Originally to be released in 2015 but delayed for “reasons,” the biggest superhero-fighting-superhero movie is upon us! We check it out and deliver a number of voices to create a consensus among the AiPT! writing staff. Don’t forget to read our earlier review from Alyssa as well.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Warner Bros.)
It’s been nearly two years since Superman’s (Henry Cavill) colossal battle with Zod (Michael Shannon) devastated the city of Metropolis. The loss of life and collateral damage left many feeling angry and helpless, including crime-fighting billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck). Convinced that Superman is now a threat to humanity, Batman embarks on a personal vendetta to end his reign on Earth, while the conniving Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) launches his own crusade against the Man of Steel.
What We Liked
Dave: Like any movie, book, or comic, when I intend to review something I give it the benefit of the doubt. I let the film do what it wants and attempt to figure out its goals and run from there. That said, from the very start I was bored. Opening with the Batman origin we’ve seen so many times before, the film reminded us of Bruce’s parents dying…sure, it was shot in a cool way (those pearls exploding are even more traumatic!), but do we really need to see a 15 minute origin again in a movie pushing three hours? Well yes, because this moment has a huge impact on a choice Batman makes later. So tucked into something I didn’t initially like was something I did like.
Russ: Bruce’s parents getting gunned down might seem like the archetypal “beating a dead horse” scene at this point, but it proves crucial to the film — not only in having a “huge impact on a choice Batman makes later” like Dave said, but also in symbolizing Batman’s feelings towards Superman’s arrival — those same feelings of hopelessness and anguish he felt when his parents were murdered are rekindled when he sees Superman and Zod spearing each other through skyscrapers.
Dave: Another positive is a sequence where Batman takes on a bunch of goons. This is without a doubt the best Batman fight sequence ever put on screen. The way he uses strategy, his grappling hook, and all out brawls is not only realistic, but downright cool. The scene is fantastic and should make Batman fans and non-fans alike want a straight Ben Affleck Batman film.
Aside from that the big battle at the end was fantastic—especially the war theme Wonder Woman music Han Zimmer and Junkie XL dropped on us. And while it had zero surprises due to the trailer dropping and the comic book conventions taking over it was still fun. I also felt like the dream sequences (however hamfisted they were at times) helped give this movie a backbone and something to hold it all together.
Rob: I grew up on the DC cartoons of the 90s and 00s, and so my view on who these characters are and who they should be is shaped tremendously by those series. So when I got around to seeing the film, I was impressed by Ben Affleck’s performance as Bruce Wayne. His mannerisms and overall look feel like they were ripped straight from Batman: The Animated Series. In fact, all the performances here are good, even though I disagree with some of the creative decisions behind them. And this is due to Zack Snyder, who gets strong performances from the cast. Snyder gets flak for only being a “visual” director, but I think he deserves credit for the work of his players here. I’ve not been a big fan of Gal Gadot in other things, but she’s great here as Wonder Woman, and I think part of that is due to Snyder playing to her strengths as an actress.
Snyder is great at visuals though, and there’s some utterly fantastic stuff here. The highlight for me in terms of creativity was the way that a rookie cop sees Batman “scurry” along the ceiling. As someone who’s had a bat in the house before, it was incredibly accurate and frightening and captured what type of hero Batman is.
I also love the percussive score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL. I’ve seen some people criticize it for being over-the-top, but I think it’s bombastic and fun. Lex Luthor’s theme stood out to me as did Wonder Woman’s. In a film that at times seems to take itself too seriously, I’m glad the music is as entertaining and whimsical as it is.
Jordan: As a fun, dumb superhero story that pits two popular heroes against one another, I liked it (I’ve seen worse hero vs. hero stories than this by a country mile) and I feel if you go into the film with that mindset, you should enjoy it on that level. Superman felt in character enough, sans one or two points towards the end, and I really enjoyed the scenes between him and his mom or Lois. Wonder Woman made a great first impression in her first appearance on the big screen in human form (Lego form doesn’t count). She felt powerful, smart, and really contributed to the big fight at the end, so fans of her should enjoy this.
