Film Review – Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)


Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: Chris Terrio & David S. Goyer
Starring: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Jessie Eisenberg, Amy Adams

Runtime: 151 Minutes

Reviewer: George Kingsley

As a fan of DC, it was hard to witness the spectacular fall from grace that was the critical reaction to Batman V. Superman; the film has been plagued with mostly mediocre to negative reviews from pretty much every major media outlet. Many were wary of Snyder’s return to the DC franchise, with many commentators worried that the director would make the same mistakes that he made with 2013’s Man of Steel. Fans of Man of Steel were hoping the visually gifted director would bring something brave and bold to the screen, a titan of a comic book film.

Batman V. Superman attempts to do a few things in the cramped and overstuffed space of one movie: pairing up Superman and the Caped Crusader, setting up the stakes for Justice League as well as telling an original self-contained story. Snyder has been a bit too ambitious here and has bitten off far more than he can chew; Batman V. Superman is less of a film and more a collection of individual scenes.

Snyder is perhaps the most well-known ‘visual’ director in the world right now, he might have trouble conveying depth and meaning to his films but he knows how to shoot action: with his trademarked slow-mo shots and his love of bird’s eye view shots. The film treats the audiences to visuals that we have only seen before in the Arkham series of video games, Snyder ramps up the action but sacrifices everything else. Each frame of the film seems to have some thinking behind it, whether it be a homage or a carefully planned aesthetic, but it is all too much and lacks the organic feeling of Nolan’s Batman films.

The script is plagued by the same problems, each line feels better suited to a monologue or a pithy short story. We hear poetic and meaningful exchanges between characters but the dialogue seems so ‘over-written’ and false, Lex Luthor’s many ticks seem better suited to the personal confines of the stage rather in a long-awaited big-budget blockbuster.

My main problem with Batman V. Superman is that I just don’t believe in any of the characters: the visuals for the most part are ground-breaking, seeing Affleck in the armoured Bat-Suit was fantastic but if you don’t care who lives or who dies, then what’s the point?

For sake of balance, I’d be lying if I said that Snyder did not keep me entertained throughout the tiring two and a hour running time, it’s a unashamedly loud and crass: a complete barrage to the senses that is the cinematic equivalent of a door being slammed in your face whilst someone flashes a torch in your eyes. The action sequences are well-choreographed and will likely be required viewing for comic book movie fans in years to come. There is, however only so many times that you can see collapsing buildings and fiery explosions in quick succession, it gets a bit tiring, to the point you want to sit in a quiet room and rest your eyes for 15 minutes.

Each part of the ensemble cast works well, the standout for most, will be Ben Affleck’s turn as Batman/Bruce Wayne. Affleck does a great job and has proved to the world that he learnt from the early mistakes that he made in his early career (Pearl Harbour, Daredevil, Gigli). His Bruce Wayne is as suave and confident as you can imagine. When he dons the cowl, he really shines, having both the physicality and the acting chops to pull off a more menacing, darker Batman, who is not afraid to brutalise his enemies, and to the shock of some, he now brands his enemies. Affleck’s Batman is more akin to Michael Keaton in Batman/Batman Returns rather than the layered, more human figure we see in Christian Bale’s character. He is the real reason to see this movie, Affleck is a talent both in front of and behind the camera.

Henry Cavill doesn’t really have much to do in the film: he is just there. Jessie Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor has irked a few people, mainly Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo on their 5 Live Show, I had no problem with his performance, though it did feel a bit over-written, like someone doing a continuous off-beat monologue rather than genuine human interaction. Amy Adams’ Lois Lane doesn’t seem to do much other than cry or look miserable, I wonder if Snyder ever watched Margot Kidder, she made for a feisty and enjoyable Lane. Wonder Woman gets a fantastic entrance and gets treated well, though I do think that her outfit is a bit substandard, like a lot of female comic book movie characters.

It is not clear who this film is for, it doesn’t have the ‘come all’ approach of the widely successful Marvel films or the dramatic power of The Dark Knight. I don’t remember Man of Steel being talked about much among the ever-growing crowd of comic book movie lovers, I am not sure they will flock to see the quasi-sequel.

Rather than a feature film it runs more like a computer game (perhaps a small scale live-action version of Injustice), every shot feels so unnatural and there seems to be an abundance of filters that, when blown up on the big screen, make the $250 million movie feel like a YouTube video. The teasing cameos and Easter eggs are fun for what they are but they are more akin to ‘blink and you’ll miss them; rather than organic introductions.

If you are happy spending your money on a ticket to see two hours of fight sequences and flashy car chases then you won’t leave disappointed, but for me both Burton and Nolan brought new angles and depth to the very idea of the comic book movie and I want to see something new.

Whatever you may think about the film so far from the reviews and the unappetising Rotten Tomatoes percentage, I would not write off Batman V. Superman yet, there is a good movie in there somewhere buried beneath a bloated and convoluted mess. At the very least see it for Affleck’s Batman and the visuals.

Not a bad film, but a disappointment. The announcement of an extended R-rated version seems like a bad idea as most of the faults of the film are the direct result of the over-indulgence of the director.

 Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
(2016) on IMDb