Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot
Director: Zack Snyder
Fearing what may happen if the actions of the apparently unstoppable alien Superman are left unchecked, Batman plans to take down the last Kryptonian while Lois Lane investigates a conspiracy in Washington D.C. and billionaire Lex Luthor pulls everyone’s strings from behind the scenes.
Originally this movie was set to be a direct sequel to Man of Steel however as Marvel’s continued success with their Cinematic Universe marched on, the proposed sequel instead became a a world-building team-up movie that would be the true starting point of the DC Movie Universe. The previous entry Man of Steel had been a hit at the box office but had received mix reviews and their interpretation of Superman, plus the huge amount of property destruction, divided the fan community. At the same time Marvel continued to enjoy success with even their smaller movies such as Ant-Man performing well when compared to its budget and B-list character. The pressure is on for Batman V Superman to perform well and unfortunately what has been produced is far from what audiences deserve.
Ben Affleck has, over the years, received a lot of criticism in both his personal and professional life. After a series of bad reviews and a period of intense media spotlight, Affleck managed to reinvent himself as one of Hollywood’s best directors and his acting stepped up a level to match the critical success his movies began receiving. Here Affleck plays Bruce Wayne/Batman as an older, bitter, cynical vigilante and it works wonderfully. His large physique makes his Batman believable while his version of Bruce manages to be suave and sophisticated when needed while maintaining a level of sadness and anger at the same time. Many fans took to the internet to voice their often outright disgust at his casting yet he remains a highlight of the film.
Similarly Gal Gadot, despite a short amount of screen time, impresses as the mysterious Wonder Woman, pulling off the action pieces and making the audience want to see more of her. Laurence Fishburne also works well in his returning role as Perry White, barking orders in his role as editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet and adding a small amount of depth to his character. Jeremy Irons is another highlight who, like Fishburne and Gadot, has minutes to shine and takes every one of them- his take on Wayne’s loyal manservant Alfred moves away from the caring father figure developed by Michael Caine in the Dark Knight trilogy and becomes a brother-in-arms to Batman, providing mechanical and technical expertise and words of wisdom, warnings and cynicism.
Considering this was originally a Superman film, Henry Cavill is somewhat sidelined throughout proceedings and apart from a few brief moments, remains as alien to us as he is to the citizens of Metropolis. His performance is probably the best he can deliver given the material he is provided however Superman is simply not given enough personality and is never humanised enough for the audience to relate to.
Amy Adams returns as Lois Lane and gives a solid if uninspired performance while her storyline, which involves uncovering a conspiracy, is superfluous to the plot. The plot overall is generally dull, failing to capture the excitement that the trailers raised and is also packed with far too much going on. So much is going on that character motivations fall by the wayside as the film tries to juggle too many disparate plots and fails to deliver on any of them while multiple plot-holes weaken the structure of the movie as a whole. The idea for the film, the ideological clash between Batman and Superman, is weakened by the side-plots and, by the time the showdown between our two heroes happens, is forgotten about in order to fit Lex Luthor into the main part of the story with his so-called genius manipulation of events.
Lex Luthor, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is a complete disaster. He resembles no version of his comic book counterpart and his motivations are unclear while Eisenberg’s performance, a play on his Zuckerberg portrayal from with added tics and a dose of mania, is simply irritating and fails to convince as a credible threat.
Director Zack Snyder gives us a few moments of brilliance such as Batman’s effective take-down of a bunch of thugs and the wonderful Gadot entering the final battle. He has always been a visual film maker who has often divided fans yet his film simply makes little sense and the editing during some of the fight scenes is extremely poor. Add in a final battle against a CGI character and far too many dream sequences plus some awfully executed set-ups for future films and the point of the story has been lost.
Overall, the film has a few highlights which are few and far between and is generally a mess, letting down not only the audience but the characters to. The movie will perform well no matter what critics are saying (which is generally not positive) however as the first block in the DC Movie Universe its fair to say the foundations are looking rocky.
What could have been…
The marketing for the film had fans eagerly awaiting the clash between Batman and Superman, a clash of alien and man, a clash of ideologies. That is what the film should have been about but this is lost in an overly stuffed narrative that throws away character development in aid of getting from point A to point B. If the secondary plots were dropped and the movie were to focus on its headline characters and them alone, we would have had a critical and commercial success. Critics won’t change their minds any time soon and, while the film will perform well based on its two lead figures, the movie will be remembered as a missed opportunity for DC to truly hit the ground running with their own cinematic universe.