God versus man. Day versus night. All powerful versus all good. That’s the conundrum Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) has asked of its audience ever since its first trailer debuted last year. And as a superhero fanatic, I’ll readily admit it sucked me in straight away. Then, a few days ago, came the early wave of negative reviews, the memes of Marvel’s mighty CEO’s laughing at Warner Bros. over the dismal 30% ‘Fresh Rating’ the film received on Rotten Tomatoes, and the tragic but beautiful gifs of ‘Sad Affleck’, a video of the Oscar-winning actor staring into the abyss of what many are calling one of the most horrible iterations of DC’s beloved bat character to date. Undeterred, I ignored the critics reviews, cast my biases aside, and sat down to see for myself whether Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is worthy of a cinematic viewing. The red capes are a-coming…
Picking up eighteen months after the events of Man of Steel (2013), Zack Snyder’s sombre sequel follows the emotional, physical, and psychological trail of death and destruction left in the wake of Superman’s intergalactic fight with General Zod. Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is hard at work at the Daily Planet but losing faith in what Superman stands for, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is seeking out stories in Africa and living up to the damsel in distress trope, and the people of Metropolis are so caught up in what their False God can do that they are failing to ask what he should do. Then in swoops the Bat-fleck, an older, grizzlier manifestation of Bruce Wayne’s legendary hero, well into his crime-fighting years. A boy who let his family die and a man who seems doomed to repeat the sins of his past. After witnessing the uncontrollable power and formidable strength Superman wields, the Dark Knight sets about devising a plan for the Son of Krypton’s down-fall, and finally, just over two-thirds of the way into the film, we finally reach the crux of the climatic fight-scene. Sadly, it’s a short-lived moment; as a bigger villain crashes onto the scene and DC’s Holy Trinity unite to fight for what’s left of truth, justice, and the American way.
Introducing the Justice League is no mean feat, especially considering it’s a tenacious task never before achieved in a live-action film, and for that Batman v Superman deserves credit. It’s overshadowed though by the sheer weight of the movies dark and despairing tone. People die, others go crazy, and there’s a huge price to be paid by the best among us. There’s also a jumbled mess of unnecessary dream sequences and strange musical choices lurking about (don’t believe me – just wait until you here Lex Luthor’s theme). But it’s the film’s two-and-a-half-hour run-time that delivers the final blow. By the time you reach the finale, you’re too exhausted to comprehend the gravitas of the situation, and the speed at which the lacklustre lot finally become a League.
Affleck’s Batman has been a big criticism, and it’s hard to argue that there aren’t at least a few moments where he serves as a let-down. Like, pretty much the whole first half of the film. But after you warm up to him, and suspend disbelief at how fast he can change costumes between his busted up bat armour and his black (or really, really, dark grey) suit, he proves to be a solid addition to the cast. He’s the first swearing, killing, and jaded incarnation, and it makes for a frighteningly refreshing change. Sure he’s no Christian Bale, but he was also never trying to be. People are quick to forget how much he invested in the film and how hard it is to revive a character that last graced the screen just four years ago. He’s good, if not great, and given time his standalone features and ensemble team-ups could prove a real winner for Warner Bros. After all, superheroes are made not just born.
The smaller roles bring the biggest and best surprises though, with Gal Gadot knocking her Wonder Woman out of the park. Smooth, seductive, and strong, DC can finally lay claim to beating Marvel in at least one realm, with a female lead that stands equal to the boys, showcases real powers, and is a revelation as an unapologetic role-model. Black Widow and Scarlet Witch stand no chance. Similarly, Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is one for the books; as a miss-match of maniacal madness who proves that psychotic really is just a three syllable word for any thought too big for little minds. Even Jeremy Irons cynical, old-man Alfred is great, as a gentleman resigned to simply ‘trying’ to convince Batman not to kill himself in his endeavours. But if you came for the ‘Dawn of Justice’ part of the title you won’t be disappointed, with a number of well-timed and wonderfully utilised cameos, that would be done no justice at all, should I spoil them. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy as they spill onto the screen.
Expecting a superhero movie that can rival the Marvel megalith at this stage is a hard ask, and more importantly a downright cruel one. They’ve had twelve films to set up their cinematic universe. DC have had two. And it’s a problem that has left a major hole for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, where the studio promised a second Superman outing and the introduction of DC’s A-League, but instead delivered a film that feels more like a Batman origin flick. The whole first act is practically devoted to setting the character up, with the Son of Krypton left to take centre stage only in the final, gut-wrenching moments. It’s not bad, but given time and space to breathe, it could have been so much more. If only they’d taken heed of their scriptwriters, when they wrote; ‘Be their hero, be their angel, be their monument. Be anything they need you to be… or be none of it. You don’t owe this world a thing. You never did.’
Rating: 3.5 Annoyed Alfred's out of 5
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