Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Posted: April 18, 2016 in Movie Reviews

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Ask the average bum on the street to name a superhero and chances are that he’ll mention either Batman or Superman. With a combined 13 films (and that’s not counting any of the older cartoons, television shows, and animated films), Batman and Superman are the defining superheroes. Even with Marvel Studios churning out great films one after the other, nothing will ever defeat the might and attraction of these two titans of comic book lore. Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” comic is a cult classic in the fan community. Now, through the eyes of director Zach Snyder, the ultimate fight is finally realized.

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Summary: (No spoilers)

In the wake of the devastating assault on Metropolis depicted in Man of Steel, the world has a split view on Superman (Henry Cavill—–The Man From U.N.C.L.E.). Some point to his invaluable aid of the human race, while others emphatically point to the desolation and ruin he’s left behind him. As the political ire intensifies by the day, Gotham billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck—–Argo, Good Will Hunting) uses his technological prowess as the Batman to devise a plan to take down the Son of Krypton. Tempers flare on both sides as the two titans head into the greatest gladiator battle the world has ever known.

Also starring: Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, and Jeremy Irons

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How super is Superman? If his heroic actions save the lives of tens of thousands but leaves billions of dollars worth of damage, is it worth it? Can he even be trusted? The old Superman cartoons never bothered to answer these moral dilemmas, and they never needed to. They were upbeat, romping adventures of a superhero stopping bank robbers and blocking erupting volcanoes. But it’s 2016, and in a post-911 world with ISIS inflicting chaos, everybody and everything is under scrutiny. ­Batman v Superman seizes the opportunity to depict a modern world with an alien who can do extraordinary things.

The DC Cinematic Universe got off to a bit of a late start. The almighty Marvel Studios has been crushing it since 2008 with Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Avengers. Following the success of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, DC began their shared universe of caped crusaders with Man of Steel, a film that I personally loved but that received mixed reactions. Batman v Superman needed to be great in order to make people as receptive to the DC films as they are to the Marvel films. While the end result is admirable at times, it’s hardly great.

The film is titled Batman v Superman, therefore it isn’t implausible to assume that they’re gonna duke it out. And with a 2 hour 30 minute runtime, it isn’t implausible to assume that they’re gonna duke it out a lot. Perhaps not as long as Kal-El battled Zod in Man of Steel, but most likely a clash that is drawn out over two fights. You would assume that, wouldn’t you?

Unfortunately the end result hardly plays out that way. The two spend more time battling as friends (not a spoiler, it was in the trailer) than they do as enemies; which would be far less disappointing if the film were titled “Batman and Superman: Dawn of Justice”. The film hypes you up for this epic showdown for the ages. While the struggle itself is enthralling and grand in scope, it hardly constitutes as the gladiator battle we were so enthusiastically promised.

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In his second run as the Son of Krypton, Henry Cavill manages to progress his excellent portrayal, playing it even darker and a tad more brooding this time around. The classic Daily-Planet-reporter-out-saving-cats Superman he may not be, but for a hero who is being shunned and even degraded by society for his valiant efforts, he portrays the Superman adequate for this tone and style.

Amy Adams’ performance as Lois Lane is adequate, while not outstanding; Jeremy Irons brings us a different Alfred than we’ve seen in any Batman iteration: less of a proper English butler and more of a friend and accomplice to Bruce Wayne; Gal Gadot wows us with a strong presence as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman; and Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is, well, shall we say an “interesting” rendition. Eisenberg clearly channels Jim Carrey’s Riddler from Batman Forever (and maybe even hints of Ledger’s Joker) in several moments of the film. Perhaps he was going for the “mad, crazy bad guy that comes off as brilliant” approach, but unfortunately that method of acting didn’t pay off for him.

Where this film truly shines, ironically enough, is with Ben Affleck’s Batman. I say “ironically enough” because a year ago when Affleck was announced fans practically rioted in the street. Now, they’re all in unified agreement that he is perhaps the greatest aspect of this film. While multiple more viewings are required before it can be determined if he rivals Christian Bale’s Batman, I can say this: Ben Affleck is outstanding in this film. Absolutely remarkable. The presence and gravity he brings to both Batman and Bruce Wayne is absolutely perfect for this iteration of the Dark Knight. He’s an older, grizzled war veteran of Gotham crime. He’s been around the block more than a few times. He’s seen things that have likely rocked him to his core. But when he takes to the streets to take down the bad guys, he’s like a tank. His fighting is less grunt-punchy and a little more fluid.

Ultimately, where this film truly loses its focus is in the story—the single most important element of any film. The core storyline and motivation for the heroes serves the film well; it’s quite logical to assume that a Bruce Wayne embittered by the destruction of an entire city would view Superman as an alien, a loose cannon that could potentially wipe humanity from the face of the earth at any time. Therefore you sympathize with him. But you’re also well aware that Superman is no foe to humanity. So when the two battle to the death, you aren’t necessarily rooting for one person.

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But there’s a secondary motivation for these two clashing that links to Lex Luthor. While I won’t reveal it for spoiler reasons, it certainly is not the way the story should have gone. It’s quite unfortunate that Warner Bros. didn’t have the foresight to hire a new director and leave Zach Snyder as producer, because as much as I loved Man of Steel  (which partially had to do with Chris Nolan’s involvement in the project), I despise 300 and Watchmen.

In a nutshell:

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hits many of the right chords, just not the ones that truly matter. Epic in scope and thought-provoking in its morality, the end result is still enjoyable but hardly noteworthy. It’s worth the view, if not to relish the epic (but short-lived) battle between Supes and Bats. In the end, this film leaves me less excited for the subsequent Justice League films (especially considering Zach Snyder’s involvement as director) and ecstatic at the prospect of a Ben Affleck-directed Batman solo film with him starring. That is the film I’ll be eagerly awaiting.

7 stars

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