Movie Review: BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) – Separating Enthusiasm From Reality
Superhero movies are always some of the most anticipated movies of the year. At times, the excitement over the sheer fact that some comic book properties exist, can cloud our judgement of what the quality of the final product ends up being. But how do we, as the frantically enthusiastic audience of certain properties, distinguish between the rampant and feverish excitement of seeing those characters on screen, from the reaction to the movie itself?
That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out, and what I will focus on in this Spoiler-free Movie Review of ‘Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice.’
Let’s get some things out of the way right off the bat. I loved ‘Man Of Steel’ (my Review). I’m a fan-boy of comic book movies in general, and of DC Comics properties more specifically. The problems inherent in this film, stem from issues with the story and execution, as well as expectations set up for the film through it’s hype beforehand, which a separate issue.
‘Batman V Superman’
‘Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice’ continues the story from ‘Man Of Steel’ dealing with the world’s reaction to the existence of a super powered God like Superman living among them. Batman (Ben Affleck), is a veteran vigilante hero, who returns to his crime fighting ways after Superman (Henry Cavill) reveals himself to the world, considering him to be a threat to the human way of life. Along the same lines, Lex Luthor Jr. (Jesse Eisenberg) an eccentric billionaire, philantropist, scientist and paranoid jack of all trades, uses the existence of Superman to kickstart his own plans of megalomaniacal control of the world.
An inquisition by the government, leads Superman to doubt his purpose in this world, questioning the morals that we’ve seen established in ‘Man Of Steel’. And all this is happening under the backdrop of a world seeing the emergence of many powered individuals (or metahumans) including a mysterious (Wonder) woman (Gal Gadot) who crosses paths with Bruce Wayne, and ends up reluctantly joining this new world of superheroes.
There is a lot going on in this movie, and despite all other complaints with him, director Zack Snyder must be given credit for handling these multiple angles in the best way possible; even though he can be held responsible for including all these elements in a haphazard manner in the first place.
‘Batman V Superman’ is a painfully angry movie. And given the themes it attempts to depict, it’s understandable. The death of hundreds if not thousands of people. Questioning centuries of established religious beliefs. Knowledge of life beyond the known world. Sense of helpless-ness in an ever changing universe. These are all concepts that are frightening for sure; however the film throws away all these opportunities of delving deeper into what it means to have superheroes in the real world, in favor of dramatic one-liners. Not to mention plot points to create conflict that are at best, soap opera styled misunderstandings, ultimately attributed to the puppet master-like string pulling of the big bad villain.
The Hype Before The Storm
Expectations are unavoidable when it comes to fiction. The subjective nature of movies, create different expectations for different people. But in the age of the Internet, with Trailers and constant reporting of every tid bit of a movie, trivial or otherwise, those expectations can take on very specific forms for the collective masses. Especially the Trailers, of which there are many. The purposefully misguided editing and creating of context for the story of the movie within the trailers, creates very specific expectations for movie-goers, which in the case of ‘Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice’, may not have been the best idea.
Most people have complained about the Trailers containing spoilers that reveal too much of the story or action, but in the case of ‘Batman V Superman’, the voice-over of crucial dialogues from the film, was what spoiled the movie. At least for me. Hearing out of context one-liners, playing over scenes of explosions with riveting music in the background juxtaposed with cinematic shots… creates an impression that is inevitably watered down, when hearing those same lines in casual conversation between two people. The intended dramatic effect of those dialogues, in the actual movie, are but a shell of what’s been creatively and systematically hammered into our minds for months prior to release in the trailers.
The trailers also give us a movie that doesn’t exist. While the legal repercussions of Superman’s actions from ‘Man Of Steel’ is what all the trailers focus on, forcing a debate on authority, morality, power, etc… the story of the movie doesn’t deal with any of it. Batman’s character is the only link which acts as the moral compass for those ideals, but his characterization of it is through seething rage that comes off as frothing at the mouth, instead of creating any discussion of those ideals.
