Rated: PG-13 (violence)
With comic book movies gaining popularity in the last decade, DC threw their hand in the pot in 2013 with Man of Steel. A reboot of the Superman mythos that they hoped would help launch a comic book universe similar to their counterparts at Marvel. The results however were a mixed bag. Audiences were divided on this new take on the last Son of Krypton, and many weren’t too happy with the grim tone or the amount of civilian casualties that took place in the final act of the film during Superman‘s battle with General Zod.
Serving as a sort-of sequel to Man of Steel, the opening act of Batman v Superman (BvS) shows the death and destruction wrought by Superman (Henry Cavill) and Zod, but this time through the eyes of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) as he tries valiantly but fails to save his employees from being caught up in the violent onslaught. Moving on, two years after the event, we find Bruce Wayne (and his alter ego of Batman) with a vendetta against Superman, the events of Man of Steel serving as a springboard for the animosity between these two iconic heroes.
While on paper this sounds like a sure fire spectacle, two of the world’s most recognisable super heroes duking it out on the big screen, the actual execution of the story comes up wanting. While there are good moments in the film, there are also puzzling choices made that cancel those moments out.
So let’s start off with what works in the movie. As surprising as it may seem to some people, Ben Affleck actually makes a decent Batman. His is a more grizzled, weary take on the Dark Knight. Worn down by the years of crime-fighting, he has become more cruel, taking any means necessary to bring down his foes. You can see the weight of the world on Affleck’s shoulders and his drive to protect all those around him no matter what it takes. However not only is Affleck a good Batman, he is also a good Bruce Wayne, playing the character with the carefree charm you would expect of a billionaire but still managing to convey the level of intelligence needed to run Wayne Enterprises.
This film also serves as an introduction to Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). This character has long been waiting for her movie début but the wait has been worth it. Gadot obviously has the beautiful physicality that Wonder Woman is known to possess but she also convincingly kicks ass on screen. Her character is shrouded with mystery and we don’t really get to know much about her, even when she does team up with Batman and Superman in the big final battle (no spoiler, this was already shown in the trailers), but even if she does remain a bit of an enigma, she was a bright light in a very sombre and dark movie. The moment she appeared on screen in her full costume, the Wonder Woman theme blaring in the background, I almost wanted to give out a cheer. Seeing her in this movie has increased my appetite for her upcoming standalone film (and her theme was my favourite part of the movie score).
A mention must go out too to Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth. Batman’s butler is the main source of humour in this film and his sardonic humour and dry wit help break up all the heavy tones that permeate the rest of the movie. Acting as part friend, mechanic and long-suffering carer for Bruce, Irons gives off a natural likeability in the role. He’s accepted that Bruce is most likely to ignore any advice given and instead contents himself with sarcastic remarks under his breath while doing his utmost to make sure his employer stays alive. I hope this isn’t the last we see of Irons in this role.
And now we come to what doesn’t work. Superman in the comics is a beacon of hope and light, a yin to Batman’s yang, and yet here Cavill’s Superman is even more dour and bleak than Affleck’s Batman. It doesn’t help that both the main protagonists of the film seem to be on the verge of despair, hammering an ever building sense of depression. This is not helped by director Zack Snyder‘s predilection of staging sequences in very operatic manner, amplifying the bleakness in the script. Where Man of Steel showed a hero learning the ropes and seeing the hope he could bring to humanity, here that hope is gone. This is even evident in the score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL. While there are traces of the uplifting Man of Steel theme here and there, most of it is low oppressive tones almost foretelling the gloom and doom that is about to unfold.
Then there is Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). A jittery, borderline psychotic version of the classic Superman villain who comes off as a poor man’s Joker more than anything else. With his manic tendencies and eccentric behaviour it’s hard to make out what Luthor’s real motivations are in trying to destroy Superman. One minute it’s to protect the world from a theoretical alien threat the next minute it’s because of daddy issues. Eisenberg didn’t really give off a menacing vibe and I think he could have easily been excised from the movie.
So too for Lois Lane. Though Amy Adams gave it her best shot, there was simply no need for the character in this story. I felt like she was shoe-horned in, and little bits of plot were written to give her something to do but ultimately she was just space filler. Which is a shame because with better material, Adams’ could have made the character shine.
Lastly I want to make a quick mention about the much talked about members of the Justice League. Yes, they are in the film, but probably not in the way you’re expecting them to be. While the film does include Dawn of Justice in the title, those expecting a full on roll call of the Justice League will be a little disappointed, and I would say your best bet would be to wait for the Justice League movie itself (if it happens).
There are good things in Batman v Superman, but unfortunately they do not come together to make a cohesive whole. Here’s hoping DC learns from the mistakes in this film and course corrects itself with its upcoming movie slate, because right now DC really needs a win.
I give Batman v Superman a 6 out of 10.