Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice Review


Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is a film about and full of contradictions. It’s a sequel to 2013’s Man of Steel — also directed by Zack Snyder — yet this film relegates old Superman to a supporting role, instead focusing on that which drives the film’s other titular hero. Despite this role reversal, Snyder still asks interesting questions about Clark Kent’s Kryptonian alter ego. In doing so, Snyder proves surprisingly fleet-of-foot, as the film’s standout opening scene and much of what follows, appear to be a reaction to the callousness of Man of Steel, wherein Supes and his lady friend Lois made out as the remains of a city and probably tens of thousands of bodies rained down around them. Still, nearly everything else about the film is leaden.

Ironically, some will notice the questions he poses relate to the philosophy of St. Augustine, which addresses (among many other things) the concern that God cannot be both all-powerful and completely benevolent if evil and tragedy exist in the world. Of course, he eschews this quickly in favor of a truly fascist execution that’s both horrifying and, I guess, sort of intellectually curious.

That’s the film in a nutshell: clever, stupid, reactive, stubborn, peaceful, violent, surprising, terrible.

It starts by reintroducing us to Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) … again … seriously. Parents gunned down, afraid of bats, decides to put his considerable largess to use fighting Gotham’s most rotten criminals. But after the events of Man of Steel, which saw the Metropolis branch of Wayne Enterprises destroyed by the recklessness of Superman and Zod, the Man of Steel is never far from the Dark Knight’s mind.

Elsewhere, Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) is still trying to make his adopted city a better place, but most importantly, he’s trying to keep his girlfriend, the intrepid reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) out of harm’s way. This leads to trouble on Capitol Hill as some powerful individuals want this seemingly unstoppable creature to operate democratically. That’s seemingly OK when those questioning him are elected officials like Senator Finch (Holly Hunter), who theoretically have the people’s best interest at heart, but when it’s Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) trying to curtail Superman’s authority, it’s a cause for serious concern.

Ultimately, the largest problem with Batman v. Superman is that it tries to do way, way, way too much. It’s a sequel, a reboot, and a “cinematic universe” (ugh) origin story. So far behind the artistically bankrupt but crowd-pleasing and focused Marvel universe, Warner Bros. appears to have dictated that its DC universe catch up in a hurry. They dictated this to a filmmaker who, incidentally, appears fascinated (in a way that’s sometimes uncomfortable) by the idea of dictatorship.

Here’s the thing: dictatorial politics aren’t fun or pleasant, and that’s where the superhero landscape is right now. Batman v. Superman feels like a slog even when it’s doing something tonally or philosophically novel. And Snyder is not a subtle dude, which means those novel moments are few and far between BvS‘s big, loud, ridiculous action set pieces.

You want some good performances? Look elsewhere. Henry Cavill is dull as dishwater playing Superman. Amy Adams, one of the most charming actresses working today, is worse. Jesse Eisenberg imbues Lex Luthor with a bit of Mark Zuckerberg, which is amusing, but he also feels more like a personal nuisance than a threat to the world — something that doesn’t help the film’s stakes problem.

One rare highlight is Ben Affleck. His Batman is quite possibly better than Christian Bale’s. As Bruce Wayne, Bale still wins, but Affleck isn’t extremely far behind. He and Warner Bros. are promising increased involvement in future films (including directing a Batman solo feature), which is great. Really, anything that gets Snyder away from this universe is a plus…

He’s an auteur, but one who simply doesn’t make competent movies (or ones people enjoy). He has such a loose grip over this material when the film starts, and by the time it reaches its climax, he’s completely lost control. The nearly 150-minute film ceases to be even curious after about 60 minutes, and the more and more it goes on, the less interest you’ll have in whatever DC property is coming next.

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