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-[Film Reviews]-, Hollywood, NORTH AMERICAN CINEMA

‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ (2016): Review

batman v superman dawn of justice poster

Directed by: Zack Snyder || Produced by: Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder

Screenplay by: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer || Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot

Music by: Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL || Cinematography: Larry Fong || Edited by: David Brenner || Country: United States || Language: English

Running Time: 151-183 minutes

In all fairness, I wanted to give Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (henceforth, DoJ) a second viewing before writing my evaluation of it; the film has been the subject of massive controversy following its release and historical box office performance (as well as underperformance), a culmination of nearly three years’ worth of intense hype and scrutiny following the similarly divisive Man of Steel (2013). Zack Snyder, also director of MoS and patron of mostly adult-oriented, R-rated, violent films like 300 (2007), Watchmen (2009), and the Dawn of the Dead remake (2004), has fulfilled my prediction by producing his most controversial, love-it-or-hate-it film yet. In hindsight, it’s hard to think this film could’ve developed any other way given the source material, DC and Warner’s competition with Walt Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and Snyder’s track record as a director.

That’s why I wanted to give the film one more go before writing this review, but after much internal contemplation and external deliberation with fellow movie-goers, I believe I’ve come to a firm conclusion on DoJ for better or worse. I saw the film on opening weekend on March 26th in a packed theatre, and have spent the following weeks thinking about it harder than any rational human being should.

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Ben Affleck dishes it out as the finest, most violent, and utterly lethal Batman in cinematic history: The Batfleck!

To give further context, I spent much of the film’s two hours and thirty minutes giggling in my seat, occasionally laughing out loud. I yelled when characters violently punched, stabbed, shot, and pummeled one another, and snickered every time some overly serious line like, “Tell me, do you bleed? YOU WILL!” was uttered on-screen. It was brilliant.

In case I’m not making any sense in this review thus far, let me explain: I freaking loved the movie. I loved it.

Now, to be fair, I loved DoJ in the same way I love Alien vs Predator (2004) or Equilibrium (2002) or Independence Day (1996). None of these films are particularly “great” movies, but in my eyes, they accomplish what they set out to do and are successful cinematic experiences on their own terms. Now for the average audience, watching two classic sci-fi monsters violently disembowel one another in an Antarctic pyramid, or gun-fu priests initiate coups in a dystopian 1984-ripoff, or a hackneyed mishmash of alien-invasion films, may not be their cup of tea. Some of those films were box office successes, yes, but none of them are held in too high regard if even remembered in the public consciousness today. Few audiences ever bothered to take them seriously.

The same situation applies to DoJ, here. It’s a guilty-pleasure movie that most folks shouldn’t feel too guilty about loving. The fact that most critiques of the movie regard things like the film allegedly not being “fun and colorful,” not being the type of superhero movie that superhero movies are “supposed to be,” not featuring the “right” kind of Superman, and “being too dark,” is amusing when the film has so many other actual faults. Those faults include the film’s scatter-shot editing, a mysterious lack of establishing shots, that 2.5 hour running time I mentioned, and a laughable Justice League-movie setup. Those are the true faults of this movie that people should be complaining about, much like how the true faults of Alien vs Predator were its lackluster, forgettable characters and shaky dialogue, not its acting nor its premise nor its special effects, nor even its PG-13 rating.

Once again, with another “freakshow”-versus-type movie, both general audiences and critical fanboys have missed the point: If you hate this movie, you have plenty of ammunition to tear down its movie-logic plot or scatterbrained editing, but wasting time bitching and moaning about how Batman violated his no-kill clause or how Superman wasn’t bright and colorful and offended your religious nerd-sensibilities are not going to convince yours truly. I don’t listen to religious nutjobs when they complain about artists not portraying religious figures “correctly” (re: how they believe said figures should be portrayed), nor do I care when geeks whine about films not portraying their favorite novel or comic books “correctly” (re: how they believe those stories and characters should be adapted). I do not care. At all.

If you hate this movie, and you feel the need to describe to people how much you hate the movie, just remember you’re arguing over characters called “Bat-Man” and “Super-Man.” I like certain superheros (mostly from their portrayals in cartoon shows growing up as a kid), but quite frankly I don’t take all this comic book lore or canonical history seriously. And if you do… get a life! (*goes and play with his lightsaber toys and other Star Wars man-child figurines*)

batman v superman montage

TOP: In either a nightmarish fever dream or a foreboding premonition, Batman scales a wasteland and lays witness to the post-apocalyptic might of Darkseid, presumably aided by Superman. BOTTOM: In the same sequence, Batman breaks the neck of an assailant while soldiers baring the family crest of House El subdue him.

