“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” Movie Review

     Regardless of the fact critics have responded, for the most part, negatively to director Zack Snyder’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, mainstream audiences will be lining up in droves this Easter weekend in order to see arguably the two most popular superheroes in history go at and determine once and for all who will reign supreme.  Of course, the comic book faithful already know the outcome will result in the “Son of Krypton” and the “Bat of Gotham”, as Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor quips, teaming up for an “Avengers” like DC Comics mashup called “Justice League” that will also include Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Flash, and Aquaman among many others.  This makes “Dawn of Justice” a sort of set up film for the future of DC and Warner Bros.’ as they attempt to create their own expanded and cinematic universe in much the same way Marvel has done over the last 8 or so years.  Obviously, all involved have plenty riding on the outcome, which will generally come down to dollars (Anything less than $1 Billion globally would be considered a disappointment.), when determining just how far the studio can go with these characters.

     When the first “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” teaser was released a year in advance of the film, the overriding sentiment amongst the legions of salivating “Star Wars” fans was the fact the trailer “felt” like “Star Wars”.  This was a hugely important response from the fan base, especially from those who felt George Lucas had previously ruined the saga with his Prequel Trilogy.  As we know, J.J. Abrams successfully reinvigorated the franchise with “The Force Awakens” and did so by both following templates established by the Original Trilogy and infusing the story with new characters who will carry future films after the stories of the original characters have been told.  So what does any of this have to do with “Dawn of Justice”?  I will tell you never once during Zack Snyder’s new film did I ever feel as though I was watching something rooted in any way to the well established standards set by Richard Donner’s “Superman”, Tim Burton’s “Batman”, or Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight”.  In other words “Dawn of Justice” does not feel like a “Superman” or “Batman” film, as its tone projects something entirely different than anyone growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s is used to.

     To be fair, Snyder’s job here was a difficult and unforgiving one, but his film also proves he is by no means a director possessing the deft touch and creative mind of J.J. Abrams who has now successfully rebooted not one, but two beloved science fiction franchises.  Many will also point to the success of Marvel Studios and their ability to bring what were once considered second and third rate superheroes to the big screen in a manner which brought them both critical and audience acclaim, though to compare the obstacles in place for a film featuring Superman and Batman to one with Thor and Ironman is like comparing apples to oranges.  I mean lets be honest.  No one prior to 2008 cared about the character Ironman until Marvel gave us a face in the form of Robert Downey Jr. and John Favreau capitalized on the actor’s ability to project a sort of wise cracking charisma as Tony Stark.  

     Marvel Studios was able to repeat this formula several times over with massively successful origin stories for not only “Ironman”, but also with “Thor” and “Captain America” as well.  Regardless of your current age, when you think of “Ironman”, you think of Robert Downey Jr..  When you think of “Thor”, you think of Chris Hemsworth.  And when you think of “Captain America”, you think of Chris Evans.  So here’s a question for you.  When you think of “Superman”, who do you think of?  For most, I doubt Henry Cavill’s image is the first you will conjure up in your mind. As most will certainly admit, Christopher Reeve is “Superman”.

     And that’s where the obstacles seem to begin.  Marvel started with a clean slate for virtually all of their current “Avengers” and “X-Men” characters with the actors and actresses who play them serving as the prevailing image for each.  Now I’m fully aware that “Batman”, as a character, has been played by numerous actors to varying degrees of success, but what Snyder and his screenwriters (Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer) have done with Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) goes beyond anything remotely recognizable when compared to previous incarnations.  Here, Bruce Wayne is a man full of hate and negative emotion.  He is part of a growing contingent who views Superman as a false god and a threat to the human race, but plotting aside, Affleck plays him with this same emotion for the entire movie and never lets up for a single light hearted moment.  

     The same goes for Superman (Henry Cavill), who sees his stock dropping within various political arenas as a result of the damage sustained to Metropolis during the climactic battle with General Zod at the end of “Man of Steel”.  Some people see Superman as a hero, while others like Senator Finch (Holly Hunter), see him as an alien who must be controlled by the government.  Practically the entire film is shot in dark spaces, streets, and buildings which only contributes to the overall tone of consistent dread.  No where to be found are any characters who would qualify as comic relief and the main players play every scene with the comparative seriousness of a film about a historical tragedy instead of the superhero film it is supposed to be.  There is not an ounce of fun to be had and I doubt not a single line of dialogue will bring a smile to anyone’s face.  Apparently gone are the screenplays containing such tongue and cheek lines as “You’ve got me…Whose got you?” or “General, Would you care to step outside?”, having been replaced with scene after scene of character’s faces strained with intensity.

