“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” was announced at Comic-Con in 2013, and now almost three years later this movie is finally here, unleashed upon the masses, a mash up of two of the most popular comic book characters ever in a very expensive production, long and loud and stuffed to the gills with ideas. There’s a big potential for being letdown with something this big that takes so long to come out, with so much anticipation and expectation foisted upon it, so maybe it was inevitable that it would not live up to what it could have been, but did anyone expect this?
Because if you looked at the critical community at large, this movie is not getting good reviews, and as a matter of fact, is getting some of the worst reviews for a comic book movie. And many of these reviews have complaints that are very well founded and make sense, but is it also because everyone is watching this movie a little closer and with more scrutiny due to the very nature of the movie itself? People all around the world know who these two characters are just by looking at them, they are ingrained in modern American mythology, these characters (and others like them) are the 20th and 21st Century versions of the Norse, Greek and Roman gods (and sometimes they use actual gods), and we want, even subconsciously, for our $250 million tent pole commercially-driven paean to these characters to be worthy of the time and effort. And it seems a good portion of people believe this not to be the case with “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” but is it the total wash that many make it out to be?
The plot of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” involves a decent number of characters, and also required knowledge of the events in “Man of Steel” to make sense; Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, holding it down well as the playboy by day and Caped Crusader by night) was directly affected by the massive destruction in Metropolis caused by the huge fight between Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod, and he saw the hurt people and the victims first hand, and immediately decided he had to find a way to stop Superman from ever possibly causing that much damage again. The uber smart Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) meanwhile is pretty much trying to do the same thing by obtaining Kryptonite and Kryptonian technology from the crashed ships from “Man of Steel,” in an effort to make a weapon that could be used against Superman. He’s also obsessed with some “meta-humans” that are out there, and tries to recruit the US government to help him with defending everyone from these people, from Superman all the way on down.
MEANWHILE a mysterious lady keeps popping up in super elegant dresses and thanks to the marketing we all know right away this is Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), but it takes a while for everyone in the movie to figure that out. And Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is trying to find out who is selling experimental armory on the black market, and this somehow ties in to the main story but in a very roundabout way that I am not sure was even necessary or made any sense. And there’s a guy who lost his legs in the battle at Metropolis (Scoot McNairy) and he gets recruited by a Junior Senator from Kentucky (Holly Hunter) to testify in Congress about how he blames Superman for his injuries. And Superman doesn’t know if it is ultimately worth it to be a hero in a world that doesn’t necessarily want him. And editor of The Daily Planet Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) REALLY wants Clark Kent to cover some local high school sports and a library fundraiser. And Bruce Wayne’s trusty butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons) tries on a series of dashing vest and oxford shirt combos. So there’s a lot going on to say the least.
And that is probably the ultimate problem with “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” there is just too much going on for this movie to actually be about any one thing. Superman is going through his own dilemma, in which he wants to help and he tries his best but he has people questioning whether he can be trusted to always do the right thing and whether or not he might cause more destruction – there’s a scene early on when he saves Lois Lane from a warlord out in the desert, and APPARENTLY this caused some innocent bystanders to die though we don’t ever see that, we’re just told about it – and Lois asks him straight away whether he can be both love her and be Superman, meaning would be allow others to die to save ones he loved personally or would he able to let those he loves die if it meant saving more people? It is a tough question, good enough to explore in a movie, but this whole thread gets a grand total of maybe five scenes to turn this in to some sort of character arc, which then doesn’t pay off in a way that settles this question. It also involves Superman’s Earth mom Martha Kent (Diane Lane), and she gets one whole scene with him before she gets turned into a plot device.
Then there is Bruce Wayne, who is the oldest cinematic Batman yet, as he is in his mid to late 40s, and he’s a bit of a broken Batman, more than he’s ever been in the movies. He’s gotten more violent as he’s aged, as he’s become frustrated at his overall lack of effectiveness at stopping crime in Gotham, and he’s taking his frustrations out on the criminals he comes across. He’s even seemed to have taken on the attitude that he’s fine with shooting back at bad guys who shoot at him – this is a Batman who is fine with spraying a machine gun at some fools if the situation calls for it – and Alfred helpfully points out to him that he’s becoming more cruel due to his sense of helplessness. It is an interesting interpretation of the character, borrowing heavily from Frank Miller’s “The Dark Night Returns” but also giving us a Batman who does the most amount of actual detective work since Adam West’s 1960’s Batman, and it would have been nice if they also explored the Bruce Wayne side of his persona even more, instead of just relying so heavily again on his sadness and guilt over his dead parents, because this Bruce Wayne is in an interesting place, a different one than we’ve seen before. The 90’s Bruce Waynes were all pretty well adjusted, well, you know all things considered, and the Christian Bale version of Bruce Wayne at his lowest just became depressed and morose, and here we have an angry, frustrated, white-knuckled Bruce Wayne, and it would have been interesting to see how this mentality would spill into his day-life, but instead this is barely hinted at.
And that’s because they had to cut to the little bit of Superman stuff they had (this character truly gets the titular second billing treatment, reduced to a supporting role so more time could be spent on Batman), but they also had to work in that Lois Lane stuff, and they also had to show an insane and rambling Lex Luthor going about his experiments with Kryptonian stuff and just being rather openly evil to everyone he encountered, and they also had to fine a way to introduce characters like Aquaman, the Flash and Cyborg so they could lay the groundwork for their even-bigger-superhero-team-up movie in the form of the “Justice League” movies. Now to be fair, without going in to details, they managed to work in those other characters in an interesting manner that I thought actually worked pretty well, hinting at the larger world that these characters inhabit, and it’s pretty slick.
But for everything that works in this movie, there is just as much that doesn’t, and sometimes this happens within the same moments. The best example of this is the Doomsday monster that rampages in the last third of the movie, a plot point revealed in the marketing kind of early on, and Doomsday is such a mixed bag. His initial and overall design seems lazy, because he looks like the trolls we’ve already seen in both Harry Potter movies and The Lord of the Rings movies, and it is not an inspiring look. But the way they treat the character and his powers and how he’s practically unstoppable actually works quite well, and the big action sequence involving him was pretty compelling. So the character ends up being okay but nowhere near as good as it could have been, probably because it almost feels like it was pulled from another Superman movie and then dropped in to the end of this one.
The only thing in this movie that worked 100% was the treatment of Wonder Woman, who comes out of this whole thing like a damn champ. As Diana Prince she has an allure and elegance that is very attractive and engaging, but when she finally gets in on the action and reveals her true colors of bad ass-itude, it is done in such a way as to be really cool and worthy of a character who is a 1000-year old Amazonian Warrior. Wonder Woman even has a totally boss theme song that is all metal guitars and awesome “Mad Max: Fury Road” style percussion, she is the most surprising thing to come out of this entire film. Everything about this character is great in this movie, and made me wish there was just little bit more of her.
Apparently there is a director’s cut coming out down the road that will be thirty minutes longer, and that is A LOT of time to have cut out of the film, and it is possible an entire subplot got cut out, or the scenes that make up for the lack of exploration of the many things brought into this movie. It is not like it hasn’t happened before, as both Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven” and Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen” benefited greatly from longer versions released on home video, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this extended cut of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is markedly and immediately better.
But in this current theatrical form, it is a mess of a movie, overstuffed and overcooked, which is a shame because there are so many good to great elements in this thing and some solid performances wasted, but oddly there is enough in here that actually shows some promise for future movies featuring the different characters in this film. The DC Extended Universe is off to a rocky start but the plug shouldn’t be pulled just yet. There are some things here worth salvaging.