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Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

8 min read

Batman V Superman Image 1Well… I just sat through a screening Batman and Superman going at it. Yeah, it was great to see this meeting play out on screen Bruce and Clark were used wonderfully. The screenplay was excellent. We had a great use of Lois Lane throughout. I really have to hand it to Bruce Timm and Paul Dini and crew….

Wait what? I’m supposed to be reviewing Dawn of Justice? But… I actually liked the World’s Finest animated movie from the mid 90s. That animation team captured everything I liked about the characters…. *sigh* You really want to hear about Dawn of Justice huh? Well, since I actually paid to see it and this article is titled as such…
Where to begin? Well… guess we’ll start with the premise. We first get shown the origin of Batman as young Bruce watches his parents get gunned down by street thief Joe Chill. Scene shifts abruptly to the funeral from which he runs and falls into a previously unknown Batcave, where the bats proceed to lift him into light in one of several dream sequences placed throughout the movie. (Really, there’s so many you’d think these screenwriters studied at the Sylvester Stallone school of music montages, founded in the 1980s.)

We switch to Metropolis many years later, in which older Bruce (now played by Ben Affleck) is watching the city be destroyed (including one of the buildings he owns with people inside) as Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon) have their final battle. This sequence is interesting to watch actually from the man-on-the-ground perspective even though it was seen previously. After it’s over, the man in question silently vows vengeance on the aliens responsible.

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Jump to 18 months later, and a mysterious salvage operation is taking place in the Indian Ocean, Meanwhile, over in Africa, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen are trying to meet a hostile warlord for an interview. One of his men detects a CIA tracer on Jimmy and the warlord promptly kills him. (Yes you read that right, Jimmy Olsen is killed after about 3 minutes screen time.) Some of the warlords’s men turn and start a firefight for some unknown reason. Lois herself however is saved by a flying blu-&-red blur. This incident attracts the attention of a junior senator (Holly Hunter) who looks to making the Man of Steel accountable to the U.S. government. Soon, zany scientist Alexander Luthor (Jessie Eisenberg) comes to talk about ideas regarding Superman, and what the government could do for Lex in exchange.

Meanwhile, reports surface of a Bat-like vigilante popping up in Metropolis and branding criminals. Clark Kent asks permission to investigate but editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) says no and instead wants Clark to pursue something for the local sports column. Bruce, on the other hand, is talking with his longtime butler and friend Alfred (Jeremy Irons) about various activities going on and, of course, his obsession with getting rid of the alien in Metropolis. Eventually though, he’s invited to a party at Luthor’s home, where chance encounters with both Clark Kent and the mysterious Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) accelerate events.

Now where to start after all that…? Try for the good aspects? Ok, then I’ll be brief.

I’ll talk about Superman himself first. He’s still got some of the personality traits we saw in Man of Steel but he’s not as forceful or out of control as he was in the previous film. Some impertinence does come out at times, but he also has a genuine desire to help people that comes through more often than not in the times we actually get to see him in action (in sequences where h gets to do some nifty super-powered stuff) and not repeat mistakes from the Kryptonian fights. One incident in particular causes him to doubt some things that his father instilled into him and possibly re-think how he should relate to humanity. Cavill is decent in these scenes and in his performance overall as both Superman and Clark Kent.

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Affleck himself is also quite decent as both Bruce Wayne and Batman. We get to see him do some of his detective work in undercover scenes and at the cave while having some pretty good conversations with Alfred. Irons gives sufficient depth need to counsel Affleck’s Master Wayne and the two display good chemistry as a result. As Batman, there’s one fight sequence where he takes on a group of armed thugs during the big battles that is handled quite nicely.

Speaking of big battles, it was nice to see Wonder Woman brought to the forefront eventually after all the teases we’ve been getting throughout the film and the trailers. Gal Gadot made a believer out of me in every sequence she appeared, whether portraying wily Diana or her powerful alter ego. Gadot’s Israeli action training helped maker her depiction of the Amazon princess immensely believable.

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That’s about where the best stuff ends though, at least in the case of the female characters. I mean, Hunter’s senator is ok but only as a means to an end. Lois is there to save or be saved by Superman while counseling him and not really given much to do as an independent Daily Planet reporter should have. Martha Kent (reprised by Diane Lane) gets pretty much the same treatment. Mercy Graves remains unnamed for her time on screen and is given very little to do as Luthor’s assistant / bodyguard. In the comics, she’s incredibly lethal and loyal to Luthor’s interests. Here she’s… capable of… well seemingly nothing and barely noticeable.

