Before I begin my review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I’m going to quickly state my opinion on Man of Steel. I feel this is necessary so that any biases I have towards this film based my thoughts on the prior one are on the table…
Of my peers on fatoverlords.com, I believe I am the only one who has an overall negative view on Man of Steel. While there were many parts of the film I quite liked – the oil rig, Martha comforting Clark at the school, the first flying scene, the interview where he breaks the handcuffs, and Jonathan confirming Clark is his son – the rest of the film was full of unnecessary and headache-inducing shaky cam, horrible dialog, plot conveniences, bad parenting advice, obnoxiously obvious product placement, overuse of religious symbolism, more gratuitous destruction than a Transformers film, and Superman not directly saving anyone who is not of immediate benefit to him (Lois, Martha, one soldier). These numerous problems outweighed the good moments. To this day, I still get irrationally angry whenever I think of Faora spouting that, “Evolution always wins,” line. YOU WERE MADE IN A LAB FOR A PURPOSE; YOU ARE INTELLIGENT DESIGN!
Yet while I did not like the majority of Man of Steel, there was enough that I was willing to give Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice a chance, despite no help from the trailers. Yes, my expectations were low.
When I left the theater I was less than impressed, and time removed from the viewing hasn’t improved that opinion.
While Man of Steel makes me angry, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has me more confused than anything.
Please be aware that numerous MAJOR spoilers follow, as they’re necessary to explain my dislike for the movie.
Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) witnesses the destruction of Metropolis at the hands of Zod and Superman (Henry Cavill). 18 months later, congress is debating the role Superman should play in the world, and industrialist Alexander Luthor (Jessie Eisenberg) has some ideas to potentially control Superman or other extra-terrestrial forces using a mineral called kryptonite that was found at the Indian Ocean attack site. He tries to convince some senators to let him import it. Batman is branding criminals while tracking down leads to some big event he’s been made aware of, which eventually reveals a connection to Luthor. He uses an invitation to a party Luthor’s throwing to tap into a mainframe and copy it’s data, and while there bumps into Clark Kent and the mysterious Diana Prince (Gal Gadot). After the data is copied, Diana steals the device and leaves before Bruce can stop her. In the meantime, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is trying to get information on a bullet that was fired during a failed interview, the aftermath of which is being blamed on Superman. Superman broods and makes heroic-looking poses while supposedly saving people. Diana can’t crack the data’s encryption, so gives the copy back to Bruce. While his computer decrypts the files, Bruce has a weird dream or vision from the future. Examining the files, he sees a World War I picture of Diana, as well as information on 3 other “meta-humans”.
Using the decrypted data, Batman realizes the big event is Luthor is bringing the kryptonite into the country. As Batman he attempts to steal it, but is interrupted by Superman who tells him to stop. During a hearing at which Superman appears, congress gets blown up by a bomb hidden in a Luthor-provided wheelchair of a Metropolis victim. Spurred to action, Batman succeeds in stealing and weaponizing the kryptonite and prepares to fight Superman. Luthor kidnaps Lois and pushes her off the top of his office tower, which draws out the distraught Superman to save her. Upon being confronted, Luthor reveals that he captured Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and has her held in an unknown location, with orders for her to be killed within the hour if Superman doesn’t kill Batman first. Batman and Superman fight, which is broken up just before Batman strikes the death blow when Superman finally reveals Martha is in danger. Thinking of his own mother, Batman withdraws and goes to save Martha.
