If you’re on the internet, which you probably are, you are most likely aware of the storm brewing around Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). The film is being widely derided, whilst fanboys are making utter fools of themselves as they spread hilarious conspiracy theories that Marvel are paying off critics to trash the film. Frankly this is a movie which is neither good enough nor bad enough to be receiving that much attention.
It is worth noting that Batman and Superman don’t directly do battle til a long ways into the film. Until then the action is quite siloed with the Supes side of things (Clarke Kent, Lois, the Daily Planet, Lex Luthor) rarely interacting with the Batman side of things (Bruce Wayne and Alfred). That siloed construction certainly shows. The writing of these two large elements feels totally separate, and one of them (the Batman side) is realised a lot more successfully than the other (the Superman side). The film does a decent, if simplistic, job of establishing Bruce Wayne’s emotional involvement in the events of Man of Steel (2013), though this perhaps does not influence the story throughout as much as it could have. This new Batman is effective enough overall. Whilst there is nothing truly new about how the character is written or presented, I do like the mythical ‘caped crusader’ dimension to him as the film begins. And the dynamic between Affleck and Jeremy Irons, as Bruce/Batman and Alfred is better performed and written than anything on the Superman side.
On that front, the narrative for Superman and Lois just does not sit right. It feels like we are just joining at a random, arbitrary point, with no arc being created or explored. The attempts to bring a political/geopolitical aspect to the story through this narrative are also daft and really add no depth thematically, or interest story wise. On an emotional level, the dynamic of Clark being Superman and also being with Lois is really badly and flippantly written. There should have been some emotional weight to be explored. But instead there is one moment of tension and then Clark hops in the bath with all his clothes on to solve it or some shit. Tellingly, for me at least, the strongest period of the film is the last third when these silos break down. Aside from the parts involving Lex Luthor, the story builds nicely to the finale in an exciting way. The big eventual battle between the two leads features some cool imagery and the fight tells a good story through action, something that is not a strong suit of the film as a whole. Plus they commit for the most part to a ballsy conclusion, though one which is ever so-slightly undermined when you consider a particular story beat earlier in the film.
My major concern with the film going in was the Dawn of Justice subtitle, fearing this would be a half-baked pseudo Justice League film. Thankfully I think they get this right. Wonder Woman is the only character introduced in the film in any real detail and she is the best part of the entire flick. Gal Gadot slays in this movie. She looks the part and the character is written with the perfect amount of sass that thankfully never reaches the point of feeling over-contrived. Plus the simple hyping of the stand-alone film through a single photograph is a really clever way to do it and has me rather excited.
Along with the scattershot storytelling, another major letdown with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is that it does not look particularly good. The effects range from the passable to distractingly bad. Whilst there is little flair in the costuming or design of the piece. I have already forgotten what the Batmobile particularly looked like, whilst the suit Affleck wears for most of the film is similarly forgettable. Though the bulked up helmeted version he wears into the final battle is at least a little unique. The lack of design originality unfortunately extends to a late villain as well who looks exactly like an orc. On the score front, there could not be a more zeitgeisty crew on duty than Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, but they deliver a pretty disappointing effort. There are some good musical moments late on, but so much of the first half score is overbearing and annoyingly soaring.
The performances are solid throughout. Gal Gadot is the real standout as Wonder Woman, owning that role in a way that many may have not predicted. The other main leads are good too, Affleck succeeds in the thankless place of being a new Batman too close to an iconic one. Amy Adams is good too whilst Henry Cavill is decent, getting by on the fact that damn he looks so much like Superman aye. But oh lordy, Jesse Eisenberg is beyond terrible as Lex Luthor. Obviously that is not all on him. Someone told him to deliver the performance in that manner and the character is written as a wholly unsympathetic brattish, entitled Daddy’s boy. Not to mention the speeches about the nature of God etc that are just beyond tired. But part of the blame rests with the actor and his annoying riffing on Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Verdict: Batman vs Superman Dawn of Justice is a case of the good, the bad and the Luthor. Some elements are excellent (everything Batman and especially Wonder Woman), some are bad (the Superman elements) and then there is the downright ugly (Eisenberg’s performance as Lex Luthor mainly). Generally I would not delineate elements of a film so much. But they are that disparate in the film and it is when they cohere that the film is at its best. Stubby of Reschs