As for judging it on a movie level, it felt competent enough. Editing seemed fine to me, acting was good across the board with Ben Affleck standing out the most in giving a strong and dark performance for Batman, the music felt tonally appropriate and got you pumped at the right times (loved the music cues for Wondy’s appearances), and some of the emotional moments got to me and felt just right (like the ending). The biggest strength the film had going for it was the action, which looked great and was just downright thrilling. It felt a lot better than Man of Steel, was easy to follow, and you could feel the impact in every blow. I especially love Batman’s big moment when dealing with a bunch of thugs, which brought back some memories to Big Daddy’s warehouse fight in Kick-Ass.
Dog: I didn’t see this until the second weekend, and as the movie began to unfold, I thought, “This isn’t so bad.” The street-level views of the Man of Steel destruction were actually pretty riveting. Good portrayal of what would be, realistically, the absolute horror of living in a superhero universe. Is that what we want to see on film, though? Especially from a character roster that was, until recently, the shiniest and happiest of all?
Wonder Woman looked great, like everyone says. The action scenes at the end were powerful and well-shot, showing off just how impressive Superman can be.
Russ: Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is one of my favorite Batman stories, so when I heard that TDKR would be a defining influence on the film, I was stoked; Snyder takes his fair share of flak, but one area where he excels is in his ability to conjure an aesthetic and ambiance with utmost precision; from the casting to the sets to the costume design to the iconic shot of Superman being nuked to the glowing eyes on Batman’s power-suit, Snyder masterfully actualizes the look and feel of the The Dark Knight Returns. From a visual standpoint, this film is a powerhouse.
Ben Affleck is a solid, top-tier Batman — with another film or two under the cowl, he could quite possibly be the best one ever. The prospect of that solo Batfleck film now got me like.
Snyder takes flak for deviating from “what a superhero film should be,” but that doesn’t make his approach wrong. Batman and Superman (and some of the other Justice League founding members) are characters that have endured so remarkably that they’ve forged a contemporary mythology. And just as the ancient myths and tragedies scrutinized and analyzed the heroes and gods with regards to societal and moral issues of the time, so too should we attempt to explore our modern day analogues in the same vein.
The dream sequences were well-done; Batman peering out at the of the post-apocalyptic wasteland with Darkseid’s Omega symbol scrawled in the sand was one of my favorite sequences from the film and coupled with the devastation of the city during the opening sequence and the repercussions it had on others — evoked a strong sense of dread and gravitas that the Marvel movies often don’t. (Those Parademons too — unnerving as hell.)
What We Didn’t Like
Dave: The music was all over the place and in most cases doing more to tell us what was happening and what we should feel than any of the dialogue or visuals. This was a very telling element as it became clear Zack Snyder spent more time establishing a fantastic shot than imbuing any sense of character or meaning into the picture. Batman and Superman go through this movie with very little emotion and very little contextual setup for why they feel the way they do. Superman doesn’t like vigilante justice, Batman doesn’t like that Superman destroyed much of Metropolis, and neither of them spend more than two seconds coming to these conclusions. Later, when Batman is destroying Metropolis you have to wonder if he realizes how much of a hypocrite he really is. The dramatic and contextual context enhancement the music delivered was way too much and proves this movie was light on character and story.
Another big element that stunk up the place was Batman actually wanting to kill Superman. Let’s forget the age old argument that, “Batman doesn’t kill”, and look at this from a story perspective. When you’re watching them beat each other senseless who do you root for? It plays like one of those awkward moment films like Meet the Parents where you’re cringing the whole time hoping the embarrassing scene will end already. They fight, but you know it’s just a misunderstanding. On top of that, the film does nothing to make you think Batman might have any second thoughts or doubts about killing Superman. It’s especially groan-inducing when you see Superman is just trying to reason with him the whole time. Batman comes off as a hot-headed madman and proves he is the very thing he fears. Earlier in the film he tells Alfred there’s no telling if Superman could go mad and kill the entire planet and then later we see Batman do that very thing – coming inches from killing Superman. It’s incredibly frustrating from a character development perspective, but it’s set up so poorly the entire endeavor is weak and unbelievable. The fact is, this entire movie was being sold as the fight of the century and they didn’t even do it in a believable or fun way.
I’d get into why Batman changed his mind about killing Superman, but that’s so dumb (and becoming a funny meme on the internet recently) I won’t even touch it.
Russ: I disagree with the salt levels being so high regarding Batman killing in this movie: “But Batman never kills people,” right? Except in the original Batman with Michael Keaton. Batman Returns too, where he straps a fucking bundle of dynamite to a fat clown’s chest. Even in the Nolan trilogies he killed: He tossed League of Shadows assailants from fire escapes. He left Ra’s al Ghul to die on a derailed train. He shot Talia’s driver… and Talia.
