Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a superhero action film. It is a sequel to Zac Snyder’s Man of Steel. The film stars Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams, and Jeremy Irons.
A perspective-flipped battle from Man of Steel shows Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) driving and running through the streets of Metropolis as it’s being destroyed by Superman (Henry Cavill) and Zod (Michael Shannon). Bruce witnesses the deaths and maiming of several people as well as the brutality of two aliens tearing apart a city.
A year and a half later, Zod’s terraforming ship is in the middle of the Indian Ocean, slowly being excavated for materials. Superman stops a plot in Egypt that almost has Lois Lane (Amy Adams) killed. His actions don’t come without consequence, as the collateral damage causes a few civilian deaths. This catches the attention of the government, particularly Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) as she holds Superman particularly accountable for the civilian deaths.
Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne continues his crusade as Batman, branding sex criminals with his signature symbol. The criminals are reported on the news being beaten severely in prison, catching the attention of Clark Kent, Superman’s secret identity. Senator Finch is welcomed into LexCorp by its eccentric CEO, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). He reveals to her that Superman has a vulnerability lying in the remains of Zod’s spaceship after experimenting on Zod’s cadaver. In a gala event hosted by Luthor, Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent finally meet and question each other on the ethics of the “heroes” in their respective cities, neither back down on belief that they are doing the right thing.
The plot is very understandable, but it doesn’t follow a hard narrative, making the flow of the story difficult. There are a few moments for Bruce Wayne and a singular moment for Clark Kent that I could best describe as an insert; some sort of moment that was hastily added in order to push forward either the justifications of their actions or an attempt at characterizing them. There are times where moments linger much longer than they need to, where the audience has already picked up on what’s happening but the scene stays for another 10 seconds before moving forward again. Then in the third act, while the motivations are clear for the characters, everything seems to veer off in a different direction and the audience is quickly jolted into a different motivation for the characters. This change had to be done, but the way it was implemented was jarring.
Clark Kent/Superman has already been established in the previous movie, so his characterizations are more reactions to how people perceive him. Bruce Wayne/Batman, on the other hand, has a legacy of films to pull from (particularly the Nolan films) but has no history in the Snyder-established universe. It’s revealed that he’s been crusading as Batman for the better part of 20 years and hints that he lost a sidekick to Joker.
At three points in the movie, he’s haunted by dreams that more or less drive his actions. As they’re portrayed in the movie, these dreams are at best unnecessary and at worst nonsensical.
Alfred (Jeremy Irons), is introduced early on as Bruce’s confidant and butler. His biting snark breaks from the continual sense of dark and brooding atmosphere. Lex Luthor starts out as an eccentric CEO with a mission, but with each appearance he becomes more of a megalomaniac. Seeing the evolution of his character (or devolution, whichever you prefer) in a somewhat controlled fashion makes his character arc one of the most interesting in the movie. Clark Kent’s mother Martha (Diane Lane) makes a few appearances that more or less frame up Superman as a hero that he wants to be, not the hero Metropolis wants. Finally, there’s the mysterious Miss Prince (Gal Gadot) that crashes Luthor’s party and derails Bruce’s plans. She turns out to be Wonder Woman and gets in on the last battle of the movie, but other than that her entire existence seems to be a framing device for the upcoming Wonder Woman and Justice League movies. The movie talks about her very little, likely in an attempt to characterize her in her own movie, but I feel it leaves her existence in the movie as very little than “Oh look, another super hero!”
As I mentioned previously, the characters motivations are easy enough to follow, but into the third act one of the main characters has a significant change of heart that would make sense in theory, but sloppily put into practice.
I really don’t have much to report here. The big thing is the introduction of Kryptonite and references as such. In the previous movie, Kryptonite was implied as the atmosphere in Zod’s spaceship which caused weakness in Superman. Here it takes physical form and frequently discussed, immersing the movie into the comic culture instead of the realistic culture that DC hero movies have been striving for recently.
