Note: While care has been taken to not divulge the entirety of the plot or giveaway exciting twists and reveals, the regular tone of The Kinswah Reflective applies, which includes examining certain aspects of the movie. If you haven’t seen Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice yet, then it’s recommended you skip this review for now.
The results are in following “the greatest gladiator battle of all time” and there is a clear winner. But Zack Snyder will also have to acknowledge some have suffered unexpected heavy losses. The reviews so far have been a mixed bag. It isn’t the best superhero movie of all time, as some Twitter users have claimed, nor is it as poor as some critics have stated in early reviews. It’s where it sits between these two poles that will lead to extended debate.
It’s hard to assess the film without listening to all the disenchanted voices. Some have claimed it feels too much like a Man of Steel sequel. This is something that can be categorically wiped out. It is not a Superman film with Batman added. If anything, Snyder has taken the two characters and placed them in a vehicle for the Dark Knight’s benefit.
This is where some of his problems in the storytelling chair start to come to fruition.
Despite starting out in the DC Extended Universe with Superman, Snyder seems more at home with Bruce Wayne and his alter ego. The movie starts with another glimpse at Martha and Thomas Wayne being gunned down in an alleyway. Making this feel fresh is a challenge for any director, he pulls it off with an interesting take during the young Master Bruce’s fall into the bat cave.
Having Bruce narrate the opening sequence, a flashback to Superman’s battle with Zod, enables the viewer to quickly take on Batman’s perspective. Because Ben Affleck is so convincing in the role, it’s hard to balance it out when Superman’s story appears so one dimensional.
And before moving on, if should be noted some idiot on this website (me), had written off Affleck in The Dark Knight Relapses, before he’d even been measured for a cape. Happily, it can be said, these misgivings were wide of the mark. This is a version of Batman comic book fans have been longing for.
This isn’t a Batman still mourning his mother and father with every action; it’s one battle hardened after twenty years of fighting crime. The death of his parents isn’t the sole drive anymore, in this iteration it is merely the building blocks for his anger to sit on.
We see him in close-quarter combat, a merciless devil that appears from the shadows, a high-tech gadget wiz – and best of all – the world’s greatest detective actually does some detective work again.
Affleck will be immediately compared to Michael Keaton and Christian Bale, the two previous standout performers in the role. It’s subjective to say which element of Bat or Bruce each does better but Affleck holds one clear advantage. His predecessors were always portrayed as new to the vigilante game.
It wasn’t until Batman Returns that we are lead to believe Keaton’s Bat has done more than a few hours on the beat. And Bale’s is barely around before going into a lengthy exile following the events of The Dark Knight.
Affleck’s Batman is sold as one that has been in the field for decades, as such, he is grittier and meaner than any seen before on the big screen.
It should be this type of Batman who struggles to fit into a movie universe shared with metahumans, it isn’t, it’s Superman. The brooding Dark Knight somehow stands alongside other costumed heroes far better than the one in the red cape that can fly. It’d be like having Captain America appear in Silence of the Lambs and remark that he’s a better fit than Clarice Starling.
As Snyder flicks from Batman to Superman to Lex and to any blanks we need filling in, it is the Bat that feels more at home. He interacts well with Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince and follows leads for what is revealed to be part of his bigger masterplan.
Taking out hoods and tracking items should feel too ordinary when Superman is making last minute saves in the desert to ensure Lois Lane is safe. This subplot, where people are gunned down because of Superman’s arrival, tries to drive the point home that humans don’t know what to do with Superman.
Sadly, it is just one human – Zack Snyder – that struggles to do anything of worth with him. Cut scenes where he has conversations with Lois, Martha Kent and a dreamy one with Jonathan Kent, prove why storytellers should always show and not tell.
It’s easy to understand Bruce’s rage, even some of Lex Luthor’s monologues have merit (when seen from his point of view), but one struggles to have empathy with a god-like man that is supposed to be a wholesome farmer’s son, who just happens to have extraordinary powers, when he acts like he is God.
Another issue for some is the pace of the first half of the film. Again, it will divide opinion. It was never an issue from my seat, but the much applauded closing battle (we all know it’s Doomsday from the trailer) doesn’t deserve so much love. It was average at best.
It should be noted, that horrendous trailer, that tried to give away the entirety of the movie in a three-minute period, did keep a few surprises back. Knowing this was a device to set up a Justice League movie meant there had to be a resolution between the two leading men before joining forces.
This is where one should feel sorry for Zack Snyder. He has had his hands tied-up before shooting commenced. He’s been hindered by the studio’s desire to go big from the very inception of its shared universe. Feeling like Marvel has stretched too far into the distance has made Warner Bros. throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at the project rather than carefully nurturing the storytelling.
It is too crammed and it does buckle under this weight.
They will argue the first attempt to start combined movies, Green Lantern, adopted the gentle approach and failed. But to flip from one extreme to the other is equally damaging. Even with the reveals of further metahumans being delivered from secret files, presumably to avoid inexplicable appearances in person, fails dreadfully. They are located in stolen files from LexCorp and for a few minutes you’d be forgiven for thinking it was an episode of Smallville.
It will be under review if Snyder should get a third chance to make people believe in his version of Superman. There are strong arguments for and against. Taking into account the amount of balls he was juggling here, and some surprises that will either make comic book fans love him or serve to antagonise them further, may be his saving grace.
For all his shortfalls, it’s clear he is playing the long game here. The Flash appearance, in a supposed Bruce Wayne dream, reveals a massive storyline further down the road. If Snyder is still part of it, only time will tell.
The decision makers need to stand fast, regardless of any negative reviews, and take a leaf out of the X-Men approach to movie making. They’ve had some duffers along the way but resisted the temptation for a full reboot. Dawn of Justice has too much going for it to be sent to the scrap heap.
Suicide Squad looks like it will add colour to a bleak palette and Wonder Woman has already won fans and critics over before her first solo outing. There is a clear winner in the battle between Superman and Batman on the screen, and from a critical point of view, Batman wins that particular point.
Jesse Eisenberg is good as Lex, another victory for the franchise. His jittery madness is a layer of clothing over evil genius. The only losers are Superman’s representation and the plot points toward to the end (Bruce goes from total distrust to admiration for Superman without much reasoning).
The rest is four star or above.
The DC Extended Universe should chalk this up as experience, learn, and move on.