If you thought that was only movie Batman, well — you’d be wrong. Batman has killed in the comics as well, and not only in his first few appearances.
Why is it okay to cherry-pick and categorize the deaths caused by Snyder’s iteration of Batman as the work of some callous, frothing at the mouth maniac that Snyder “just didn’t capture the soul of” when Batman v Superman is actually the first Batman film where there are justifiable reasons behind this ostensible savagery and disregard for human life?
“Twenty Years in Gotham. How many good guys are left?” This is a Batman two decades into the job. He’s seen some shit. Shit like, oh, I don’t know…
Robin dying? The Robin Suit graffitied by the Joker evinces the fact that BvS’s Batman is one that has suffered the death of Robin — a defining moment in the character’s life that ranks right up there with the murder of his parents. What effect would this have had on a guy like Batman? Hardening him to the point where he will not set out with the intent to kill, but take out dangerous criminals strategically/in justifiable self-defense?
Which brings us to the fact that Batman was so willing to kill Superman and how it’s a notion that isn’t so farfetched. This is a Batman that has been psychologically upset in grievous ways. When Superman shows up on the scene, this is exacerbated to the point where Batman sees himself as destined to remove an alien entity that has demonstrably shown itself to be perhaps the biggest threat to humanity ever. This was the crux of Batman’s narrative: He doesn’t see Superman as Clark Kent, farmboy from Kansas; he sees him as an unstable demi-god, alien invader in journalist’s clothing.
It’s a jarring change because it’s a vast departure from the ideology of the Nolan trilogy, where it was made clear that Batman, deep down, believes in the inherent good of people. He captures criminals instead of killing them because he believes humanity can and will strive to be better. In Batman v Superman, that outlook has changed; here his ideology ironically aligns with one of his greatest villains, R’as al Ghul — he is a Batman who has lost hope and has altered his modus operandi accordingly.
Do I agree with Batman gunning down random thugs while he’s in his Bat-vehicles? It’s not my ideal notion of Batman, no. I would have liked to have seen rubber bullets a la The Dark Knight Returns, or more gadgets that incapacitate rather than kill, like the devices he uses to render guns useless in the Martha Kent saving warehouse scene, but the reasons for Batman being over the edge in this film are definitely there, despite the complaints.
Rob: The characterization of Superman here is… questionable to say the least. Part of this is a natural progression from Man of Steel, but I was really hoping they’d take Superman into a brighter and more confident direction than they did here. He also needs to work on his observational skills. Multiple plot points hinge on him not noticing people leaving the scene. Additionally, characters throughout the film suffer from plot-induced stupidity. The titular fight could have easily been avoided had either character tried talking, or if Batman would have just been a detective for half a second and investigated the senate hearing and discovered the bomb remains. And, for the record, I know Superman tried “talking” it out, but maybe he should try using his super voice to talk to Batman from a distance. We know he has that power from the previous film. But perhaps the most egregious example of the stupidity that plagues the characters comes from the film’s climax where (MAJOR ENDING SPOILERS) Superman dies because he didn’t just hand off the Kryptonite spear to Wonder Woman, aka the only hero that’s really been getting hits in on Doomsday up to that point. It’s just dumb and it ruined what should have been an emotional moment for me. There’s a lot more I could get into, but those were the bigger moments.
The editing of the film feels all over the place. The inclusion of the Wayne murders feels completely unnecessary, but it also fell flat for me as the start of the film. I think simply opening on Bruce as he struggles through Metropolis would have been more effective. Most of the film feels this way, and ultimately it feels like an assemblage of scenes from two different movies. I honestly don’t know if the extended cut will help with that or if it will exacerbate the problem.
Russ: At face value, Superman’s characterization does come off a bit “questionable” like Rob said; this is not sunshine and lollipops comic book Superman from the John Byrne ‘80s nor is it the “smirk and a wink” Christopher Reeves Superman from the oft-lauded original Superman films. Watching Superman mope around and profess feelings of self-doubt scene after scene after scene — yeah, it gets old real quick.
Thematically however, this is the direction Man of Steel was building towards. Man of Steel featured allusions to Superman as a messianic, Christ-like figure and that symbolism becomes even more prevalent in BvS.
