Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: Chris Terrio & David S. Goyer
Stars: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Jesse Eisenberg
Review By Mike DeAngelo:
In keeping with his reimagining of Superman in 2013’s Man of Steel, Zack Snyder serves up another jam-packed, methodically paced, operatic superhero slugfest that’s sure to divide fans as heavily as its predecessor. I’m not sure what it is, but Zack Snyder really brings out the vitriol from critics and a certain contingent of fanboys – most of which treat him like the second coming of Michael Bay. Really the only thing that’s comparable between the two is that they’re both very visually focused action movie directors that rely on CGI effects and large set-pieces. I would argue that Michael Bay doesn’t care enough to go beyond rehashed, clichéd plot and characters, while Zack makes polarizing choices with complex & beloved characters. And, oh boy, does he have some beloved characters to polarize...
I was lucky enough to attend a private screening of Batman V. Superman earlier this week, and realized while speaking with friends afterward that this movie was sure to polarize people as heavily, if not more so than Man of Steel; however, I’ve also noticed that there’s a fairly simple way to gauge how you’ll feel about Batman V. Superman going in. Of the people I’ve spoken with that have seen the movie, those that disliked Man of Steel, disliked Batman V. Superman, whereas those that enjoyed Man of Steel, enjoyed Batman V. Superman. Yes, it was literally that cut and dry. As you can read in my recent look back on Man of Steel, I fall into the “enjoyed Man of Steel” subgroup of fans, so take from that what you will.
You might be asking what exactly is dividing moviegoers so severely with this film. In short, everything. I’ve heard wildly differing opinions on things as significant as the characters & structure, to things in the background like the musical score or minor CG characters with 2 seconds of screen-time. Barely anyone had the same things to say.
So, what did I think? In general, I found it to be a vast improvement over Man of Steel with a few missteps that keep it from being truly great. Let’s start with the overall tone and structure, which is unlike any superhero film I’ve ever seen. I suspect this is where many people are getting most hung up. Personally, I found the slow, methodical pacing of the first two acts to be rather refreshing for this kind of movie; however, some viewers may find it hard to follow as it weaves back and forth from reality to dream sequences without any warning or explanation whatsoever.
Visually, Snyder knows what he’s doing. The movie looks beautiful, but is still much darker than any other superhero franchise out there, which will still be a sticking point for some. Regardless, we’re two movies in and it seems that it’s here to stay. Learn to live with it.
The characters themselves all fit into the world nicely, some better than others. As expected, Batman/Affleck comes across as the most interesting character in the film. He’s darker, scarier, more worn down/jaded, and far more brutal than we’ve seen in previous iterations. Pardon my language, but this is a Batman that’s lived through some shit, people. From the first scene you understand why Batman wants to take Superman down, and you don’t question it. Affleck also is able to better portray Bruce Wayne in ways Christian Bale always had trouble selling. Particularly, the public version of the man.
Another clear winner is Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, who has very little screen time in the movie, but owns every scene she’s in and plants her flag clearly as the best on-screen Wonder Woman yet (not much competition there...). Best of all, instead of trying to get Gal to learn an American accent, she speaks with her natural accent. It makes you wonder why no other versions did this?! She’s technically a foreigner, so shouldn’t she speak with an accent? Of course! She’s also the perfect balance of beautiful, mysterious, and powerful – all of which are essential for this character to work at all.
And what about Superman? Well, I’ll just say that if you hated the darker, emotionally conflicted version of Superman introduced in Man of Steel, you’ll hate this one….because he’s back and just as conflicted as before. In my eyes, he has good reason. He repeatedly tries to do what’s right only to have everyone either praise him as a God or declare him a dangerous enemy. It’s hard not to get a little depressed when you’re the constant subject of polarizing debate - something I'm sure Zack Snyder is learning first hand.
Speaking of which, one of the more polarizing acting performances in the film comes from Jesse Eisenberg who takes the modern, kooky, young tech-genius version of Lex Luthor on the page and cranks it up 110%. Personally, I ate it up. Seeing him in the trailers made me cringe a bit, but, in context, it’s a very fun and creepy performance of a Zuckerberg-ian character pushed over the edge by his desire to be able to fully understand and hold power over the newly-emerged, God-like Superman. He loses a bit of steam towards the end where he stops playing his chessboard mind-games and becomes more of a typical movie villain, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing him come back around and hopefully evolve in the future DC films.
The character I’m hoping they don’t bring back (SPOILERS FOR THOSE OF YOU THAT HAVEN’T SEEN THE TRAILERS) is Doomsday. They clearly just needed a reason for the group to come together in the end, and didn’t want to put much thought behind it. He’s the laziest and biggest mindless CG spectacle of a character in the entire movie. Much like he is in the comics, Doomsday is just one giant misstep used for a specific result. I won’t go any further to avoid any major spoilers.
Let’s talk about the writing next, which is a bit tricky since there’s clearly two separate voices. Chris Terrio (Argo) does a good job in the first couple acts by grounding everyone’s motivations in very intelligent, relatable, and understandable real-world terms. The entire movie is basically written as both a continuation of and a reaction to Man of Steel. How would the world react to the sudden presence of a God-like alien being among us? Quite realistically, no one agrees and it only causes political and personal conflict.
After the very deliberately worded and paced first two acts, we’re shoved into action mode – this is where I can only assume Terrio defaulted to David Goyer’s experience in writing superhero action spectacles. To me, this is where the movie begins to go downhill, as all character motivation is replaced with mostly expository dialogue. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the Superman/Batman battle scene and some of the visuals of what came after, but the writing clearly goes out the door for a good chunk of the movie. After the action subsides, Terrio’s more mature style takes back over and at least ends the movie on an interesting Nolan-esque note, but the damage of the sloppier exposition & action-heavy third act is too much to place the film in “instant classic” status.
I’m also disappointed by the fact that Snyder and Co. give in to audience complaints about the apparent human casualties in MoS by making sure that there’s at least one or two characters clarifying that no people are in danger during any of the battle scenes. People should be able to deduce that for themselves – it just comes across as both pandering and an apology. Stick to your guns, man!
Before I finish up, I’d be remiss to neglect the amazing and operatic score contributed by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL. The score does its job in the quieter scenes, but it truly shines when it’s allowed to go grand – and does it ever. This is especially the case in Batman’s scenes. If you have the chance see it in a loud IMAX theater that will immerse you into the experience, DO IT - as the score will be able to properly work it’s magic in that environment.
For the love of God (or Superman), let’s sum this all up: Love him or hate him, the same polarizing tone and Superman from Man of Steel are back, but it’s Batman, Wonder Woman, and Luthor (for the most part) that elevate the established universe to new heights. Again, if it weren’t for a third act that required another pass during the scripting phase, the movie would be near the top of the “best of” list for the superhero genre. Overall, it’s a complicated movie that most people will say has its ups and downs to varying degrees. I’ll stick with the aforementioned hypothesis: Those that hated Man of Steel will dismiss it as another failure, while Man of Steel fans will receive another movie they’ll have to defend until the next one comes along. Seeing as there’s a lot to like, I’m happy to be one of the latter.
OVERALL SCORE: 8.5/10 Justice League Members