Meanwhile, Lex has entered the crashed Kryptonian scoutship from Man of Steel, and uses a combination of Zod’s body (which he had acquired) and his own blood inside the birthing chamber to create Doomsday. Superman attacks the creature, flying it out into space, where they are hit by a nuclear weapon. Doomsday falls back to Earth, where Batman tries to draw him away from the city and towards the spear he was going to use to kill Superman. He is saved from death by Diana revealing herself as Wonder Woman. Superman recovers and joins the fight against Doomsday. Lois, who showed up at the end of the titular fight and who threw the spear into a pool, jumps into the pool to retrieve the spear but is trapped under debris from the ongoing fight. Hearing her distress calls, Superman saves her, and retrieves the spear. While Batman and Wonder Woman distract and contain the creature, Superman stabs Doomday with the spear, killing the creature but also receiving a mortal wound in the process. Luthor is imprisoned, and reveals to Batman that he knows something big is coming. There is a national funeral for Superman, and a smaller one for Clark. Martha reveals Clark was going to propose to Lois. At Clark’s funeral, Bruce and Diana make plans to assemble the meta-humans, while Lois tosses a handful of dirt onto Clark’s lowered casket. The final shot pans down to the casket, and then shows the dirt levitating before cutting to black.
The plot makes very little sense.
It’s easy enough to understand why someone like Bruce, having seen firsthand the destruction by Superman, would be cautious if not outright mistrusting of the Man of Steel’s motives. What’s harder to understand is Luthor’s motivation to actually get them to fight to the death. Yes, Luthor is clearly tracking meta-human activity, but why does he want one if not both of the heroes dead? In his final exchange with Batman, Luthor does allude to a great power coming. This is presumably someone like Darkseid based on Bruce’s crazy dream sequence and Luther says that they’re vulnerable without Superman, but WHY does he want Superman killed? Alternately, Doomsday seemed to be created as a backup plan if somehow Superman didn’t die at Batman’s hands, but if Superman did die what was going to be done with Doomsday? Luthor certainly wasn’t going to be able to control him. That’s not even getting into how Luthor was able to use Zod’s fingerprints to get control of the crashed Kryptonian ship. Is this movie seriously trying to tell me that the artificial intelligence on this ship, which clearly recognizes that Luthor is NOT Zod let alone Kyrptonian, is just going to let him waltz in and take over?
I’m also not very clear why any citizen actually likes Superman. Clearly people here do, to the point where they erected a giant statue. However, he doesn’t actually do anything heroic in this film. He certainly saves Lois’s life; three times in fact. Most of the time, though, he’s shown looking heroic instead of being heroic, and we only hear about the actual heroic deeds as jokes such as saving cats from trees.
If Superman was actually truly more heroic in action, I’d have had no problem with the character, but as it stands I unfortunately do.
There are scenes of him rescuing a girl from a building fire, a flood scene with people on rooftops, and an exploding Russian rocket – but these only look heroic. Save the girl, let the building burn. Show up for flood, don’t save people or stop water. Save a rocket…with no verifiable life inside.
The film sells heroic looking POSES and hero worship instead of actual HEROISM.
On a final note, I still don’t like the portrayal of the Kents morals. I have a hard time with Martha saying her son doesn’t owe the world anything. That’s such an un-Superman way of looking at the world, at least as I understand the character. This really almost starts to feels like a DC Elseworld storyline, except I cannot accept that being the standard for the main DC cinematic universe.
How is it that Batman is able to know a lot of the information he does, and yet remain so oblivious to the fact that he’s being manipulated by Luthor? Given being distraught over Metropolis, but for a character who is supposed to be a great detective he’s missing some obvious clues. The Krytonite is imported by Luthor. The wheelchair containing the bomb was supplied by Luthor to a former employee of Wayne Enterprises who was injured in Metropolis. Those are pretty big clues, along with a few others, that he’s being pushed to fight, and yet despite warnings from Alfred that he’s becoming obsessed, he doesn’t recognize them.
As for information he does somehow know, how is he able to locate and save Martha Kent after his fight with Superman? Sure, Lois was kidnapped by the same Luthor henchman whose cellphone Bruce copied earlier in the film, but how are these two people who just met each other able to confirm it’s the same man? How do they know he’s going to be guarding Martha? How do they know he’ll still has that same cellphone on his person. Criminals aren’t known for keeping their favorite phone. Why does the henchman not just immediately kill Martha? I’ll gladly grant the fight scene between Batman and the various lackeys is probably the best one in the film, and the joke that ends the sequence is pretty good, but that doesn’t excuse the set up to the sequence being based on luck, not skill.
