Movie Review - Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
By Ben Gruchow
March 29, 2016
The story…but must I really talk about the story? Is that why the movie’s sizable opening-weekend audience showed up? Did anyone at Warner’s finance department greenlight the film on the expectation of receiving a nuanced and complex exploration of heroism and judgment? No more so than anyone at New Line greenlit Alien vs. Predator on the concept of exploring the mystique of ancient civilizations, I’d wager.
We are reintroduced to an adult Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck), who inhabits a Gotham City a scant few miles and one river away from Metropolis - the Hoboken to Metropolis’ Manhattan, I guess. Wayne/Batman is upset with Metropolis’ own hero, Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill), which is understandable given the gigantic amount of destruction caused at the end of the latter’s last movie. Also in the mix here is Lex Luthor (inexplicably played by Jesse Eisenberg) and a mysterious woman who will, of course, end up being Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot, and her rather late entrance makes for one of the movie’s best moments).
Superman, for his part, is dealing with a sizable public rift over the human cost of his last film’s climactic exploits; spearheading the investigation of this is a senator played by the luminous, invaluable Holly Hunter - given short shrift here by the bottleneck of the movie’s plot, and permitted only a few choice lines. It’s a testament to her acting that nothing further than her halting line delivery is responsible for the movie’s other best moment - or should I say, one of the only other times where the editing and sound design and timing seem appropriate for the moment at hand. And here I’ve gone and given a story description anyway.
These two moments are not the only effective ones in Dawn of Justice, although they are considerably the most eye-opening. There are intermittent moments where the cinematography by Larry Fong happens upon a composition that’s striking or lovely or foreboding, like a shot of a stranded family on a flooded rooftop. Snyder goes out of his way to try and screw this up, of course - he employs color correction and digital intermediate pervasively, tilted toward the orange and yellow spectrum, and the effect is mostly that we’re watching the movie through a dirty window - but I am absolutely willing to spot the movie that it bears the hallmarks of professionalism and occasional creativity, given that they are comparatively few and far between.
Mostly, we’re watching barely-literate theatrics and stern looks and baleful ultimatums and grim pronouncements, which feint at deeper meaning and come off instead like a petty rumination on psychological damage crossed with political allegory, as written by an angry 13-year-old boy who understands very little of the realities of either. The characters in Dawn of Justice do not behave like adults; they behave like shallow ciphers of masculinity and femininity as embodied by the worst of the steroidal ‘80s comic-book aesthetic. Snyder and writer David S. Goyer (where did the guy who wrote Dark City or even Blade go?) are clearly trying to adhere to and celebrate this aesthetic in both character work and visual design, and on these grounds Dawn of Justice can theoretically be called loyal to the source material. Well, bravo and a sarcastic slow clap; in that case, the source material sucks. Or it has lost something fundamental in the transition from page to screen.