The final scene of Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice honestly goes on for about 10 minutes too long. Perhaps it’s awkwardly edited, or I just could feel that the film is about to end, but it just takes too long to wrap up. Yet, where these characters are at the end of the film is so exciting and full of potential that I didn’t care. What might happen next could be awesome, and with just a bit of course correction, the DC Extended Universe could soon be as good as Marvel’s films for different reasons entirely. And that alone is worth checking out. BVS isn’t perfect. It has its flaws, some of which feel like the fault of the director, more of which feel like those of the studio. But there’s an incredibly rock solid foundation for this franchise going forward, there could even be something great. But not yet.
Batman V. Superman takes place 18 months after Man Of Steel’s controversial Metropolis-set showdown. The world is reacting accordingly to the presence of Superman (Henry Cavill). The general public has mixed opinions which go from viewing him as godlike to hating him. One man, a billionaire from sister city Gotham, feels particularly threatened by Superman, and makes it his mission to stop him. Of course, this is Batman, played to perfection by Ben Affleck. The Caped Crusader is working to find a silver bullet for the Kryptonian. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor, the ostentatious upstart billionaire from Metropolis is pulling strings behind the scenes that affects both of these heroes.
From the start audiences need to understand going in that this is a different take on your classic heroes. These are post 9/11 and heavily inspired by Frank Miller versions of Batman and Superman. Affleck, in particular, delivers a wholly unique Batman unlike all who have come before. This universe is darker and more mature. And yet, it doesn’t feel forced. The citizens of Metropolis have all lived through an event that dwarves our real world analog of 9/11 in terms of destruction and lives lost. Unlike The Avengers, that’s not something easily forgotten with a glib remark. And like reality, it’s our politicians who seem to spearhead any attempt to rationalize the forces we face. There are ramifications and consequences for the actions of heroes in this world. Predictably there are less than noble intentions across the board. This contrasts harshly with the more optimistic and fun MCU – and that’s perfectly fine. There’s room for both interpretations, and we shouldn’t fault this film for going in different directions. It may not be as fun (though there are plenty of great jokes) but it’s just as interesting to watch, just for different reasons.
So yes this version of Batman destroys things. This Superman is learning the value of human life, and still identifying his place in the world. This Martha Kent cares more for her son’s wellbeing than putting him on a pedestal to save all humanity. This Alfred is snarkier and more involved. All of this is good. If Ben Affleck was doing his best Christian Bale this movie would have been infinitely more boring. In a few years, or by the time we get another DCEU reboot, we’ll look back and appreciate the Zack Snyder-verse for if nothing else, giving us something different.
It’s clear Zack Snyder heard the criticisms of Man Of Steel and addressed them, which I appreciate. Superman this time around does help people more, and the showy action set pieces take place far removed from where millions of innocent civilians are. It’s a response to external and internal criticism. But that seemingly wanton destruction does leave Superman’s image prone to manipulation which is exactly what Lex Luthor does. Luthor is played by Jesse Eisenberg, who seems to mesh together Mark Zuckerberg with Heath Ledger’s Joker. Eisenberg’s performance is going to rankle a lot of people. This isn’t the stone-cold ideological opposite of Superman. He’s an insecure and overly ambitious Luthor, who is rich and frustrated. His performance is goofy, but it never went overboard for me. I bought it the entire time though I know it’s going to be a sore point for many viewers. Again, look at this as its own interpretation. Because this Luthor is smarter and more manipulative than he initially appears.
But where Luthor will fizzle out for some, they’ll find redemption in Diana Price, aka Wonder Woman. Former Israeli model turned actress Gal Gadot utterly kills it as Wonder Woman. Snyder deserves credit for making Diana Prince interesting and intriguing as a person long before she ever dons the gauntlets. Her scenes with Bruce Wayne have an electricity that’s utterly perfect. She’s on an equal playing field the entire time, and seeing how effortlessly Snyder did this should be a wakeup call to Marvel who 12 films later have yet to deliver a female lead this awesome. And when Gadot gets into the action, it somehow is even better. I never really cared about Wonder Woman, but now hers is a film we need yesterday. The newly released still from the film also reinforces that the character is going to be done justice – no pun intended.
