REVIEW: “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”

BVS poster

Was there ever any realistic way this movie was going to satisfy? The mere title alone suggests a weighty and wildly ambitious undertaking. It also not-so-subtly hints at the film’s position as a launching point for a new cinematic universe for DC Comics and Warner Brothers. Iconic characters are re-introduced and portrayed by a host of new people. Oh, and Zack Snyder is back behind the camera. You see, there were plenty of reasons for apprehension.

At the same time I think “BvS” was destined to be a polarizing film. It was almost guaranteed a cynical approach from critics, many of whom proudly promote their superhero fatigue and who dislike it when a superhero movie dares to take itself seriously. And let’s be clear, this film takes itself VERY seriously. It is dark, dour, and whimsy-free. And while that has been the most popular point of criticism, for me it is a strength because “BvS” offers a nice contrast to the Marvel formula which many folks measure all superhero movies by. I welcome an alternative.

Perhaps the most interesting thing (and the most off-putting for some) is how Zack Snyder shows no interest in placating movie sensibilities. By that I mean he is clearly fixated on making a film that is devoted to its comic book roots. That makes sense of the aforementioned seriousness and the overall tone of the story and its characters. But it also accentuates the few instances where Snyder wildly misses his mark – instances where his devotion to his source material all but vanishes.

BvS1

While I don’t feel his previous film “Man of Steel” was nearly as bad as many think, I still maintain that Snyder is an odd choice to entrust your entire cinematic universe to. In this case Warner Bros. entrusted over $250 million to a director known to lean heavily on spectacle often at the expense of his story. “BvS” is certainly never short on spectacle but thankfully the story is never an afterthought. In fact the opposite is true this time around. “BvS” packs a ton of story into its bulging 150 minute running time.

“BvS” uses the much maligned finale of “Man of Steel” as the story’s launching point. Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne was in Metropolis the day Superman and General Zod battled, destroying half of the city and killing thousands of people. 18 months later he views Superman as a global threat who needs to be dealt with. He also sees conquering Superman as a cure for his frustrations with fighting a losing battle against crime in Gotham. As for Batman, thankfully the film doesn’t make us sit through another origin story. Just a brief crash course during the opening credits.

In this universe Bruce has been Batman for 20 years (At one point Alfred, played with expected precision by Jeremy Irons, chides him by saying “You’re too old to die young”). Here Bruce is even more bruised and hardened due to several devastating events in his life. Affleck is quite good as a withdrawn, moodier Bruce Wayne tormented by dreams of his past and an inner rage that is becoming harder to control. Affleck nicely handles the character’s emotional complexities, the physicality, and the mandatory Batman growling.

Across the bay in Metropolis Superman (Henry Cavill) finds himself loved by some and despised by others. In the aftermath of the Zod incident he has become the focus of public and media scrutiny as well as the target of several government inquiries. It’s a struggle for the conflicted Kryptonian who can’t seem to balance the adoration with the disdain. His alter-ego Clark Kent still pushes stories for the Daily Planet and has grown closer with Lois Lane (Amy Adams). I still consider Cavill to be a good Superman although at times he still struggles with being a tad too stiff and emotionless.

BvS2

But the film’s biggest wild card comes in the form of Jesse Eisenberg. Remember when I said Snyder shows a devotion to the comics. Well, just for a moment pretend I didn’t say that. Eisenberg plays a thirtysomething Lex Luther, the heir to his father’s fortune and most notably his company, Lexcorp. Eisenberg has some good moments but he also has several cringe-worthy and jarring deliveries. But the biggest problem is with how the character is written. Snyder and company don’t give us the shrewd, conniving businessman Lex Luther. Instead we get a version which is more loopy and manic. His similarities with the popular comic book villain are few. Perhaps it was an attempt to modernize the character. Unfortunately he often teeters between tolerable and downright annoying.

And of course there is Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Snyder chose to reveal her as a character early and that definitely raised the hype. I would have loved to have seen the reaction if we hadn’t been told about her role or seen her in the trailers. Inevitably some will be frustrated at her lack of screen time. Personally I loved her and aside from a few shaky line readings, Gadot exudes confidence in making Wonder Woman her own and planting herself firmly within this universe.

But how does the film bring all of these ingredients together? A popular gripe is that the story is convoluted and incoherent – that the characters are thin and their motivations are cloudy. I found “BvS” to be surprisingly coherent and pleasantly methodical with how it lays out its story. The motivations are clear although occasionally questionable. Snyder and company are deliberate in putting their pieces on the board, and while I never found it tiresome, this does add to a running time that probably should have been trimmed down.

