Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice is another misstep in DC’s attempt to compete with Marvel’s cinematic universe, but while the first half of the film falls flat, the titular fight saves the whole event from being a total bore.
The set up for Batman v Superman is to address the wanton destruction from the 2013 film, Man of Steel, by showing how people have both rejected and accepted Superman as a figure in society. The idea presented here by Zack Snyder isn’t a bad concept, except for the fact that these are the same themes explored in Superman’s earlier solo film with the biggest difference being the addition of Ben Affleck’s Batman. Apart from retreading some tired themes, Snyder also beings to sow the seeds of the extended universe by featuring cameos for popular DC characters like Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman, with Wonder Woman making an extended appearance that culminates into spearheading the final fight of the film.
The film isn’t a complete a mess, but it stumbles from the moment the opening credits start. Batman v Superman starts by showing us the Bruce Wayne origin story and immediately jumps to the present day in which we see a tired and aged Wayne bear witness to the destruction brought by Superman and Zod’s climatic final fight. The scene changes are quick and come at a breakneck speed as we move from country to country while simultaneously switching character focus; This technique doesn’t leave much time to familiarize ourselves with the characters and instead we end up with a large cast of of mysterious and undefined goals such as a Lex Luthor Jr. that may or may not have daddy issues, a senator who wants to punish Superman, but not subdue him and a batman that is hellbent on killing everyone who gets in his way.
Batman v Superman doesn’t know what to do with its characters and much less its plot and character motivations. The first two thirds of the film are treated as a combination of a conspiracy mystery and a political thriller, but neither the mystery or the thriller are particularly interesting or exciting. Why should we care about Batman being a detective or Lois Lane being a journalist? Snyder relies on the audience’s pre-existing investment in these characters, but this reliance becomes apparent when we’re introduced to new characters or plots, like why is Senator Finch important in the whole of this story and why should we care? The political thriller aspect of the film falls flat as Luthor and Finch argue about ports and weapons, but there are no real stakes for the audience to worry about.
The plot of Batman v Superman is the weak point, but character performances are well done. Henry Cavill continues with the same energy and heart warming good looks that started in Man of Steel, but doesn’t really expand on the character. Ben Affleck stands out as an excellent fit for an aged and hardened Batman and Bruce Wayne, he portrays the character’s brooding and serious demeanor with an intensity that works perfectly as a foil to Superman’s lighter charisma. Gal Gadot’s biggest crime is not having enough screen time as the few lines she has prior to her action scenes don’t really give her an opportunity to display her acting abilities. There are also stand out performances from the dry wit and sarcasm of Jeremy Iron’s Alfred and the manic mannerisms of Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor.
Snyder brings his directorial A game when it comes to creating iconic imagery and amazing action set pieces. Scenes like the death of the Wayne family are dramatic and Superman’s god-like imagery is gothic and artistic, but Snyder really shines when he steps away from the slow-motion and steps in the action. Batmobile chases have the intensity of Nolan’s Dark Knight films but the adrenaline of a Fast and Furious film and the titular fight not only makes for a grand stand alone set piece, but also works as a visual tribute to the Frank Miller classic comic book The Dark Knight Returns. Affleck stands out as a battle ready Batman ready to take on the god-like Superman, fighting using not just physical prowess, but also with technological weapons and skills to make up for his normal mortality. Gadot as Wonder Woman stands out in her singular fighting appearance with a great energy and charisma and completely steals the spotlight amongst her two titular colleagues.
Even with a lackluster plot, Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice still manages to have fun with a few spectacular action set pieces hidden amongst two hours of bad pacing, convoluted plot-lines, and non-existent character development. The movie assumes that you’ve seen Man of Steel and have at least a basic knowledge of who Batman is as a character, so if you feel like you have that knowledge ready and are ready to see two of DC’s biggest throw punches at each other, then this movie might have something for you.