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
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.
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. 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 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.
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*)
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 melodramatic 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 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 simply 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. His actions are logical even during the awkward staging of his reconciliation with Superman. You did watch the prologue, did you not?
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.
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.
I was never bored and was always invested in the characters. They’re conflicted, 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. 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 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.
—> RECOMMENDED*; just remember to judge this film on its terms, not yours. It is 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