Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

'Batman vs Superman - Dawn of Justice' movie poster

Release: Friday, March 25, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Chris Terrio; David S. Goyer

Directed by: Zack Snyder

I see civil war erupting between the die-hards and the casual-hards (and let me quickly interrupt myself here: casual-hards are people like me who don’t really have a firm grasp on either the mythos or even all of the character trajectories in the source material, we’re just here for the spectacle, that is, the overall product not simply the CGI spectacle). Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is no mould-breaker but it does provide in its last half hour set one of the most intense assaults on the senses that cinema has ever created.

It’s overlong, it’s melodramatic, it’s preachy and more often than not it’s a child kicking its foot in the dirt with hands in pockets because it doesn’t know how to play nice with everyone else and now is forced to spend time alone. Maybe its playing out so scornfully is a function of a super-human sense that no matter what it does, some critics are just going to tear it limb from limb. Similar to how the fanbase is likely to poke holes all through its not-so-textured skin, columnists at large — probably not Lois Lane or Perry White though — are going to have, and have been having this week, a field day trying to convince the rest of the populace why it’s not something you should go and see. Hilarious. That’s like an armor-less Batman going toe-to-toe with a Kryptonian and expecting to emerge the victor.

Despite the film suffering once again from gorging on an overabundance of material, the overarching narrative remains simple and simply compelling: this is the episode where the Batman and the man of steel get into a bit of a spat. An older, wiser and ever more embittered Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) fears the powers of the metahuman known as Kal-El/Superman (Henry Cavill) will perpetually go unchecked unless he intervenes. Meanwhile, the other guy doesn’t think much of all the vigilantism in Gotham that has only succeeded in perpetuating the “weed effect,” as a dejected Batman himself puts it — you crush one weed and pull it out only for another to grow in its place. He’s talking, of course, about criminals. The Dark Knight hasn’t done shit in the way of gardening in the last several years when we first swoop in to meet him.

Zack Snyder, putting himself in the crosshairs much like J.J. Abrams did last year, reaffirms that his gritty style challenges the senses, and that your eyes and ears in particular best come prepared in this bombastic epic that pits the stealthy deceptiveness of Batman against the brutal physicality of Superman — a being, it ought to be said, finds himself falling out of favor with much of mankind following the destructive events in Metropolis two years prior. There’s much anticipation for how a modern film could or should handle the DC Universe’s version of the Neo-Agent Smith battle (sans the whole thing about one of them being a total psycho bent on the unequivocal destruction of man), and yet, for all that’s at stake, Snyder impressively manages to contain his excitement, teasing out the relationship patiently . . . perhaps too patiently for some.

That’s why half of the film manifests as a relatively slow meditation on a number of more human concerns: things like aging, losing one’s relevance, sense of purpose and the loss of innocence are all touched, though never harped upon. Some areas could use some expansion, surely. And yes, that would mean sacrificing a bit of the pixelated action sequences later on. But it’s the steady camerawork of Larry Fong that guides us through the seedy streets of a broken Metropolis, as well as a still-despairing Gotham, an observance of how both time and people have moved on. There’s a bittersweetness to the way Affleck carries himself as a 40-ish-year-old man in a cape whom most have forgotten about by now. There’s a longing for a return to the time when Kal-El first thundered his way to earth, an aura of mystery (or is that terror?) swirling about his godly physique and impossible strength.

Dawn of Justice is most powerful when it’s sending up the deific Kal-El; there are some unforgettable shots of the man in the red cape, one in particular of him hovering above a flooded town, a mother reaching out to him from the rooftop of a submerged house recalls Regan’s possessed soul clawing for the form of Pazuzu outside her window, only in this case we’d like to think the reach is one towards heaven and not hell. Then there’s the image of Cavill’s face imploding in the vacuum of space, his body dangling in suspended animation before awakening once again. If you were asking me which figure is done the most justice (e-hem), I favor Cavill’s Superman. As an image, he’s too powerful, too ferocious, too graceful to ignore. And the Brit looks comfortable as ever in the suit.

It’s not for a lack of trying for Affleck. Unfortunately he’s in a similar position as Jared Leto, attempting to put his own spin on an icon that has been so solidified in the most recent Dark Knight trilogy that any steps taken to divorce from that image will inevitably be labeled as at best inferior and at worst unholy. Affleck doesn’t seem to mind the pressure though; he’s convincing as a surlier, lonelier billionaire with a penchant for creating lots of fancy, shiny new toys and Jeremy Irons as Alfred makes for wonderful companionship but it’s just not the same as Christian Bale and Michael Caine. It’s just not. For these most somber of circumstances though, perhaps this is the Dark Knight we deserve.

