Review: Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice


I've been talking smack about this movie for months.  Ever since that absolutely awful trailer that shows Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill (and an unremarkable Jesse Eisenberg), in what appeared to a be a cocktail party conversation, I've been ragging on this movie.  Oddly, the very scene that had my stomach churning ended up being not that bad, which should say something about some of the choices that have been made for this film.  As some of you might remember, I did a pre-review of the film in order to lay out my expectations and what I feel the movie should contain in order to get a perfect score.  I also did this so that the legions of fans out there will understand how I generally percieve and rate things.  I will address the issues of the film in line item fashion, using the pre-review as my template.  If you haven't read it, you may want to here.

Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice was directed by Zack Snyder, the director of 300 and The Watchmen.  Both of those films I enjoyed.  Some reviewers called Snyders adaptation of 300 "juvenile", I called it "panel perfect".  He got panned for "The Watchmen", but I felt, despite major deviations in the story, that the story itself and the writing were superb and the film was a pleasure to watch.  But there is one major difference between those two films: Snyder followed the "300" graphic novels almost to the panel.


Let's talk about the liberties Snyder took with the original storyline.  It could be argued that this story is no the Miller "Dark Knight" series at all, except the idea that Superman and Batman fight, and oh... the powered armor Batman uses is identical to the armor used in the Miller comic.  If you aren't going to follow some kind of canon, then why borrow from the storylines of others at all?  More to the point, why borrow from one of the more famous storylines?  Is it a lack of originality or creative impulse?  To my mind, Snyder screwed himself the moment he said he wasn't following any particular storyline.  Which is just code for "I want to do whatever I want and screw what the fans want."

As I stated in the pre-review, I believed that the inclusion of Lex Luthor as a character, and more importantly, a catalyst for the "gladiator matchup of the century"was utterly superfluous.  And Eisenberg had the twitchy, neurotic, affect one would expect from the Riddler, not the cold arrogance of Lex Luthor.  Both the character and the portrayal were a miss for me.  It is important to note that any character whose primary attritbute is intelligence should demonstrate that preemptively in films so that when it is brought to bear on someone later on, the gravity of it is felt.  In a film such as "Iron Man" despite Tony Stark's (Robert Downey Jr.) role as a spoiled and douchey tech bro, at no point did we doubt his potential for intellectually driven bad assery.  The spectre of his genius was always in evidence and at times we wanted to warn the bad guys.  This was completely lacking in "Batman vs Superman" and made Eisenberg's Luthor more of a malevolent Zuckerberg than anything.  I actually felt at times that "The Facebook" was spliced into the film.  Eisenberg is notorious for doing what I like to call "Cruisin'", or basically playing himself in all of his roles (a reference to something Tom Cruise does).  Being cast as Lex Luthor, and having an exceptional amount of screen time, offered Eisenberg an opportunity to bust out of his bird chested, weakling archetype and do some serious arch-villainy.  Unfortunately his unconvincing performance not only reinforced the negative feelings I had about having the character in the film, but also left me wondering why Eisenberg was cast for the role at all.  


There ain't no Heisenberg in this Eisenberg


The presence of Lex Luthor and the absence of the Joker had a twofold effect.  In the original, the Joker's death was the impetus for the U.S. Government asking Superman to reign Batman in, thus bringing about the eventual confrontation.  Inserting Lex Luthor instead is seemingly senseless but I understood ultimately why they did it, which I will get to shortly.  But other noticeable absences include Robin, which in the original was a teenage girl.  Another absence I understand given the completely altered timeline.  However, there was some excellent missed opportunities for cross promo and foreshadowing of eventual appearances.  Snyder took a perfectly good storyline and butchered it in his own self serving attempt to promote a Justice League film.  In fact, while watching "Dawn of Justice" one really gets the creeping sensation that they are, in fact, watching a 2 hour and 35 minute trailer of the Justice League.  The introduction of Wonder Woman was cool, but also unnecessary.  Her presence was completely tangential to the story and only served as a distraction.  The coolness factor she added was marginal overall, though I must admit she was fun to watch during the Doomsday fight scene.  The other scenes where they showed the discovery of other "meta-humans" varied from kind of cool to simply goofy.  I can't wait to see Jason Mamoa as Aquaman, but the little intro they did of him was ham fisted and gratuitous.


