When Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was announced at Comic-Con nearly three years ago, it seemed like a sure thing. However, a lot of time has passed since then and it feels like we should have seen the movie before now. Warner Brothers has been hyping it for months and has revealed footage, photos and plot points. Rather than continuing to be excited about it, I perceived an act of desperation. Was the studio really proud of the movie and wanted to promote it, or did it have a turkey and needed to fill enough seats to recoup its investment?
Imagine my delight, then, when I finally saw the movie and it felt like something new, with surprises at every turn. It helps that it runs a full two and a half hours long; that’s a lot of physical time to fill. It never feels padded or slow, though. In fact, the pacing is opposite of what you’d expect for a movie this length: there are many short, seemingly random scenes that have cumulative value instead of long, expository scenes that tell the story in a few strokes. It clips along faster than a speeding bullet and the audience never gets restless.
At first, I didn’t like how the movie started, with yet another depiction of young Bruce Wayne’s parents being murdered in front of him in an alley in the Gotham City theater district. Don’t we all know Batman’s origin by now without taking time to rehash it? I must admit, though, that it served a unique purpose and repeating it in this movie was a big part of Batman’s psychology and motivation. Yes, it always is; however, the movie later spins on a key moment related to this event. It didn’t end up being superfluous, after all.
Besides, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is, in essence, a direct sequel to Man of Steel, not any of the movies in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. It’s appropriate to introduce Batman into Superman’s universe with a little extra backstory. On top of that, there’s a lot we don’t know about what’s happened to Batman in this universe; there are stories yet to be told. For example, why is the uniform for a fallen Robin hanging in the Batcave? I hope to see a solo prequel that takes place before these events.
The action begins during the climactic scene from Man of Steel. As Superman fights Zod in the sky, Bruce Wayne races to his Metropolis office building to assist with rescuing people from the damage of buildings falling all around him. From this early moment, Bruce Wayne/Batman has a grudge against Superman for his seemingly reckless disregard for death and destruction. It’s a grudge reflected by Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) who, 18 months later, begins a series of hearings about Superman’s responsibilities on Earth.
Oddly, though, the hearings don’t seem to revolve around the disaster in Metropolis. Instead, it’s a rescue in Africa during which Superman is blamed for crossing borders to intervene and, as a result, people are killed. I know why this is the key event. It allows for the villain, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) to get his fingers into every aspect of the story. That is, in addition to the facts that he’s discovered Kryptonite, has access to Zod’s ship and body, and wants to rid the world of this new devil that came from above instead of from below.
I admire the accomplishments of Warner Brothers, DC Comics and director Zach Snyder in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The movie provides a stark contrast to the style that has been so successful for Marvel with Iron Man, Captain America, The Avengers, etc. They maintain their vision to offer something different. It’s definitely a personal preference, but I like the dark, gritty approach. I’m done hearing about how Superman is supposed to be brighter and lighter. This is the Superman we’re given and there’s no use complaining about it.
Superman’s grudge against Batman is not as emotionally-driven as Batman’s is against him. It’s more a philosophical grudge against vigilantism itself. I’ll admit I also have some issues with this gun-toting Batman who brands his criminals with a bat symbol. (Again, it would be interesting to learn what has driven an already dark hero into an even darker state of mind.) In fact, when the inevitable fight between the two occurs, it’s something that Batman plans for, but Superman is more or less forced into.
You don’t understand your comic book history if you think the fight in a movie called Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is going to be more than a drop in the bucket of the story for the entire movie. With that perspective, it doesn’t really surprise. However, I don’t think we’ve seen anything like it in other superhero movies. If you’re not a comic reader, it may well amaze you. In either case, there is great entertainment value in watching the two titans fight, particularly when you think that it would be over with a single blow from an invincible Superman.
There’s precious little humor in this movie. However, when it’s delivered, it’s perfectly timed and well earned. Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), editor-in-chief of The Daily Planet, delivers most of it. When Wonder Woman appears, though, the tone shifts and there is obvious humor to be mined in the dynamics of this trinity. This is emphasized with a complete change in the soundtrack as it shifts from Hans Zimmer’s somber Superman score to Junkie XL’s tribal battle score. It’s a turning point for the movie and, I imagine, DC’s plans for their cinematic universe.
Let’s talk about that… It’s no secret that this movie is part of an aggressive plan to exponentially expand DC’s little corner of the superhero market. (It’s debatable whether or not it’s too late, but it’s what they’re doing and I wish them luck.) I like how Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is organically brought into the story. Others that are briefly introduced are a little forced just to put them into play. It’s opposite of Marvel’s approach of slowly introducing individual characters movie by movie.
How does Ben Affleck do in the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman? Just fine, I think, although nothing stands out to say he’s better or worse than Christian Bale, the most recent actor to don the cape and cowl. However, Eisenberg is a revelation as Lex Luthor, creating a version of him that we haven’t seen before. He’s younger, smarter and more dangerous than previous depictions of a villain who was obsessed with acquiring real estate and simply wanting to disarm Superman rather than completely wipe him out.
I feel like I’ve revealed both too much of the plot and yet hardly any of it. It’s a complex movie with a lot of moving pieces, both challenging, yet accessible. The best way to summarize it might be to say it’s an “adult” comic book movie. It’s far from perfect and your response to it may depend upon whether or not you’re a comic book fan, whether you’re “Team DC” or “Team Marvel,” and/or whether or not you liked Man of Steel. Let’s just say it carries a lot of baggage with it. It’s not perfect; there are flaws. Nevertheless, I really liked it.