Review – Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice

As a curtain raiser for Warner’s belated attempt to muscle in on the extended comic book universe market, this latest white elephant from Zack Snyder gets things off to the worst possible start.

If Batman vs Superman is the dawn of what's to come, goodness knows what's awaiting for us with the rest of this franchise

If Batman vs Superman is the dawn of what’s to come, goodness knows what’s awaiting for us with the rest of this franchise

As the anointed poster boy of the franchise, Snyder’s limitations as a director are laid bare, while every one of the film’s 151 minutes merely compound his weaknesses.

Snyder certainly has a unique visual signature, one that he has been refining since embarking on his first graphic novel adaptation, Frank Miller’s 300, in 2007. In the case of 300, the director’s penchant for uber-violence and fan-serving visuals (a number of the frames looked like they had been lifted directly from the graphic novel) was the perfect fit for the source material.

It's mano e mano in Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice

It’s mano e mano in Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice

When Snyder moved on to adapt Alan Moore’s seminal Watchmen (2009), that same dark and moody palette was used, but all the nuance was notably absent, which resulted in an experience that was akin to observing someone turning the pages of a comic book instead of watching an actual movie.

With 2013’s Man Of Steel, you got the sense that Christopher Nolan’s guiding hand was at least having some influence, especially in the early scenes when Clark Kent is coming to terms with his extraordinary gifts. However, that was before an extended last act which saw Snyder give in to his natural tendencies by practically destroying a city and wiping out thousands of innocent bystanders – presumably with the intention of pulverising his audience into submission.

That movie’s final rampage forms the prologue of Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice, which sees Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) swear revenge on Superman (Henry Cavill) following the Man of Steel’s apocalyptic bust up with General Zod (Michael Shannon). Batman sees the son of Krypton as a clear and present danger to humanity (his logic doesn’t convince Alfred (Jeremy Irons) – nor us it has to be said), while Superman views the Dark Knight as an increasingly unstable vigilante whose brutal methods, including branding his prey, have taken a sadistic turn.

Jesse Eisenberg trying not to overact as Lex Luthor in Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Jesse Eisenberg trying not to overact as Lex Luthor in Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Megalomaniacal mogul Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) also sees Superman as a direct threat and seeks to use Kryptonite as a ‘deterrent’ against him alongside other, even more deadly, weapons.

The hype machine that cranks into gear when a tent pole release is on the horizon rarely works entirely in the movie’s favour as the final product invariably fails to match the expectation that has been ratcheted up. In the case of Batman vs Superman, it feels as though that machine worked so hard and for so long to generate buzz that it practically incapacitated itself in the process.

It says a lot about the film that, within the space of a single week of its release, the feverish anticipation had already fizzled out and we were left with what this really is: smoke, mirrors and sledgehammers that equals far less than the sum of its parts.

Intrepid reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) in Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Intrepid reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) in Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Although it’s not entirely fair to compare this to Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (those films are directed by someone operating at a far higher level), comparisons nevertheless demand to be made and it doesn’t take long to notice the chasm that exists between them. Whilst Nolan’s triumvirate had something to say about the dichotomy between justice and vengeance, the danger of becoming the thing you swore to fight and the ease in which civil liberties can be sacrificed when fear is allowed to take over, Snyder’s Batman is a virtually unrecognisable washed up fascist who has seemingly forgotten what it is he’s supposed to be fighting for and sees threats in every nook and cranny.

Liewise, the work put in to humanise Superman in Man Of Steel has essentially been tossed to the sidelines as we are presented with a figure who is given little more to do than look bewildered at the turning tide of public opinion against him.

Chris Terrio’s and David S Goyer’s script feels like it has been chopped to pieces, as evidenced in the dreadfully disjointed narrative that flits all over the place and throws in discombobulating dream sequences that may look cool, but simply don’t serve the story and are shameless attempts at sprinkling breadcrumbs for future movies.

Ben Affleck plays an aging Dark Knight in Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Ben Affleck plays an aging Dark Knight in Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice

This universe-building reaches new lows when Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman (the best thing in the movie and the only person who breaks a smile throughout) sits at a laptop and goes through Luthor’s secret files (how does he have all of this stuff??), watching footage of metahumans Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash that play out like teaser trailers.

So what of the fight itself? Well, like everything else in the film it is laden with ponderous dialogue and the sort of action choreography that Michael Bay would be proud of. It also goes on for an exceedingly long time, although it is the mere aperitif for the main event involving Doomsday, which smashes you over the head so relentlessly you’ll be screaming for it to end.

The Holy Trinity of Superman (Henry Cavill), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Batman (Ben Affleck) in Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice

The Holy Trinity of Superman (Henry Cavill), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Batman (Ben Affleck) in Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Cavill does his best in a movie that, instead of being Man Of Steel 2, sees him playing second fiddle to the Dark Knight, while Affleck, to his credit, emerges with his head held high in spite of the serious limitations placed on him by the script and director.

