Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Movie Review
I loved Man of Steel. I didn't love Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Here's why.
While some people panned Man of Steel as an overly serious, tonally stiff and ultimately overly violent affair, I loved most things about the movie. I didn't mind the ultra destruction or even the neck-breaking climax, and I still don't really understand the venomous hate directed toward those things. But even if I don’t understand, I do acknowledge that people had issues with it…
Which makes it so shocking that Zack Snyder learned absolutely nothing from the film's criticisms and made a sequel that repeats and enhances the same mistakes to the degree where even I’m left shaking my head in disappointment.
The first half of Batman v Superman is actually solid, even if it primarily involves a lot of building to what is to come. The film does a good job of establishing why Bruce Wayne (played by a very angry-and-more-in-need-of-therapy-ever Ben Affleck) hates Superman and fears what he represents. Showing the battle between Zod and Superman from a human’s perspective is a terrific way to kick off the movie, and Snyder and crew follow up with some more world building that puts Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) on a collision course.
But even early on something just feels a bit off about the sequel. Batman v Superman makes Man of Steel look like a straight-up comedy, and even as someone who would take gritty action over Marvel fluffiness any day of the week, it's not clear to me why Snyder had to make things as dark as he does. When you have a movie with men in silly suits fighting each other and mad scientists making stupid monsters, you have to approach it all with a bit of levity. Or so you'd think.
As is common with Zack Snyder films, the movie is all about the visuals, and Batman v Superman isn't lacking for money shots (though, to be frank, this is Snyder’s worst-looking movie). Sadly, the character development in the movie sucks big time, and character development is critically important when you’re making a deathly serious movie. Snyder wastes at least ten minutes taking us through a variety of dream sequences that look pretty but are not only pointless, they make no sense in the context of the film (and do we need to see Bruce Wayne's parents get murdered yet again?). Meanwhile, the actors struggle to make anything of their shallow characters. Cavill is given almost nothing to do. We are supposed to believe that he and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) are in a committed relationship, but the two share almost no screen time together. Affleck makes a good Batman, but after his hatred of Superman is established in the first 30 seconds, Snyder spends the next two hours reminding us why for no reason with no further development.
We get it, Zack. You don’t have to show us over and over and over again.
More confounding is Bruce's sudden change of opinion toward Superman, which really makes no sense whatsoever. After a somewhat disappointing showdown between the two title characters (seriously, the epic showdown the title suggests isn’t nearly as fun as you’d think), Batman suddenly refers to Supes as “his friend” after a not-so-startling revelation that conveniently helps move the plot along.
And overall, the action is just okay. Most of the time the action is too blurry to really track what's happening; there isn't enough action, but when stuff is happening, you usually just want it to end. Sadly, the climax suffers from many of the same problems that people say marred the last one, though Snyder, lacking subtlety, goes out of his way to remind us that there aren't many people around to get killed this time (“that island is uninhabited!”). Basically, as cool as seeing Wonder Woman in action is, the climax just sort of sucks.
Batman v Superman isn't a complete loss. As disappointing as it is, the movie offers stretches of entertainment value, and you can see chunks of a good movie knocked about on screen. The general premise--that, after Superman’s emergence in Man of Steel and the massive loss of life caused, humanity, and especially Batman, would question whether he’s friend or foe--is good, and is a solid starting point for larger world building. Furthermore, Jessie Eisenberg is terrific as Lex Luthor, the one actor who truly seems to be having fun in this movie. He is easily the best part of the movie, even if with some face paint he could just as easily be playing the Joker.
Sadly, the movie is an eye opener for me. Others have been saying it for years, but only now am I realizing it: Zack Snyder is a poor choice to build this world of DC comic book heroes. For movies like Batman v Superman to succeed, they have to have heart and characters we care about. And most importantly, they have to be fun to watch, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is not. At least not to the degree it needs to be.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.