Forget the ‘v’ for versus, the idea of having Batman and Superman, two of the most iconic superheroes in all of pop culture, on the big screen together for the first time is enough to make even the tiniest of action movie fans giddy. As for me, you don’t have to know me, personally, to know who I side with. Simply skim through my favorite superhero movies and the love for the Dark Knight becomes pretty apparent. As for the overpowered Superman, my feelings toward him have always been the exact opposite. I respect the character, but I’ve always found him boring. That being said, I am on the side that thoroughly enjoyed Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. While most found its story dry and its action over the top, I appreciated the story’s ability to make Superman relatively relatable and I enjoyed the Dragon Ball Z-esque action sequences. So, needless to say, I was incredibly excited to see Snyder step into the director’s chair again as DC Comics attempts to create a cinematic universe akin to their rivals over at Marvel.
If you aren’t as familiar with the various comics as I am, then you’re probably unaware that Batman and Superman have always had a rocky relationship usually stemming from their conflicting styles: Superman, the boy scout and Batman, the fear mongering aggressor. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice sews the seeds of that conflict early by placing Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) at ground zero of Metropolis during the climactic battle from Man of Steel as buildings are destroyed and countless people are killed in the crossfire. From there, the world splits between people like Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) who either love or worship Superman (Henry Cavill), and the people like Bruce Wayne or Metropolis billionaire Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) who fear his power or loathe him for his constant collateral damage.
For starters, put your worries of Ben Affleck’s Batman aside. He is good, albeit brutal, in his portrayal of a weary and war torn Bruce Wayne. Good enough to warrant another solo Batman outing. The action sequences featuring the caped crusader are some of the best in the movie, and I’m not just saying that because of my obvious bias. Jeremy Irons is also a fantastic addition as Wayne’s butler, Alfred. Even the Dawn of Justice elements are not as shoe horned as some might have anticipated. Gal Gadot provides a perfect appetizer for the Wonder Woman character that will be expanded upon in future films.
Now let’s address what doesn’t work. I gave Snyder a pass for his pacing issues in Man of Steel, but here they are even more glaring. From the opening sequence that reminds us of Batman’s origin it is clearly evident that we are watching a Zack Snyder movie thanks to operatic music and overkill on slow motion graphics. There are seven live-action Batman movies in existence (eight if your’re counting this), not to mention countless animated films, television shows, and video games. Do we really need a long opening montage to remind us of the hero’s origin? Things like this coupled with some dragging scenes regarding Lois Lane researching a stray bullet, could’ve been noticeably shortened or cut to make the film less than three hours and make it feel less sluggish. The movie attempts to break the dragging tone with Jesse Eisenberg’s quirky portrayal of Lex Luthor, which mostly misses with the exception of one or two really riveting moments.
But pacing isn’t the biggest problem with the movie. My biggest gripe is the one fans and casual movie goers will likely have as opposed to film critics, and that is the relative false advertising. Instead of calling the movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it should be called “The Philosophy of Superman’s Existence… featuring Batman… with a few Justice League Cameos”. Instead of focusing on the conflicting nature of the two iconic heroes and highlighting their greatest strengths and flaws, the movie meanders through its first half while wallowing in its own philosophical ideals. Sure, several excellent points are raised thanks to some great quotes from Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch and some solid banter between Clark Kent and his boss, Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), but that’s not what the studio spent two years marketing to potential audiences.
We were told that it would be, as Lex Luthor puts it, “God vs. Man. Day vs. Night. Son of Krypton vs. Bat of Gotham”. Yet, when the fight finally does come around, it goes by too fast and its set up seems so forced that the film could almost exist without it altogether. And because of that, even though the last act is full of eye popping action, it seems so thrown together that it isn’t quite enough to justify the weight of the buildup.
It isn’t quite fair to compare this film, or any DC film, to what Marvel has built. DC is attempting a more serious tone to establish a unique feel and there is nothing wrong with that. But if you’re going to be gloomy, wake us up here and there with some action (ala Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy). And if you’re going to have action, give it more purpose. Otherwise you end up with a film like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a movie so hell bent on being thought provokingly serious that it doesn’t stop to appreciate its iconic heroes and revel in the fact that we’re watching a fantasy. There are some great shoutouts to classic DC Comics and the hints at things to come should give purists hope for DC’s cinematic future. But a movie featuring arguably the most popular superheroes of all time deserves better than sub-par.
FINAL GRADE: C-