Zack Snyder’s 2013 film Man of Steel ended with Metropolis being laid to waste during the climactic battle between Superman and General Zod. One of the criticisms leveled at that movie involved the vast amount of collateral damage where innocents were killed as buildings fell. In answer to that Snyder does address that very issue in the opening moments of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. In those opening scenes we witness Bruce Wayne (a superb Ben Affleck) speeding through the chaos and destruction in Metropolis to get his people out of Wayne Enterprises. He arrives in time to help free a security guard who has been pinned under wreckage, and to save a young girl who has just been orphaned. The look in Wayne’s eyes as he watches Superman (Henry Cavill) radiates pure anger, an outrage for the seeming carelessness that the Kryptonian’s actions are being undertaken, resulting in carnage and human suffering. It’s a great scene, and it sets the tone for the movie early on. Unlike its counterpart movies from Marvel and Disney, Warner Bros and DC Entertainment bring us a much darker, brooding comic book movie. Batman v Superman brings with it a level of brutality not always shown in comic book movies, and to an extent that does work in its favor. But does it entertain its audience?
To a point, yes. But those expecting lighter fare, with action sequences interspersed with plenty of comedic touches, may come away feeling a bit disappointed, if not a bit shell shocked.
This version of Batman is the most brutal version brought to the screen yet, echoing Frank Miller’s take on the iconic character but without the raging crazy. This Batman will kill, and even use guns if the need arises. He’s driven by a rage and a need for justice caused by witnessing the death of his parents. We see yet another version of that famous origin story, with a slight supernatural twist when young Bruce falls into a hole in the ground and is lifted out by a swarm of bats. It’s an eerie yet powerful scene, enhanced with a soaring score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL. This is a brooding yet committed Bruce Wayne, tended to by his somewhat surly butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons). Irons plays Alfred with a bit of weariness and devotion, given to make remarks under his breath. In a film without much humor Irons does provide some, as his insights are amusing and good for a chuckle or two. Affleck plays Batman as a man who will do what he needs to in order to get justice, and if that means doing something unpleasant, so be it. We do get to see a bit more of Batman the detective in this film as Bruce investigates both Superman and Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), a manic industrialist who dabbles in some shady dealings. Bruce’s investigations have him cross paths with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot, very good in the role), a mysterious woman who turns out to be someone of great power.
Batman/Bruce Wayne gets the better scenes in the movie, while Cavill’s Superman comes across as a lesser presence despite sharing equal billing in the movie’s title. Cavill is decent here, but isn’t as commanding as he was in Man of Steel, often feeling somewhat flat, even in scenes where he argues with his editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) about the need to cover Batman. The scenes between Clark and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) feel even flatter, and Lane seems to have been relegated to being a simple plot device to move things along. She gets into trouble and Superman arrives to save her, with unintended consequences. A raid on a terrorist compound in Africa leads to hearings before the US Senate and Senator June Finch, who questions the wisdom of allowing Superman to act unchecked. Things reach a point where protests are in full force outside of the Capitol building, echoing current real world politics in dealing with illegal aliens and xenophobia. A trap rigged by Luthor only exacerbates these feelings, and we watch as a hero becomes viewed as a villain. The idea of just how much power we can allow one individual to have comes into play here. The question of when the pursuit of justice for some overall endangers others becomes prominent, along with what type of hero we really need. It’s heady stuff, and presented nicely, even if the story becomes a bit disjointed while presenting us with these ideas to ponder. Much has been made of the 30 minutes removed from the theatrical cut that will be reinstated into the home video version (raising the film’s rating from PG-13 to R), and it remains to be seen as to whether those scenes should have been left in or not, if they would have improved the flow of the story.
As far as the action goes, Snyder proves again that he is adept at staging violent, spectacular scenes of battle. The titular fight between the two icons occurs in the latter third of the film, with Batman using tricks straight out of the comics to take on Superman. Their battle takes place in a deserted area of the city, so as they throw each other through walls no collateral damage results. Things change though when confronted with Doomsday, a creation of Luthor’s, who proves almost too much for our heroes, even with the aid of Wonder Woman. The Doomsday fight, while filled with nice visual effects and plenty of action, comes across as a bit cheesy, as this is Doomsday in name only and not a good representation of the character from the comics. We do get a moment that some will not expect, however, and this alone at least keeps this from failing like the climactic battle in the movie Green Lantern. The aftermath will affect things going forward, as Bruce tells Diana to gather the other metahumans, as they’re “going to need to fight”. We only get the briefest glimpses of Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash, teases really, so that sense of a dawn of justice isn’t quite felt. We’re left with questions that we now need to wait for Snyder to complete and release the Justice League movie for us to get any answers. It’s a little less satisfying a conclusion to the movie than having us actually see all of these individuals come together. Even with this, the audience I watched the movie with appeared pleased with the end results, with a smattering of applause being heard in the theater as the credits began to roll.
Ultimately Batman v Superman succeeds in most places but falls short in others. Batman once again gets the lion’s share of the good scenes, while Superman falls a bit flat despite his importance to the proceedings. Affleck is a joy to watch here, giving us a thoughtful and intense Bruce Wayne. Gadot makes the most of her screen time, and excels in the action scenes as Wonder Woman (her musical theme kicks ass, and really stands out). If I wasn’t anticipating the Wonder Woman movie coming in 2017 prior to seeing Gadot’s performance, I can safely say it’s definitely on my radar now. Eisenberg gave us a slightly different Lex Luthor, showing him to be a bit more manic and more unhinged, and yet intelligent enough to be a genuine menace. Cavill and Adams both felt a bit flat, neither exhibiting the chemistry that was felt in Man of Steel. For the minor characters, both Fishburne’s White and Irons’ Alfred fared best, interjecting some much needed humor into an otherwise somber movie. The movie is dark, brooding, brutal, and for the most part entertaining. But one sense this could have been more. Perhaps now that the groundwork has been laid, the next film for DC will give us the heroes we both need and deserve. Time will tell.
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