Affleck also kills it as Batman, and seamlessly fits into the role. This isn’t a version we’ve seen before, which is great. You won’t be comparing him to what’s come before, but you also can’t in good conscience claim he is the best Batman. At this point we have so many iterations that liking one version is more a preference of what kind of Batman story you appreciate. Affleck’s Crusader gets the best detective work of them all yet, and his chemistry with Alfred (Jeremy Irons who kills it) is as electric and pitch-perfect as it is with Wonder Woman. He also fights with a rage and capability that the most violent renditions before have never come close to.
The characters in the film work. They’re not conventional but as a whole they work. Luthor may initially feel goofy, but in context, he is more psychotic and seething with ambition – which would explain his ticks. Our heroes when they do finally team up at the end also work together perfectly. Nobody steals the show (except maybe Wonder Woman) but seeing them fight together does have the balance and give and take we’d expect. Batman is clearly human and fights as if he has a mortality to protect. Wonder Woman fights like she’s fought this way before, and Superman embodies pure brute force. It’s as balanced as any Marvel team up and works from the start.
And for the first hour and a half, this movie does the characters justice. The trailers give way too much away, but while the overall beats are there, there is enough subtlety that can be missed. And most of this will come back to Lex Luthor. But when the heroes inevitably meet for their showdown the movie loses direction and cohesion. The third act of the film has too many rushed elements. Lois Lane, in particular, feels like her thought process is that of someone not nearly as smart as she is. The fights are awesome but truncated. And the Justice League elements are horribly done. To say it feels shoehorned in is an understatement. The scene of the other JL members is so far out of place and it detracts from the pacing.
Which is also the film’s weakest element – the pacing loses its way in the end. And yet, the more I think about the film, the more I anticipate that the problem isn’t that it’s too long, but that it might not be long enough. We know there is a Director’s Cut coming to blu-ray with an extra 30 minutes of footage. And some of that I imagine would make things flow better. Who knows why elements were cut and what the studio mandated, but it’s clear that once a bigger picture was being introduced that the film truly lost focus.
But what you do get more than makes up for it. The fight scenes are incredible, and DC and Warner Brothers don’t have the problem with rubbery CGI that has plagued recent Marvel outings. And Snyder’s visuals are given room to breathe. In particular, I want very much to revisit the Knightmare sequence as there is so much there to digest. Most importantly, Snyder recognizes the operatic nature of the comic book source material. Whereas the Marvel films feel more episodic these movies go for the ultimate threat from the start. Years ago I would have been on my soapbox preaching that the character dynamics of The Avengers work so well because that relationship was earned over five films. But Snyder makes these relationships work from the start. We’re hitting the ground running, and perhaps DC benefits from the popular culture establishment Marvel has laid the groundwork for over the past eight years. Either way, Snyder and WB have made the most of where audiences are. No time is wasted. We do see Batman’s origin again, but we don’t waste time seeing him become the fighter. Instead we see that critical moment, but afterwards, it’s a fact that Bruce Wayne is Batman.
The only truly wasted scenes are anything that sets up the Justice League outside of Wonder Woman or Batman. After this movie, the Wonder Woman and Ben Affleck directed Batman movies are now must haves, whereas Flash and Aquaman films still feel unnecessary. I’d be for a universe that is smaller in character focus but larger scale in everything else. But I reserve the right to be proven wrong.
The problems of Batman V. Superman feel more like disappointments, moments of “You almost had it” as opposed to scenes of “What the hell am I watching?” It handles some elements perfectly but will also leave non-diehard fans scratching their heads. It nails newcomers such as Batman and Wonder Woman, but leaves me unexcited for other Justice League films. It shortchanges characters like Lois Lane but leaves you wanting more from people like Alfred. Lex Luthor is odd at first glance, but maybe if he had a bit more room and was toned down slightly, this would be a genius translation of the character. It addresses criticisms of Man Of Steel but creates new problems. Maybe the Justice League films will make this film better in retrospect. But if your mindset is right, the characters will be compelling enough. The action will amaze you. Batman alone is a fearsome monster (but the editing of his best fight is still choppy). Wonder Woman and Superman look incredible in a way that would have felt CGI-y done elsewhere. Snyder is a master of the visual but doesn’t quite have the content to back it up. It’s a film ultimately that you want to be better because you know it can be. But for now, more Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman is more than enough. These films will be released until long after I die, so make the most of what you have. There’s more to love than you might initially realize.
It's not perfect...yet.7
Acting score 8
Story score 7
Music & SFX score 9