Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2006)
Some days, I start putting my thoughts together on something, and then it dawns on me – I have a website for this! Not that I update it often, and not that millions of people are going to read it when I do, but it exists for purposes just like this: The moment that Warner Brothers dropped one of the most anticipated superhero films of all time.
Now, I wasn’t particularly revved up about Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. And no, it had nothing at all to do with Affleck – in fact, I was one of the ones defending that casting decision. My main issue came from the film that this one follows, 2013’s Man of Steel. I never wrote about that movie, but I am the farthest thing from a fan of it. Superman has never been my favorite superhero, but at least I know the kind of tone and character traits a movie about him needs to possess. As flawed as it was, I really enjoyed Superman Returns, and although they show their age, the first two Richard Donner Superman movies get a lot right.
But Man of Steel was just awful. Piggybacked off of the mega-successful Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, it took an uncharacteristically dark tone, and made its titular hero’s moral compass a lot more ambiguous than it ever had been. I know a lot of people who like it, but it never sat well with me, and completely shit the bed in my view the moment that Clark Kent allowed his father to die. And nobody needs to see 30 minutes of backstory on Krypton.
That said, BvS (as it shall be called going forward) is a better film than Man of Steel. Don’t get me wrong – it’s still a mess. But at least the parts that the movie was really being sold on – those moments where Bats and Supes are laying an ass-whooping on each other – are pretty much perfect. Zack Snyder isn’t good at everything, but he sure can make two superheroes kicking the shit out of each other look amazing.
One of the big problems right off the bat involve Gotham and Metropolis. In the DC Comics universe, these cities are just as established characters as the people that inhabit them. In this film, they not only seem to be conveniently right next to another, which seems like a lazy storytelling technique at best; there’s also nothing to distinguish the cities from one another, to the point that I’m still not sure what parts of the film took place in Gotham and what parts took place in Metropolis. The only times I was sure where the action was taking place was when they were in a familiar setting, such as the Daily Planet or Batcave. I liken this quite a bit to the biggest problem I had with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In both cases, the filmmakers seem to not quite grasp the universe these stories take place in and focus almost solely on the characters. In J.J. Abrams’s case, he at least nailed the Star Wars characters he had to work with, but severely missed the mark in making the galaxy seem as vast and expansive as George Lucas envisioned it. In BvS, Zack Snyder missed the mark on both the settings and the characters that dwell in them.
I can’t really get into much else good until I get some issues out of the way regarding the Caped Crusader. The movie makes no effort to do an origin story for Batman, despite the fact that it once again gives the origin of Batman. We start with scenes of his parents being killed and then him falling into the bat cave, which almost seem like they were lifted directly from Batman Begins. And that would be fine, if this Batman were the Christian Bale version we’ve known for three movies, but it’s not. This is an entirely new continuity. And this Batman, according to the banter between Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth, has been at this for 20 years. And based on the dialogue he has with Clark Kent, he has already battled the Joker. In a sense, you almost have to wonder just why this is a new Batman, and not just a recasting of the guy in the rubber suit, presuming that you can sweep the ending of The Dark Knight Rises under the rug.
But this leaves more questions than it does answers. Why do the reporters at The Daily Planet seem to be surprised at these stories about the Bat of Gotham? Why is Bruce Wayne hanging around Metropolis to begin with? Why does Wayne Manor look like it was hit by a dirty bomb? Why is Batman having all these weird hallucinations, dreams, clairvoyant visions, or whatever they are? I know that a lot of this movie was trimmed out from its original 3-hour runtime, but there’s way too many unanswered questions about what’s going on with Batman to feel like a complete film. Apologists will tell you to be patient and wait for the next movie, but I shouldn’t have to wait for another movie to know the basics about this one’s protagonist. The filmmakers are banking on the viewer knowing pretty much everything there is to know about Batman already, which in a world where The Dark Knight made a billion dollars seems like a safe bet, but is ultimately lazy. And while it wasn’t quite the body count I was expecting upon reading early reviews, Batman still kills way too many people for my tastes.
As a result of all of this, the narrative of how the first act is put together is muddled, messy, and confusing, and on top of all that, pretty boring. I mentioned the odd dream sequences, which seem shoehorned in perhaps as foreshadowing for the sequel, but did they do anything to advance the narrative? Did they do anything other than confuse an already muddled story? Did we really need a dream-within-a-dream Batception moment? Even Superman has a hallucinated conversation with Pa Kent, perhaps only because Kevin Costner was contractually obligated to come back for a sequel. There’s also the issue of Lex Luthor, which opens a whole new can of worms. I like Jesse Eisenberg, but I’m not sure I like this version of Lex Luthor. His motivations are unclear, and his mental state seems to be a little too extreme this early into the story.
But that’s a big part of this – this all feels rushed. DC is trying to get to the endgame of their Justice League franchise before they establish the key players properly. This is also why I didn’t feel it necessary to show the footage of Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. Having Bruce Wayne watch the Diana Prince videos and find the old photograph was plenty, as we saw the other icons on the other files and could pretty well guess who they represent. And even if you don’t, it doesn’t hurt to have an Easter egg that can be opened in the next movie. Footage of the other MetaHumans felt gratuitious and didn’t add much to this film – the few minutes they left in of Batman’s visions and footage of Jason Momoa could have better been used to tell us a little more about Luthor’s motivations or more about this incarnation of Batman.
But despite several paragraphs of negativity, when the movie finally starts moving, there’s some stuff to like. Wonder Woman was handled well, and used just the right amount. Lois Lane saving Superman after he saved her was a neat touch. The nod to the shared first names of Batman and Superman’s mother was a perfect way to conclude what was probably the defining scene in the film; and once the final act came along, it was easy to get lost in fanboy mode while our heroes battled Doomsday. There are some attempts at humor, which fail more than they succeed, but at least there’s an effort every once in a while to do something to break up the tone a little. Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, and Gal Gadot’s performances are all just fine, and as I said before, I like Jesse Eisenberg here, just as long as I pretend he’s not Lex Luthor.
So, I’m sure other people will say the same, but if you liked Man of Steel, you’ll probably like BvS. I personally think the bad outweighed the good, but it wasn’t the worst Superman movie ever made, nor was it the worst Batman movie either for that matter. I’m cautiously optimistic that they’ll eventually get into groove by the time we get a full Justice League movie, and for that matter, I’m looking forward to Suicide Squad, although I’m still not quite sure how it’s going to work in the universe they’ve created here.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a month and a half to get ready for Captain America: Civil War to hopefully give me a big superhero vs. superhero film that I can truly sink my teeth into.