Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
directed by: Zack Snyder
starring: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons
Just returned from a screening of Batman v Superman and still trying to digest a lot of the stuff I just witnessed, so I decided to simply write down some random impressions.
There are a few (very) mild spoilers ahead, so if you want to see the movie completely uninfluenced, scroll down to “Verdict” for a spoiler-free overall impression.
I won’t go too deep into the plot details, that’s what imdb and wikipedia is there for. Or all the trailers.
Basically, it’s about Bruce Wayne/Batman being really suspicious of Superman/Clark Kent in the aftermath of the destruction of Metropolis (in Man of Steel), while the latter one doesn’t really approve of the Bat’s methods which become more and more brutal with his increasing age and bitterness. Meanwhile, the young, possibly psychotic hotshot billionaire Lex Luthor develops a dangerous interest in Kryptonian technology and an unexpected ally arrives.
Good v Bad
Batman v Superman’s main virtue can be described with one adjective and that’s “excessive”. Which is both the biggest strength and the very crux of the movie.
From the very beginning, the atmosphere is compelling and the experience is immersive. We are immediately engrossed into the epic that unfolds on the screen. Okay, we did not really need the nth version of the Wayne’s death scene, including pearls dropping into the gutter in slo-mo. But the following scene of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) trying to save his employees in Metropolis during the fight between Superman and General Zod is pure adrenaline already. Which is owed to a big part to the driving synth- score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL.
I am not sure if it’s still legit to call the DCU the more “grounded” one of the two big cinematic comic book universes. Everything is larger than life in this movie: The action, the heroes and the emotions. Operatic even, sometimes outright pompous and not without the tendency to enter the realm of silliness here and there. There are no traces of any remaining subtlety either. Bruce Wayne’s inner struggle for example is now not depicted not via acting, dialogue or symbolism, but through dream sequences filled with FX, jump scares and action. Not saying this isn’t entertaining though. Ben Affleck’s incarnation is a bitter, aged Batman, determined like none of the movie Bats before him, possibly with an alcohol problem. He’s the most jacked Batman so far too, as apparently working out by clobbering a truck tire with a big hammer leads to the best results. This Batman has the best bat-cave of film history so far and the second-best vehicle, which ranks at a close second place behind the Tumbler.
Henry Cavill’s Superman still gets no break in this sequel, wild accusations and high expectations tear him apart. At least as Clark Kent he can make out with Lois Lane in the shape of Amy Adams. Gal Gadot as the new Wonder Woman with an undefinable accent is a welcome addition, her character is much better integrated into the story than I expected. The campiness of Jesse Eisenberg’s interpretation of the villain Lex Luthor is baffling initially, but in the end it somehow works. Jeremy Irons as Alfred gets all the best lines. Sadly there is barely any room left for scenes with Amy Adams, who brings some dearly needed heart to the monumental happenings.
Expectedly, the movie doesn’t hold back with glossy visuals and action scenes that fire from all cylinders, as promised in the trailers. Snyder thankfully abandoned a lot of the annoying stylistic shenanigans of his filmic past and he also finally added a few more earthy tones to the colour palette of the movie. At some points, Snyder’s direction shows a hitherto unknown, very welcome elegance that adds some class.
One of the biggest upsides of this film in my eyes is the thick, cinematic atmosphere. You instantly get the feeling of being transported into a living, breathing and fully formed universe.
But the exuberance comes at a cost. There is so much story, personnel and mythology to be included that the movie is running risk to break at times. Christopher Nolan’s influence (Nolan was producer and co-writer of Man of Steel) is missing a little. Nolan might be a tad too obsessed with structure, exposition and spelling things out, but some of that might have helped to glue the individual parts together. The way it is, some parts of Batman v Superman feel disjointed and in the worst cases clunky. Which is too bad, because the foundation of the story is pretty well thought out, with attention to detail. The way the plot builds on the repercussions of the events depicted in its predecessor is comparable to how the Dark Knight trilogy handled it.
The emotional beats are hit and miss. Batman’s motivation for fighting Superman is clear and compelling, his (mild spoilers) reason for a change of mind later on feels unearned though and is hard to swallow (mild spoilers end). I found the relationship between Clark Kent and Lois to be believable.
Ironically, a lot of the flaws that plague Batman v Superman are the same that haunted the mediocre Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), but the former is at heart a far more daring and uninhibited affair. It crashes through walls burning while Ultron is boxing itself into tiny little boxes. Batman v Superman is often a mess, but a glorious one.
If you didn’t like Man of Steel (2013), Batman v Superman will probably not change your mind and it could even divide its fans.
It’s a movie that starts out great and it doesn’t know when to stop (which isn’t always a bad thing). It’s part epic and part hot mess, but both parts are very impressive in their own way. Its relentless grandiosity makes up for its obvious shortcomings, true to the motto “where we go, we don’t need no restraint”.
Batman v Superman is often ambitious, occasionally ludicrous and always epic.