And then there is the visual presentation – the meat and potatoes of any Zack Snyder film. “BvS” gives us so many fun scenes featuring these beloved pop culture icons. Snyder’s crafty eye guides Larry Fong’s fabulous cinematography from the quietest scene to the biggest action set piece. “BvS” looks consistently great at least until the very end. The action-fueled finale has a few stumbles both visually and narratively. It becomes a back-and-forth mixture of eye-popping visual effects and glaringly obvious CGI.

BvS3

But perhaps most fun is spotting the places where the film pulls from or pays homage to so many signature storylines from Batman and Superman’s comic book history. Some are actually integral parts to the story while others may be found in the form of well placed Easter eggs. And of course there are hints of what’s to come in future films. Sure some of these teases are obviously wedged into the story, but that didn’t make them any less entertaining and some are quite crafty. I had too much fun with them to nitpick about their inclusion. Fan service? Certainly, but I’m fine with it.

“BvS” does have some head-scratching moments that often clash with what you know about these characters. The finale is a bit too long and visually uneven. Eisenberg’s character and performance is all over the place and a bit of a distraction. After that I’m sure if I looked hard I could find several other things to pick apart, but frankly nothing else is near the magnitude to trump my enthusiasm for this film.

The dust is still settling from the critical lambasting as many have made “Batman v Superman” their cinematic punching bag of the moment. Thankfully my experience with the film was drastically different. I had no problem following the story, understanding the motivations, or investing in the characters. I love that these heroes aren’t copy and pasted from past films. I had no problems with it being dark, serious, and humorless. I wasn’t troubled by the dream sequences, the foreshadowing, the fan service. “BvS” left me smiling and genuinely excited for where the universe is heading. Perhaps it is the naive fanboy in me, but I can’t dismiss the fun I had with this film and I love it as an alternative to the obvious Marvel blueprint. Now I’m ready to see what is next.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

4.5 STARS

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40 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”

  1. A lone voice crystal out in the Wilderness. Glad you enjoyed it. My support is more muted but I’m not a hater. Too many dreams played as narrative and then revealed as dreams for my taste. I agree with you on Ben Affleck, but found the well cast Cavill sorely misused. Someone needs to give Superman something to care about and enjoy, Lois in a couple of scenes is not enough to make the character relatable. Lex Luther as mental case is probably right, but I think he’d work better with delusions of grandeur rather than paranoia.

    • LOL! A lone voice indeed, but I had to be honest. I had a blast with this thing. I actually liked the dream sequences as most were quite revealing. Granted some required a fanboy perspective.

  2. You are not alone in your enjoyment of BvS. I loved it as well. As a fan of both characters I never have an issue with interpretations that are different from usual. The tone and everything worked for me and it just works from start to finish. Totally enjoyed myself

    • Man, you have no idea how glad I am to read this. I’m with you. I know movies are subjective, but I’m stunned at the negative reaction from many. Many of the story criticisms have very specific answers and I never found it a bit incoherent. As a fan I found so many things that made me yelp with excitement. The much maligned dream sequences – I thought they were very revealing and featured so many cool hints of what is to come as well as visualize some pretty intense internal conflicts. I also like that these characters aren’t simply copied and pasted from other versions. I really felt Bats and Supes both had unique qualities to them.

      And didn’t you love how the movie didn’t feel the need to hold our hand through the entire thing. Much has happened already in this universe and they leave us to see it and figure it out on our own.

      • The teasers within were some of my favorite bits. It felt organic to the story and did not feel so glaringly obvious. I think Snyder said he wanted to show it as an already lived in world and I’m cool with that.

      • Completely cool with that. And the teasers did feel organic. And I think the dream sequences have been dismissed as nothing more than that but I found them much more substantial and informative not to mention flat out fun.

  3. This is one I had to watch twice. My initial reaction was extremely mixed. There’s a lot of great elements in here, but the way Snyder tried to tie them together was sloppy. There’s too much going on with too many threads that end up going nowhere. The whole Doomsday arc is a story-line that I cherish from the comics and novel, but it initially seemed forced. I know exactly where the Justice League movies are going now, and I think it could have been handled a bit better. Ben Affleck was an amazing Bruce Wayne/Batman. He was actually kind of scary at times as The Bat, which is impressive indeed. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman? Oh, yes. Yes, please. I definitely agree with Lex Luthor not being well-written, so I’m not blaming Eisenberg for that. Most of the dream sequences I felt were unnecessary. The one with the huge Omega symbol on the ground was the best and most telling of the bunch. For me, I think I’ll enjoy this film a lot more the more times I see it. I think the film may end up being vindicated in time, because it gets a lot right. I think when you watch this movie in conjunction with the upcoming Justice League pictures, it might make more sense why they did the film the way they did. That being said, there were still a number of plot holes that I hope the extended cut will fill in.