Lois could be removed from most of the story and not affect anything. I understand at the most basic level that she’s in the story to provide Clark with some grounding and emotional support. To be honest, I don’t even have a problem with the fact that there are three separate times Superman has to save her, as he most certainly would do so. My problem is that, much like in Man of Steel, she’s in too much of the story.
Most of the time when we see her she’s trying to track down the origin of a bullet she salvages from her failed interview, but that thread goes nowhere and tells the audience nothing we don’t already know from Batman’s investigations. Similarly, after she tells Batman about Martha Kent, there’s no reason for her to be around as all she does is create problems for the movie to solve – such as throwing the Kryptonite staff into a pool and getting trapped and in need of saving…again. How does she even know to retrieve it from the pool, given she has no idea that Doomsday is vulnerable to Kryptonite? She should have been told to get to safety and spread the word about Luthor, as her being at that final fight not only puts her in more danger but only slows down the finale.
Some other questions to consider:
- How did Batman manage to fire a tracker onto the cargo area of the truck in just such a place so that when the Batmobile later and rather unexpectedly crashes through and destroys most of said cargo area, the tracker is left barely hanging onto the twisted wreckage?
- Why is Superman simply waiting around a corner for the Batmobile to appear, having already allowed a lot of destruction to take place, rather than simply picking up the Batmobile earlier and flying off for his chat with Batman?
- Why does everyone appear to believe that Superman killed the terrorists who had kidnapped Lois earlier in the film, when they were clearly killed by bullets?
- Why did Superman only show up to save Lois after her photographer Jimmy had already been shot and killed?
- Who actually uses a film camera these days anyway?
- Why does Dianna, who wanted to retrieve a picture of herself from Luthor’s computer, hand the data back over to Bruce allowing him to then find said picture?
- Why did Batman leave a Batarang at Luthor’s lab after committing the felony of stealing the Kryptonite?
- Why did Luthor leave his trusted assistant to be die in the Congress explosion?
Of all the plot points, though, the one that bothers me most is the one raised by the absolute final shot of the film. By showing that dirt levitating in that very final second, the audience is shown that Superman is indeed still alive. While I’d normally applaud such visual storytelling, this one bothers me as – for those familiar with the comics – it eliminates possible other storylines fans might like to see.
The acting by the main cast is mostly fine to good. Affleck may well be the best live-action Batman ever put on screen. While I may have issues with the characterization, as far as his actual performance goes he’s a commanding presence, doesn’t do a stupid voice trick like Bale, and above all looks the part whether in costume or not. I like Jeremy Irons’ portrayal as a more technical savvy, dry-humoured Alfred, who is also a voice of reason to Bruce. I could stand to see more of him in future films. I did find Cavill a little too stiff in the Superman/Clark Kent role for my own tastes.
Jessie Eisenberg, on the other hand, is absolutely horrible as Alexander – not Lex – Luthor. I have no idea why he’s not just Lex, as he’s otherwise filling that role. His head is even shaved when he’s imprisoned, giving him Lex’s signature bald look. Simply put, I cannot picture why anyone would have someone like this, with character twitches and Joker-esque dialogue – as their public spokesman and government broker. The ticks feel as if they are used as a manipulative facade that is easily seen through instead of an individual coping with a malady they cannot control. This is a major problem for the main villain of the film. In my view, Luthor should be physically imposing and confident to a fault. I don’t know if Jessie is entirely to blame here, or if it’s some combination of his acting, Zack Snyder’s direction, and David S. Goyer’s writing, but I simply hated this character, and certainly not in the way one is meant to hate a villain.
