The Man of Steel and the Dark Knight Meet With a Whimper, Not a Bang
After years of anticipation, the world’s finest heroes have finally made their big screen debut side by side in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” in a study of what happens when you mix the amazing with the awful. Unfortunately, the movie never ascends to an experience worthy of these iconic titans of fiction. On the other hand, it still has enough good qualities to escape the label of a terrible movie.
In case you missed the “v” in the title, the movie follows the grand superhero tradition of two heroes duking it out in a climactic battle before joining forces to confront a greater threat. However, it is also saddled with being a sequel to “Man of Steel” and a prequel to the upcoming “Justice League” movies. Opening with the final battle of “Man of Steel,” the audience is introduced to a bitter Batman (Ben Affleck) who becomes mistrustful of this being from beyond the stars. Meanwhile, Superman (Henry Cavill) is equally mistrustful of the violent and civil-rights violating Batman. Naturally, both are manipulated by Lex Luthor (Jessie Eisenberg) who has his own plans. Finally, there are hints of other metahumans surfacing, such as the powerful demigod known as Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot.)
Visually, the movie is a masterpiece. Director Zack Snyder has rightfully earned a reputation as a mostly visual director and always has a knack for bringing comic book panels to life. We are treated to spectacular shots of our heroes, wide open swaths of wasteland and the Snyder trademark of the slow-motion zoom of a small falling object. Unfortunately, another Snyder trademark is present: namely that the movie is so dark and devoid of color to the point that it is almost shocking whenever bright oranges and blues make appearances. However, excluding the darkness, this is like watching a comic book come to life.
I really wish the naysayers were right when they predicted that Ben Affleck’s Batman would be the weakest part of “Batman v Superman” because that would have been a stellar movie. Affleck absolutely nails both the Batman and the Bruce Wayne sides of the character, a dynamic that several actors have struggled with in the past. His Wayne manages to be a charming playboy, a serious businessman and a serious party goer. Then there’s the Batman — he possesses a raw, brutal and terrifying energy that makes you feel like he could actually stand up to an immortal and all-powerful alien. Sometimes, it feels like Snyder wanted to make a Batman movie and got saddled with Superman and the rest. I foresee a future in which Affleck is the lynchpin of the DC Cinematic Universe.
Shockingly enough, I was very impressed with the presence of Wonder Woman in this movie. Let’s clarify something: she does not belong here. She is mostly inconsequential to the plot and only exists to drum up excitement for “Justice League” and her own solo movie. That being said, her scenes got some of the loudest cheers in my theater. Although it was difficult to tell with so little screen time, Gal Gadot has excellent chemistry with Affleck and seems like a fine choice for the role. Ultimately, it left me excited for the part she will play in the future.
Then there is Superman. Perhaps more than any other part of this movie, it is Superman that so expertly demonstrates everything that is wrong with this film. To put it simply, this does not feel like Superman. This complaint was heard before back when “Man of Steel” premiered, but I was willing to give it a pass because I could accept the idea of a Superman that had to learn how to become the intelligent, inspiring and friendly icon of heroism that has endured for so long. Instead, he seems to have gotten worse. When he is shown saving people, it is treated as a somber moment when it should be the most joyous in the film. Instead of kind and compassionate, he is depicted as emotionless and distant from humanity. Worst of all, Henry Cavill has shown that he is capable of cranking up the charm and the humor, but is instead relegated to morose whining. At one point, he utters the words “no one stays good in this world,” perhaps one of the most un-Superman like lines in the history of the character. Zach Snyder and writers David Goyer and Chris Terrio are evidently hung up on the idea of Superman as a messianic figure, a god coming to live among us. What baffles me is that they miss the critical point of Superman and messiah figures as a whole, namely that he should see himself as one of us and not as a god.
Rounding out the cast is Amy Adams’ Lois Lane and Jessie Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. While Adams brings her usual warmth and spunk to the role, the director clearly had no idea what to do with her as she is saddled with a meandering subplot until she regresses into a damsel in distress. As for Lex Luthor, it feels like someone told Eisenberg that he was playing the Riddler or the Joker. “Batman v Superman” would have us believe that Luthor is a renowned and beloved industry leader, but he is so obviously unbalanced and evil it is a wonder that no one in the movie realizes it after spending ten seconds with him.
This brings me to my main grievance with this movie: the idiotic and inane story. One of the major plot points is the public’s perception of Superman as either a savior or a destroyer. This would be fine if the public opinion didn’t suddenly and completely swing from one end to other for reasons that don’t hold up under scrutiny. When I talked about the movie’s failure to address the events of “Man of Steel,” you may have noticed that I failed to mention the incredibly controversial level of destruction present in the movie. Well, “Batman v Superman” does address this, but horribly. While you might think that Superman would have learned from his mistakes and endeavor to move the action outside of a populated area, he does not have to. Why? Because — I wish I was making this up — the action takes place in a section of the city that is under construction and is therefore abandoned because “it’s after five o’clock” which is a slap in the face of the audience as far as I’m concerned. Finally, the action in the third act revolves around three central plot points. The first makes no sense considering Superman pulled off a feat in “Man of Steel” that renders it moot the second is just plain dumb and the third is so obviously and easily preventable that it had me saying “what the hell” out loud.
Finally, the answer to the questions everyone wants to know: How does the movie deal with DC’s three most iconic heroes together and how does it deal with “Justice League”? The answer is a mixed bag. The fact of the matter is that Warner Brothers is in a superhero arms race with Disney. In order to compete, “Batman v Superman” makes the bold decision to rush forward and throw viewers into the middle of a fully realized DC universe. As a result, there are many moments that made me smile as a fan of the comics, but cringe as a movie goer. When the DC Trinity appears onscreen together or familiar pieces of comic book lore are highlighted, someone who is familiar with the years of history associated with these moments will appreciate them. To anyone else, the impact is lost because the three heroes really don’t know each other in the context of the movie and the average movie goer has no idea what the strange symbol etched into the ground means. Also, this is probably the first movie to have an end-credits sequence in the middle of the movie as the plot stops entirely to highlight future members of the Justice League.
Even though the film has outstanding moments, it is ridden with flaws. It looks great and it’s a treat to see Batman back in action like never before. Then, when you finally get excited, you’re subjected to a bewildering plot and terrible characterizations. The question remains: Can you build a universe off of mediocrity?