A film review by Craig J. Koban March 29, 2016



2016, PG-13, 151 mins.


Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne / Batman  /  Henry Cavill as Clark Kent / Superman  /  Amy Adams as Lois Lane  /  Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor  /  Diane Lane as Martha Kent  /  Laurence Fishburne as Perry White  /  Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth  /  Holly Hunter as Senator Finch  /  Gal Gadot as Diana Prince / Wonder Woman  /  Callan Mulvey as Anatoli Knyazev  /  Tao Okamoto as Mercy Graves

Directed by Zack Snyder  /  Written by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer


To quote its full – and somewhat longwinded – title, BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE is a super hero epic (the second entry in the DC Cinematic Universe post-MAN OF STEEL) that has an operatic visual scope and scale that oftentimes – but not all of the time – matches its fairly courageous story and thematic ambitions.  

The heroes contained within this film are among the oldest and most recognizable and coveted in all of 20th Century pop culture, but BATMAN V SUPERMAN – much like the film that predicated it – manages to find a manner of paying revered tribute to the roots of these comic book titans while simultaneously offering up compelling new interpretations of them that speak towards our contemporary fears and anxieties.  It certainly doesn’t make for a “fun” and “enjoyable” super hero romp, per se, but it does make for a fairly intriguing one. 

Even though the franchise is still in its relative infancy, there’s simply no denying that BATMAN V SUPERMAN and MAN OF STEEL take calculated risks and gambles with their inherent material that frankly many other super hero films (including those from Marvel) are too timid to take.  Some of them pay off handsomely in BATMAN V SUPERMAN, whereas an equal number of them simply don’t.  However, I steadfastly respect the audacity of director Zack Snyder and writers David S. Goer and Chris Terrio (recent Academy Award winner for ARGO) in trying to segregate their film from a very overcrowded pack.  This approach, no doubt, will have a polarizing effect on both lay viewers and diehard DC Comics fundamentalists, but it should be appreciated that BATMAN V SUPERMAN – beyond featuring, yes, a cataclysmically rendered donnybrook between two wounded and emotionally vulnerable orphans that just happen to be costumed crusaders – at least poses and tries to answer questions about what the nature of true super heroism means in a movie universe that doesn’t optimistically and blindly embrace it. 



BATMAN V SUPERMAN does something from the outset that almost no other comic book film (whether it be the first two AVENGERS or even MAN OF STEEL itself) have achieved: it offers up a ground zero perspective on the sheer enormity of the collateral damage that protectors like Superman – whether directly or indirectly – cause while attempting to save humanity.  You may recall the much debated climax of MAN OF STEEL, during which time Superman (Henry Cavill) engaged in a Kryptonian battle to the death with his nemesis General Zod, leaving much of Metropolis in ruins and presumably hundreds of thousands of people dead.  The mesmerizing and scary opening to BATMAN V SUPERMAN revisits this entire sequence…but from the POV of citizens that were unfortunately caught up in it all.  One of them is an older and world-wearier Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who becomes appalled when the devastation caused by Superman’s exploits leads to a Wayne Enterprise building toppling over in a moment that has eerie and obvious 9/11 underpinnings.  He spots a survivor, a young girl that has apparently lost her mother.  Seeing as Bruce forever struggles – even as an adult – with the tragic loss of his own parents, witnessing this girl’s torment re-channels his own.  He looks into the skies above and feels that his new purpose in crime fighting is to rid the world of Superman. 

This sequence serves the purpose of providing for a simplistic, but altogether plausible psychological motivation for Batman to hate Superman (granted, rather ignorantly and without all of the established facts) and fear the possible future threat of a perceived alien menace.  It also appears that some powerful political forces seem equally hesitant to let the Last Son of Krypton go unchecked, including a pesky and determined Senator (Holly Hunter) that wants to hold congressional hearings to question the righteousness of Earth’s newest savoir.  While struggling with an increasingly divided populace that both equally covets him as a God and admonishes him as a war criminal, Superman tries to navigate though all of his inner conflict while maintaining his cover as Clark Kent and a relationship with fellow Daily Planet journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams).  He's also trying to convince his boss Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) of the need to cover the return of Batman to Gotham City (revealed to be a neighbor city to Metropolis).  Adding to the stress is the appearance of Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), a rich industrialist that wishes to tap into crash landed Kryptonian ship technology while, at the same time, maliciously conspiring to give Superman his own motives for wanting to wage war on Batman. 

Rather thankfully, BATMAN V SUPERMAN doesn’t squander too much wasteful time on expositional specifics for series newcomers.  We all know of Batman’s origins already, so it’s a wise move on Snyder’s part to cover it rather expeditiously in a brief flashback sequence early in the film, which eventually piggybacks its way later – and somewhat unexpectedly – in the final clash between him and Superman.  Of course, the film also has to deal with one of the most frequently debated scenarios in all of comic book fiction: how in the hell would a mortal like Batman be able to exchange blows with an all-powerful deity like Superman in a “fair” fight?  Well, much as was the case in Frank Miller’s seminal 1986 graphic novel THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS (elements of which BATMAN V SUPERMAN borrows from in both a subtle and copious fashion), the Caped Crusader uses his cunning intellect, some methodical planning, and newfound combat enhanced technology to ensure that he’s not horrifically injured or murdered within seconds of squaring off against his enemy.  Snyder wholeheartedly delivers on the years of built-up expectations of this titular action sequence, even though it abruptly ends via an awfully convenient and less than convincing dialogue exchange between the pair. 