Now let's get to the other things that didn't make any sense outside of the pre-review criteria.  Batman becomes obsessed with stopping Superman, and this fuels his crusade.  After watching Superman and Zod destroy Metropolis and killing some of his employees, he decides it is time for Superman to go.  The opening scene that shows this is actually pretty cool.  But I kept asking myself why Wayne Enterprises officers were in Metropolis at all, especially once I learned later in the film that Gotham was right across the bay, or river or whatever.  Is the assertion here that Metropolis is New York and Gotham is Jersey?  In "The Dark Knight" film, Wayne references living in Palisades. Which is in Jersey.  What is even stranger, is after a point in the fight when the government decides to use a nuclear device against Doomsday, he comes crashing back to Earth and appear to be in a relatively isolated place.  After which, Batman says he needs to lead him back to Gotham, presumably to use a kryptonite weapon against him.  Was it really necessary to lure him there?  Couldn't Batman have simply gone back and gotten the weapon and then attacked Doomsday wherever he happened to be?  My point is that he is guilty of doing the same thing for which he blamed Superman, which is inviting death and destruction into Gotham when it could have been avoided.  This was just bad writing to my mind.


Wonder Woman was cool especially in the fight scenes.


At one point in the film, Superman is called before a Senate hearing.  A bomb is detonated in the Senate chamber killing everyone, except of course Superman.  This even further fuels a growing distrust and enmity of Superman.  Granted, no one really knows Superman in this story, but it seems nonsensical that people would jump to the conclusion that he was responsible.  Everyone ascribes these God-like attributes to him, but are ready to believe that he used a bomb to kill a Senator.  Superman could just as easily achieved the same bomb like effect by hurling something from a great distance, flown in so fast and broken the Senator's neck that no one would have been able to see him do it, or simply vaporize her with heat vision from space.  He could have been much more subtle, approaching any number of elected officials in private and used intimidation to achieve whatever nefarious goals the public believed he had.  Equally offputting, was this idea that Superman simply was unaware of the bomb.  It seems so ridiculous that he would not have spotted it, no matter how well hidden.  Even the presence of a lead lined box would have made him suspicious, but the only excuse he offered was "I wasn't looking for it.", to Lois Lane as she comforted him in a sop of super tears.  The bomb was used to move the story forward toward the inevitable conflict between the two heroes and it was sloppy storytelling at best.  Lazy at worst.  Was it not possible for Batman, and his vaunted laboratory to determine that Superman was not the cause?  Despite being blinded by rage against Superman, I don't see him putting aside reason and empirical evidence.

In the final coups by Lex Luthor, he abducts Martha Kent.  This was achieved entirely too easily.  And the manner in which her identity is discovered is never fully explained.  This element is significant because Luthor uses her as leverage to get Superman to attack Batman.  Later as Batman is about to kill Superman, Superman in the midst of choked gasps asks Batman not to let Martha die.  Batman initially thinks he is talking about his own mother, Martha Wayne, which hurls him into a flashback.  This is more ham fisted writing disguising itself has serendipity and subtle story telling.  Though, admittedly, the scene in which Thomas and Martha Wayne are killed is the best portrayal I have seen to date.  I feel bad for those two though, played by Harry Dean Morgan and Lauren Cohan this time around (a treat), they are damned to a perpetual existence of being mugged and murdered.  And I find it odd that Martha Wayne's pearls are so dogmatically shown, in EVERY portrayal of that scene.  Again, the way in which the string of pearls were destroyed this time was quite original, which is more than I can say for the rest of the film.

I found it strange that Superman, for as much fear and distrust he and the people of the United States have toward one another, allowed the Kryptonian ship to stay in the possession of humans.  It never once occurred to him that the technology on board might be used to advance a militarized agenda, or worse, the genesis chamber would be used to spawn a massive super being like Doomsday.  It never occurred to Superman to scan the areas around the destroyed World Engine for remnants of krytponite that could then be used against him.  This is not only sloppy hero work on the part of Superman, it is sloppy storytelling by Snyder.  If Superman were truly the guardian of humanity, he would have made sure that none of the kryptonian technology would fall into human hands.  Luthor manages to gain access to the ship by slicing off the fingertips of Zod and putting them on his own hand.  This would have us believe that Krytponian biometric technology is not as advanced as human.  There was no retinal scan, no dna scan, no voice recognition.  By that merit, Kryptonians are just a race of overly trusting rubes who deserved to have their planet blown apart, if all I need to do to gain access to sensitive areas slice off someone's fingertips.  For that matter, why go through the trouble of slicing off fingertips?  Why not just slice off the whole hand use that?

