'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' Movie Review

There's no dawn after this darkness.

Ben Affleck as Batman and Henry Cavill as Superman
Warner Bros.

Henry Cavill's Superman manages to spell out everything wrong with this misguided followup to 2013's Man of Steel with one line of dialogue. "No one stays good in this world," laments the weary hero in the aftermath of a horrific tragedy. And thus, a pop culture icon who for 75 years has been a beacon of hope, optimism and faith in the innate goodness of mankind is reduced to a weak-willed, brooding shadow of himself.

That's pretty much par for the course in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a film that seems to fundamentally misunderstand its two main characters and the dynamic between them. 

Batman v Superman takes a page or three from Frank Miller's classic graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, showcasing a graying, grizzled Bruce Wayne (played for what will likely be the first of many times by Ben Affleck) who is drawn out of retirement to exact vengeance on Superman for his role in the destruction of Metropolis and the massive casualties in the climax of Man of Steel. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (played by Jesse Eisenberg as a cartoonish bundle of tics and half-rehearsed monologues) is all too happy to exploit this impending battle of titans for his own gain. It all comes across as a rather flimsy basis for a superhuman feud when Batman himself is allowed to rack up an impressive body count over the course of the film.

Manslaughter, not Batarangs or fancy gadgets, is the Caped Crusader's preferred weapon of choice this time.

To date, Warner Bros' philosophy in trying to craft a cinematic empire to rival that of Marvel Studios has been to do the exact opposite of Marvel. Whereas the Avengers movies are fun, funny and consummate crowd-pleasers, Batman v Superman is oppressive and almost unbearably morose.

Director Zack Snyder has managed the impressive feat of crafting a PG-13-rated superhero film that's somehow less appropriate for younger viewers than the gleefully raunchy Deadpool. This film has it all - scenes of 9/11-inspired carnage, torture of innocent civilians and more heavy-handed religious imagery than you can shake a Kryptonite-laced spear at. The fact that the film is opening on Easter weekend is all too appropriate.

Kids and adults alike may find the film's two-and-a-half hour run time a hard pill to swallow. Batman v Superman is nothing if not poorly paced, taking its sweet time building to the epic brawl and then, much like Man of Steel before it, finally unleashing a nonstop stream of superhero spectacle and destruction porn. The film laboriously chugs along as it explores the public's increasingly polarized reaction to Superman's presence and revisits the tragic murders that birthed the Batman. Snyder makes frequent and sometimes lengthy detours in his efforts to lay the groundwork for the larger "DC Extended Universe" and pave the way for future films like 2017's Wonder Woman, 2018's Justice League Part One and the inevitable new Batman franchise. One particularly bizarre interlude may leave many viewers not well-versed in the finer points of DC lore scratching their heads.

 

Perhaps what frustrates most about Batman v Superman isn't the lousy characterization or the failed attempt to slather the pathos of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy onto a larger canvas, it's that the film shows just enough moments of inspiration and quality to make viewers wonder what might have been. The film is certainly thematically ambitious. Characters frequently muse on the nature of power and the idea of superheroes as Greek gods descended from Olympus. Is the Man of Steel a wrathful Zeus or a knowledge-bearing Prometheus? It's unfortunate that Batman v Superman's reach so often exceeds its limited grasp.

The action also tends to be more satisfying than that of Man of Steel. Whereas Snyder's freshman Superman work was crammed with scenes of rubbery CGI figures pounding on each other with reckless abandon, viewers will feel every bone-ratting blow as an armored Batman dispatches his foe with ruthless efficiency.

In general, Affleck's Batman is the first to capture the raw, intimidating physicality so evident in the comics and games like Arkham Asylum and so lacking in past films. 

For all his excessive use of slow-motion and sepia tones, Snyder shows a strong eye in several key shots. The film's most inspired visual nod to The Dark Knight Returns comes during a lull in the final battle sequence, as a battered Superman clings to life in the cold vacuum of space.

Often it seems as though the talented cast is crying out for a better movie. Both Amy Adams' intrepid Lois Lane and Jeremy Irons' gravelly butler Alfred Pennyworth are frustratingly underutilized. In those rare moments when his character is actually allowed to smile, Cavill channels the charm and fundamental decency that defined Christopher Reeve's portrayal. Affleck's Bruce Wayne is suitably haunted and tormented. Gal Gadot's gung-ho Wonder Woman could almost be said to steal the show from her two musclebound comrades, if only her role was a little more robust. Batman v Superman may be a failure as a movie, but as an incredibly expensive teaser trailer for next year's Wonder Woman movie, it's surprisingly effective. Perhaps there's hope for DC's cinematic universe yet.

 

Movie Title: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Production companies: DC Entertainment, RatPac Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel and Unusual Films

Date of release: March 25, 2016

Run time: 151 minutes

Genre: Superhero

Rating: PG-13

Directed by: Zack Snyder

Written by: David S. Goyer & Chris Terrio

Main cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot

About.com rating: 2 stars