Review: Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

It's here...finally! Batman V Superman, the battle of all battles! Throw in Lex Luthor Jr, Doomsday, Wonder Woman and the beginning of The Justice League...

Batman and Superman are the two most iconic superhero’s ever created…no, really, they are! Starting out as comic strips at the end of the 1930s before becoming radio serials, television shows and later films, they each represent different sides to the same coin, from their upbringing to their secret identities, to their attitude towards, and dealing with, crime. And even though the dark detective and the all American hero have met many times in comic books and video games, they have never clashed in a film…until now. Set 18 months after Superman and Zod fought in Metropolis (in Man Of Steel) causing the deaths of thousands and destruction worth millions, the world is asking itself “What is this alien capable of? Should he be interfering with the affairs of humanity?” and “What are the consequences when he does interfere?” As the media and Senate ask these questions, Batman and Lex Luthor  Jr each have their own reasons for destroying Superman, and so, plots and schemes are put into place that include Kryptonite, kidnapping, blackmail and the creation of a “Doomsday” weapon.

Ok, first things first, there will be massive spoilers in this review, so if you haven’t seen the film then stop reading now. Secondly, I am a massive Zack Snyder fan. I loved his Dawn Of The Dead re-imagining, felt pumped up after watching 300, adored his mental Sucker Punch, believe Watchmen to be a masterpiece and think Man Of Steel is the perfect Superman film for his generation. However, as much as my personal opinion will dictate the outcome of this review, I am also looking at it from the perspective of film making in its truest sense…this is, after all, Batman V Superman. So, here goes.

Lets start with the foundation, the story. Big questions and debates are explored in this film. The sheer scale of the destruction we saw in Man Of Steel is addressed and we see, and feel, this at the very beginning as Bruce Wayne drives and runs through said destruction at ground level in an attempt to get to one of his buildings in Metropolis. Not only does this serve to show the human cost as these two gods (Superman and Zod) throw each other through skyscrapers but it plants a very plausible reason for Batman to go up against Superman. Then we have the debate about control, prejudice and religion. Lex Luthor Jr has discovered the very deterrent (Kryptonite) that can be used against Superman but Senator Finch questions the morality of allowing such a deterrent to be developed and used, instead calling Superman to a hearing to stand trial. Not only that, but Superman has the fanatics as well as the haters, humanity reaches out to touch and idolise him as much as they picket against and burn a symbol of him; indeed Superman has always been a figure relatable to religion and this film does indeed deal with that aspect. It also deals with the consequences of Superman’s actions. The character of Wallace Keefe (an excellent Scott McNairy) is left wheel chair bound after the battle in Man Of Steel. He is not only the one who sprays ‘False God’ on the statue of Superman, but also the one who sends Bruce Wayne the newspaper clipping with the message ‘you let your family die’ scrawled on. He views Superman as the one who ruined his life and Bruce Wayne as the one who has abandoned him (after initially saving him) and ends up being twisted into a suicide bomber by Luthor…heavy and (sadly) very relevant in  this day and age.

Next, the casting. Upon hearing that Ben Affleck was going to be cast as Batman/Bruce Wayne, there was an uproar and (myself included) thought it was a horrible mistake. Through the various trailers though, it became somewhat apparent that maybe he would do ok. Well, he does more than ok – he is perfect. His Batman has clearly survived the villains of Gotham (although at huge cost) and is now old, tired and worn out so much so that there isn’t a shred of hope or optimism left in his body. He is haunted by nightmares (I reckon brought on by Scarecrow somewhere in this timeline) about his parents’ death, a possible future hinting at the big villain Darkseid and about the bat itself, both demonic and terrifying in form. These scenes are visually striking and give us an understanding to this devastated Batman. He kills people, he brands them, he gets the job done without worrying about how Gotham City views him…here we see the true dark knight in action. And as always, standing by him is trusty Alfred. Played here by Jeremy Irons, it is another inspired piece of casting. Cynical, chastising and bitter, this Alfred has clearly had enough of the life he has led under the reign of Bruce Wayne as Batman and with just a handful of lines hints at a past that has all but destroyed the both of them. Next up is Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor Jr and again, I thought this was a horrible mistake but actually it really isn’t. Clearly mad, but kept fairly under wraps, his Luthor acts out like a nervous child but with the IQ of a genius. He plays it almost like a wannabe dastardly villain who is just too awkward to succeed having these strange motives yet seemingly (possibly) knowing more than he is letting on. Of the rest of the cast, Laurence Fishburne is solid as Perry White bringing some humour to the film, Gal Gadot makes a strong (yet very brief) appearance as Wonder Woman and Holly Hunter as Senator Finch is tough and gives us a very realistic way in to the debate over what we should do with a super man.