When seen through this lens, scenes such as Superman heading off to the mountains to speak with the apparition of his father before he sacrifices himself against Doomsday become less “Do we really need to see Superman having the same emo conversation three times in a row?” and more of a parallel to Jesus communing with his father at Gethsemane, the garden at the foot of Mount Olives in Jerusalem. (The conversation between Pa Kent and Superman is even about how Pa had to cause a massive flood to save his farm, just as God flooded the world to save it.) Towards the film’s climax, as Batman, Wonder Woman and Lois stare at Superman’s dead body you can see two crosses in the background, just as Christ was crucified with two thieves on separate crosses.
There are other biblical references, including pretty much every conversation with Lex Luthor (“God must be either all-loving or all-powerful”, not both and “’God is tribal; God takes sides!), Luthor creating Doomsday (a devil analogue) with his own blood and Kryptonian technology to combat God (just one of the viewpoints of how a messianic figure would be received in contemporary society — would we revile and try to destroy that which we feared was too powerful instead of worshipping?) and the interesting choice of the Kryptonite Spear (a spear is used to deliver the killing blow to Jesus during the Crucifixion). I’m not the most religious person, but I found these parallels fascinating nonetheless as they also give us a greater understanding of Snyder’s creative process/what he was trying to accomplish.
Jordan: As much as I enjoyed myself, there was a bunch of problems. For comic book fans, the portrayal of Batman here is going to raise a lot of eyebrows. I didn’t mind him being more brutal and violent when fighting criminals, since he is going to very dark place during the course of the film, but he went above and beyond that by killing a lot of people. Whether it be by his hand or just setting them up to be killed by something else, like in that chase sequence where cars with thugs in them are thrown all about, he’s got a bigger body count in this film than in the original Tim Burton films. Also, he’s very easily manipulated into fighting Superman, which doesn’t fit how smart of a character Batman is usually. But besides that, Lex Luthor didn’t come across as intimidating or smart as he usually is in the comics or even the cartoons. While I don’t mind movie going for a different approach with the character, I just don’t think Jesse Eisenberg sold it as well as he could have, especially with some of the silly sounding dialogue the character had.
Then there’s the story itself. The movie is crammed with a lot of storylines and characters—more than enough for two whole movies. There are the mercenaries and Lois investigating them, the Congressional hearings and debates about Superman, Batman’s desire to take down Superman, the entire climax in and of itself, Wonder Woman’s role in the film, and more. There’s a bit too much going on and I really feel the movie should have either cut some of them or moved them into another film. Amy Adams as Lois Lane gave a good performance, but her entire character felt completely useless to the film. She really does not affect anything in the story and frustratingly, there are several moments where she could have made a difference or been used well, like in the climactic battle between Batman and Superman where she could have done more to convince Batman that Superman was good or something. Finally, there are also a couple of moments that don’t make much sense in the script and the 3D, which is the version of the film I saw, was not all that good. Some parts looked fine, but most of the time conversion looked off or you could barely tell 3D was used at all.
Dog: I’m not bothered by the bleakness. I didn’t grow up with DC characters and I have no emotional stake in how they’re portrayed. So the doom and gloom decision doesn’t faze me, but you can’t get past the fact that this wasn’t, pursuant to Dave’s point, a movie. Seriously. It was random things happening strung along with bits of rancorous dialogue. Everyone seemed to be mad at everyone else for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, because after the first outburst, we’d be on to the next two-minute scene at a party, or a hearing, or a spaceship, or a cave, or I don’t even know where.
The “film” also suffers from Iron Man 2 Syndrome; i.e. so much time is spent setting up later movies that this feels more like an advertisement than a story. Of course the plot holes don’t help, either. Spoilers ahead, but why didn’t they just dunk him in the same vat that reanimated Zod? Did Batman forget he had that second gas grenade until the very end? Why does Superman need to breathe on Earth? Why does he NOT need to breathe in space? Why did it look like AQUAMAN had to hold his breath UNDERWATER? Didn’t Wonder Woman realize Batman would see that photo when she asked him to decrypt the fucking data? Does the Flash WANT Darkseid to come to Earth? And yes, everyone’s already made hay off of Batman’s stunning realization that Superman has parents and did not, in fact, bud off another Superman, like yeast.