For all of its visual symbolism and the bravado with which Cavfleck (please let me be the person to coin that one) carries itself throughout, there are some questionable decisions that hold Dawn of Justice back from becoming the classic it is so close to being. I’m not referring to Jesse Eisenberg’s brilliantly unhinged performance as the evil genius Lex Luthor — his nervous, passive-aggressive and awkward countenance isn’t a natural thing to watch at first but the guy builds some serious strength as the movie plods forward and as his position in this universe becomes slightly more clear. I’m also not referring to the limited screen time afforded Gal Gadot’s ass-kicking Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (though this was an aspect that let me down considerably).

No, the concern is more of a financial nature, and how the studio seems to have mishandled the responsibility of allocating resources properly. For a film budgeted at an estimated $250 million (you can make 25 movies for that price tag), it sure doesn’t look like it. Perhaps part of the issue here is inherent in the sprawling ambition of the story. Because we are dealing with so much complexity, one of the battles Snyder and company picked was to close the physical gap between Metropolis and Gotham, such that only the Delaware River separates these two disparate worlds. When human-Krypton-Bat drama eventually reaches critical mass and the ultimate threat is revealed, so much happens in one indeterminate pile of rubble that nothing looks good.

In some ways the quasi-headache that the action set piece becomes finds us at the threshold of ridiculousness; our demand for quality superhero cinema shouldn’t rely on CGI orgies to get the job done. But that’s old news since the superhero movie fad took off (thanks Iron Man). The only way it seems possible to hit home how crazy these creations are is to go upwards, in one direction. In keeping with what Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch decrees during one of the inevitable government intervention scenes, unilateral decision making is bad for business. But that still doesn’t really answer the mystery as to why, with all of this money, the CGI renderings in particular stand-out moments look like extracts from films in the late ’90s and early 2000s. It’s bizarre.

What’s not bizarre is the critical derision Dawn of Justice is suffering. This is what happened with Man of Steel, remember? Superman stepped in and parted the red sea of fandom. Dawn of Justice is mind-blowing in some aspects and lacks restraint, thereby quality control and thereby consistency, in others. It’s huge and it’s a few trims shy of a true final cut. But it is at the basic level, entertaining and that’s all this little dude wanted out of a movie of this scale. Maybe I regret not being a fanboy?

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 7.02.01 PM

Recommendation: . . . do I . . . do I have to say something here? Really? Okay. Well, if you’re on the fence about this, the good news is that Ben Affleck isn’t a disaster (he’s also no Christian Bale) and that the film also makes some room for female talent and as macho as the film is, the timing of Wonder Woman is spine-tingly well-judged. She’s reason enough to go see this. So is Jeremy Irons. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 153 mins.

Quoted: “The Red Capes are coming! The Red Capes are coming!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.ernest93.deviantart.com; http://www.imdb.com

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27 thoughts on “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

  1. Will definitely check this out some time, I just don’t feel like rushing out to the cinema for it. DVD/Blu-Ray will have its time to shine for this. Great work Tom, and glad to see you enjoyed this.

    • You know what? I really did enjoy this. I don’t understand the vitriol that’s been poured upon it. Then again, I’m no diehard comics fanboy. I guess I have no place to talk about it, given how everyone has treated it. :\

  2. Great review Tom. Didnt like this as much as you but did find it enjoyable and entertaining in most parts. Ben Affleck is easily the high point of this film for me and I found his portrayal of Batman to be a really interesting one.

  3. Boy, when Wonder Woman is the reason to see a film called Bats vs Supes I’m not sure how much of a recommendation that is! I jest. Sort of. Watched this yesterday and, whilst it’s no car wreck it proves to me that Snyder is the wrong guy to be leading this franchise. He’s a bull in a china shop.

  4. Innocent bystander is a great descriptor. I’m with you. This isn’t the worst, nor is it the best. Performances are good, script kind of stinks imo. But as a whole, I enjoyed, especially the action (even the final fight, CGI heavy as it is, had me all in compared to, say, AoU).

    I do think that another director is needed in the DCEU, though. Not that Snyder is terrible, but I do see him going the way of Michael Bay a la Transformers with each DC movie.

    P.S: Loved your comment about people just intending to trash something just because it is the popular thing to do. And really like you said, what authority do we have to say what is poo and what isn’t? We have none. But, I like to think there is a good chunk of bloggers who try to be as unbiased as can be when delivering their thoughts (Or maybe I just haven’t been doing this long enough to know that a sizable population doesn’t exist!), and do their best to say why they liked it or didn’t. I’ve always hated the term critic, and I even kind of hate review, because it seems to implicit indicate one has extensive knowledge, when that sometimes isn’t the case.

    But it is fun to talk to others, such as yourself, who have allowed me to reassess my thoughts on a movie sometimes And it is cool to have your friends, colleagues, and family read your thoughts and come to you sometimes with questions.

    Not tired of this yet, but maybe one day, I will be. On point write-up as always, Tom.

  5. “I see civil war erupting between the die-hards and the casual-hards.”

