Well I went there. I’ve watched the polarizing movie in recent memory. I watched it get dragged through the mud critically and commercially, seen both sides of the love and hate it debate and waited for the dust to settle. And you know what? I did not hate this movie. I didn’t love it either and the movie has a hefty amount of problems. But it also got a lot right and took chances where other superhero films have yet to delve into.
I’m going to jump right into the lion’s den by saying I tip my hat to the movie for at least trying. Trying, and partly succeeding on trying something different with it’s political, philosophical and theological subtext concerning Superman, played again by Henry Cavill. It comes off as pretentious sometimes but it also does create some interesting platforms for debate. In turn though, the film takes itself seriously. Way too seriously and it sucks the fun out of this film. But still, kudos for thinking a bit outside the box. Something happens at the end and I was initially like, oh damn they went there. Wow. But the last few frames basically shoot that ambition in the foot sadly.
The film does get some things right however, one of those being the interpretation of Bruce Wayne by Ben Affleck. I say as Bruce because he’s more interesting than Batman I found and had more screen time if I had to wager a guess. Most of the tough calls and investigations the caped crusader is presented with occur when he’s wearing is tie and blazer rather than his cowl. This Batman and Bruce are hardened vets of Gotham, been at it for over twenty years. Bruce looks tired, stating that criminals are like weeds, you take one out and another comes to replace it. He questions the point of doing what he does, even though he’s more at ease being the Bat than he is Bruce. Master Bruce was present in Metropolis during the events of the finale of Man of Steel, where Superman and General Zod went at it and leveled the city. On the ground during the attack, we see buildings fall and lives lost and Bruce puts this blame on Superman, despite the general public accepting his presence as some kind of “divine intervention”. Bruce believes that being that powerful could be the end of humanity and takes up an oath of sorts to put an end to it before it even potentially happens. Juxtaposed to this is Clark Kent’s crusade against the Dark Knight, who believes his brutal brand of justice is a no go and decides to try and launch an investigation for the Daily Planet newspaper. This aspect is barely an afterthought though and is merely an excuse to get Clark and Kent in the same room. Bruce is easily the anchor of the film. The script allows us to explore his morals, ethics, his motivations and his reasoning for going after Superman (what’s less clear is his new found hobby of mass murder). I found Superman the character had less to do in this movie despite the entire plot revolving around him.
Helping Bruce and us the audience getting to this clash of titans is Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, who unlike Affleck is not a plus in this film. His eccentric overacting is a distraction to the film. Where Superman’s Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne come off as stoic, Lex comes off as wacky and off his meds. It doesn’t fit with the tone of the film or the character, who also believes Superman to be a threat to the planet and goes to extreme lengths to stop the all powerful God like alien. He asks pseudo intellectual questions about religion and humanity, most notably stating that God (read, Superman) can’t be both all powerful and good. Using a baffling plan, which relies too heavily on chance, he orchestrates the greatest gladiator match of the ages while secretly working on his own evil plan. There is a neat subtext that gets repeated throughout the film that draws from Milton’s Paradise Lost, concerning the greatest lie in American history, a lie concerning God and the Devil that if you understand the art, sets up the future films nicely. That is a good set up, it’s not super obvious like other film set ups. Rounding out the superheroes is the introduction of Wonder Woman, aka Diana Prince, played by Fast and Furious vet Gal Gadot. She does a good job but it’s worth noting her screen time is limited and we don’t get to explore her motivations and backstory. I still have no idea how a WW1 heroine made it to 2015 (was she put on ice too?)
One area when the film shines though is in the score. This is one of the better scores I’ve heard this decade. Done by Hans Zimmer (Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy) and Junkie XL (of the excellent Mad Mad: Fury Road soundtrack), they created this dark, epic soundtrack, filled with choirs, pounding drums, eerie melodies and very old timey violin compositions. Seriously, go listen to “The Red Capes are Coming“, which sounds like a dark ambiance meets Victorian classical . “Must There be a Superman” is a schizophrenic and jarring number, as if the song is almost tripping over it’s unusual time signature. At first, I thought it was a lost Nine Inch Nails track given the Fury Road treatment. And yes, you can tell when Hans is doing the music and when it’s in Junkie’s control. Give the soundtrack a listen if you’re into Hans and film scores in general.
The script is the weakest part of the film. Whether it’s plot holes, unclear character motivations, failure to make use of Lois Lane and the inclusion of Doomsday purely for an action scene makes the film feel disjointed and all over the place. I would’ve bought into the Doomsday scenario had Lex and Wayne actually teamed up seeing as their interests lined up but instead it felt tacked on purely for destruction. Lois Lane played the damsel in distress all throughout the movie and made the psychic judgement call to retrieve an item she disposed of minutes before without knowing it’d be needed……and in turn ending up being a damsel in distress again. The scrip is littered with little moments that made me question how characters know certain bits of information or why they are doing the things they’re doing. Don’t even get me started on the Justice League members email or the now infamous “save Martha” scene. Lazy screenwriting 101. The film throws unanswered questions at the audience and expects us to either forget about them or not to question why they were brought up.
Lets talk about Lex’s plan quickly. His plan is completely contingent on both strong arming Superman into fighting while also hoping that Bruce Wayne decides to stage his own duel at the same time while not working together. Had Bruce suddenly had a change of heart, it would’ve all crumbled down. In the words on Tony Stark…not a great plan. It’s also convoluted as hell and still not 100% sure how it all was suppose to work and is totally dependent on Bats, Supes and Lex knowing each other identities and I’m not sure how they got that information. I think Bruce working with Lex would’ve made a better story and made more sense as their goals felt similar, just in different extremes.
Not to sound like a bummer, but Zack Snyder’s direction. It’s unfocused here. I’m not sure if that’s Snyder’s fault directly or due to studio interference. Part of that unfocus is due to just how much content this film has to work with (being both a sequel to Man of Steel, setting up Wonder Woman anddd Batman ANDD being a prequel to Justice League and setting up it’s villain). All this wasn’t great for the film as it lacked focus and direction quite often. I for one found the dream sequences, of which there were many, too distracting and took me out of the experience. Whether it be talking to the dead, seeing the future or reliving the past, the dreams felt really out of place and tacked on purely for future set ups and as a storytelling cheat to allow us to explore into the psyche of the two leads, rather than have these revelations happen organically in the story. It ultimately came off as cheap storytelling.
In all that and more, the film crumbles under it’s own heavy ambitions to create a thinking man’s superhero film when it should’ve just been a fun blockbuster. I will say that despite it’s flaws, it’s numerous flaws, I did enjoy the film more than I thought I would and was never bored, unlike the last 40 minutes of Man of Steel which was just people being chucked into buildings. I was curious about Lex’s crazy plan and was invested in Batman/Bruce Wayne’s campaign. The film is also a well shot film, as most Snyder films are. I’ll do another review once I’ve seen the R rated Ultimate Cut if it’s worth a comparison but for now, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is a well shot, competently made mess. I believe that’s the only way I can describe it. Which is a shame because it could’ve been, should’ve been amazing and it had the potential to be if the script was a lot tighter. However, I am beyond excited for a solo Batman movie now directed by Ben. Bring on more of that and bring Jeremy Irons along with him as Alfred, he was great in what little screen time he had. I wish to see their relationship evolve more, allow Alfred to challenge Batman in his older age.