Film Review: 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice'
What a long wait, and it's already gone. That's a surprise, since Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is one of 2016's marquee blockbusters not belonging to a Disney property, and its extravagant $250 million budget - plus much more in a smashmouth marketing campaign - appeared to guarantee a success. Financially speaking, it definitely is. But if Zack Snyder's stylish, brutal, and exorbitantly dark superhero smash-up proves anything, it's that a movie need not be truly great to make a fortune, and even the biggest production value doesn't make a movie memorable.
Batman v Superman picks up in the penultimate sequence of 2013's Man of Steel, as Superman (Henry Cavill) does battle with General Zod (Michael Shannon), and the collateral damage completely levels Metropolis. From this new perspective, we see Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) weaving through the crumbling streets to survey the scene, and he witnesses the collapse of a skyscraper with friends and colleagues inside. Supes may win the battle and save Lois Lane (Amy Adams) in the process, but Wayne, as he coddles a young girl who's just lost her mother, resents the Man of Steel for his negligence in protecting the innocents.
Enough of the frustrated country sees it the same way, as Superman finds himself at the center of a growing, fierce debate on his true intentions and his destructive potential. It's the perfectly volatile climate for a young and scheming tech CEO, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) to stir up controversy between the ambiguous Superman and the veteran, clearly-good Batman, thereby pitting the Man of Steel against the Dark Knight. In typical Snyder fashion, the fight sequences ultimately deliver, with a visceral and emotive flair that perfectly replicates the comic books that Batman v Superman pulls its story.
And it's in that practice where Snyder excels. Snyder has proven time and time again, with hits like 300 and Watchmen, that he knows exactly how to bring a comic book to life in an almost panel-to-panel manner. Batman v Superman is a visually striking film in that regard; it ups the contrast and the dark factor to a level not seen in most over superhero movies, and it uses jarring jump cuts that seemingly emulate comic book panels rather than camera angles. The all-encompassing level of detail in this spectacle-based film has no rivals, save an Avengers movie, and the titular battle - as well as the climactic clash - is the zenith of the picture.
Yet it's Snyder's panache for bringing comic books to cinematic life that simultaneously works against him movie, almost as if he's forgotten to tailor his movie to a wider audience instead of solely the comic book fan base. Batman v Superman may be outstandingly faithful to the source material, but the film is tougher for the casual observer to get into and empathize with. Without the broader context provided by a fully fleshed-out story, the movie is a singular experience that garners little sympathy for neither Batman nor Superman - especially when a rather contrived and frankly unbelievable event brings their conflict to a massively underwhelming conclusion.
For the comic book fan, Batman v Superman is ok, and for the casual observer, it might be bad. While that's difficult for some to reconcile, at the very least the film does have a lot of promise for the DC Comics movies yet to come. Ben Affleck has done a fantastic job of portraying both Batman and his alter ego, and he has matured his superhero screen presence to a level far above and beyond his subpar showing in Daredevil. Future standalone Batman flicks will be a sight to behold with Affleck at the helm. Similarly, Jesse Eisenberg has successfully overcome early criticism of his casting as Lex Luthor. The supervillain is still in his formative stages within the DC cinematic universe, - that is, he is not the world-ruling, riot-armored super villain he's known to be quite yet, but Eisenberg's crazed and quirky performance successfully makes us incredibly excited for the gamma bomb he is to become. And most proudly, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) shines in her feature film debut that's almost guaranteed to incite applause in the theater - something that doesn't happen throughout the rest of the movie. All of these combined are nice treats for an at-best average superhero film that promise better things to come.
There are great individual components, but not the kind that, when put together, form a cohesive, satisfying story. The tragedy here, then, is that Batman v Superman is so obsessed with laying the groundwork for a cinematic universe that it forgets to enhance and enthrall the story at hand - and for some, that can make it inaccessible. Even among both parties, however, the film feels regretfully forgettable, and it left as quickly as it arrived.
Written by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer.
Directed by Zack Snyder.
Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, and Jesse Eisenberg.