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Speaking of Luthor…. he …is… nuts… and not entirely entertaining. Really, who thought having Jessie Eisenberg be jokey and insane was a good idea? He should be fearsome with menacing presence (and maybe an evil joke or two) not annoying. Gene Hackman, Kevin Spacey, Clancy Brown, Michael Rosenbaum… they (although differently) gave great interpretations of what an evil scientist and powerful businessman could be like on screen. Eisenberg…. wasn’t. I don’t want The Joker or The Creeper. I want a lethal S.O.B. for once here. One saving grace though is that at least Luthor’s not after real estate this go around.

This is only one small symptom of the overall problem I have with this film, mostly due to Zack Snyder himself, who along with screenwriters David Goyer and Chris Terrio, demonstrate no real grasp of who these characters are or their importance in the world of fictional storytelling. The screenplay is very haphazard as scenes jump from one moment to the next with no real flow found in the horrible editing at times. The big battle that comes in the final 30 minutes is fine enough, though to be honest, Batman and Superman’s slugfest felt a little cheesy at times, especially with its resolution. Granted it’s an interesting connection they have but very tenuous at best.

Still, Snyder shows he has no idea how to adapt comic superheroes with a free hand and seems to care little about respect. He did well with Watchmen because he had Alan Moore’s excellent story to work from. Here, though, he seems to enjoy picking pieces from the characters’ various mythos This script cherry picks from successful DC stories and tries to jury rig them together without retaining what makes the characters who they are. Comic-quoted dialogue is used at timed but comes off flat on screen. It reminds me of Fox’s Daredevil movie which presented some classic comics moments but with little foundation to carry weight and film was only partially successful as a result. Superman’s best friend from the comics is killed in the openings of this movie (without being named except in the closing credits,) simply because Zack Snyder felt there was no room for him in the upcoming Justice League movie and he thought It’d be fun to kill the character. The idea of simply not using this mainstay apparently didn’t occur to him at all.

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Batman flies around killing people and use machine guns in the Batmobile to try and steal something from a perfectly legal convoy. Guys are being killed in car crashes and explosions as a result. Snyder chalks this up to being manslaughter instead of murder and so this is ok by him. Even though he used fatal methods early on in the 1930s comics, Batman has evolved into a heroic symbol of something an extraordinary human could achieve to save lives without taking them so often and so casually as evidenced by modern comics and the animated works by Bruce Timm and the like. Snyder bases his movie’s mindset on Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight returns, which was largely an exaggeration of Batman but even then he didn’t kill anyone, despite what Snyder says. He also references the ‘89 Batman movie (directed by a guy who didn’t read or like comics before then in the first place) in which Batman drives his car into a building full of people, drops off bombs and kills everyone inside. This is not Batman-like. That’s the Punisher. Since I just got a good Punisher in Jon Bernthal, there’s no need for imitators here.

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The screenplay’s progression took me out of things a bit, so when I tried to get into it during the big fights taking place, it harder to do. How is it Batman has been fighting crime in Gotham City (which is now located just across a river) for 20 years but nobody’s heard of him much until now? Why would Perry White want a story about local sports more than an investigative piece on a vigilante who’s branding people on the streets? Why is Luthor doing what he’s doing when the seeming end result would be his own death as well as everyone else’s? Why does he hate Superman so much? There’s a logical reason for assembling the team by movie’s end but by the time we get to that point in the closing moments (after an excessively long denouement) too much weirdness diminishes what is actually good in this film.

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In reflecting on the promotion and the actual film itself, it’s honestly very sad to see this movie come out. We now have a film featuring three of the biggest superheroes in pop culture that has had people cheering on-line because Batman kills people, and will have a home release that is R-rated so that kids can’t see those characters by themselves. (Let that last part sink in.) The attitude from WB about their having being a better comic film world because it’s more serious and wouldn’t focus on Ant-Man doesn’t hold water. The action is decent here but, darkness aside, the structure of this film is severely flawed while it rushes to produce a starting point for future Justice League movies. Marvel Comics’ more serious works like Daredevil and Captain America: The Winter Soldier were equally dramatic but executed far better than what’s seen in Batman v Superman.

This world is not un-salvageable, but it needs better flicks in the future, preferably not done by Zack Snyder. I’m hopeful for the Wonder woman movie and for a stand-alone Batman movie because of the talents involved. However, by itself, outside of several moments, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice stands next to the likes of the Transformers movies in that it will likely be successful financially but doesn’t really present quality work for its audience.

Grade: D+

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