Another bone of contention with the film is the initiation of the combat between Batman and Superman.  Batman rigs a few traps.  And while he must have known that a series of machine guns and a couple of sonic cannons would not even put a dent in the Man of Steel, I can see no psychological advantage to doing what he did.  And Superman, knowing he was walking into a confrontation did not see these hidden weapons before they were deployed.  Is it another case of him simply "not looking"?  

Finally I have to offer a few words about the Bat costume and the Batmobile, and the Bat.  All were substandard.  We all loved the powered armor, the sinister glowing eyes, the intimidating nature of it.  But the basic Bat costume looked more like urban camo by Under Armor.  I wasn't a fan.  The bat vehicles, which I assume were done entirely in CG, also were not awe inspiring.  The first time I saw the Tumbler version of the Batmobile, I was in love.  This new version was reminiscent of a pinewood derby car gone awry.  The other vehicle, the Bat we'll call it, was also underwhelming.  More thought and design should have gone into all of it.

In the plus column, the performances of Cavill and Affleck were not at all as bad as I thought they might be.  Particularly Affleck who, I admittedly had it in for since the film was announced, actually surprised me with a good performance.  Cavill was a bit soppy and sentimental at times, and his unsurety seemed too scripted but I chalk that up to bad writing.  The action sequences were entertaining, particularly the fight between Batman and Superman.  The scenes where Batman is fighting mercenaries was simply cool and I thought it was awesome that they seemed to reflect that he'd gotten older and was missing a step.  This film is actually a good film to take children too, they will definitely enjoy the action, but it may lose them during the overabundance of flashback sequences and overly dramatic story segments.  Something else the film could have done without and also shaved 30 minutes out of it making it an even 2 hours.

Ultimately my problem with this film was the writing.  There were too many blind alleys, and too many nonsense holes premises in the story, much of which could have been alleviated by adhering more closely to Dark Knight canon.  Frank Miller is one of the most successful storytellers in comic and film.  He is loved and revered because of his ability to write.  Why not utilize that, rather than selectively cherry picking one or two elements from wonderful story? Why take that same story and turn it into a two and a half hour commercial for five other franchises?  We all know there is a money aspect to it.  Money governs all of the decisions when it comes to massive franchises like this.  But why not spend a little extra to produce a superior product and one that does not make me feel like its hawking plastic action figures to me?  We, the consumer, bear some culpability in this.  Just as with "The Force Awakens", we were more concerned with getting our fix of Star Wars than we were with the manner in which the fix was delivered.  All we knew is that we wanted Star Wars.  And they spent as much money convincing us it was good, as they did making the film.  As with Batman vs Superman" Dawn of Justice, all we knew is we wanted more Batman.  After "The Man of Steel", Superman was kind of an afterthought, so we desperately hoped that the combination of the two would make them both a bit more interesting.  On the corporate acutarial tables, the risk that you and I would not go see this film because we worried it would suck is very low.  They are counting on the fact that we hope it won't suck.  And each iteration we continue to hold out that hope.  Because, in their minds, it is much easier to bank on that naive hope than it is to bank on good writing.  And now, as if to make things worse, they are going to throw a bunch of other spin offs into the air in hopes that at least a couple will land on us.  

Overall I do not recommend blowing 3 hours in the theater watching this.  This movie, at best, is a dvd rental.  If you prefer to see your action up close and personal, the by all means.  The big question is can you suffer through all of the films shortcomings in order to get to what amounts to a five minute fight scene between the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel.  If you are not bound by a slavish allegiance to Frank Miller, or say, decent storytelling then go and see it in the theater.  Otherwise, save yourself the money and time.  We give this film 2.5 stars.  The movie was well filmed and Snyder gets one star for that.  He gets another star for managing to make it mildly entertaining.  He loses a star for the bad writing and another for the massive departure from Miller's "Dark Knight Returns" despite borrowing heavily from it.  He loses another half star for making the film needlessly long and using a superfluous Lex Luthor to do it.

If you find the film lacking feel free to check out the animated film that is a truer representation of the original Miller works.  You can buy "The Dark Knight" returns by following the link below.  I've also included the link to the Dark Knight Returns animated film parts one and two available to rent or buy.  Those more accurately reflected the Miller story as well and I found them to be enjoyable.  If you don't like the movie then hopefully you will find some comfort in these.