Russ: As much as I enjoyed the early portions of the film where Batman/Bruce Wayne is doing actual detective work to eventually procure the Kryptonite from Lex, we still have yet to see a Batman that is as truly methodical, analytical and tactically brilliant as we’ve seen him in the animated series and the comic books — where he’s hailed as the “World’s Greatest Detective.” Some more insight into how he prepared strategy-wise for the Superman fight or even a brief scene inside the Cave where he’s preparing for every possible outcome of the fight or analyzing ways to potentially incapacitate Superman on the Bat-Computer would have added interesting insight into his infamous “prep time” adroitness. Also, how about more of an explanation of how the Power-Suit worked? We’re given a much better glimpse at why the Suit makes him capable of tanking some of Superman’s attacks in The Dark Knight Returns animated film, and a brief scene showing the Suit’s efficiency tacked onto Affleck’s Crossfit training montage would have been a nice addition.
The whole Doomsday act didn’t work for me either; by that point in the film, and after the Batman vs. Superman showdown that included near death for both of the title characters, the inclusion of Doomsday seemed almost superfluous. Sure, the climactic battle that brought Wonder Woman into the fray looked cool and all — but relegating Doomsday, a villain whose importance and notoriety on the DC Villain Scale ranks very, very high, to the final act of the film with minimal build-up irked me. An entire movie could have easily centered around Doomsday as a villain, as he’s capable of taking on the entire Justice League itself — so why he wasn’t saved for a later film seems like a misstep. I can see the shock effect Snyder was going for, but it just wasn’t my bag.
That being said, I can see why many critics didn’t like the movie — its melancholic tone isn’t balanced out by much levity and in a superhero film, especially one starring Superman, that can be a lot to swallow. If you’re a fan of the DC animated universe, especially the excellent The New Batman/Superman Adventures and Justice League series, then you’ve seen Batman and Superman meeting for the first time and the JL forming in a very mature, yet commensurately whimsical way — and you’re likely wondering, like myself, why some more of these playful attributes weren’t included. How fun would it have been to see Batman place a tracking device on Superman’s cape to find out he’s Clark Kent like this scene for instance?
Dave: Ultimately this was a great spectacle film and how a traditional blockbuster should be. The character development was light, the plot was weak, but the action was big and the stakes were very high. The problem is superhero movies haven’t been this big and dumb since X-Men 3 or Superman Returns. It feels unfinished and largely a boring experience if you want more than spectacle, but if you can forget all that and let this movie do what it wants, warts and all, it’s not a complete waste.
Rob: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a bit of a mess. It’s by no means an awful film, but it also isn’t a good one. There are gems of genius in there, but they get muddled by some poor character and plotting decisions. Whether or not you’ll enjoy this film will depend on how able you are to forgive its shortcomings and how beholden you are to your interpretation of these characters. There are almost objective flaws to the way that this film is put together, and that can be compounded if you don’t agree with the way the characters are being portrayed. Ultimately, I’d recommend waiting for this to come on home media and borrowing it from a friend.
Jordan: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is not as bad of a movie as people make it out to be. Most of the acting was good, the action was enjoyable, there are some strong moments, and Wonder Woman made a good first impression here. However, some of the characters’ portrayals weren’t great, Lois Lane was wasted, and there were problems with the script and story. I would recommend checking this out, but only if you can see it cheaply in the theaters or just at home. No need to rush out to see it.
Dog: Ironically, given the ownership, the whole thing was like being rushed through one of those Disney World animatronic rides, but, like, while it’s being maintenanced? Bunch of robotic one-liners and signs hanging off the incomplete bits reading, “Under repair — content to be added later.”
Russ: If you hear anyone say Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice “ruined” the respective characters’ franchises or is one of the worst superhero movies ever made or [insert melodramatic statement about Batman and Superman being damaged beyond repair here]: they’re full of shit.
Was BvS: Dawn of Justice a great movie? No, but it wasn’t a terrible one either.
Despite the pacing issues, the shoehorning of the Justice League setup, the strange decision to include a character as notorious as Doomsday and what he’s famous for in a final third of the movie instead of an entire film, and Snyder’s notions of Batman and Superman deviating from what some fans would consider their idealized versions — the movie did keep me entertained. As crazy as this sounds, the movie actually gives me hope moving forward. Like Rob said, “There’s gems of genius in there” — and I agree. I think DC will learn from their missteps with BvS, accentuate/build upon some of those elements that truly shined and put the pieces together in vastly improved form next time around. The film is worth the price of admission, especially for comic book fans looking for something a little different than the standard Marvel movie formula.