While these are the many ways that ‘Batman V Superman’ fails, there are almost two separate movies here. And I only say this, completely based on how I’ve had to separate my own conflicted feelings of the movie, while writing this Review. As excited and blown away I was with certain elements of this movie, other elements concerned me and interfered with my full enjoyment of the film. And that’s when I realized: where ‘Batman V Superman‘ fails, ‘Dawn Of Justice’ succeeds!
‘Dawn Of Justice’
This film marks the first in an intentional attempt to create a DC Film Universe, apty titled the DC Extended Universe. (DCEU) So amidst all the already established plot points, the film has to introduce other brand new characters, set up their own individual solo-hero films, establish the framework for a team-up movie, and essentially build an entire cinematic universe around these characters and concepts that we are seeing unfold.
And the effective-ness of those elements of the movie, is where ‘Dawn Of Justice’ splits off and becomes almost it’s own film. It’s those aspects of the movie that engage a lot more, and satisfy the superhero movie fan within me. While I can complain about the dramatic impotence of the plot of this story, seeing snippets of other DC Universe characters very much fills me with joy, despite what the critics say.
In a movie essentially about iconic characters like Batman and Superman, one leaves the screening with a renewed (or for most general audiences, a brand new) interest in Wonder Woman. Which is both a success for that character, and a failure in regards to the main story of the movie. In a handful of brief scenes, ‘Dawn Of Justice’ is able to more effectively provide an excerpt into the origin of Wonder Woman, for the first time on the silver screen, than provide deeper characterizations of existing characters we’ve already seen through the decades. Gadot fits in perfectly with the allure and mystery of the character out of costume, while embodying the blood thirsty confidence of a veteran mythical warrior while in costume.
Snyder and writer David S. Goyer also introduce elements of the DC Comics universe, which are woven into the over all story of the film in a rather ham fisted way. However, those scenes set up the possibilities of story lines and arcs that, until now, was incomprehensible to be adapted into live action films; and the anticipation of those possibilities and how the makers will choose to depict those iconic elements of the comics world into this film universe, is what redeems ‘Dawn Of Justice’.
Many may complain that elements of those sub plots were introduced poorly, but in a movie that already has so much more going on, I may have been more disappointed if they attempted to ‘naturally’ weave in those introductions and failed, than just take a small tangent from the the film’s main story, as they ended up doing.
Despite its problems, the one thing beyond reproach in ‘Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice’ has to be its performances. While Affleck doesn’t get many opportunities to be the womanizing Bruce Wayne, a brief glimpse shows his double sided nature as a vigilante, who has to pretend to be a shallow billionaire. As Batman however, Affleck destroys all his critiques in a portrayal that is intensely intimidating, especially out of the suit. Cavill doesn’t get many moments to shine, and is probably the weakest link. My complaint with him is the same that I had in ‘Man Of Steel’; that his inexperience is cushioned by the massive cast of veteran actors surrounding him.
Gadot is the surprise element as her scenes are handled wonderfully. (pun very much intended). The other pleasant surprise has to be Batman’s old companion Alfred Pennyworth, (Jeremy Irons) who is finally given a more substantial role in the story, other than fetching drinks and cleaning up. Almost every line uttered by Irons is hilarious given the dark tone of the story, and a solo Batman movie needs to explores that dynamic of their relationship.
While the main story has flimsy motivations, and an even flimsier resolution, the subplots of the movie, introduction of these aspects of the comic universe into the film, are what satisfies the super hero movie lover within me. And as difficult it is to separate those elements from one another, they essentially do go hand in hand. You cannot have one without the other. And what’s why ‘Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice‘ is definitely worth a watch; if not for the movie that it tries to be, but for the movie universe that it attempts to build, successfully.
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Do you feel you are better able to separate the movie from your expectations?
Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @theshahshahid