     Snyder spends a whopping 151 minutes to tell the story of Superman and Batman as they battle for the first time.  As presented, it’s right away implausible to think both men would not have crossed paths before since it appears Metropolis and Gotham City are right across the bay from each other.  After a flashback which dramatizes (again) the killing of Thomas and Martha Wayne in front of a young Bruce, the action moves to the end of “Man of Steel” as Superman and Zod battle in the skies of Metropolis with massive terraforming ships hovering above and threatening to destroy Earth.  We watch from Bruce Wayne’s point of view as he drives towards the battle instead of away from it, with why he is doing so not exactly explained.  Save to say, he’s not happy with what he is witnessing, as the humans on the ground are helpless in the wake of the destruction caused by the battle above.  In an odd sequence of events, he actually gets on the phone with an executive at the Wayne Enterprises building in Metropolis to tell him to have everyone evacuate.  Sounds like great advice until we see the executive’s view of the terraforming ship just a block away, the question then becomes, why does this guy need to wait for Bruce Wayne to tell him to evacuate?  Isn’t it gravely obvious to do so based on the declining current situation?  That tidbit serves as just one example of what are literally hundreds of examples of gaping plot holes and decisions by characters which make zero sense.

     Speaking of sense, the screenwriters here apparently felt it was adequate to thrust Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), aka Wonder Woman, into the proceedings with no character development and only a small handful of lines in the entire film.  Yes, I know next June we will see her origin story, but the inclusion of Wonder Woman in “Dawn of Justice” feels unnecessary and contributes greatly to the already prevailing opinion that the film is way overstuffed.  There is a sub plot involving Lois Lane (Amy Adams) in Africa which has her attempting to interview a high level terrorist which feels completely out of place and unneeded.  The same can also be said by a number of dream sequences which may by a wink to comic book fandom, but will confuse everyone else since their content serve as more of the Easter Egg variety instead of something crucial to the plot of the film.  

     With all of the political grappling, newsroom politics, Bruce Wayne vendettas, kidnappings, and myriad of fight scenes, car chases, and general destruction, Snyder still manages to insert a convoluted criminal plot courtesy of Lex Luthor, which itself is full of plenty of questions as to how he could possibly pull something like it off without the benefit of numerous conveniences and coincidences which are never explained.  Even worse, the climactic scene featuring Wonder Woman (already seen several times in the trailer) looks as though Snyder utilized the same style and look as each of his action scenes in “Sucker Punch”, and we all know how that disaster of a film turned out.

     With the overall product being dull and devoid of anything one could consider remotely entertaining, there really aren’t many positives to discuss here.  The closest thing in the film to anything as cornball as the best scenes in “Superman 2” is a montage which showing a shirtless Bruce Wayne training “Rocky” style for his fight with Superman.  This includes a series of weighted pull ups, dragging a weighted sled, and swinging a heavy hammer against a tractor tire because it will make a difference when you’re fighting an immortal with unlimited power and strength right?  But even that scene is presented with the overall seriousness of a Congressional Hearing and does not in any way give you the urge to stand up and cheer.  

     Perhaps Snyder felt as though Nolan’s work on his “The Dark Knight” trilogy, where Nolan lifted the tone of stand out crime thrillers like “Heat” and replaced the cops and robbers with superheroes and villains, could be taken to another level.  What he seems to forget is Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne/Batman carried a quiet and charismatic confidence, which matched perfectly with a series of flawed but interesting villains.  “Dawn of Justice” gives us Jesse Eisenberg doing Luthor like a mentally ill version of his Mark Zuckerberg character in “The Social Network” and the other threats come by way of CGI and contribute basically nothing.  So yes, the film is a mess, but all the while it seems as though it was designed as a mere placeholder for what’s to come.  For Snyder, this was clearly a tough draw.  It’s obvious he went with what he’s comfortable with, using many of the techniques and inspirations he gained from directing films like “300” and “Watchmen”, but the resulting film is just too much of a downer to have recaptured the magic of the best “Superman” and Batman” films.