Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice review

'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' quad poster
'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' quad poster
'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' poster artwork
‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ poster artwork
  • Directed by Zack Snyder
  • Written by Chris Terrio & David S. Goyer
  • Starring Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Jesse Eisenberg, Holly Hunter and Laurence Fishburne and more…

Fearing the actions of a god-like Super Hero left unchecked, Gotham City’s own formidable, forceful vigilante takes on Metropolis’s most revered, modern-day savior, while the world wrestles with what sort of hero it really needs. And with Batman and Superman at war with one another, a new threat quickly arises, putting mankind in greater danger than it’s ever known before.

‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ is in cinemas worldwide now!

I’m starting this review with a disclaimer that I’m going to be honest in my critique of the film. I will not be pandering to the vitriol of the mass media but likewise I will not paint this as a perfect picture. The film is called ‘Batman Superman’ and not ‘Batman vs Superman’ which seems to be causing angst for many in the media.

Beware spoilers… ready?

'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' image from March 2016 issue of Empire Magazine
‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ image from March 2016 issue of Empire Magazine

‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ was always going to be a critically divisive film, between them the two characters have over 150 years experience in comics – both having celebrated their 75th birthdays in recent years – yet have never appeared in a live action film together. How can one film perfectly fulfil the exceptions of fans worldwide with that level of history to build upon?

The short answer is… it cannot.

What ‘Batman v Superman’ (henceforth ‘BvS’) does is present a well constructed quasi-sequel to Zack Snyder’s previous DC Comics film ‘Man of Steel’ (‘MoS’) that builds upon Henry Cavill’s initial outing as Superman by radically expanding the world around him.

What the film does not do is represent what many would call the ‘true’ nature of Superman on film. but as Cavill himself says his Superman has not yet matured in to the character many know from the comics as yet. Whether ‘Justice League Part 1’ will bring us this Superman remains to be seen so right now the focus must be on what is and not what might be.

The Characters

My understanding has always been that the mission statement Zack Snyder had set was to develop the characters in a level of reality so as not to stray in to the utterly fantastical without a solid grounding and that is what he did with ‘MoS’ and continues to do with ‘BvS’.

'Superman' poster artwork for 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice'
‘Superman’ poster artwork for ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’

Superman/Clark Kent – although the film does follow-on from the events of his own ‘Man of Steel’ film Superman is a little lost in the story of ‘BvS’. His screen time feels diminished next to that of Batman but his presence is felt throughout the film.

He remains a much darker version of the character than is regularly portrayed in the comics but in all honesty had the character suddenly been colourfully painted on screen and universally accepted by the world then there would be no need for this film to exist and the entire baseline set by ‘MoS’ would have been completely underwritten.

There had to be very real consequences to the battle with Zod in ‘MoS’ – known as the Black Zero event – and those could not be ignored thus Superman spends much of the film being critiqued for his own actions by everyone around him. There’s a sense that the character is bewildered and cannot understand humanities rejection of his help but it’s very subtly played by Cavill and does sit at odds with the characters human nature so heavily instilled by his dad – returning (in a dream sequence) Kevin Costner – in both films.

Sadly Clark Kent finds himself to be overlooked in favour of Superman. There are some small developments to his character thanks to his role at The Daily Planet and his relationship to Lois Lane but details are sparingly planted throughout the film. Frankly there isn’t enough time to develop him any further without bloating an already very busy film.

Cavill portrays the Man of Steel with a great sadness. Many of the films loudest critics have voiced concern at his ability to play such an iconic role. It is fair to say we haven’t yet seem him taking a stab at playing Superman at the height of his heroic career but here he plays the role from a unique angle, the character seems bewildered for much of the film as to the actions of those around him. There’s a great sadness to Clark and Superman that, to me, adds more humanity than I have seen in other versions of the character.

'Batman' poster artwork for 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice'
‘Batman’ poster artwork for ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’

Batman/Bruce Wayne – much of the screen time of the film is dedicated to Ben Affleck and the introduction of his version of Batman. Careful steps are taken to separate this from all previous versions of the character: he’s older, tired and above all brutal.

Some Superman fans are naturally annoyed that Bats takes the lead both in the film and its title however it’s a very logical step towards expanding the DC Universe.

