Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a colossal abomination, a film so eager to cram as much into its 151 minute run time that it sacrifices character, intelligence and plot for pure spectacle and visual nonsense. Director Zach Snyder, along with writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, have ravaged the DC library for as many iconic story lines and imagery to excessively crowbar into the film. It is difficult to determine if this is a desperate attempt to get once last swing at the characters before it all collapses under its own weight or a sincere aim to establish the greater tapestry of the DC cinematic universe with love, admiration and respect. You will want to believe the latter – Zach Snyder is on record wanting you to believe the latter – but the film itself betrays that intention. With so much to establish and respect, the plot – if you can call it that – is completely off focus and all over the place. It is a mess, a huge disappointing – and somewhat infuriating – chaotic hodgepodge of ugly superhero vomit.
It isn’t a complete disaster. The film does have moments, brief stretches where it shines and partially delivers on its promise. Ben Affleck dons the cape and the tux to make for a promising Batman / Bruce Wayne despite not being afforded much more than a range of expressions from intense determination and extreme scowl. The eventual Batman versus Superman battle is exciting and stunning to watch despite an overlong, overblown lead up and a lackluster conclusion to that exchange. But most of all, the entire effort of the film – as far as its intent on building a DC cinematic universe (it is subtitled Dawn of Justice) – is the handling of Wonder Woman. Gal Gadot makes a stunning turn as Diana Prince and Wonder Woman, providing the film its best moments in its crushingly dull third act. It is her introduction that singlehandedly preserves the momentum of not only her upcoming solo film but the other DC characters and Justice League.
The story for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice shares its narrative between Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent and, to some extent, Lois Lane and Lex Luthor. It begins with another look back at the origins of Batman and the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne (w/ cameos by The Walking Dead actors Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Lauren Cohan). From there, years later, an aging Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) races to the Metropolis offices of Wayne Enterprises while Superman (Henry Cavill) battles Zod (Michael Shannon) in the skies above. The destruction of the city and the loss of lives sets Bruce Wayne on a course to take down the Man of Steel.
Cut to 18 months later, and the narrative of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice begins in earnest. Superman is now seen as Earth’s savior by many and an uncontrollable alien force by others. Congress, led byHolly Hunter as Senator June Finch, is now holding hearings to determine how to handle the potential threat of such an uncontrollable “God.” In Gotham, Bruce Wayne and Alfred (Jeremy Irons) are developing a new suit to take the war to Superman with Bruce believing that he is nothing but a threat to the human race. Across the bay, in Metropolis, another Billionaire, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is striving to convince Senator Finch that he has the ability to create an anti-Superman weapon – a super-deterrent – out of Kryponite discovered in the wreckage of Zod’s alien spaceship. Meanwhile, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) struggles with the meaning of his true self with only Lois Lane (Amy Adams) at his side. Is Superman real or is he “just a dram of a Kansas farm boy.”
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is nothing if not ambitious. Not only is it looking to deal with two major DC characters, Batman and Superman, it carries along all their supporting characters as well: Thomas and Martha Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth, Gotham, Jonathan and Martha Kent, Lois Lane, Perry White and Metropolis. It introduces new characters Senator Finch, Lex Luthor (a younger Alexander Luthor) and Diana Prince. And, that is not the end of it without going into spoilers. Even at roughly 2 and a half hours, there is no time to provide adequate characterization to these roles. Despite their best efforts, even Batman and Superman get the short changed. It is all about capturing that significant, iconic comic book panel and rarely about what drives the characters between the flash and the spectacle. This makes the end result hollow and – worst of all – boring.
The most infuriating things about the film – as a fan of the source material and as a fan of film making in general – is how much the film tries to accomplish without earning any of it. There is literally four movies shoved into this script. Arguably, there are scores more. From the origin of Batman (again) to the themes of the true nature of Superman himself to the epic battle between Batman v Superman (ala Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight) the film also shoves in Wonder Woman, World’s Finest, hints of Justice League, the confusing nature of a young Alexander Luthor and a few other “surprise” major Superman story lines. And it is dull. DULL. How did this happen? Each of these should have been their own glorious adaptations to the big screen. It is difficult to walk away not feeling cheated, teased, on what could have been without being presented a product solid enough to satisfy the trade off. Epic failure.
And the hits keep coming. The choreography is underwhelming. The fight scenes are confusing, washed out in scope, tone, color and excitement. The Batman fight scene displayed in the recent trailer is far better edited there than within the end result presented in the film. The battle between Batman and Superman is thrilling on pure intention and spectacle alone. The actual fight itself is far less than its promise. A seemingly important car chase in the film where the Batmobile is chasing a group of villains through Gotham is one of the worst car chases committed to a major motion picture in recent memory, paling in comparison to ones seen in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. There is an important change of events involving the Senate, Superman and Scoot McNairy playing a victim of Zod’s attack that is so mishandled it destroys its thematic intent and ends up being offensive. The brief glimpses of the other potential superheroes (aside from Wonder Woman) are poorly done lacking thrill and excitement. The final act shoves in so many new elements that it forsakes plot for sensationalism exploiting potential future films for a total bastardization of a crucial and memorable iconic events in Superman’s comic history. The emotional impact the film shoots for during its final frames is left whimpering in the dirt devoid of any consequence and resonance.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a catastrophe, repeating the worst elements of Man of Steel, shoving too much into a shallow plot and failing to deliver on its core premise. Those going in expecting the epic battle of the century, the Son of Krypton versus the Bat of Gotham, will suffer through 90 minutes of dull exposition for its fifteen minutes of thrill. Those excited for the Dawn of Justice will be thankful for the successful introduction of Wonder Woman. As a movie, the film is over-bloated, overlong and boring. As a comic film, it is dull and lifeless failing to adapt its source material fully. To be clear, it does not have to match the comics beat for beat, panel for panel, it needs to capture the characters for who they are, what the represent and the challenges they face both physical and thematically. The film is far too muted and pale to capture the color of Superman, the vibrancy of his character and the boy-scout nature of his morals and actions, which is incredibly important when facing Batman as far as the conclusion of their battle is concerned. The contrast and conflict is watered down by their similarities then their differences as the blunt ending to their confrontation illustrates. In the comics, the tragedy of their battle is a lifelong friendship gone sour while in the film its devolves into a forced and somewhat childish misunderstanding. It fails to do justice to the characters and the material – and the fans of the properties.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (1.5 / 5)