Note: this review was originally published on Sean Gallagher’s original blog back in 2016, prior to the conception of ScreenHub Entertainment. The overall thoughts have been unaltered, but the grammar and prose have been modified and some contextual updates have also been added. The review follows.
Well, I went there. Until The Last Jedi was released just one year later, Batman v Superman was one of the most polarizing films in pop culture fandom. I watched it get dragged through the mud critically and commercially, seen both sides of the love and hate it debate and waited for the dust to settle. And you know what? I did not hate this movie. I didn’t love it either and the movie has a hefty amount of problems. But it also got a lot right and took chances where other superhero films have yet to delve into.
Shining Knight, Sidelined Journalist
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice does get some things right and one of those things is Ben Affleck’s interpretation of Bruce Wayne. I say as Bruce because he’s more interesting than Batman. Most of the tough calls and investigations the caped crusader is presented with occur when he’s wearing his tie and blazer rather than his cowl. This aged vigilante is a hardened vet of Gotham and has been at it for over twenty years. Bruce looks tired, stating that criminals are like weeds that constantly come back. He questions the point of doing what he does, even though he’s more at ease being the Bat than he is Bruce. He was present in Metropolis during the events of the finale of Man of Steel, where Superman and General Zod went at it and levelled the city. On the ground during the attack, we see buildings fall and lives lost and Bruce puts this blame on Superman, despite the general public accepting his presence as some kind of “divine intervention”. Bruce believes that being that powerful could be the end of humanity and takes up an oath to put an end to it before it potentially begins.
Juxtaposed to this is Clark Kent’s (Henry Cavill) crusade against the Dark Knight, who believes his brutal brand of justice is a no-go and decides to try and launch an investigation for the Daily Planet newspaper. This aspect is barely an afterthought though and is merely an excuse to get Clark and Bruce in the same room. Bruce is easily the anchor of the film. The script allows us to explore his morals, ethics, his motivations and his reasoning for going after Superman (what’s less clear is his newfound hobby of mass murder). I found Superman the character had less to do in this movie despite the entire plot revolving around him. A lot of Superman’s story feels tacked on and some elements, including the inciting incident, make no sense, as the Man of Steel is framed for the murder of dozens of people via…bullets. Because that makes sense? Despite being the co-lead, Superman feels like more of an afterthought and a plot device in this movie.
I tip my hat to Zack Snyder for at least trying-and partly succeeding-in doing something different with his political, philosophical and theological subtext concerning Superman. It comes off as pretentious sometimes but it also does create some interesting platforms for debate. But the script often stumbles over these ideas and there are clearly some thoughts missing as Snyder debates religion and superheroes.
Looks Good On Paper, but…
Helping Bruce Wayne and the audience getting to this clash of titans is Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, who unlike Affleck is not a plus in Batman v Superman. His eccentric overacting is a distraction to the film. Where Superman’s Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne come off as stoic, Lex comes off as wacky and off his meds, which is a shame because on paper, his actions and lines feel very on-point for the character. Eisenberg’s overacting and stammering fits don’t fit with the tone of the film or the character, who also believes Superman to be a threat to the planet and goes to extreme lengths to stop the all-powerful God-like alien. He asks pseudo-intellectual questions about religion and humanity, most notably stating that God (read, Superman) can’t be both all-powerful and good. Using a baffling plan, which relies too heavily on chance, he orchestrates the greatest gladiator match of the ages while secretly working on his own evil plan. There is a neat subtext that gets repeated throughout the film that draws from Milton’s Paradise Lost, concerning the greatest lie in American history, a lie concerning God and the Devil that if you understand the art, sets up the Justice League film nicely. Rounding out the superheroes is the introduction of Wonder Woman, aka Diana Prince, played by Fast and Furious vet Gal Gadot. She does a good job but it’s worth noting her screen time is limited and we don’t get to explore her motivations and backstory.
One area when the film shines though is in the score. This is one of the better scores I’ve heard this decade. Done by Hans Zimmer (Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy) and Junkie XL ( Mad Mad: Fury Road), they created this dark, epic soundtrack, filled with choirs, pounding drums, eerie melodies and very old-timey violin compositions. Seriously, go listen to “The Red Capes are Coming“, which sounds like a dark ambiance that meets Victorian classical. “Must There be a Superman” is a schizophrenic and jarring number as if the song is almost tripping over its unusual time signature. At first, I thought it was a lost Nine Inch Nail’s track given the Fury Road treatment. And yes, you can tell when Hans is doing the music and when it’s in Junkie’s control.
Plot Holes, Lazy Writing and a Lack of Focus
Batman v Superman’s script is the weakest part of the film. Whether it’s plot holes, unclear character motivations, failure to make use of Lois Lane and the inclusion of Doomsday purely for an action scene makes the film feel disjointed and all over the place. I would’ve bought into the Doomsday scenario had Lex and Wayne actually teamed up seeing as their interests lined up but instead it felt tacked on purely for destruction. Lois Lane played the damsel in distress all throughout the movie and made the psychic judgement call to retrieve an item she disposed of minutes before without knowing it’d be needed……and in turn ends up being a damsel in distress again. The scrip is littered with little moments that made me question how characters know certain bits of information or why they are doing the things they’re doing. Don’t even get me started on the Justice League members getting cameos via email attachments or the now-infamous “save Martha” scene. Lazy screenwriting 101. The film throws unanswered questions at the audience and expects us to either forget about them or not to question why they were brought up.
Not to sound like a bummer, but Zack Snyder’s direction is unfocused here. I’m not sure if that’s Snyder’s fault directly or due to studio interference. Part of that unfocus is due to just how much content this film has to work with (being both a sequel to Man of Steel, setting up films for both Wonder Woman and Batman (which never materialized as the upcoming Batman film is a prequel in a different universe starring Robert Pattinson) and being a prequel to Justice League. All this wasn’t great for Batman v Superman as it lacks focus and direction quite often. I for one found the dream sequences, of which there were many, too distracting and took me out of the experience. Whether it be talking to the dead, seeing the future or reliving the past, the dreams felt really out of place and tacked on purely for future setups and as storytelling cheat to allow us to explore into the psyche of the two leads, rather than have these revelations happen organically in the story. It ultimately came off as cheap storytelling.
In all that and more, the film crumbles under its own heavy ambitions to create a thinking man’s superhero film when it should’ve just been a fun blockbuster. I will say that despite its flaws, its numerous flaws, I did enjoy the film more than I thought I would and was never bored, unlike the last 40 minutes of Man of Steel which was just people being chucked into buildings. I was curious about Lex’s crazy plan and was invested in Batman/Bruce Wayne’s campaign. The film is also a well-shot film, as most Snyder films are. I’ll do another review once I’ve seen the R-rated Ultimate Cut if it’s worth a comparison but for now, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is a well-shot, competently made mess. I believe that’s the only way I can describe it. This is a shame because it could’ve been, should’ve been amazing and it had the potential to be if the script was a lot tighter.