Boys will be be boys. Or, in this case, boys will be superhero titans who don’t know how to play nice together until their mothers knock some sense into them.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice pits together two of the most recognizable superheroes of all time (and no, I’m not talking about Wayne & Garth). I’m talking about the man in the cape and the man in the cowl, two legends who were destined for a legacy on the silver screen.
Full Disclosure: I have never read any Superman or Batman comic books. When I first learned that Batman v. Superman was even being made, I thought it was a joke. After all, famous versus pairings have resulted in:
So, I basically went into this movie with no previous expectations whatsoever…until, of course, you know, people actually saw the movie:
To be honest, I found myself more excited to see the film after watching how polarizing its opening weekend had been. The crowds queued up for the film’s release on Thursday didn’t inspire hope:
The crowds for Batman vs. Superman smell like a combination of their mother’s basement, Axe body spray, and Jagermeister.
— Kate Amatuzzo (@KateAmatuzzo) March 25, 2016
To sum up: We are brought to speed with a replay from the finale of Man of Steel, mid-Zod/Superman battle royale. However, this time, we see it from the perspective of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who hurtles towards Metropolis to try and rescue his employees from a satellite building. It’s a lost cause: the building crumbles as he watches helplessly from the streets below, kindling an intense hatred for Superman and igniting a desire for revenge. Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), on the other hand, is having a dandy time trying to be a people pleaser, and he’s not very successful. It seems that many wish to keep his power in check, none more so than a certain Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who sets his sight on acquiring recovered kryptonite from General Zod’s downed spaceship.
I must admit: for the first 15-20 minutes, I sat in silence watching the action unfold. Batman v. Superman opens on a very, very poignant split perspective. We find ourselves in a juxtaposition between the night Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered and the funeral procession which leads to his discovery of the Batcave. I cannot understate how beautiful these two side-to-side comparisons were. My attention was grabbed immediately. You see a young Bruce standing helpless next to his parents in the underbelly of Gotham, and you see a young Bruce desolate against the backdrop of his family’s crypt. Truly, my favorite part of the movie, and an instantaneous reading for the tone of the film. And that tone is serious.
Honestly, B v. S may be the most serious superhero film I have ever seen. All of the actors bear their roles with such a weight, such a gravity that I compared the film to this year’s Oscar nominee Spotlight. Great film, but just so somber. The first plot lines that scampered out amidst the gravitas were not tainted with a giggle or a smirk. We had truly abandoned the typical Wam!-Pow!-Bash! movies of superhero yesteryear.
Affleck fills his role well, and there was little I disliked about his portrayal. I absolutely scoffed as his initial casting, but does a fine job…with what he’s given. One of my biggest complaints of B v. S. is that there is very little character development. We watch Bruce Wayne deal with his quest for vengeance, but therein lies the problem: where’s the struggle? For most of the film, he’s just…there. Car chase after battle scene after conversation with Alfred…he suffices. Affleck plays the role of playboy millionaire very well, and he does just fine in the Batsuit, but I fault the script for Wayne’s 2D character.
Cavill fares even worse, but again, the blame falls entirely on the material. He’s certainly charming, but the one scene we’re given to re-establish a relationship between him and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) feels contrived and forced. Not much chemistry going on there, but then again, I’m not sure how far I can fault the actors. I absolutely loved Cavill later in the film when he deals with the disappearance of his mother, Martha Kent (Diane Lane). You finally get to see a hero vexed with the burden of being human and his presumed debt to society.
The supporting characters do well enough. Diane Lane’s return as Martha is a welcome one; she’s one of my favorites in the film. Jeremy Irons makes his debut as Batman’s trusty butler, Alfred Pennyworth, but he’s mostly a seat-filler (no, seriously, he sits in Batman’s bat cave chair when he’s not there and gets to play around with the Batwing). He doesn’t get to stretch his acting chops. He sits around, drinking bourbon, and answering Batphone calls. Nobody will be as good as Michael Caine in that role, in my own humble opinion.
You can’t have a hero without a villain, and Jesse Eisenberg is an interesting Lex Luthor. My curiosity with his portrayal extended for about an hour, but then I finally had my judgment: he’s too goofy, too quirky, too young. In a film with such a grave, serious tone, he just felt out of place. I wanted someone with a bit more grounding…I wanted more slickness and more malice. Affleck and Cavill are no-nonsense heroes, and Eisenberg’s take just didn’t mesh. Now, that being said, I do feel he found his own with the role as the movie progressed. After he loses control and descends into madness, I began to like him more and more. By the time he’s lost control on sanity, I wanted to see more of him. In a different movie, his Luthor might have worked really well…just not in B. v S.
Some of the pacing is off. Gotham cuts jarringly to Metropolis, to a farm house, to a laboratory and it doesn’t feel planned. This specifically happens after the beautiful opening. What follows just doesn’t fit…it feels like we’ve entered another movie. There was definitely a section of the film that I felt like checking my watch, and it was most certainly during a car chase.
Speaking of action, there isn’t a ton. We’re given a lot of detective work on Wayne’s end, some filler office scenes at the Daily Planet, a police raid, and before you know it, the movie’s almost 90 minutes in. When you do finally get a car chase, it’s too long, too drawn out. The inevitable climax of Batman finally confronting Superman is about 30 minutes overdue.
The highlight, by far, is Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. She arrives about 90 minutes into the film, and it’s a welcome introduction. She provides that much needed moment of “I’ve just been holding my breath in suspense for about 88 minutes…I need to relax.” We’re not sure what her motives are at first, but when we do discover what they are, the inner geek inside of us all will get a celebratory moment to rejoice. Our first glimpse of her as Wonder Woman (bracelets, tiara and all) basically steals the show. She gets the superhero introduction that inspires boisterous cheers and spilled popcorn. I am now so stoked for the Justice League film.
It may seem like I’m being super critical of the film, but deep down, I do think I enjoyed it. As a Man of Steel fan, I did not mind the torrent of exposition…I just didn’t enjoy the time it took to get through it all. There are some gaping, sink hole size plot holes that need to be addressed for future films. Motives get lost in the fray, and we’re left to wonder how we ended up in certain spots. The performances are not bad…nor are they stellar…but they’re enjoyable enough to entertain for 2.5 hours. We don’t get memorable performances like Heath Ledger’s Joker, or Michael Caine’s Alfred, or Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, but what we do get is just fine.
Sidebar: There is one moment (and you’ll know which one) that completely baffled me. As a non-comic reader, I was utterly confused by a scene featuring Bruce’s nightmares. I spent a good 4 minutes wondering if they had accidentally put a different movie in the projector. My friends to my left and right were of no help…they hadn’t read the comics, either. We definitely did some digging once we got home, and once some comic lore was cleared up, we agreed that this scene was actually quite brilliant.
Because this film is so polarizing, I would like to give it another shot to really give it a decent rating…but seeing as how movie tickets are $9.25 for an evening show, I think I’ll wait for the DVD. And maybe in itself, there’s my review right there: It was a good movie, it was entertaining, I’m still talking about it a few days later, but I’m not willing to shell out money for another ticket…and I definitely don’t think it’s worth a BluRay purchase (as The Avengers was).
I could go on and on about B. v S. because I love the superhero genre, but I think that’s best saved for a podcast which will be dropping later in the week. We’ll dive more into character analysis, film predictions, plot holes, and much, much more. For now, I give Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice a sturdy 4/5 stars.