I found myself respecting the style that Snyder stuck to throughout this movie. A common complaint of MoS was its surprisingly dark tone “for a Superman movie,” but with DoJ, Snyder turns the dark-and-brooding dial to eleven and issues no apologies. At some point, what with all the lofty, self-serious dialogue and over-the-top melodrama and brutal violence, I had to respect the filmmakers for sticking to their guns. They made a morbid, grueling, cerebral riff on mythical comic figures and stuck to the morbidity and gruel, by golly. It became almost like a Bollywood romance, I kid you not, what with the melodramatic characters and glorious, colorful spectacle. The story was dark, borderline suicidal and manic-depressive, yes, but it was also as corny and over-the-top as any comic book or comic book-movie I’ve ever read or seen.

DoJ in many ways feels more akin to the brooding Watchmen comic, by Alan Moore, whose film adaptation Snyder also directed. Much of my enjoyment of DoJ was mixed with sheer shock at how a major studio production, allegedly budgeted upwards of $250 million, was approved with such a dour, violent, and emotionally intense story. Sure, the movie is none too intelligent, but it’s nothing if not emotional to a fault. It’s not something studios should expect general audiences to swallow, but that’s not my concern.

Perhaps this is my subjectivity seeping into this filmic evaluation, but I related to all the major characters in some way, believe it or not — even Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent/Superman. Unlike Man of Steel, where I found Cavill’s Clark Kent distant and somewhat unrelatable, I connected with the titular character this time around. His burden of shouldering the responsibility of protecting the entire planet, of controlling veritable omnipotence despite a clear lack of omniscience — those vulnerabilities humanized him in my eyes. One of the biggest complaints about this film that I actually loved was a brief flashback/hallucination where Cavill converses with his deceased father, Pa Kent (Kevin Costner). I interpreted that scene as an illustration of Cavill’s quest for guidance, or perhaps a yearning to simply live as a normal human with none of the great powers or responsibilities that come with being, well, Super.

The film’s primary villain, Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, has been the subject of much discussion and fanboy banter. While I’ll admit his take on the classic Superman arch nemesis is more akin to traditional portrayals of the Riddler or the Joker, again, I don’t really care, because I enjoyed his villainous role and Eisenberg’s performance. The way he cows Superman with a scarring hostage-situation was fascinating, and he brings some much needed humor and comic relief to the film. His motivation for despising Superman seems rather straightforward to me: His major Daddy-issues, massive ego, and rather warranted paranoia with regards to Superman’s power are set up over and over. And over.

The remaining titular character whom nobody seems to have trouble respecting is Ben Affleck’s Batman, now considered by many to be the best incarnation of the character on film. Batfleck’s motivation for fearing/hating Superman are crystalized through a clever retcon of Man of Steel’s ending, and the character’s development henceforth is golden. His inclination to brand sexual predators and murder terrorists in cold-blood make perfect sense in this portrayal and in this universe. His actions are logical even during the admittedly awkward staging of his reconciliation with Superman. You did watch the prologue, did you not?

I don’t know — you could nitpick this movie to death on numerous logic gaps and melodramatic characterizations, and the movie should be downgraded accordingly for those nitpicks — but again, I consider most of these narrative or adaptation criticisms nitpicks because they either don’t evaluate DoJ on its own terms or are standard storytelling faults in most films.

To that end, Dawn of Justice’s visuals are magnificent and its action, splendid. Much has been made of the film’s upcoming home video R-rated “ultimate” edition, but not once during my viewing did I feel like I was watching a PG-13 blockbuster — and I consider that a good thing. Batman’s hand-to-hand combat is vicious and fluid, his tango with the Man of Steel is schlocky in the best way possible, and the film’s finale with Doomsday and Wonder Woman manages to refresh some old-fashioned superhero spectacle as a brief respite from the film’s brooding darkness.

batman v superman montage vii

Bottom Left: Affleck gazes upon the martyred uniform of a deceased Robin, presumably murdered by the Joker, while his own uniform haunts him in the background. TOP: Superman limits the destruction of a spaceship explosion. Bottom Right: The now infamous “Martha” scene, which, while not the best illustrated, draws comparisons to Christian Bale’s rejection of killing Joe Chill in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins [2005]. He refuses to murder an orphaned innocent and empathizes with Clark Kent at last.

What else can I say? I’m almost as surprised as you are; I like Snyder more than most folks, but I was firmly in the middle of the divisive fan-reaction of Man of Steel, and didn’t feel overwhelming confidence during the production of Dawn of Justice. That being said, I had a great time with the film. As I stated on another blog, the worst thing a movie can be is boring, and DoJ was as far from that as I can picture a film being. It was over-the-top and corny and melodramatic and incredibly violent, almost like a big-budget Greek myth or tall tale, similar in many ways to both Snyder’s 300 and Watchmen.