Affleck comes of the back of some award winning work with films such as ‘Argo’ and ‘Gone Girl’ but still tainted by the memory of his appearance in ‘Daredevil’ despite thirteen years having lapsed.

His Bruce Wayne is cold, snarky and dedicated to the mission. There are hints of some charisma behind the facade but, much like with Clark Kent, there’s little time to see that side of his personality because the mission takes precedent. All of the buzzwords used in the promotion of the film ring very true of Bruce, he is ‘world weary’ and he has been to war and lost people close to him. His character reeks of loss and tiredness and the echoes of ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ comic are loud throughout his scenes.

There’s some great interplay between Bruce and Alfred – Jeremy Irons – and the writing brings  a very contemporary version of their relationship but more on that later.

Batman is brutal and there’s little else that needs to be said. His methods are questionable, his actions are extreme but he gets the job done. Interestingly we get to see little of Gotham’s reaction to Batman but we do see much of the Metropolis press passing comment on him further representing the opposing viewpoints of the two leads.

The biggest criticism to be floated at Batman would be the number of deaths he causes throughout the film, I have been quick to point out to friends that he never directly takes a life it is the consequences of his actions that take lives i.e. during the Batmobile chase he shoots at chasing cars, those cars explode. Don’t be mistaken however, Batman never shoots the criminal and never brandishes an actual bullet filled weapon only a grenade launcher which fires little other than smoke grenades.

Affleck is a highlight of the film, his casting choice is perfect for this Batman AND this Bruce. He sits well with Cavill and Gadot and the tone of his character complements this version of the DC Universe well. Consider his appearance a genuine success.

'Wonder Woman' poster artwork for 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice'
‘Wonder Woman’ poster artwork for ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’

Wonder Woman/Diana Prince – considering she has barely 10mins of screen time in this film Wonder Woman packs a huge punch and brings a massive presence to proceedings. Her character is peppered throughout the film but it is her first appearance in costume which brings huge cheers and applause from the audience (both times I saw the film).

Diana is never mentioned by her first name, she is called Ms Prince once, neither is the title Wonder Woman mentioned although her logo is seen in Lex Corp files.

She’s a woman of mystery for much of the film but there are hints of her backstory, we know she is an antiques dealer which makes perfect sense given her knowledge of ancient weaponry shown in a party scene with Bruce. Her weariness is perfectly grounded in her millennia of being around mankind and it takes very little dialogue for her to be able to put her point across.

She’s as weary as Batman but would prefer to avoid a fight, should a fight be unavoidable however boy does she know how to fight.

Where Batman and Superman both attack and plot their next moves during the battle with Doomsday she delights in taking him own. Her battle cries and her expressions show that she loves being back in the fight and really pull the film to a whole new level of excitement. Anticipation for her solo film will be immense after this.

Supporting cast – praise has to be heaped on Amy Adams as Lois Lane who provides a human entry point to the film. She’s as heavily featured as the heroes and plays a vital role in progressing the story. Adams doesn’t lose the fight that she showed in ‘MoS’ and thankfully isn’t written in to the generic damsel in distress role. She does get herself in some trouble but my interpretation is this comes from a place of strength and not of weakness.

Jesse Eisenberg is however a very confused Lex Luthor. There are some great moments for his character particularly early in the film however from the party scene shown in the trailer onwards he begins to unwind. Shortly before the big Batman/Superman fight he has a good monologuing scene on a rooftop but by the time the film winds down in its last ten minutes he’s reduced to a psychotic mess. The character has been written less as a genius scientist and more as a power mad entrepreneur, the science mind is in there somewhere but it’s lost in the mix.  Eisenberg plays Eisenberg well, it’s not his ability that is in question it’s sadly the way the character is written.

Jeremy Irons is an outstanding Alfred. Written to be closer in age to Batman than we have previously seen the two spark when on screen without fail. Alfred quips about Bruce’s drinking in lines taken directly from Frank Miller comic ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ and laments on the lack of a future generation of Wayne’s ret he retains the weariness of Bruce. The two have experienced loss together and only have each other left in the world to keep them anchored. He is as much in the fight as Bruce and is heavily involved in the development of Batman’s tech. There is much to be explored here in future and I for one can’t wait to see it.