    This picture really has become a hotly debated movie with people taking passionate sides to defend or decry it. Me? I’m more like an innocent bystander. I called it a “mildly entertaining in the theater, but I couldn’t’t care less now” type film. Obviously, I wasn’t a big fan, but I don’t begrudge anyone’s enjoyment. I’m glad you enjoyed it. This hasn’t created any enthusiam in me for future installments (Suicide Squad arrives this August) in the “DC Extended Universe”. To be quite honest, I’m dreading the sheer number of entries they have planned. However they’re not all directed by Zack Snyder, so I’m still hopeful.

    • We share the same side when it comes to how much we cared about this thing coming in. I was an innocent bystander too. And to tell you the truth I struggled for a long time about where I was going to go in a review about it. There was a lot that didn’t work at all for me. Ultimately I took a positive view of it, perhaps because I was more sympathetic towards Snyder who I feel was in a similar position to Abrams helming the massive Star Wars project and I felt he got more right than wrong. Sometimes being right in the middle and not being on the extreme edges of opinion helps me. I could have reduced this to a 5 but I think it did just enough to warrant the 75%.

      I didn’t leave a comment on your piece because I have pretty much run out of things to say about it! Haha. I don’t know the last time where I’ve read this many reviews on one single film. It’s gotta be over 50 at this point.

  6. Great great read. I’m on the fence as to whether I should bother checking this out, as these aren’t my thing as you probably know 😛 I am curious though, and I really like Eisenberg

    • I will say that it’s not going to win over people who aren’t typically a fan of superhero adaptations, esp in this era. It’s really really ambitious and there’s just so much going on. Unlike a great many though I did think Eisenberg was one of the high notes of the film. He was a great lunatic. I enjoyed that about him. Something totally new for an actor who has spent most of his career playing stoners haha.

      • Haha! I actually really like Eisenberg, ever since I saw The Double. I like him, and I liked him in the trailers. I have read other people say he was totally miscast but I’m glad you liked him. Him playing a villain is almost enough of a reason for me to see this one

  7. Casual-hard here (great term!). Saw the film last night and It seems like a testosterone war without a lot of reason behind said war. I could like many things – Batfleck , the gorgeous Cavil and superb wonder woman, but so many other things just didn’t work. Ugh.

    • Mixed is an understatement. People like trashing big movies because they feel so much more powerful themselves when they do so. It’s pretty annoying.

      • It does annoy me when people jump on the bandwagon. Sure if something is generally bad, I can understand that. But when people are just slagging something off, it does get on my nerves. I believe that you need a reason to not like something, not just because everyone else says so.

          • The way I see it, when I review a movie I need to have points to back up my opinion. Otherwise what is the point in writing a review at all?

            • People think because they can click on WordPress and start up a blog they can all of a sudden become a critic. It’s one reason I am seriously considering ditching this blog, because I’m kind of in the same position. What authority do I have to comment on the artistic endeavors of people who have been trying to create all of their lives, only to get the opportunity, the green light, and then get destroyed by people who never move off of their fucking couches? Not that those points of view should or even would be taken to heart by those creators, but still. The whole competitiveness of movie blogging and movie criticism in general is starting to get a bit tired for me. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just that I’ve been doing this almost now for 5 years (not really that long in the grand scheme of things but it is if you’re sitting their digesting tons of blogs and opinions and articles and stuff) and the more I see, the less I like. People like you though who are very unbiased and offer pro’s and con’s in their reviews are rare. It’s kind of sad.

  8. Great review. I know I’m not going to have a chance to watch this film in theaters, but I’m really excited about this film since my two favorite superheroes are in it :].

  9. Your review is very refreshing to read. I am a comic fan and the hardest thing seeing other comic fans react so strongly in either direction. To read the thoughts of someone in the middle is just nice to read.

    • Thanks. Yeah I feel like my considerable emotional distance from either superhero helped me enjoy this more. It should go on record that I really thought I would feel more for Batman after all that Nolan did the last several years with the character but ultimately I think I was more heartbroken for Superman. A fun movie for me, nothing more and nothing less

  10. Fantastic review mate. I think I agree with it all. I’d totally recommend the film. Actually the more I think about it the more I want to see it again. There are so many interesting huge ideas going on. I think the professional critics are being dicks about the film more as an attempt to get noticed. Also it’s so different from the beloved Marvel films that I don’t think they can get out of the frame of mind of what a superhero should be. Sorry about the rant!

    • No apologies necessary my friend. 🙂 There’s so much contention surroudning superhero films at the moment I’m loathe to even get into those conversations – mostly because I wouldn’t know where to start b/c I don’t know much about the source materials haha. B v S had a monumental task ahead of it and I don’t think it quite pulled off everything as well as The Force Awakens did, esp considering the weight of the expectations behind that thing, but all in all I really did enjoy myself here. One thing I do see that’s really polarizing though is Eisenberg’s portrayal of Luthor. (Obviously I felt it was good but I can totally see where others are put off by it.)

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