    I know there are “Snyder-haters” out there, but I really love the way he stages action sequences. There aren’t a whole lot of directors anymore that can stage a coherent fight scene that you see what’s going on. Everybody else loves their stupid shaky-cam. This is a movie that will go in my collection, regardless. But DC and Warner Bros have a LOT of catching up to do. A decade’s worth actually.

    • Thanks for the great comments. Without getting into spoiler territory I think my main issue with Doomsday is how he came into being. That ‘combination’ was really weird to me. I’m with you, the comic book storyline is a special one, but I get they are doing something different here so I’m okay with how it turned out. It was just his origin that felt weird.

      As for the plotholes I never saw any that troubled me. I know many people have mentioned some but I found most of them had pretty specific answers to them. Same with the dream sequences. I loved some of the gems hidden in those things. But I also saw them as revelations into the characters as well.

      I love what you said about it being vindicated. I hope you’re right. It deserves better. I had a blast with it and I too think it will be even better when viewed within the full Justice League context.

  4. I was with the movie in the beginning with the bumping off of Man of Steel but I hated the ending or endings. It really irritated me

    • That seems to be a overwhelming consensus. Thankfully I (and pretty much only me, lol) had a much different experience. I think I’m pretty much nestled in the minority on this one.

      The ending as a whole didn’t bother me. In fact I thought some of it was pretty great. I did find it to be a tad long and the effects a bit shaky in places.

      • I’m glad and thanks for being respectful because some fans have been so obnoxious. You cant say anything against it or you’re a Marvel fanboy…Sigh

      • Well you’re clearly a fanboy who knows nothing about DC!

        Juuuust kidding! I honestly don’t understand that kind of reaction especially for something as subjective as a movie. Sad!

      • Yeah I was told I was a sheep, Marvel fanboy (why does nobody ever say fangirl?), and that I should stop “copy and paste my review”. That last one really irritated me because I went to a lot of work to give a detailed, thoughtful response. Oh well. What can you do!

      • It’s true. I left a Cinephile facebook group I was in because one particular guy was trolling extra hard and it’s like this is supposed to be fun. I dont have time for this nonsense. 🙂

  5. I’m going to wait for it on TV and then probably download the extended cut to see if it makes anymore sense (as that version has my darling Jena in that version as presumably, Barbara Gordon).

    • Yes!!! Barbara was chopped which is a shame. Really anxious to see her play into things. Barbara/Oracle is such a great character.

      As for this movie I don’t see it to be nearly as bad as the popular opinion. I get some of the criticisms but so many things seen as shortcomings I had no problem with. Would be interested to read your thoughts.

  6. You and I are on opposite sides on this one. I am one of those who find it overstuffed, incoherent, overly somber, filled with plot holes and instances of characters magically knowing things they shouldn’t. I don’t mind DC taking a different tonal approach than Marvel, I just want them to do it well. I don’t think this movie did. All the set-ups and callbacks to storylines from the comics might be exciting, but for me they detracted from the story that this movie was trying to tell.

    • Interesting. You are certainly with the majority but I had such a different experience. Agreed it was overstuffed, but never found it incoherent, actually liked it for being somber, and I’ve found many of the plot holes people are struggling with actually have answers. And I get where the fan service could be distracting (my mom said she struggled with that), but so much of it wasn’t just wedged into the story. It was part of the story which I appreciated.

      But I’m very well aware that most have strong feelings against it. Personally I feel it it time it could be one of those films that is a little more respected when people look back on it.

  7. you really enjoyed it more than I did. I don’t understand the critical hate it has garnered, but I found it quite flawed. There were many good things though!

    • I think I liked it more than anyone other than my wife! 🙂

      So you question the critical hate too? I’m happy to hear that. I get people having complaints. But the critics seem particularly vicious which I have some theories on. It is unfortunate.

  8. I think a lot of people (critics and regular folk alike) were ready to hate the movie just because they saw it as copying Marvel in the shared universe department. Ironic, then, that they also criticise it for not copying Marvel’s lighter, brighter tone!

    There are certainly criticisms to level at it, but I totally agree with you that it’s a lot more coherent than some say. I hope they give it a second shot with a more open mind, because maybe they’ll find they enjoy themselves.

    • I love your observations. They are spot on. I think it was an uphill ride for this film from the start and unfortunately strong negativity can be contagious. I too can see where some criticisms could be made but others just don’t register with me at all.

  9. Thought it wasnt nearly as bad as what most people are saying it to be. I definitely had an enjoyable time with it although I was angered by its flaws, especially the lack of structure.
    Glad you had an even better time with this than me. Nice review.