Of course, BATMAN V SUPERMAN is an audio-visual nirvana throughout, and Snyder’s long-time cinematographer Larry Fong (who also shot 300 and WATCHMEN) always gives this film the level of dark, yet opulently beautiful grandeur that it deserves.  On a level of pure production artifice, the film is a masterful triumph of movie magic whizbangery that frankly dwarfs just about any previous BATMAN and SUPERMAN film that came before.  Snyder should also be given props for impeccably casting his film as well, and Cavill’s stoic, understated, and emotionally wounded performance as Superman reiterates his previous attempts at infusing some much needed pathos and sense of helplessness in a character that desperately needs it.  The real performance elephant in the room is Affleck – coming on the heels of the critically lauded DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY – whose casting years ago in this film caused ripples of initial fanboy outrage.  He all but silences his skeptics as a resoundingly solid successor to Christian Bale, who pitch perfectly captures the spoiled, drunken one-per center playboy billionaire alter-ego of Bruce Wayne while also given us one of the most vengeful and ruthlessly determined portrayals of Batman ever shown on screen.  Much has been said about the character’s moral code in this film, but it’s his chilling cold-hearted detachment from this code that makes him a frighteningly unhinged opponent for both Superman and others.  Beaten down and jaded by two decades of crime fighting, it’s almost as if Batman has forgotten what it means to be a hero and has carelessly thrown out the rule book, something that his butler Alfred (a wonderfully sardonic Jeremy Irons) rightfully scorns him over as a fatherly voice of reason throughout. 

The larger casting question mark of the film is Jesse Eisenberg as Luthor, and it’s unlike just about any other portrayal of Superman’s arch nemesis ever presented on the small or big screen before.  Less a calm spoken, austere, and unscrupulous entrepreneur than he is a stammering, socially awkward, and creepily idiosyncratic introvert, Eisneberg’s Lex is presented as a deranged flurry of instability throughout, which is both a uniquely welcome change of pace and obtrusive distraction in a film that’s trying to dramatically “ground” itself.   Like Batman and Superman, he’s a child trapped in a man’s body that tragically lost a father, but any effort on the screenplay’s part to comment on such fascinating commonalities between these tormented players is regretfully abandoned.  His ultimate Machiavelli-like end game to use the endless resources of Kryptonian knowledge to eradicate Superman, Batman and company is never quite fully explained or exploited in the film, especially when he inevitably resorts to the cheapest tactic in the "Comic Book Villain 101" playbook in the final act to really get underneath Superman’s indestructible skin. . 

As mentioned, BATMAN V SUPERMAN is an ambitious film.  A seriously ambitious film.  Alas, it's a film that's dogged with an excessive running time of 150 minutes and an ill-focused attempt at shoehorning in multiple plot-threads that makes the enterprise feel more exhausting than exhilarating at times.  Predictably, the film is a build up to a future Justice League film, and Snyder faced the unenviable task of trying to build a new cinematic super hero team mythology without past solo films to prop it up and support the cause…and it shows.  One welcome inclusion is the all-to-brief, but highly memorable appearance of the enigmatic Diana Prince (aka Wonder Woman, played rather appealingly by Israeli actress Gal Godot), and when the Amazonian makes a rather calculated and impressive entrance in the film in full kick-ass warrior regalia, it’s the stuff of long-overdue comic book nerd fantasies come to life.  BATMAN V SUPERMAN throws in fleeting glimpses of other future Justice League hall of famers, one of which is included in one of the film’s many (far too many) dream sequences that will have many lay viewers not familiar with DC lore feel hopelessly lost while trying to ponder and decipher its secrets. 

The film has other noteworthy issues, the largest of which is its climax, yet another all-out brawl between heroes and – in this film’s case – a dully rendered CGI monstrosity that leads to yet more eye-numbing city spanning destruction (there are also some laughable throwaway lines provided by TV reporters that the battle is occurring in largely “depopulated” areas, which is clumsily handled, if not improbable on a level of modest veracity).  It’s funny how we’ve now had two AVENGERS films and now two DCCU films that have opted to lazily retread action beats, with no creative lessons being learned in the process.  BATMAN V SUPERMAN also concludes with a would-be shocking story development that could have evoked a whole new thorny angle to the potential inception of the Justice League and Superman/Clark Kent's future as a whole.  Disappointingly, it’s undone with a final shot in the film that all but unravels any semblance of tantalizing mystery of what’s to come. 

BATMAN V SUPERMAN is a problematic super hero tentpole extravaganza with aims as lofty as Kal-El’s flight patterns.  Critics have been savagely – and unfairly – crucifying the film, but it's certainly littered with flaws that holds it back from soaring up, up, and away and into the pantheon of truly transformative super hero films.  Yet, BATMAN V SUPERMAN is aesthetically awe inspiring, boldly cast, compellingly acted, and ripe with endlessly intriguing ruminations on the inherent worth of super heroes, so much so that to label it as a “failure” would be a criminal disservice.  It also forces viewers to challenge themselves regarding their beliefs about the practical necessity of its larger than life heroes...and more so than a handful of other recent and similar genre films.  These heroes don’t have the ethical values of, say, the classic heroes of old that we grew up with in comic books, mostly because…some of them here (like Superman himself) haven’t fully cultivated them yet. 

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE has a lot more up its sleeve and more to say than most are giving it credit for…and it ultimately deserves big screen (on as big of a screen as possible) consumption.  It’s a good film and a good preamble to future DCCU entries. 

Good enough.



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