Now we look at the film making itself. Zack Snyder does have a certain style…very much substance and visual rather than intimate and light and he does seem to film with a comic book panel way. Indeed, certain shots are influenced directly from the pages of Frank Miller‘s The Dark Knight Returns and  also The Death Of Superman storyline. What he also does do in this film (more than anything else he has done in the past) is place the camera in odd and unique positions. His re-telling of the Wayne family murder, especially, views it from up above, from below, in the actors faces, on the bullet casings and intimately on one of Martha Wayne’s pupils as it dilates at the moment of her death…one thing his camera work isn’t is static and boring! And yes, the film is special effects and CGI laden…but it has to be! How are we supposed to believe that men can fly, buildings can be destroyed or a being such as Doomsday can take on and kill Superman?! Instead of bemoaning the use of the special effects and CGI, lets congratulate the absolute highest quality of them instead! The production is incredible, the soundtrack score is bettered by the visuals and some of the pure imagery on display is masterful…the bat that rips out of the Wayne tomb, the image of Superman decayed after being struck by the nuclear weapon, Batman screaming and pummelling Superman with half his mask ripped off, Superman stood motionless surrounded by the fire from the suicide bomb, Batman’s visit to a shaven-headed Luthor in prison…truly, this film has moments that will send shivers down your spine!

But, there are issues. The story is a mess. There are too many characters and too much story to cram into one movie and as such, the film suffers. For example, Amy Adams‘ Lois Lane and Diane Lane‘s Martha Kent are simply reduced to damsels in distress, but worst of all, Henry Cavill‘s Superman is horrendously short changed and what we see of his Clark Kent isn’t great. Also, this film wants so much to debate the core reality of Batman and Superman in our world, much like Christopher Nolan‘s movies did with Batman, but it can’t because it has to introduce a huge, bony creature for them to fight and also set up The Justice League which is basically DC’s version of The Avengers. And, despite my praise earlier on the look and camera work of the film, it is very dark in places. The Batmobile chase is exciting, brutal and tense (especially when it crashes into Superman) but I really struggled to see it. Likewise, the camera can be far too frantic at times and everything just becomes a blur…and that’s on a huge Imax screen in 3D! But, I think the main issue with Batman V Superman is right there in the titles…this should be Batman V Superman shouldn’t it? God vs man…the alien with super powers vs the human with gadgets? It should have had the confidence to focus on that storyline and expand on it throughout the entire film yet it doesn’t! Yes, the actual fight is good…but it isn’t mind blowing incredible and seriously, it probably lasts all of about 10 minutes (maybe 15 at a push) in a film with a runtime of 151 minutes! And if you take into account the previous Batman and Superman films (I count 8 for Batman and 5 for Superman), this film would most likely rank at the lower spectrum in a combined poll. Finally though, even I have to admit that this is a wasted opportunity. It seems to focus more on setting up a DC franchise to compete with Marvel than giving us the film it initially promised.

To conclude then, and despite the issues, my personal opinion is that I loved the film and there were genuine moments that made my jaw drop. However, it is a film that is truly dividing critics and fans alike, with many feeling disappointed as much as feeling satisfied. I could go on and on about the film; I haven’t even touched upon how the other Justice League characters are introduced, Luthor’s final warning from prison to Batman or even the fate of Superman at the end! But for now, what do the Roobla readers think? Agree? Disagree?

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