The only new character who does get any appreciable time is Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. She certainly looks fine in the role as both Diana and Wonder Woman, and delivered her lines well enough. That said, she only has about 10 lines in the film and her accent is a bit distracting, and a lot of the fight scenes weren’t really her. I’m still not certain she’ll be able to carry the lead in her solo film, but she’s fine for her part in this one. Ezra Miller’s Flash only has a small amount of dialog in the confusing dream/time travel scene, and neither that scene nor any of the stolen footage videos were are at all indicative of what he, Jason Mamoa, and Ray Fischer will bring to their respective roles.
Writing & Editing
These two topics usually wouldn’t go together, but for this film I have to make an exception.
The film takes inspiration from two comic sources: The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman. It definitely feels like multiple stories jammed together rather than a single coherent narrative. Part of this is due to how this is written, and part because it was cut down from a longer, R-rated cut.
There’s a lot of contradictory dialogue that not only doesn’t make internal sense, but also adds nothing to the movie. For example, when Batman is first revealed, we see he’s started branding criminals with a bat symbol. I can already hear some objections to the character doing this, and I would agree. These actions make the character feel wrong to me. Apparently the brands equal a death sentence once in jail, but how can that precedent be set with just two inmates…one of which that was just arrested? How are criminals so branded not able to use the cruelty of their capture and impending ‘murder by inmate’ as justifiable reasoning for release? Yet for all the fuss, it doesn’t play into the plot at all. About the only thing it contributes is making Batman extremely cruel, but it doesn’t serve to further any other character’s action. Especially Superman, who seems more concerned about Batman interfering with police business than who happens to the branded and why.
The first act of the film, and even into the second, it feels like many scenes are misplaced or missing altogether. While it’s still possible to follow along with the events since there is no confusion over who each character is, it does mean that there is very little flow to the early scenes.
The worst example starts with a shot of an ultra-modern, window-lined cottage beside a forest stream – typically considered an establishing shot, showing the location of the following scene. Instead, we cut to inside Luthor’s mansion, where a senator (Holly Hunter) is having an extended conversation about bottles of pee being grandma’s peach tea and discussing a heaven vs. hell photo on the wall. That bottle, by the way, is a plot point in the Congress explosion yet still doesn’t make sense. It becomes very clear that this scene was not in the cottage, because when Luthor and the senator finish their conversation, it cuts to Bruce and Alfred having a chat beside a window through which we can see the forest and stream. Having that sequence of shots in that order makes absolutely no cinematic sense and leads one to wonder if it was just sloppy editing.
Then there are the three dream sequences, all of which lead only to audience confusion.
Starting a film with a dream sequence with absolutely no lead in is quite jarring, especially for an audience that is already mostly familiar with the basics of the character. The film’s opening scene you experience the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne and contains a shot where young Bruce has fallen down into a cave full of bats that then start to fly in a vortex around him. Without explanation, he starts rising off the cave floor. It’s only after a few seconds of levitation that Bruce’s narration informs us that this is a dream sequence. Batman is a man in a suit and does not posses flight powers so seeing him flying like that off-putting.
Second sequence is the future vision/dream sequence that Bruce has while deciphering the stolen data. In this, Batman is in a desert trying to acquire Kryptonite, but he and a few others are captured by flying mechanical monkeys which are controlled by Superman. I am aware this is probably Apocalypse and Darkseid’s para demons since there is an Omega symbol carved into the ground, but not everyone would understand the references. Then Bruce wakes up from that apparent dream to see a head coming out of one of his computer screens, which mentions something about being too early, that Bruce was right, and it’s all connected to Lois. Bruce finally actually wakes up to see the decryption has finished. From extra reading, this is supposed to be some kind of warning from a future Flash (Ezra Miller), but it comes so quickly, is so confusing, and is never brought up again, that it would have been better left on the cutting room floor.