Laurence Fishburne brings some laughs in his second turn as Perry White, much like Gal Gadot he is peppered throughout the film but his presence looms large in the room when he is on screen. Diane Lane becomes more the damsel in distress than Lois for her second outing as Martha Kent but she still grounds Clark perfectly and I love to see them together. Scoot McNairy, Callan Mulvey and Tao Okamoto are great bit players in the film. Mulvey is generic in his role as private security to Luthor but plays it well, Okamoto barely speaks but is a great nod for comics fans. McNairy has the largest role of the three making quite an impact on the film, his commitment to the anti-Superman cause brings good pause for thought on how the real world would react to a man like Kal-El.

The award for looking bewildered at their casting in the film goes to Holly Hunter as Senator Finch, I’ve been trying to understand her inclusion in so much of the promotion for the film and after two viewings I understand now that is about the acting credence she brings to the film. Finch is a strong lady but an inherently standard back-up character in a comic book film, only Hunter’s acting chops lift her character from the generic to the vaguely interesting.

The story

Let’s clarify this is not an adaption of ‘The Dark Knight Returns’. It does feature an older Batman, it does feature the mech suit and it does have a lot of media discussion of the events taking place but that is where the similarities end. Also this is not another ‘The Dark Knight’ film so comparisons will not be drawn.

‘BvS’ is its own entity and it shows an extreme level of self awareness throughout. It goes to great lengths to answer questions raised by the Black Zero event clearly based off the reaction of fans to the sheer amount of destruction. For those of you so hyper aware of said destruction there are several unwarranted and very obvious statements about how the climactic battle in this film takes place in unpopulated areas. VERY LOW BODY COUNT PEOPLE!

There is a lot of story crammed in to ‘BvS’, almost too much in fact. The film does suffer a little by acting as the pilot for ‘Justice League Part 1’ (‘JLP1’) but there was little to be done to avoid that given how this film will lead directly in to ‘JLP1’. I’m not going to call it a mistake for Warner to schedule solo outings for the heroes after ‘JLP1’ because had they done those films before they would be accused of cloning the successful Marvel model and criticised for not thinking outside the box.

The story of ‘BvS’ is cleverly constructed to introduce Batman in his own world was in the background building his case against Superman whilst slowly but surely bringing that to the fore.

The pacing is a little off-putting to begin with as the different stories introduce themselves, it can make the film feel a little disjointed however it pulls together well in time for the big fight before unwinding a little in the closing minutes.

Essentially each of the major players: Bruce, Clark, Lois and Lex have their own things going on which slowly wind around each other until they’re all smashed together in one big firefight.

Fans looking for all out action will be disappointed as the film takes time to think politically and emotionally about the impact of Superman’s existence but when the action comes it comes big. The fights don’t degrade themselves in to a giant Hollywood tentpole mess, they come close but the mix of characters and the excitement of seeing them together on screen for the first time really helps.

Villain Doomsday is almost lost amongst all of the other action, his creation is exactly as explained in the trailers so there’s little we haven’t already learnt about him. His look develops throughout the third act edging towards a more comic-derived appearance as opposed to looking like a clone of Abomination from ‘The Incredible Hulk’ film. His inclusion is perhaps the least clever (I’m not calling it dumb) part of the film but serves to bring the Trinity together for one of the single most exciting moments I have seen on film. Seeing Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman together in live action going in to battle is just mind blowing no matter how much criticism is heaped upon it. It feels natural, it looks great and it really breeds excitement for what is to come.

There is some reliance on dream sequences, mainly with Bruce, which are a little sloppy but its hard to complain when the film brings you hints of Darkseid and the first appearance of Parademons and The Flash to the big screen. Knightmare Batman is a genuine highlight and although we have seen the deaths of the Wayne’s on screen before this is perhaps the more artistically beautiful representation we have ever seen.

Overall the story doesn’t feel forced which is something that often gripes at me in Marvel films. There are several moments which do feel shoehorned in to the film, particularly the introductions of the Justice League members via the stolen Lex Corp data, but these can be forgiven as they’re necessary setup. Friends in particular griped at Lex Corp having logos for the heroes but my argument to this was if the scene was a panel in a comic that would be exactly how it would be drawn it just doesn’t necessarily translate as well to film.

