Before I get into the review process of the film, it is important to set ground for this film, or a base if you will. The base, of course, being Snyder’s recent film, Man of Steel. Man of Steel proved to be one of the most controversial films made in recent years. While it did have pretty glaring flaws, I found the film to be enjoyable, with sprinkled in moments of greatness. Looking at it now, I would probably rate the film at a 3/5 or a 3.5/5. Now, with that set aside, on to the review…
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice places the viewers almost immediately in the shoes of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) as he witnesses the events of Man of Steel. The epic battle that caused so much controversy for viewers, is now the center stage of conflict for the film, as Wayne witnesses Superman(Henry Cavill) carelessly let thousands die. Fast forward almost two years later, Superman and Batman are placed at odds, with some help of Lex Luthor (Jessie Eisenberg) manipulating the situation in Luthor fashion. This is as much that can be said before breaking into ‘spoiler’ territory.
Right off the bat (ha) Batman v Superman is not what you’re expecting, nor lead to believe from marketing. This is not an action film, so don’t go in expecting to see balls to the walls action (although the third act is nothing but). No, Batman v Superman plays more like a character study behind the motivations of its lead characters. These motivations tip the line between ‘that makes sense’ to ‘razer thin’ and sometimes paves over those ideals with brief scenes. The moment we all wait for, the hailed action sequence(Batman v Superman) could, and should have been avoided in a mere minute long conversation. These two men, with their level of intelligence, simply avoiding a few sentence, manages to take some of the conflict away from this battle, even if it is glorious at times.
So, how do all the players work? Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman is the star of the film. Zack Snyder and Ben Affleck clearly adore this character, and put a lot of emphasis into him, and it shows. This Batman is not the one we’ve seen before, nor should be one you expect. His world weary attitude, and fear/paranoia make him do things Batman’s of previous films/tv/comics wouldn’t normally do. His paranoia is ultimately played with thanks in part to Luthor’s manipulation and a few off kilter dream sequences(one in particular in breathtaking). Affleck plays him with so much conviction that you soon forget that nobody wanted him for this role.
Henry Cavill returns as Superman, and gives an honest, solid performance that shows a man of conviction, truth and justice. Superman has given everything to the planet, and this has netted true believers, and those who absolutely oppose his power. The fear of the unknown hangs over him, when all he wants to do is help everyone. This is the first time in a film that you really see a vulnerable Superman, suffering not just from physical pain, but the emotional inability to make people believe he is simply a guy trying to do good. Batman v Superman, like Man of Steel, drums up a lot of religious symmetry that sometimes works, and then sometimes feels too heavy handed in certain moments.
The other two worth mentioning are Jesse Eisenberg and Gal Gadot. Eisenberg’s Luthor is ego maniacal, intelligent and crass. The man’s motivations are clear from the beginning, he simply wants Superman out of the way because he believes he isn’t an ‘honest’ good guy. Unfortunately, a few times Eisenberg’s performance tilts too far, echoing Carrey’s The Riddler performance. Eisenberg is clearly putting his all into this character. Gadot’s role in this film is minor, but she is clearly a great choice as Wonder Woman. She evokes power, confidence and beauty. The future is extremely bright for her character. Fans need not to worry about the character’s future, it is in good hands.
The supporting cast is still solid, although most don’t have character arcs that end properly. Jeremy Irons makes a solid Alfred, who is much different than Michael Caine’s version. Laurence Fishburne as Perry White has a more prominent role than Man of Steel, even cracking a few, well timed jokes. Amy Adam’s Lois Lane is again ferocious, but borders not having much to do.
So, Affleck is great. Cavill is pretty darn good. Gadot is awesome. The supporting cast is solid. This film is great, right? The honest answer is…no. As with films of this nature, it will be divisive, with people who love it, and absolutely hate it. Both sides could support an argument that a rational person could go either way. But, why isn’t it just end of story great?
For starters, people need to stop blaming Cavill, going after Goyer’s script or saying Christopher Nolan should’ve done this (or that). Cavill’s performance here works. Goyer’s script is now being anchored by Chris Terrio (an academy award winner) and Christopher Nolan can’t hold everyone’s hands. The problem really lies in the film’s director, Zack Snyder.
Snyder isn’t a bad Director. This much needs to be said, repeated and memorized. However, stating that he isn’t a bad director, isn’t saying he is a great one, either. A film of this magnitude, in both action scope, and character drama, needs an incredible Director to pull it off, and Snyder doesn’t have the chops for it. Snyder excels in portraying beautiful, powerful imagery and evoking emotions without dialogue. Scenes feel like they’re ripped from the comic book, and ooze symbolism. He clearly adores the source material, and one cannot punish a man who is clearly trying to make things work (even when they don’t).
Also, a moment of applause to Director of Photography, Larry Fong. Fong’s previous work includes 300 and Watchmen. He might be the real star of the show, as this film is absolutely breathtaking. If you have the option, net to see this film in IMAX. Each city vista feels like it was ripped from the pages of a comic book, and even dialogue driven sequences are framed so fascinating. His work here feels more confined, more mature in approach than that of 300, even oozing moments of Watchmen’s colorful palate.
That being said, so many creative decisions, whether they be character driven, edited, or otherwise, simply don’t work. The film’s length surprisingly isn’t a problem. At 150 minutes, the film’s pace works well, astonishing considering that it’s edited horrendously. The first hour fires off scenes that feel like trailer clips, rather than actual written sequences. Each are short, barely grasping the subject of the scene before swapping to another setting, and telling another brief point. It becomes jarring all too quickly, and feels like the story is constantly playing catch up to itself (and another franchise). This perhaps wouldn’t be so problematic if it wasn’t for the final act, which halts the brakes, and goes into an entirely different direction.
When you have so many pawns in your film work well, and they don’t, you have to blame the one directing the pawns. Snyder is at the forefront. Chris Terrio, famous from his Argo screenplay (directed by Ben Affleck) has a really interesting (and powerful) script. Some lines floored me in their meaning. However, anyone, even an Oscar winner, will suffer when cramming so many ideas into a film. Some well thought out, others incredibly half baked. Terrio is trying to tell a message with its characters, one that isn’t always clear, nor supported by their actions.
No film has ever left me feeling this way. The rush of seeing it has finally ended, and left me incredibly conflicted. So much in this movie works, whether it be the performance, cinematography or Hans Zimmer’s resounding score. But so much of it just doesn’t, like character motivations, character profiles and editing. A film like this shouldn’t be so divisive, even if its messages are powerful in meaning. Instead scenes flurry together, pounding out character ideals, before faltering and quickly turning into a world ending action epic. This film will certainly divide the masses, hell, it’s divided me. While it is recommended that you at least go and see it, expectations need to be refined. At the end of the day, one word resonates with me more so than any other in the English dictionary: Heartbroken.