Finally, there is a pointless scene where Clark, distraught after the Congress explosion, is walking in the arctic and has a vision of Jonathan Kent building a sculpture out of some stones. Nothing of any significance to the plot was said – merely just a Kevin Costner cameo. None of these scenes serve any purpose to the overall narrative of the film, and in my opinion should have been cut.
To the fight scene, it’s not bad as far as fight scenes go, and although perhaps it’s a little too convenient how it ultimate plays out in Batman’s favor, it does have some very nice choreography and fight angles. That said, count me among the many who are mocking how it ended.
As Batman is crushing Superman’s throat and about to drive the Kryptonite spear through his heart, Superman manages to mumble, “Save Martha.” Of all things, this is what keeps Batman from driving in the spear, as for some reason the name immediately makes him think of his own mother. Batman continues to question Superman about why he keeps saying Martha’s name until Lois arrives to explain about Superman’s own mother.
This is a prime example of lazy, unrealistic writing. How many people really refer to their own parents by first name? Now imagine doing so when you’re about to die instead of thinking about “Mom” or “Dad.” Bruce has been without his mother for about three decades at this point, and must surely have met many other people named Martha. “Save my mother,” or “Luther has my mom” would have been more powerful lines. Now the focus is on the mother aspect instead of the name, with Batman being confused about how Superman can still have a mother. Then Lois can come in and explain about Martha Kent. At that point the coincidence can be the straw that finally causes Batman to withdraw. As written though, I have this image of my head of Bruce Wayne flirting with a woman, finding out her name is Martha, and then breaking into tears in front of her (just like my own MOM).
Briefly touching on Man of Steel, it does appear that someone at DC or Warner Bros. was listening to some of the criticism of that film. Mainly, that there were too many scenes where civilians would clearly have been injured. The second scene of Batman v Superman even addresses this by showing Bruce Wayne desperately driving through the debris riddled city to help out any survivors. I give credit to the writers for addressing that one lingering plot point from the prior film.
After that, though, the film goes out of it’s way to assure the audience that no civilians are harmed. Did I say the film? I meant the script, as in the dialogue.
Remember that Kryptonian ship that I mentioned, the one that had crashed in the middle of the city and that Luthor was using to create Doomsday? When that process is initiated, the entire ship starts emitting lightning over the immediate area. News coverage of this assures us not to worry, though, because it’s after 9:00 PM and most of the downtown core is empty.
Excuse me? I live in the largest metropolitan area in Canada, and I cannot for the life of me imagine any part of downtown Toronto being empty at ANY time of night. Even in the dead of winter there’s a hockey game going on somewhere. This trend continues when the nuke is fired, as we’re not to worry because he’s high enough that the city’s in no danger of fallout. Then, when Doomsday falls back, he lands on what we’re assured is an uninhabited island in the bay, before Batman then states he’s going to lead Doomsday towards the abandoned port area where he and Superman fought.
It actually became funny, almost as if the scriptwriters were mocking this particular criticism of Man of Steel. To those writers, and David S. Goyer in particular, I say you failed. Sure, you convinced me no innocents were hurt, but you did so in such a ham-fisted way that your contempt at needing to even do this became obvious. You broke the most fundamental rule of screenwriting: show, don’t tell. Rather than actually addressing the complaints, you’ve simply opened up a new one and revealed your ineptitude in understanding the root of the problems with your scripts.
One more thing on this subject: Luthor’s overly pretentious, know-it-all dialogue. I cannot stress enough how much this affects the character. I think the line of his that bother’s me the most is one from the trailers. Lois calls him psychotic, and Luther retorts with, “That is a three syllable word for any thought too big for little minds.” Translation: if anyone does anything actually psychotic, you’re just not smart enough to understand them.
Visuals & Cinematography
To give the film some credit, it does look very nice. I do appreciate that the shaky-cam has definitely been toned down from Man of Steel, making Batman v Superman a much easier film for me to watch. The shots are all framed in a manner that makes sense, even if their order in the film is odd (or straight up mistake). The fight sequences are very well choreographed and staged, and while their pace is frenetic the shots hold long enough on each character that we know who is fighting who and how.