There are some great nods to characters from the extended universe who do not appear in the film itself particularly from the Batman universe with Robin, Joker and Riddler all finding themselves referenced. There’s a calculated acknowledgement of the entire DC Universe in this film and as a DC fan it was really exhilarating to see.

The ending sets up the idea of ‘JLP1’ well but spends a good ten minutes of the running time jumping between emotional scenes in Metropolis and Smallville with a smidge more action involving Batman and Lex. It’s jarring to say the least and for me was the biggest disappointment. By no means was it a deal breaker though.

Of note

The set, costume and prop design for this film is outstanding. The Batmobile and other Bat-gadgets all look like they have jumped straight off the page of the comics whilst the design of Superman and Wonder Woman’s costumes and particularly her weapons have so much subtle detail that you really don’t get chance to take it all in whilst watching the film.

I highly recommend picking up the ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Art of the Film’ and ‘Batman Technical Manual’ books which are both available now. They give great insight in to the processes of production designer Patrick Tatopoulos and costume designer Michael Wilkinson.

Where Metropolis is designed to be a huge business centric city Gotham feels much more rundown and abandoned. Landscapes in Gotham are sparse with extras, port districts and the abandoned Wayne station give the audience hints of just how bad things are in the city despite Batman being around to keep the pace. Metropolis scenes focus on the Daily Planet, Heroes Park and the site of the Kryptonian ship crash. The problem with both is that in hindsight they feel enclosed throughout the film, the only wide open spaces we see are in Smallville and the grounds of Wayne Manor.

It’s not a problem per se but given the rapid expansion of the DC Universe it was odd to feel enclosed, the only time it becomes  a problem whilst watching the film is when in Heroes Park. Shots are tightly framed on the Superman statue, it’s a stylistic choice on the part of cinematographer Larry Fong that is in keeping with the rest of the film but I would like to see ‘JLP1’ open up the world a lot more.

Final point before I round things up: there isn’t a huge reliance on CGI in the film prior to the third act. It’s well used to accentuate the look of the film but never relied upon until the fighting starts. I always find it refreshing when films cleverly use technology to enhance the overall aesthetic rather than to create it. Props to the creative team for not taking the easy road.

Overall

Admittedly the film suffers in similar ways to any TV pilot: it has no choice but to set up so much of what is to come meaning that at times creative choices need to be made in order to achieve that goal. ‘BvS’ suffers from some pacing issues in the first and third acts but its characters are perfectly written to inhabit the world that has been created for them and tonally there is a cohesiveness to the film that many have overlooked.

The biggest problem facing ‘BvS’ is a lack of understanding about the ‘v’ in the title. This film is as much a politic standoff between the characters as it is a physical one. There’s a lot of setup to go through before the fight but in the end the film gets to where it needs to be whilst remaining entertaining throughout. This was never going to be a battle movie but sadly the trailers and promotional materials have made it feel that way so the film will disappoint fans looking for nothing but a fight.

Does it take itself seriously? Yes. Does it provide a different take on the genre to most other comic book films on the market? Yes. Was it ever going to please everybody? No. Am I happy with it? YES!

The film looks beautiful, has a booming soundtrack and never feels overlong so my best advice is go in to the cinema with an open mind and you will likely leave happy with what you have seen and stoked to see what comes next. By no means is this film the disaster it is painted out to be.

4 stars

 

 

4 stars

Don’t forget you can still see our webisodes on the characters of ‘BvS’ and also our round-up of exclusive photos from the European premiere. Check them out in the player below:

About Neil Vagg 1816 Articles
Neil is the GYCO Editorial Chief. He has a BA in Film & Tv and an MA in Scriptwriting; he currently works 9-5 as an office manager and 5-9 as a reviewer/web designer. He has been subscribing to comics for around nine years but has been reading them as long as he can remember. Favourite comics: Batman; Nightwing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and All New X-Men Favourite films: Batman (any apart from & Robin); Star Trek Generations, Underworld, Beetlejuice Favourite TV shows: Fringe; Buffy, Arrow, TBBT, Being Human UK and Star Trek TNG