Following the cataclysmic destruction of Downtown Metropolis by Superman and the Kryptonians, a jaded Bruce Wayne, who bore witness to the event, feels he must plan for a new era of threats. Manipulated by the actions of Lex Luthor, it seems inevitable that the two heroes will collide, distracting them from Lex’s grand plan.
It’s hard to think of a film that, prior to release, polarised its potential audience as much as Dawn of Justice did, but as a continuation to a Superman film that itself polarised fans, by a director who generally does the same, and with the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman, who, despite an impressive body of work that encompasses writing, directing and acting, still invites distain from many a cinemagoer, the first live action Batman/Superman crossover film was always going to be heftily debated.
Since it’s release last Friday the film has been critically trounced but the movie-going public have remained polarised, attacking or defending the film, as is often the case, almost zealously. Hopefully, as some kind of counterpoint, it is with a level head and four days worth of house-moving hindsight that this reviewer, who very much enjoyed and often defends (though not zealously) Man of Steel, will write of BvS, a film I was very much anticipating.
To put it right out there up front, I enjoyed Dawn of Justice a great deal but can recognise its flaws, some of which can be explained away, some ignored but others just can’t, but then, isn’t that the case with most films.
Starting with the titular characters; Henry Cavill continues in pretty much the same way he did with Man of Steel, the story taking him to places where he has to carry on being the good guy while being idolised and called into question in equal measure. If you didn’t like Cavill’s take on Superman previously, Dawn of Justice won’t win you over.
Ben Affleck, however, has turned many a doubters head, with reviews stating that his portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman is the highlight of the film, and that claim isn’t without merit, Affleck’s Batman is as close an interpretation to Frank Miller’s disillusioned and brutal comicbook counterpoint as we’ve ever seen; his demeanour, stature and outlook reeking of intimidation, although his penchant for putting criminal scum in the position where they’re almost certainly going to die may be off-putting to fans that haven’t read or didn’t enjoy Miller’s Dark Knight or All Star Batman series.
The side characters do well, although in some cases aren’t given a huge amount to play with, Amy Adams’ Lois Lane, for instance and for good or bad depending on your stance on the classic Superman dynamic, has become little more than a liability with drive, getting herself into danger or finding herself that way at the behest of a villain only to have Superman drop everything to save her; hackneyed a dynamic it may be, but I have to confess to quite enjoying it. Jeremy Irons in the role of Alfred, Batman’s butler, assistant, armourer, IT support, engineer, doctor and conscience, actually excels; a great surprise considering the fact that I previously have considered him to be one of the more overrated thesps in the business.
Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman has her own agenda in the film that acts as an introduction to the greater DC Cinematic Universe, this manifests itself in enigmatic, dialogue-light appearances or being mentioned as part of Batman’s investigation, which has the unfortunate side effect of us seeing little to nothing of her personality, she’s essentially looking good or kicking ass, or looking good while kicking ass, which she does very well, but a taste of what we should expect, character-wise, from her solo film (coming soonish) wouldn’t have gone amiss.
You’ve probably heard some bad stuff about Jesse Eisenberg, or his a wittering, maniacal interpretation of Lex Luthor, which is practically Luthor in name only. Although not making for a bad villain per se, in a creepy, unsettling way, and despite his master plan being spot-on, it just doesn’t feel like Luthor, a character that, like Doctor Doom, still evades a decent cinematic equivalent. Why won’t someone try a strong, in contol, megalomaniacal, genius, business tycoon whose beef with Superman is a simple yet alien sense of inferiority, as worked so well through the comics in the 80s and 90s, and on the now classic animated series. Lord, you could even shave Clancy Brown’s head and have him play the role in live action… But I digress.
Somehow less grounded in feel than Man of Steel, director Zack Snyder has reverted back to his highly stylised sensibilities, taking the intense action beats of from both MoS and his other DC adaptation, Watchmen, and, come the climactic confrontations, infuses them with the stylistic edge of something like Sucker Punch, which to a person of my own tastes is as exciting as it is invigorating, but to people who don’t like the cut of Snyder’s directorial jib, that same description of style will sound like hell on screen. I guess no view is more valid than the other, so it’s totally taste dependent.
As far as action goes Batman steals the show, albeit in scenes largely shown in the trailer, but the super-brawls are brilliant, inventive and high-octane. The down side of the epic nature of these action set pieces is that they require copious amounts CG that is most assuredly going to age very quickly.
The central story to Dawn of Justice is actually quite simple as is demonstrated with the concise synopsis at the top of the article, but the attempts to build a mythology and direction, before and aft, for multiple characters and the continuity as a whole, lead the narrative, which has been cut down for timing, to seem rather muddy with several elements feeling shoe-horned in. The film would have been better served by being either half an hour shorter to really capitalise on the pace and the big duke out, or half an hour longer to explore the intricacies of the continuity in a less choppy, more considered fashion.
To boil it down, despite being flawed, Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is a larger than life, exciting, comicbook movie through and through. It takes several detours and quite a while to get to the point but once there it’s blistering. There are enough twists in the tale to ensure that the spoiler filled trailers didn’t quite spoil everything, but the bold decisions made in respects to tone, story, casting and visuals equally ensure that the film will never be as universally adored as the best of Marvel’s output, in fact, and as the evidence is showing, it’s likely to be as much hated as it is enjoyed.