However shoddily edited much of the film was, I was never bored and was always invested in the characters. They’re highly conflicted and contradictory and flawed, but to me that’s what made them interesting and relatable. I don’t care for the Christopher Reeve-era Superman, nor do I have much stock in the moral purity of Batman. I like the idea of a Batman who is actually scary and intimidating and acts like an anti-hero, as well as a humanized Superman who doesn’t always embrace the idea of being humanity’s newest “savior.”

I get it — if you prefer Reeve’s Superman or Adam West’s Batman, then Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice probably isn’t for you, and quite frankly, probably isn’t for most general audiences despite being a $250 million+ tentpole blockbuster. But that’s Warner Bros’ and DC’s problem, not mine. I got the movie that I wanted, and I make no apologies for that. I understand that Dawn of Justice is not a perfect artistic rendition of psychological torment and physical trauma like, say, Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral (1994), but it’s no Disturbed album. Maybe it’s on the same level as Linkin Park’s angsty, yet occasionally hilarious Hybrid Theory (2000). It possess all the emotional turmoil and disturbing violence of a suicidal teenager’s fever dreams, with all the inherit lack of restraint, self-awareness, and nonsensical logic attributed thereto.

Perhaps I see too much of my old self in this movie. Perhaps this movie reminds me too much of an emotionally tormented, self-serious young man who punched walls and broke doors to pieces because he didn’t know how else to express himself. Perhaps I relate to this movie so well because the idea of insecurity and failure driving you to do horrible things doesn’t feel so unrealistic. Perhaps I can relate to having my share of physical power, but little wisdom or faith to control it. Perhaps I can empathize with “… the fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men… cruel.”

But I guess we can’t have that in a Superman-movie, now can we?

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

SUMMARY & EVALUATION: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is as schlocky and over-the-top as its clunky title would imply, and yet I feel that’s kind of the point. Its many glaring problems, including and especially its poor pacing, confusing editing, and one particularly awful DC Extended Universe-commercial, are to be acknowledged; however, my experience with this film is that, like most cinema, you get out of it what you bring to it — nothing more, nothing less. For my part, I don’t have much qualms with Snyder and Terrio’s interpretation of this world when its action is fierce, its characters are passionate, and its story so darkly beautiful.

—> RECOMMENDED, but remember to judge this film on its own terms, not yours. It’s about as much a traditional “superhero movie” as Deadpool (2016) was.

? When I see a superhero film, I want to walk out of the theatre crying! — Mike Stoklasa

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.

Discussion

27 thoughts on “‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ (2016): Review

  1. Very, incredibly well written. You hit it right on the head with the Independence Day comparison too.

    I say this to anyone who talks about this that I hope the extended cut fixes a lot of the issues with pacing and what not. But even just the way it is, I found this to be enjoyable.

    I’m also glad I’m not the only one to feel the need to take FOREVER to write a review on this. This is how I felt the entire week or 2 after seeing this. I liked the movie, and had things in order as far as criticisms. I just didn’t know where to start. A lot of my issue with it had very little to do with the movie itself, and just on how weird the backlash was against it. As fans of this movie, we needed to find a way to truly display why it wasn’t a trainwreck, and why it’s the type of movie you can still enjoy. You did a great job of this!

    I also like what you said about Batman. In the grand scheme of what’s to come, I think it’s going to be interesting having a character that might not know how to control himself entirely with doing the absolute moral thing. He killed in this movie, and I was fine with it. He has a screw loose obviously, much like how the Hulk does. I want a character in Justice League to display this. Maybe it’s Batman, maybe it might be Superman. But something tells me they’ll give that feature to the one that’s a bit more tormented. The only reason people didn’t like it is because we weren’t shown why Batman was the way he was. We didn’t actually see Robin die, so we had no connection. I’m really hoping that the stand-alone Affleck-directed Batman movie delves into this. It could retroactively make certain elements of this film better too.

    Posted by The Film Editorial | April 19, 2016, 12:08 pm
    • I felt there was a lot of implied history in Batfleck’s character, the dead Robin costume being just one of many sequences hinting at his totally off-kilter psyche. For one, I’m tired of pop culture consistently rationalizing Batman’s violent, veritable vigilante behavior with his “no-kill clause,” as if that would somehow justify the character’s behavior in real-life, or even a relatively realistic film world like Nolan’s TDK trilogy.