Superheroes working outside the law and accountability for their actions is the main concern for Batman and Superman. Clark Kent feels that Batman working outside the law and literally branding criminals is a step for far for a vigilante and remarks that he may be doing more harm than good. Bruce Wayne feels that Superman’s existence is dangerous to people because of his capabilities to level cities and the fact that a literal alien is able to do these things and apparently not be held accountable. Both Bruce and Clark make their feelings known to each other and don’t recognize the hypocrisy of their criticism. But the discussion isn’t just between them. There is a montage of several people, in-universe and real life, that comment on the idea of super heroes and the problems they cause if they are idolized. Specifically, the idea that if Superman is capable of saving people but doesn’t, does leave a question of his being all-powerful, or all-good?
There are plenty of heroic swells throughout the movie to tense up the action scenes, most notably in the fight scenes of the third act. One of the main composers is Hans Zimmer, and many movie-goers will be familiar with his work in the Nolan Dark Knight films. He’s gone on record that trying to make the score different from his previous films was difficult, and he’s right. I believe that despite his and his co-composer’s efforts, there are still elements that sounds distinctly Dark Knight, and I even picked up a hint of Inception, another film where he composed the score. That’s not entirely a bad thing, I enjoyed the music from those films, but I’m not watching those films. I feel Zimmer’s formula is getting the better of him.
My biggest praise for the film comes from the perspective flip in the first major scene. Looking at the Superman/Zod fight from a different angle really set the tone for the film. There’s plenty of fantastical sights, from the ruins of the terraforming ship to the high speed chase of the Batmobile. The inevitable fight scene between Batman and Superman looks like something pulled right out of the comic book (more on that later). My biggest complaint is really just an observation of Doomsday (sorry if it was spoiled, but the character is shown in the trailers) looking incredibly similar to a Lord of the Rings cave troll or an unmasked Ninja Turtle. There’s plenty of materials to go off of when developing him, so the final result just leaves something to be desired.
I like the casting choice for the movie. Returning actors like Henry Cavill and Amy Adams generate a lot of buzz for the movie. Jeremy Irons is my favorite addition. His delivery with Alfred’s remarks are better than Michael Caine’s in the Dark Knight movies. Gal Gadot has been criticized for her stature in respect to recent depictions of Wonder Woman. The way I see it, strength isn’t always portrayed by being muscular; she portrays it through relentless action. Jesse Eisenberg’s performance is well enough to recognize that he isn’t just a comedic or overly dramatic actor, but his age held him back from being too believable.
And of course, there’s Ben Affleck. His being cast was a controversial topic for a long while, citing his performance in the poorly received Daredevil back in 2003. The thing is, that was over a decade ago, and a solid actor can’t act his way out of a bad script. Since then, he’s proven himself to be a solid choice for main characters, such as Argo and Gone Girl. Affleck recreated a character tic that I didn’t recognize at first, but is present all the way back to the animated show; the half smile. It’s a small gesture, but I feel this show of amusement helped.
A lot of movie goers are on the edge for this movie because of its predecessor. Comic book fans in particular are torn because they have the opportunity to see the fight they’ve all been waiting for, but in the context of Snyder’s universe. Even fans who aren’t as heavily invested in Batman’s story knows how he became Batman, but everyone has to go through the same origin story of having watch Bruce’s parents get shot. Zac Snyder doesn’t seem to trust his audience to know how Batman came to be, so that starts off the movie and leaves a bad impression to those who watched his movie.
This movie took too many steps that it didn’t need to take to make the story as long as it was.
The fight scenes are very reminiscent of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, where an aging Batman has to confront Superman. He uses similar tactics when fighting Superman, as well. There’s a lot of comic material to pull from, and I think that’s what hurt the movie instead of help it. There are so many elements that were chosen for this film that it doesn’t blend as well as it should have. At one point, I thought I was looking at elements from Batman Odyssey, which if you’re not familiar with, is the most brain-bendingly confusing story about Batman that I’ve ever seen (and certainly doesn’t make for a good movie).