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: 183 minutes
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (henceforth, DoJ) 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 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, divisive film, yet.
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 “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 taking 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 quasi-episodic editing (largely corrected in the much better paced three-hour director’s cut), a mysterious lack of establishing shots, 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 premise nor its special effects nor even its PG-13 rating.
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.
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.
DoJ 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 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 liked was a brief metaphorical sequence 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 live as a normal human with none of the great powers or responsibilities that come with being, well, Super.
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 crystallized 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.
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 movie’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.
I get it — if you prefer Christopher Reeve’s Superman or Adam West’s Batman, then Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice probably won’t satisfy you, and quite frankly, probably won’t satisfy 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 great 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).
SUMMARY & EVALUATION: Dawn of Justice is as over-the-top as its clunky title would imply. Its many glaring problems, including its inconsistent pacing, confusing editing, and one particularly awful DC Extended Universe-commercial, are to be acknowledged; however, its characterizations make sense if you give them the chance, its music and visual style are memorable, and Zack Snyder delivers some of the best action direction in any graphic novel adaptation to date.
—> ON THE FENCE: It’s 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