Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice
Director: Zack Snyder
Producer: Charles Roven
Studio: DC Entertainment
Starring: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Gal Gadot, Jeremy Irons
By now you have probably seen the fallout unfold from the initial critical reception of this film on Rottentomatoes and have seen fans come to its defense on IMDB. People on both sides of this film will continue to clash but the truth, much like Man of Steel before it, will ultimately rest somewhere between these two extremes. Neither side is right and neither side is entirely wrong. Some critiques you may have heard are indeed well founded but some are frankly unfair. If you liked Man of Steel you are probably going to like this and if you did not like Man of Steel then you’re easily going to hate this film even more. Man of Steel was a divisive film for its portrayal of a more grounded and less campy ‘Superman’, it took the fun and occasional comedy out of the story and injected a great deal of seriousness that really set it apart from what Marvel Studios were putting out at the time. Personally, I was somewhat fond of Man of Steel but had the sense to recognize the flaws in its delivery. So, did I like this film in the same vein that I liked Man of Steel? I guess so. Batman vs Superman (from here on out referred to as BvS) is not the absolute disaster that critics would have you believe but it has problems with its narrative structure that even the most hardcore fans of DC simply cannot ignore.
BvS begins with a recap of the mayhem that unfolded in Metropolis at the end of Man of Steel, except this time the audience sees the carnage from the perspective of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who happened to be in the city at the time visiting a branch of his company called ‘Wayne Financial’. As the battle between Kal-El (Henry Cavill) and General Zod raged the Wayne Financial building got caught in the midst of the fray and was brought crashing down, killing practically everyone inside. This sets Bruce Wayne entirely against Kal-El and sets the precedent for the impending clash. Meanwhile, Kal-El is attempting to convince an increasingly anxious human race that he will not turn rogue and bring about armageddon. Both men also have to contend with Alexander Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), a social darwinist businessman with an unspecified axe to grind with the Man of Steel. Added to this is the mystery surrounding Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), a figure who consistently appears between the two titular figures with her own agenda.
It’s best to begin with what works in this film. The strongest suit in BvS is the acting, which is remarkable considering the storm that broke out over three casting decisions. Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot and Jesse Eisenberg in particular were met with some sceptical reactions from fans and commentators alike. The casting of Ben Affleck was a strange decision given that his only previous foray into this genre of film, Daredevil (before Marvel got a clue), was an unremitted disaster. However, Affleck has undergone a renaissance in recent years however and anyone who ever watched The Town, Argo, Gone Baby Gone and Gone Girl will absolutely attest to his skill in the industry. That is why I was not very worried about his casting as Bruce Wayne and I was glad to have my faith rewarded in this instance. Ben Affleck absolutely kills it as Bruce Wayne and gives us a Batman we actually have not seen before, which is amazing given how much coverage that character has gotten comparatively speaking. Affleck’s take is not without controversy however, but that is straying into spoiler territory which will be discussed in a separate post. Gal Gadot has nowhere near as much screen time as Affleck but the time she does have she makes it count. Many will be looking forward to her upcoming solo film as a result of this film. Jesse Eisenberg however… More on that later. The other strong play this film has is its filming style and its visuals. Snyder has always been good with his visuals and this here is no exception. The battles look great, the settings look authentic and varied and the special effects are out of this world.
Now the problems… and there’s a couple. Firstly, the film clocks in at roughly two and a half hours; that is far too long. Second and worst still, the editing and structure of this film is TERRIBLE. While the performances for the most part are excellent the absence of Christopher Nolan is screamingly obvious and the actors alone cannot save the story, which does have something to say, from becoming an incredibly incoherent mess. The story constantly flip-flops between different points of view and between different times in the form of flashbacks and premonitions that your head will begin hurting from all the processing. The narrative simply does not flow, at all. It is near impossible to follow what is going on and at times it feels as though entire sections of an already lengthy film have been cut out to save time at the cost of coherency. Thirdly, the film seems to demand that its audience has a very strong understanding of DC lore going into the film; a cardinal sin with regards to film making. There are several plot points that will completely fly over your head unless you are very familiar with the source material. That is a decision that would be understandable if BvS was an animated feature length film solely dedicated to DC fans, the thing is though… this isn’t. This is meant to be a box office blockbuster with the aim of bringing new people in to learn and appreciate the lore on screen. It is pretty obvious that with BvS DC has attempted to fast track their own cinematic universe in a desperate attempt to catch up with Marvel. Where the two different is that Marvel took their time and came out with several solo films of high quality to bring a rapidly growing audience up to speed on who their characters were and what the world they were building was like. DC have tried to circumnavigate this tried-and-true process with BvS and the result is apparent. Finally, Jesse Eisenberg was hilariously miss-cast as Lex Luthor. His portrayal just does not work alongside the overly serious nature of the story and it completely takes you out of it whenever he shows up.
So, overall, BvS has great visuals, good characters and a good story buried somewhere in its narrative but this is all let down by a absolutely horrific editing, the over reliance of prior fan knowledge to explain plot points and an an excessive running time considered necessary by the director/studio to do nearly a decade’s worth of establishment in two and a half hours. I will not attack BvS on the grounds of its serious and dark story, as some unjustly have by comparing BvS to a Marvel film, as it has its right to exist and tell its story independent of what Marvel has undeniably monopolized. The genre needs alternatives as Deadpool clearly demonstrated but you have to figure that DC’s ambition has far outstretched their reach with BvS. If you enjoyed Man of Steel it is likely you will enjoy this but otherwise this is a film for the dedicated DC fans only.