I will give this much credit to Zack Snyder: unlike Michael Bay, he knows how to film an exciting action scene where you can follow the action.
The costumes of the three main heroes looked really good. Honestly, I don’t think the stills released of them do them justice. I’m still not a big fan of the overall design of Superman’s outfit, but to me it did seem brighter than before, so I can accept it. The Batman suit is near perfect. Best of all, though, was Wonder Woman. I will readily admit I did not like it in the stills, but whether it was just not seeing it in context, or maybe they also brightened it a bit in the film, but it did look simply fantastic, as did the effects for her bracelets and lasso.
I didn’t find everything perfect, though. I’ve personally never been a fan of Synder’s washed-out, slightly brown look to his fight scenes which I swear he’s been employing since at least 300. Along that same line, the slow-down, then speed-up effect was also slightly overused. Doomsday looked horrible. I can kind of see how the design evolved, and although I can’t say how I’d have improved the look I can say what they had wasn’t right. It’s also very noticeable when CG characters replace actors in action scenes. The technology isn’t quite perfect there yet, as something in how these puppets look and move that is slightly off-putting compared to the real thing.
Still, overall, I do have to admit I liked the look.
Music & Sound
I’ve never been much of a fan of Hans Zimmer’s scores. There’s an old joke I like about his overuse of a “BWAM!” sound, and that’s in abundance here. However, Zimmer was also working with Junkie XL, whose contribution to the score appears to have been the addition of dubstep, so now rather than simply, “BWAM!”, it’s more like “WOWwhompwhompwhompBWAM!” So, that’s different…I guess.
So yes, the soundtrack isn’t to my typical tastes, but I’m also exaggerating how it sounds a little. It’s not bad for what it is. The actual sound effects used are well done, and to give the two credit, the score over the final fight is actually very good, particularly when Wonder Woman enters the scene.
I don’t like this film.
If you like to see Superman actually saving people, you won’t like this film.
If you think Batman should not kill people or be intentionally cruel, you won’t like this film.
If you like villains with clear motivations, you won’t like this film.
If you like films whose stories have a logical progression and few plot holes, you won’t like this film.
If, on the other hand, you just want to go to a film to see pretty pictures and well done action scenes, you’re probably fine. Honestly, there are probably some people who will think see some meaning here that I simply don’t, and that’s fine too.
Above all, I think what I dislike the most about the film is how absolutely unearned and rushed Superman’s death felt. When The Death of Superman comic was published, the character had years of backstory and fan following, so the death had impact. This is a different universe, though, and we’ve only known this character over two films. Given the first was an introduction, and the second was questioning if he was even necessary, this death has no impact as there’s simply not been enough time spent with him.
Phil Colson was a minor character in Iron-Man, Iron-Man 2, Thor, and finally in The Avengers. He spent time with the other characters, and over the course of the story we got to know a little about him and come to like his character. When he’s murdered by Loki, not only do the characters he’s interacted with feel his death, so does the audience. This is for a MINOR character, and it took appearances in 4 movies before he was killed. You can argue about whether or not his resurrection story in Agents of SHIELD was done well, but the impact was there. Here is another case of DC rushing their films into place rather than taking time to build their characters properly.
Speaking only for myself, though, I think I’m done ever getting my hopes up for the DC cinematic universe. The story telling and attention to detail I’m looking for simply hasn’t been there. Maybe, just maybe, Suicide Squad will change my mind, but given some of what’s already been revealed of the characters’ origins I’m not about to get my hopes up.
Thirsty for more? Michael has a video giving his more positive opinion. The two of us along with Tim had a more than two hour YouTube hangout discussing our thoughts as well. Eoin to my knowledge has not yet seen the film, and James’ opinion doesn’t matter anyway :P.