting. I haven’t listened to it as a stand alone score as yet but am hoping to give the CD a spin once I’m done writing this. I need to revisit the original score again too, after it started growing on me when I rewatched Man Of Steel last week in preparation for this movie. It doesn’t hurt the film and seems appropriate, pretty much. So that’s all cool. I’m seeing Zimmer in concert next month so it’ll be interesting to see if he does any of this score then.
Okay, that’s about it. There are some nice references for comic book fans such as the nod to The Mark Of Zorro (augmented here with Excalibur) as the film playing before Bruce Wayne loses his parents and a nice dig to audience members such as myself who prefer the Superman character rooted in the values of his origins in 1938. This kind of thing is always good and doesn’t hurt the film either. Other than that... not much else to say. Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice is a far better movie than I was expecting and certainly helps fill in the crater left by Man Of Steel. There’s a scene where a character from the first film returns which might annoy some people but I’m trying hard not to put spoilers in here so won't address that now. All in all, though, I think some people will like this a lot more than most of the critics and I reckon its something you just need to take a chance on, truth be told. I’m glad I didn’t get putt off seeing it... although I really wasn’t looking forward to it. Pleasantly surprised, though, so that’s good.
First and foremost, I enjoyed Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I've seen it three times now, and each time I find myself appreciating it more and more. I could go on and on praising the things I do like about the film, but the first time I saw the movie, there were two things that really bothered me. After seeing BvS a second and third time, they still really bother me. I can't get over one scene with Superman, and Batman turning into the freaking Punisher whenever he's in a vehicle just feels wrong. So, instead of going on and on to my fiance about this - her patience for my babbling knows no bounds, but she has better things to do than listen to me complain about fictional characters - I'm going to share my opinion on the Internet. That's always a great idea, right?
Ben Affleck's Batman is amazing. The costume design is pure bliss for my eyes and Affleck absolutely nailed the performance. The cinematography and choreography with him in action was terrific and the voice delivered. It's my favorite live-action version of Batman (I still love you very much, Michael Keaton), but what's up with his moral code? He's a brutal man, but whenever he's in a vehicle, he's totally cool with taking multiple lives. This is especially bothering because, before the movie was released, we were told those guns on the Batmobile are non-lethal. As for the clip of the Batwing taking out gunmen from the trailer, I honestly thought Lex Luthor hacked the Batwing and he was doing that to make Superman think Batman needs to be stopped. But nope, that's not the case.
Get your murder runnin'.
When Batman's in the Batmobile, he straight up kills dudes. When he's flying the Batwing, he obliterates other dudes. Yes, these dudes are bad dudes, but they're still human dudes. Okay, I'll stop saying "dudes" now, but the point remains: Batman's taking lives and apparently not giving a damn. In defense of this, director Zack Snyder pointed out the fact that Batman kills in other movies and he claims Batman killed "all the time" in Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, and Lynn Varley's The Dark Knight Returns. Snyder also says Batman's killing by "proxy" in the movie, meaning if Bruce shoots a car and it blows up, it's not on Batman if the explosion kills the foe who happens to be in the car (but it definitely is on Batman). Well, two things: Batman killing in the other movies is something I - and many others - aren't a fan of, and as far as I can tell, Batman only kills once in The Dark Knight Returns - even his mega tank was non-lethal! To be fair, Snyder does his own version of the specific kill scene from TDKR and even tones it down, so I'm not bothered by that one; however, the whole "if he dies, he dies" mentality while Batman's in vehicles just isn't cool to me.
A moment of silence for Anatoli Knyazev, a.k.a. KGBeast, please.
I was okay with Superman killing General Zod in Man of Steel. To me, it made sense for that scenario - it's not like the Phantom Zone, Kryptonite, or a Red Sun Room were available at that time. As far as I can tell, there was no way to incarcerate or incapacitate Zod. But this version of Batman is too smart, too experienced, and too high tech to simply use basic projectiles in his vehicles. I mean, we're talking about a guy that has devices designed just to disable firearms (as seen in that very awesome Batman vs. goons melee). Am I really supposed to believe that he and Alfred strive for non-lethal when Batman's out and about on his feet, but his vehicles don't have the same kind of options? How isn't there tech that focuses on disabling a vehicle's engine? What about low level electric attacks? Or a precise version of the projectile that exists just to disable firearms? What about being cliche and going for the tires? Batman and Alfred are way more clever and inventive than I could ever hope to be, so I'm sure they can think of so many non-lethal measures for the vehicles.
Batman killing in that twisted, Injustice-ish dream/possible future is fine because it seems like that's a scenario where hope is completely gone and it's all about survival and taking out a blatantly evil Superman, but I just can't get over Batman channeling his inner Deadshot while he uses his vehicles. Has he always been like this? If so, how is Joker still alive? I'm guessing they've had a chase or two back in the day, and this Batman shows no mercy when he's out on the road. I was thinking this mentality could be new, but Alfred's comments about good men becoming cruel just seemed to be about Batman branding his enemies and his feeling of powerlessness against Superman. It was also implied that Alfred works on the vehicles, so I'm guessing those weapons have been on the Batmobile and Batwing for quite some time. You can still show Batman being brutal and darker without having him casually crossing the line a number of times. If anything, having him not murder in those scenes makes him far more impressive, and it would make that final kill towards the end - which, again, is pretty much straight from TDKR - more powerful.
Superman: You don't understand, Bruce! Hmmm. Maybe shoving you will help you understand!
My second biggest criticism: Superman not trying nearly hard enough to talk to Batman (and way to ignore the real bad guys in the chase scene, Clark). I totally get what they were going for in the film, but I don't think it was handled nearly as well as it should have been. Superman wants to talk it out, but Batman becomes more and more frustrating. Then, before Superman knows it, he's suddenly fighting for his life because he's inhaled some Kryptonite. But the thing is, Superman really didn't try that hard to deescalate the situation. He was sincere at first, but when they came face-to-face, Batman just angrily said "I understand" before Kal-El uses his immense strength to effortlessly shove Batman away. Why? What threat did Batman even pose at that point? It just made Superman kind of look like a jerk, and he's supposed to be the polar opposite of that!
After being attacked twice, Superman wanted to put Batman down and then talk it out, but he really should have tried harder before reaching that point. He still could have said more while they were on the street; he could've mentioned Luthor and manipulation, and then Batman would have resisted and been even more aggressive. It still could have quickly escalated, but it could have had more of Superman's good heart and spirit shine through before the fight turned really vicious. Can you tell yet that I was really disappointed that the Man of Steel didn't try harder to talk to Bruce? Because I was. I don't mind them fighting or Superman growing tired of Batman's actions, but at least show us more of Superman's warmth before he's forced to fight for his life against the Dark Knight.
Neither of these things are huge complaints to me, but they have really stuck with me. I love Man of Steel, so my expectations for this movie - especially when it comes to the handling of the iconic characters - were way up there. I'm fine with the movie aiming to make Superman even more conflicted about his actions and Batman even darker and more savage, but not showing us Superman's benevolence when it matters the most felt like a missed opportunity for the hero. And Batman going all gun happy whenever he's in a vehicle? The guy's got to stop that; he can be shockingly harsh without doing that. Thankfully, Bruce's final dialogue with Wonder Woman - who was awesome, by the way - seems to imply he may stop the killing-spree. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. I'm excited for the road ahead, but I really hope we see more of Superman's uplifting personality appear, and less of Batman turning his enemies into swiss cheese and blowing them up.