In spite of the character being touted as Mark Zuckerberg’s (even more) evil twin, Eisenberg is horribly miscast and gives a dreadfully mannered turn that exudes little or no menace. Amy Adams, meanwhile, does her best as Lois Lane but is again given very little to work with, while Irons shines in his all-too-brief moments on screen.

Even Hans Zimmer’s score (working with Junkie XL), normally so rock solid, is patchy and unsure of itself; reflected in the composer’s admittance in interviews that he struggled on this occasion to produce something distinct from what had gone before.

If Batman vs Superman is the dawn of what’s to come, goodness knows what’s awaiting for us with the rest of this franchise.

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20 comments

  1. Zoë · April 8, 2016

    Oh dear. I didn’t have much hope for this, and seems that was the safest way to go. It sounds pretty damn awful. Great review!

    • Three Rows Back · April 13, 2016

      Thanks Zoe! I really wouldn’t bother with Bats vs Supes!

  2. mlbradford · April 8, 2016

    A good review for a bad movie!
    Was all set to sit thro it last week like any other Superman fan, but wave after wave of negative reviews put me off.
    These 151 mins give th impression that they were all hastily assembled th night before th Premiere – am I right?
    I now find myself looking forward to Cap America: Civil War even more (u know u get quality entertainment from Marvel) (and apart from a couple of issues of The Avengers, I NEVER read th Cap as a kid!)
    Cheers!

    • Three Rows Back · April 10, 2016

      Thank you my friend. It’s incredible isn’t it that after what feels like 10 years of prep, the way the film has been edited makes it feel like the film is a badly jumbled mess. Yeah, I’m looking forward to Civil War, although I try not to give in too strongly to hype.

      • mlbradford · April 10, 2016

        “The way th film was edited” – really? This film had an editor?! It seems to me if u rearranged th scenes they STILL wldn’t make any sense.
        I think my time and money wld b better spent buying my own copy of Th Dark Knight Returns…
        Cheers!

      • Three Rows Back · April 10, 2016

        Fair point! David Brenner is the Editor here. He’s a real person apparently!! Ha ha, yeah I’ll buy another copy of TDKR!

  3. alexraphael · April 9, 2016

    Not seen this or plan to but totally agree with your thoughts in Watchmen. Wonderful poster mind.

    • Three Rows Back · April 10, 2016

      Yeah, I really liked the poster (basically Frank Miller’s The Drak Knight Returns, which is no bad thing). Shame the film isn’t nearly so good.

  4. Victor De Leon · April 10, 2016

    I am SO not seeing this in the theaters. (I’ll wait for a rental). nice review, Mark. I have a feeling that this one won’t grow on me like MoS did (and even THAT movie is still flawed imho). thanks for the head’s up!

    • Three Rows Back · April 28, 2016

      Hey Vic! Been going through my reviews and catching up on comments I’ve missed. Sorry! I assume you didn’t bother with this in the end!

      • Victor De Leon · April 28, 2016

        No worries! Yeah, I have passed on BvS for sure. Will only go if my kid wants to go when it reaches the budget theaters for one dollar lol.

      • Three Rows Back · April 28, 2016

        Just heard the ‘Ultimate cut’ is being released with 30 extra mins of footage. Oh dear…

      • Victor De Leon · April 28, 2016

        Egads…I’ll pass on that. 30 more minutes of mind numbing cgi violence? No thanks…

  5. ruth · April 11, 2016

    Hey Mark, we are in total agreement about this. I ended up doing an analysis of this movie and the bad definitely outweighed the good. “… the latest white elephant from Zack Snyder gets things off to the worst possible start.” Yep I absolutely, I really don’t know what Warner Bros saw in Snyder, hopefully the not-stellar performance of BVS would make them think about his continual involvement. In any case, we agree that Irons, Affleck and Gadot were the MVPs of the movie. Don’t care for Cavill’s Superman anymore after his good turn in Man of Steel, he’s just a boring superhero. No matter how sexualized he is w/ his gratuitous shirtless scene, his buff body simply can’t substitute for utter lack of charisma.

    • Three Rows Back · April 11, 2016

      You’ll be surprised to know that Snyder will be helming the Justice League movies, so god help us. Also, the news that WB is concentrating more on franchises than original films is, in my opinion, seriously ill judged.

      • ruth · April 11, 2016

        It’s really a travesty. I was already worried when he’s announced to direct BVS, but man even w/ such little expectations, it still manages to disappoint me.

  6. Liam · May 5, 2016

    I think I agree with most of this, but I’m not turning away just yet from future DC instalments. I am still intrigued about where the films will go, but yes like you said, it hasn’t made a very good start. Great review, as well though!

    • Three Rows Back · May 8, 2016

      Thanks buddy. Both Bats and Supes have been proven as classically cinematic characters in the right hands. I do worry though where this ‘universe’ will go in the hands of Snyder. The law of diminishing returns comes to mind.

  7. Pingback: Review – Captain America: Civil War | three rows back
  8. Pingback: Review – Suicide Squad | three rows back

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