Film Review: Batman v. Superman Dawn of Justice
Batman and Superman meeting up on the big screen is a big deal. Yeah, it has happened in the comics, on TV and even animated films. However, a live action meetup between the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel has been in the works for a long time. Expectations for seeing these iconic characters in a film ALONE is a big deal so seeing them together invites some pretty big expectations. Expectations have been skyrocketed by the recent Dark Knight trilogy - an epic series of films that changed people's perceptions of Batman as well as the superhero genre. Three years ago saw the release of Man of Steel... a film I was not particularly wild about. Admittedly, I regret giving such a snarky negative review of the film, but I still stand behind disliking it. Parts of that film were good, and for better or worse, it did challenge the Superman mythos. This bears mentioning since this is for all intents and purposes the direct follow-up to that film Not only is this film made by the same people, but there has not been a Superman film in between 2013 and now.
Describing the plot of Batman vs. Superman without giving away major spoilers is no easy task. This film picks up directly where of Steel left off. Metropolis is in ravages after the events of that film with some people believing Superman was the cause of the destruction while others believe he is a true hero. There is one man who believes the Last Son of Krypton is a menace: Bruce Wayne, who witnessed a friend seriously injured during the battle between Superman and General Zod. Superman is not particularly fond of Batman either, finding him to be a vigilante who is too violent on criminals. Meanwhile, philanthropist Lex Luthor is making deals to obtain the remnants of kryptonian technology - including kryptonite and the body of General Zod. Because of his contempt for Superman, Luthor is pulling strings to orchestrate a fight between him and Superman.
When the film is Batman vs. Superman, the first thing worth talking about is Batman and Superman. Despite my feelings about Man of Steel, I liked Henry Cavil's Superman A LOT. Everything that was good about his performance returns in this film: Cavil does not just look the part, he has the presence and command of such an iconic character. Cavil's Superman is in action early and he has some pretty cool moments. The big news is the introduction of Batman, now played by Ben Affleck.
One weak link in this movie is that it feels like there is a film or two missing here. Batman's identity and origins are explained well enough that if an alien from another world who someone how knew nothing about the character could easily pick up on who Batman is while not hammering facts in for the audience already familiar with the character. Batman is one of those characters that can be reinterpreted whether it be quirky and enigmatic (Keaton), intense but noble (Bale) or even funny (Arnett). But we see Batman doing things in this film such as branding criminals and using a gas gun against Superman - because he is a new Batman, it leaves open questions such as is this his normal MO or is this what he does when backed up against a wall? It seems a little unclear whether this is supposed to a continuation of Bale's Batman or something completely new. Compare this to the Keaton film where, yes, he was in action from the beginning too, but he had an entire film to establish his personality.
Even if this interpretation is caught between a new look and Christian Bale, Affleck does work as Batman. His intensity is spot on, whether he has the mask on or not. Affleck is good at playing smug, and that works well when he is playing Wayne. The other big news is the debut of Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman's presence in the movie is one of the unsung heroes of this movie. She appears out of costume throughout most of the movie, usually saying very little. Diana Prince has an air of mystery about her, building suspense for when she appears as Wonder Woman. She appears in costume at the very end when she is most needed. I saw this in a theater with an audience - they applauded loudly.
Heroes need a good villains. In several of my previous reviews, I have made no bones about my disappointment with villains in recent superhero films. Jesse Eisenberg was controversial casting, but he brings a unique take on the villain. Rather than some imposing monster, Luthor is a wiry, kind of nerdy businessman, philanthropist. How does someone like that battle Superman or Batman? Rather than fighting them head to head, he is a master manipulator who plays one side against the other. This film does not pull its punches. Without giving too much away, Luthor commits some truly heinous and violent acts. The combination of being so odd but genuinely dangerous makes Eisenberg's Luthor one of the more exciting villains in a while. I have had a hard time remembering the names of some recent villains, but Luthor is one I won't forget.
One of the strengths of Batman vs. Superman is the way it acknowledges the events of Man of Steel. So often, these superhero movies just start a new movie like nothing happened. How many times have we seen Tony Stark seemingly change and then make the same mistakes in the next movie? In this film, people have scars - physical and emotional. People are discussing whether or not Superman is a real hero or a problem. These come off as the kind of conversations people would have about Superman (especially considering people had these discussions after Man of Steel). Luthor is able to pull off his plan against Superman largely because of the public distrust of him.
While the discussion and story are both good, we know what the real show is. Batman and Superman do battle in this film. A combination of kryptonite weapons and a beefed up batsuit give Batman the ability to stand toe-to-toe with Superman. The battle is pretty epic with these two wailing on each other. Both men have their moments to shine, with Batman beating up Superman and vice versa. The other action scenes are pretty spectacular albeit some are a little long in the tooth.
On that note, as good as Batman vs. Superman is, some of the flaws of Man of Steel rear their ugly heads.Despite being pretty briskly paced for a two-and-a-half hour movie, the pacing feels a little messed up. Scenes are lobbed at us, sometimes out of nowhere - there is an excellent montage showing Superman in action contrasted with discussions over Superman being a hero or not. Great montage, but it comes out of nowhere and may have felt more in place closer to the beginning of the film. There are also a plethora of scenes that feel like they end before they can really begin. This issue is most problematic in the first act. Batman vs. Superman introduces A LOT of characters: Superman is re-introduced, Batman is introduced, Luthor is introduced, several supporting characters are introduced. With so much to introduce in a short time, it comes off as a little rushed.
The third act is good but overbearing. The battle between Superman and Batman and the fight between all three heroes against Doomsday are both superb, but the film may have benefited from a little breathing room in between them. Also, while the beginning felt a little rushed, the ending has the exact opposite problem. After the climax, the film largely shuffles its feet before the film finally ends.
Warts and all, Batman vs. Superman is an excellent blockbuster. Does it make some of the same mistakes as its predecessor? Absolutely - however, BVS has enough substance to make it a worthwhile film. Good characters, exciting action and ideas worth exploring make Batman vs. Superman an excellent - albeit flawed - experience.
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