BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE is a “Monumental Missed Opportunity” Movie Review
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is yet another monumental missed opportunity for a studio that badly needed a sure thing, though WB/DC should be happy to settle for its presumed financial success given the film’s immense shortcomings.
Comic books movies are all the rage, and for a nerd like me there is no better time to be a movie fan. I read comics growing up, I loved watching animated shows like Batman: The Animated Series, I watched the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, and loved the Tim Burton Batman films. Those were the high points that nearly catapulted the genre into wide mainstream acceptance and popularity. Then there was a low point, followed by the Joel Schumacher Batman films that left a sour taste in the mouth’s of the general public and almost all geeks everywhere. Christopher Nolan and Bryan Singer were able to help revive the genre with their respective The Dark Knight and X-Men franchises, to the point that comic book films are flourishing both critically, socially, and financially at an alarming standard. Comic book movies now have a bar to reach beyond just being “okay” or “decent” and with each film comes the expectation that one could break the mold and become an Oscar nominated-or dare I say, winning-film. Times have changed and filmmakers must keep the momentum for the genre moving or be lost in the shuffle.
Some people in the general public may not know-or care-that different studios have different rights to different characters, with the main three being Fox, Marvel, and DC. Each has a stable of characters to pull from, and involving a character from another studio requires much dealmaking and discussion in order to allow those rights to be waived, should their inclusion have even made sense to begin with. Marvel has put out some of the most successful of these films in The Avengers, the Iron Man/Thor/Captain America franchises, and Guardians of the Galaxy, just to name a few. Fox has been responsible for the X-Men/Spider-Man films and, sadly, the Fantastic Four franchise. DC has long had Batman as their trump (not THAT Trump) card to rely on, though at one point Superman was actually their bell cow. DC has also tried and failed with Green Lantern, but had moderate success with Watchmen, though their profitability has always rested on the shoulders of Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne. So, logically, the decision was made to have them share a film in a presumed adaptation of Frank Miller’s 1986 graphic novel The Dark Knight Rises, which depicts a world where the two heroes come to blows over their differences. A perfect formula in the eyes of many, but one that hung a great deal in the balance over the success of the film for a studio sorely needing a big win.
The problem is, too much was at stake, too much was asked of one film, too much was asked of its stars, too much money was spent, too much information was shown via marketing, too many risks were taken, and too little was actually done that mattered.
While I can count myself as a fan of Director Zach Snyder for his work on the aforementioned Watchmen-one of, if not my ultimate, favorite comic book movie of all time-it is difficult to ignore his shortcomings as a storyteller when the narrative is allowed to shift from a preset path. Snyder is capable of fantastic flair and grand visual panache, but his inability to create characters we have any emotional resonance with is glaring. Snyder directs with such a bombastic, in your face style of filmmaking that it is often hard to tell if there is a point to what he puts on screen or if is meant to simply elicit a “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” from the audience. Snyder disappointingly didn’t learn from his mistakes in 2012s Man of Steel and only repeats them on a grander stage than ever handed before.
The foundation laid by Man of Steel and Nolan’s franchise did leave an uneven canvas to paint with, as following up some of the most successful comic book movies, and financially successful films, of all time is no easy task; though Snyder can leave himself partially to blame as he directed the former film. Nonetheless, Ben Affleck proves up for the role from an actor’s perspective in delivering a Bruce Wayne we can moderately understand, albeit not exactly relate to, and a Batman who is believable in his physicality. Henry Cavill actually IS a good Superman-this coming from an enormous Superman fan- as an actor and not only looks, but sounds the part. Cavill’s parts as Clark Kent work as well, though the idea of no one recognizing him out of his tights is more unbelievable in each subsequent film. Jeremy Irons is a very good actor who does well in his role of Alfred Pennyworth, much like Amy Adams as Lois Lane. Even Gal Gadot impresses at points as Wonder Woman and Diana Prince in the character’s first major theatrical turn. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a mostly well-acted film by good actors doing their best.
Yet, beyond the performances, looking past the stunning visuals, beautiful cinematography, and breathtaking slow motion sequences Snyder has become known for, what exactly is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? There is a story to tell here, and one that does have some philosophical and sociological themes at play that hints at a larger moral picture. Sadly, that picture never fully realized. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the epitome of a comic book brought to the big screen, but also highlights why certain page to screen adaptations rarely work when the key thematic tone and elements of a comic book are tried to be encapsulated live action and in three dimensions.
Dialogue is used, that while occasionally impactful, also comes across dry, corny, and unrealistic moments later. Outside of Affleck’s Batman/Bruce Wayne, there is little reason to feel anything for almost anyone in this movie, and even his moments are rushed without making sense. Amy Adams is a wonderful actress, but it feels like the writers still have no idea what to do with Lois Lane, much like they didn’t in Man of Steel. Cavill does what he can, but this version of Superman seems far better at taking punishment rather than being impervious as he was at many points in the comics. The plot that the film hinges on focuses on political and social machinations made by Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, but his motives are often unclear and the manner in which he goes about achieving them are so complex and far fetched that it borderlines on ridiculous. Eisenberg does what he can, and surprises with some strong scenes, but the script doesn’t do enough to support him, just like it doesn’t for virtually every other character in the film.
There is fun to be had, but it must be done while shutting your brain off and viewing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as merely entertainment; not as a movie, or film, but simply moving pictures on a screen. There are some fabulous visuals at display and Snyder truly does know how to craft a beautiful film and frame shots, but too often gives audiences no reason to care about what happens on screen. The story is both abhorrently overwrought with inconsistencies throughout its nearly two and a half hour runtime, yet feels startlingly incomplete as if entire segments are missing. It is rare to find a movie that feels equally thirty minutes too short and thirty minutes too long at the same time, but Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is just that.
Comic book and superhero fanboys may rejoice at the pure eye candy of the visual effects and finally seeing two of the greatest superheroes of all time clashing on film, but Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice fails to deliver even as a gratuitously convoluted and subpar film. Affleck and Cavill, and even Gadot, do their best to grimace through the woefully uneven script as Zach Snyder delivers yet another visually stunning, but narratively disjointed film; leaving the audience with no reason to care for its underdeveloped characters or the overextended, quasi-connective threads that senselessly weave their way through the grueling runtime. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice may lay the blueprints for the upcoming DC Universe of films, but, fanboys aside, it is difficult to say if there will be anyone left who still cares for much longer.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is directed by Zach Snyder and stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Diane Lane, and Laurence Fishburne.