      I love Nolan’s work, don’t get me wrong, but his obvious conservative leanings became increasingly transparent and hamfisted what with the police-terrorist brawls, Robespierre-esque speeches, and martyrdom of Batman in TDKR. I think it’s time that America admits that maybe Batman was never meant to be a “moral” or “heroic” character; I always thought he was supposed to be the definition of an anti-hero! [definition: An antihero (or antiheroine) is a protagonist who lacks conventional heroic qualities such as idealism, courage, or morality. These individuals often possess dark personality traits such as disagreeableness, dishonesty, and aggressiveness.].

      He’s more of a masculine revenge-fantasy than a “hero,” in my eyes. He takes the law into his own hands to make himself feel better. He’s selfish, not heroic, much of the time, and that’s what makes him interesting to me

      Posted by The Celtic Predator | April 22, 2016, 12:44 am
      • I couldn’t agree more! I think it’s okay for him to “try” and abide by a no killing rule, but to escape it quite frequently. He has always been more of an anti-hero to me for sure.

        Posted by The Film Editorial | April 23, 2016, 9:34 am
  2. Finally saw this film. Watched it twice in fact. The first time round I was about half way through and thought ‘this is a cracking film.’ I actually liked the pace, it gave me time to think about what was going on, and that suggested the scriptwriter and director were treating the audience with respect. There were certainly some conundrums to consider and I usually scoff at superhero films getting all pseudo-philosophical: as you say these are people called Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman (and I don’t know if you were being diplomatic not mentioning Gal Gadot, but I thought she did a great job considering all the pre-release doubts.)

    Where Man of Steel made a right pig’s breakfast of right and wrong I think Dawn of Justice took a more cautious line, left the subject a little more open.

    Ben Affleck was a revelation in the role and Jeremy Irons brought a surprisingly youthful plausibility to Albert. I think Jesse Eisenberg is getting dangerously close to being typecast as the quirky oddball; maybe I haven’t seen enough of his films, but he seems to play a lot of smart-alec roles and I’m sure he’s a better actor than that.

    I’m confident I’ll be watching this film a third time before Christmas. And I’m confident if Marvel don’t raise their game (Captain America Civil War was cobblers!) DC are gonna steal their thunder.

    Posted by The Opening Sentence | November 9, 2016, 1:21 pm
    • Yeah, I certainly don’t drink the Kool-Aide with respect to the endless Marvel Studios love nor the endless DCEU hate. I appreciate the fact that BvS tried to do something different, as well as the fact that its heroes actually seem wounded, relatable, and aren’t forcing lame quips out-of-character.

      BvS felt episodic, flowing, stream-of-consciousness, almost like a continuous fever-dream, and that’s what I liked about it. I doubled-down on that opinion after watching the full 3-hour cut that was supposed to originally release in theatres. The film works.

      Batman is one of the few superheros with whom I have a longstanding emotional connection, but in the arts, as far as I’m concerned, nothing is sacred. For that matter, I’m glad we finally have a Batman that’s scary, who feels intimidating, and is violent. If that offends people’s childhood sensibilities or comic book lore, I couldn’t be happier.

      Eisenberg was fine, IMO, but he felt too on-the-nose at times, and as for Gal Gadot… I thought she bulked up for the role well, but otherwise I don’t care about her performance one way or another. I didn’t think she nor her character were worth discussing in detail in a review.

      Posted by The Celtic Predator | December 11, 2016, 1:41 am
  3. Great post.
    It’s nice to find someone who shares your opinion about a movie. I was so bewildered when this movie came out and people were dissing it. I just didn’t get it. I loved Man of Steel. And BvS worked for me all the way. So, I thought let’s watch them again and see if I can get what people were so cross about and I gotta say, both of the movies still get me as excited as they got me the first time I watched them.
    https://motionpictureaficionado.wordpress.com/2017/04/15/man-of-steel-2013-the-superhero-movie-we-need-but-not-the-one-we-deserve/

    Posted by mediocrenick | April 17, 2017, 2:11 am
    • I try to keep my dogs out of the Marvel/DC fanboy wars, given how I’m not much of a comic fan beyond the adventures of Batman or Wolverine (I’m the dark and brooding type…), but for the life of me, I can’t come down hard on these recent DCEU films when I find them so memorable (for both good and bad reasons, admittedly), in comparison to most MCU films, about which I forget typically 15 minutes after walking out of the theatre. Overlooking their source material entirely, I liked BvS as a sort of over-the-top, Shakespearean tragedy about redemption, with MoS working as a nice prologue. BvS’ style and self-seriousness won me over, in the end.

      I don’t know, I try not to overthink this franchise bullshit, because frankly I don’t believe it adds much artistic merit to the individual films. Clearly, I’m in the minority, though.

      Posted by The Celtic Predator | May 2, 2017, 6:16 pm

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