    • It sounds like I did have a better experience with the than you, but I am so glad you had fun with it too. I think the structure criticisms definitely have some merit even though I didn’t have any real problem with it. What amazes me are the claims of incoherency. The film definitely does a lot of fans service, but many of the complaints about plot holes and motivations are right there in the movie. I don’t know, i’m just having a hard time seeing many of the issues people have had with it.

      • I can understand that. I think the film is pretty flawed because there’s just too much in there and the structure is pretty terrible imo, but yeah, I can see what you mean. It isnt nearly as bad as many people are saying it to be, it has some bad elements but some pretty good ones too.

  10. Wow! You really enjoyed this one, and that’s awesome! I will be waiting for this to hit DVD before I check it out. Don’t really feel like tripping out to the cinema for this. Great review.

    • Thanks Zoe. Despite the very popular negative reactions, I had a ton of fun with it. Don’t think it is nearly as incoherent as many feel. It has some hiccups but none railroaded my experience.

  11. Interesting to read your take on this Keith, I think it’s the only fully-positive (except with regard to Eisenberg) review that I’ve seen. I’m afraid I’m with the majority of voices on this one, I just found its dourness so relentless that watching the film became an ordeal long before the final act of battles kicked in…I just didn’t feel entertained, despite all the money spent on the film. As someone who hasn’t read comic books in a long time the whole Darkseid-related dream sequence flew right over my head, and it’s that kind of thing that’s indicative of poor writing, though that in itself isn’t half as irritating as some other factors…the big fight at the end in particular wore me out. I thought the actual Batman v Superman head-to-head was pretty weak too, when it finally arrived, and the way it was resolved was incredibly lame. But!!!! Despite my gripes I will say it’s not as bad as some of the really negative reviews have made it out to be, and I think there are elements that just about save it – Affleck’s a decent Batman, Wonder Woman’s appearance was pretty exciting and I’m one of the few people who actually liked Eisenberg, though I can see that his performance jars with the tone of the film. Overall a disappointment for me, but I still have Fantastic Four fresh in my memory, which means I think some of the attacks against BvS have been over the top.

    • Yep, I’m that one guy. LOL. Can’t think of many other highly positive reviews. I suppose this is my “Monuments Men” for 2016.

      I do get where you are coming from. I just happen to really appreciate the dark, dour tone. It felt completely fresh from the normal mandatory playfulness (to varying degrees) of the Marvel movies. I agree with you that the Darkseid dreams featured a lot of fan service, but I also felt they were relaying confusing visions not just to us but to Batman himself -an actual look into the future that he doesn’t understand either. Clearly that wasn’t effective for many. I liked the Superman and Batman fight and feel that the “Martha” resolution is misread by so many. Don’t want to spoil anything for others but to me there is a lot more to it than just hearing his mother’s name.

      Still though, I think I am alone on my own little island with this one. I just had a fantastic time with it. I don’t brush off any who dislike it but my experience was drastically different. It is a fun movie to discuss.

      • Interesting points – and I agree it’s a welcome change from the lighter Marvel movies, though I question the decision to go so far in the opposite direction! Suicide Squad looks like it could occupy the ground between the two extremes, judging by the trailers I’ve seen, though you can’t really trust trailers these days. Anyway, it’s good to read a different opinion.

      • Suicide Squad looks interesting. I hope they pull it off. I haven’t found myself really drawn to it but I’m hoping it is good. It does look like it could do a few new and interesting things.

  12. Brave review, man! So bold! Like you, I had a blast watching this film, even though I could feel the messy narrative and awful creative decisions whittling away at my soul; in spite of the problems the film has, it in no way dented the euphoria I felt the moment Superman and Batman (and WW) took on Doomsday. I mean, I’d waited decades for somebody to finally put Doomsday on the big screen!!

    I cannot wait to see where DC go next…

    • THANK YOU! I’m telling you it’s a lonely perspective. LOL.

      You said it, I had a blast with this too. I do get some of the complaints but many of them have reasonable answers and none of them usurped the incredible fun I had with the movie. And it is very much a set-up movie. It’s clear intent is to set things in motion for this universe while also introducing some pivotal new people. For me it all worked pretty well.

  13. Didn’t see it and won’t for a long time. I don’t like Ben affleck his acting is as bad as Keanu’s .hes been in some good movies but he’s not the reason they were good it’s either Matt Damon or someone else to pick up his ass dragging . I’m kinda done with superhero movies Hollywood is killing them all. Seriously if they want to make a good superhero movie they should ask fans of the comic books what they want to see. People who read them know what’s best for the stories. I think wolverine vs punisher would be cool!

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