Movie Review - Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
By Matthew Huntley
April 5, 2016

I misread the script and thought I was playing the Joker.

On a qualitative level, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has more in common with Man of Steel than The Dark Knight trilogy, which should give you an idea of its strengths and weaknesses. Its strengths are that it’s mostly fun and entertaining, at times effectively dark, and buoyed by a few strong performances. Its weaknesses are that the main characters aren’t particularly well developed, the ending is absurd (even in the context of a superhero movie), and the movie ultimately overstays its welcome.

With these pros and cons in mind, Batman v Superman, like Man of Steel, is still worth seeing, although it’s not a movie you should see multiple times because its flaws are likely to become more apparent (and bothersome) with each viewing. But I suppose if any movie is worth seeing at least once, that’s what counts.

This is, of course, Zach Snyder’s follow-up to his own Man of Steel (2013), and Batman v Superman opens just as the story of that film is ending, with Superman battling General Zod to the death and nearly destroying all of Metropolis in the process. During this battle, billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), from neighboring Gotham City, suffers the tragic loss of an entire skyscraper full of friends and colleagues. This sets Bruce, along with his Batman alter ego, on a vengeful mission to rid the planet of Superman, whom he believes to be too powerful and dangerous. Superman, meanwhile, along with his own alter ego, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), sees Bruce’s Batman as a menace and threat because the Caped Crusader has begun taking the law into his own hands on an even greater scale. He’s grown so vigilante, in fact, he now brands criminals with a bat symbol, which borders on torture.

Both heroes must also deal with the evil schemes of megalomaniac Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who’s fixated on becoming a God-like being and commanding a team of super individuals to essentially rule the world. One of those individuals is Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), whom the film later reveals as the immortal Wonder Woman, whose powers are almost tantamount to Superman’s.

All of these characters, including the supporting ones like the resourceful journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who’s now Clark Kent’s/Superman’s lover; Bruce’s trusted butler, Alfred (Jeremy Irons); and Clark’s adopted mother, Martha (Diane Lane), are so well known across the DC Comics, cinematic and popular culture landscapes, they hardly need any introduction, and the movie both does and doesn’t know how to utilize their iconic statuses.

On the one hand, it gives us Batman and Superman, but it doesn’t really tell us anything new about either figure or their alter egos. It relies on what we already know and assumes this is enough. Bruce is still the same old dark, solemn and guilt-ridden recluse who replays the death of his parents over and over again in his mind. Even at his old age (the white hairs are starting to show atop his head), he still has nightmares about the night his parents were murdered outside a movie theater and how he sought refuge and solace by becoming Batman. The screenplay by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer retreats to this tried-and-true trope so often that we just want to yell at Bruce, “Get over it already!”, or at least have the script expand his personality beyond what the comics and previous movies have already told us.

The same goes for Superman, who’s actually made stiffer and less charming than we prefer. I guess he’s the darker, more serious Superman for the 21st century (as opposed to the jolly, upbeat protector from the 1930s comics and Superman movies of the late ‘70s and early ’80s). But just as he’s been updated to modern times, he’s also been made less interesting and distinguished. The problem may be Cavill, as there’s no fluctuation in the actor’s tone or mannerisms, neither as the Man of Steel nor as Clark. He just sort of appears on screen as an empty symbol instead of a hero with a soul.

And speaking of heroes, Wonder Woman is by far the most disappointing of the three. I didn’t actually count, but I would estimate she has less than 10 lines of total dialogue. As a character, she’s given no depth, charisma, or worthwhile things to say. And we can’t really fault Gadot, because the screenplay doesn’t really given her anything to do besides react to things happening around her or look pretty for the camera, even during the climax. The movie offers us little reason to get excited about the standalone Wonder Woman feature due out in 2017.

But back to the other hand. One character that does stand out is Lex Luthor, to whom Eisenberg lends a fresh and unique spin. Unlike the three heroes, he’s quirky, playful, and amusing. Eisenberg plays him as a high-pitched weasel, but a weasel we enjoy watching because he’s so peculiar and has a troubled, complicated past that we want to know more about. If any of these characters deserves his own movie, it’s him. I especially liked Luthor’s exchanges with June Finch (Holly Hunter), a Junior Senator attempting to thwart his diabolical plans. Their back-and-forth dialogue is rhythmic and effective, as is a key scene when she notices a mason jar in front of her.

This scene, along with a touching moment when Clark sees a vision of his deceased Earth father, Jonathan (Kevin Costner), reminds us what the movie could have been - dark, emotional and substantive. Instead, Snyder opts to keep the majority of it brainless and action-heavy. And, just like Man of Steel, it comes with an ending that’s way too long and ridiculous for its own good. During it, the heroes fight a genetically engineered creature called Doomsday, and this battle goes on and on and on. But why even bother to call the ending “ridiculous” when the movie is already called Batman v Superman? Because even in the context of the world in which these larger-than-life characters inhabit, the violence and devastation wreaked by the ending would leave no ordinary human behind, and so it’s just too unbelievable to be taken seriously, and that’s a problem.

So I’ve spent the majority of my review excoriating the movie, and while it’s mostly a fatuous mess, its flaws still didn’t prevent me from being entertained, or at least entertained enough. I admittedly got caught up in the movie as an event picture and one that’s purely about visual and aural sensation. Like Man of Steel, it can be enjoyed as a dumb, superficial action movie, so long as you consciously set aside your expectations for what the characters should be like and simply accept them for what they are in this particular context, and if you anticipate the whole experience will eventually leave your mind numb. If it sounds like I’m giving Batman v Superman the lowest type of recommendation, then it should. I felt it did its job of whisking me away from reality for nearly three hours (which was about one hour too many) and when I came back I was more fulfilled than when I left. That’s a sign the movie can be useful - once, but nothing beyond that.