Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
While Zack Snyder's 2013 reboot of the stagnant Superman franchise in Man of Steel successfully proved that there was demand for harder edged graphic novel adaptations than the candy coated offerings provided by Marvel, it also ended up one of the more polarizing blockbuster features of recent times, with some criticizing it as overly dark, while others attacked Snyder's trademark style-over-substance sensibilities. Personally, I found it a boring and joyless mess, even if I was admittedly predisposed to disliking it from the outset - I desperately wanted to see a real balls-to-the-wall sequel to Bryan Singer's Superman Returns.
With DC Comics trailing woefully while Marvel and Disney cashed in on the unfolding superhero genre, the studio decided to use the follow-up to lay the groundwork for the big screen introduction of the Justice League (to the uninitiated, basically DC Comic's version of The Avengers). But while Marvel allowed the lead up to grow organically over multiple entries, DC jumped into the deep end and expedited the process. Have they bitten off more than they can chew, or does Batman v Superman manage to pull off a superhero-like achievement? Read on for our take of one of the most eagerly awaited films of the year.
Following directly from the events of Man of Steel, the devastating death toll resultant from the battle with Zod has had a profound personal effect on Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who shares the increasing suspicion towards Superman (Henry Cavill) and his immense power, which left unchecked could wipe out civilization. Intent on avenging the lives lost in the battle, Batman begins drawing up plans to make the son of Krypton accountable for his actions, aided unbeknownst by one Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg) who's manipulating the hostility in the shadows to his own dastardly ends.
Despite multiple comic iterations, including Frank Miller's famous 'Dark Knight Returns', fans have waited a long time to see the superhero grudge match on the big screen, but also the reveal of some of the greatest characters in the DC Comics stable, such as Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg, and the Flash. It's definitely a lot to ask, and while Synder does an admirable job, there's certainly a price to pay to make it all happen in just one feature film, and Batman v Superman undoubtedly suffers for it.
Forced by their small but no less important role in the narrative, the film opens with yet another flashback of the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents, before quickly bringing viewers up to speed with the aftermath of the battle which leveled Metropolis with such reckless abandon. While that proved the flashpoint for much of the criticism of Man of Steel, Snyder has turned the tables and cleverly woven it into the narrative. It's appropriate and serves as a damn good motive for the Bat to pick up arms against a seemingly unstoppable force from another world.
But other plot points aren't so natural, with the sheer amount of exposition, character introductions, and requisite visual effects sequences adding up to make Batman v Superman a bloated and at times, confusing film. Ironically, it might take the upcoming director's cut, which will extend it by a further 30 minutes to allow the film to find its own pace and really do the sheer amount of converging storylines justice. Despite this, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Batman v Superman. Well, 'enjoyed' isn't probably the word - it's bleak and dour film, with only fleeting moments of levity, but it certainly kept my attention throughout, which is more than I can say for Man of Steel.
Donning the tights for another round as Superman, Henry Cavill brings a physicality and layered approach to the role which gives the thin character a bit more complexity, but it's Ben Affleck who truly steals the screen with a brooding and wearied take on Batman which is separate enough from Christian Bale's to escape much of the inevitable comparisons. Jesse Eisenberg doesn't fare as well as a Lex Luthor for the dot com generation - clearly the smartest man in the room, but his fast-talking tics are amped up so hard that it's simply too much to bare, making his the least compelling of the many characters.
Gal Gadot definitely has potential as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, but her glorified cameo is just too fleeting to make a more definitive judgment call. In an ideal world, her introduction would have come in the forthcoming Wonder Woman film, but I guess with that and the two Justice League features in the pipeline, there's plenty of time to better establish her character.
You can't accuse Zack Snyder of not owning his own style. While it shows evidence that he's willing to address criticisms, some of the biggest leveled at this film were probably mandated at a studio level, but it's a complaint he'll just have to wear. They might have just gotten away with it here, but I'm not sure that audiences will always be so tolerant towards their 'throw everything on the screen'-type mentality as they attempt to craft their own feature film universe.
Last updated: Apr 7, 2020 at 12:34 pm CDT
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