Movie Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
“Who will win?”
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams
Synopsis: Fearing that the actions of Superman are left unchecked, Batman takes on the Man of Steel, while the world wrestles with what kind of a hero it really needs.
If I had to live in a universe in which superheroes operate, I think I’d opt for Marvel’s land of Iron Man and Captain America. At least those guys have a laugh every now and then, unlike the unsmiling denizens of DC-land’s urban-industrial landscape whose lives are blighted by the wholesale destruction wrought by their superheroes’ ongoing fight against crime. As Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice opens, the media is still pre-occupied by the question of whether the benefits of having Superman (Henry Cavill – The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) as a self-appointed Guardian is worth the havoc and loss of life that invariably results from his battles with the forces of evil. Many commentators believing he has to be accountable to someone. This, and other relatively sophisticated issues such as the burden of responsibility that comes with superpowers, and the emotional toll on the possessor of those powers, are all given a fair amount of attention in the film’s opening hour, but are dropped entirely thereafter, suggesting that the makers’ apparent intention of appealing to as wide an audience as possible isn’t quite as well planned as it ought to be.
It’s eighteen months after Superman’s titanic tussle with General Zod in Man of Steel, a bruising encounter which destroyed a number of buildings, including the office block which was home to Bruce Wayne Enterprises. He was probably insured, but that doesn’t stop Wayne (Ben Affleck – Smokin’ Aces, Runner Runner) from coming down firmly on the side of those who believe Superman is a dangerous loose cannon who needs to be contained but, unlike most of those who agree with him, Wayne is in a position to do something about it in his guise as Batman. Actually, there is one other person who has that rare capability: he’s Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg – Zombieland, Now You See Me), re-invented as a techno super-nerd for this latest reboot. Lex wants to see Superman dead, and figures out a way to bring down both superheroes in one fell swoop after recovering a chunk of Kryptonite from the bottom of the Indian Ocean.
The first bothersome thing about Zack Snyder’s contribution to the franchise is that title. An acronym for versus in the title of a movie immediately brings to mind such bottom-feeding atrocities as Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus and Dinocroc vs Supergator. While Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a far better movie than any of those Z-grade monstrosities that occasionally emerge from cinema’s dank basement, it suggests a similar mentality when it comes to selling the film, at least. And, of course, much of the movie is designed to pander to the fan-boy element who want to see a detailed alternate reality in which many things loudly blow up. Snyder doesn’t disappoint them, handling the action set-pieces with confidence and skill, and he’s to be praised for at least attempting to explore more serious issues, even if he shows far less ingenuity while doing so. That first hour is something of a slog, to be honest, even if it does touch upon some interesting issues.
There was a lot of concern over the casting of Affleck – an able director but journeyman actor who unaccountably found himself elevated to the role of star. But he does surprisingly well, and proves to be one of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’s unexpected strengths, helped, no doubt, by the fact that the definition of his character relies more on mood than expression. Cavill fares less well as Superman; he certainly looks the part, but fails to measure up to the modest demands the role places on him. As Lois Lane, his damsel in distress, Amy Adams (American Hustle, Big Eyes) is, once again, exactly that and nothing more. She might do a little snooping every now and then, but it always end in a cry for help which her beau invariably answers. Far more spirited and independent is newcomer Diana Prince (Gal Gadot – Criminal), whom DC fans will recognise as Wonder Woman, although writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyar struggle to find any meaningful contribution for her to make until the final confrontation – which is not, as you might expect given the title, between Batman and Superman, but between all three superheroes and a giant mutant monster created by Luthor, whose new high-tech mogul-nerd persona is already fast becoming another of cinema’s stereotypes.
The movie has its moments, but there’s no losing sight of the fact that, despite being the second in the series, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is an origins story for the Justice League, and therefore suffers from the pacing problems commonly associated with such movies. There are already two Justice League movies scheduled, in which Warners will build upon the foundations lain here – but whether they’ll succeed in creating a universe to rival that created by Marvel remains to be seen.
(Reviewed 1st May 2015)