Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Gal Gadot, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne
Screenplay by Chris Terrio and David S. Boyer
Directed by Zack Snyder
Reviewed by Paul & Patrick Gibbs
Neither our highest hopes nor our greatest fears have been realized. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is not an unqualified triumph that combines The Dark Knight with The Avengers. But it's also not an unqualified disaster that disgraces both characters. Instead, it's an extremely flawed, overlong and sometimes muddled blockbuster that also manages to be, in it's best moments, thrilling enough for fans.
For starters, whether or not you enjoy Batman v. Superman may largely depend on whether you enjoyed Man of Steel. If you completely disliked that film but were hoping for this one to make up for it, you're very unlikely to find satisfaction here. Director Zack Snyder has crafted a follow up which shares most of that film's distinctive strengths and weaknesses, including its serious tone and uneven plotting, and its tweaks to the legend of Superman (which are either intriguing or blasphemous, depending on who you talk to), and its mix of somber bleakness with hopeful optimism.
The film begins with a flashback to Man of Steel's climactic sequence, which plays even more like a comic book 9/11 here. While this is deliberate and important to the subtext of the film, it's so dead on that the sequence is uncomfortable to watch. The biggest tonal difference between Batman v. Superman and Man of Steel is that the former felt too quick to turn everything into an action sequence (which seemed to us to be overcompensating for complaints of too little action in Superman Returns), and this time Snyder seems too reluctant for much of the film to let anything develop into a fully formed action set piece. We keep feeling like we're getting set ups that almost lead to one, but then it finishes too quickly or most of the action takes place off screen. In fact the first two thirds of the film are frequently hampered by the feeling that each scene is taking too long to build to where it's going, then too quickly cuts to something else the moment it really starts to get interesting. Snyder is a fascinating director in that his films tend to succeed more on style than substance, yet not for a lack of what appears to be genuine ambition to create gripping drama that doesn't always gel. However, when the third act action takes over, Snyder is in his element, and that's when the film delivers its biggest thrills, which above all else are about the excitement of seeing these ultimate icons of superhero legend finally share the big screen.
The other MVP of the movie is actually Laurence Fishburne's Perry White, who showed potential in the first film and really delivers it here, with all of the best comedic dialogue. The interplay between White and Kent was so much fun it made us wish there was a TV series that allowed us to spend more time at the Daily Planet. Jeremy Irons is also a welcome presence as Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred, playing a version somewhere between Michael Gough's austere servant and Michael Caine's concerned father figure.
The most most divisive character may turn out to be Jesse Eisnberg's Lex Luthor, and it's certainly the one which left us the most ambivalent. Eisenberg seems to be trying to achieve the seriousness of Heath Ledger's Joker while playing it as over the top as Jim Carrey in Batman Forever. And while we have no qualms about the film departing from the version of Lex Luthor found in modern comics (a very different incarnation of the character from the Gene Hackman version we grew up on, or the bald mad scientist from the cartoons of our youth), the backstory/motivation he's given here is incredibly dark, even disturbing, and since it's given only as a throwaway reference to explain a fairly one dimensional character, it's in very bad taste as it relates to a rather serious real world horror.
Ultimately, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice left us with very mixed feelings, and most of that comes from trying to bite off and chew so much in one movie. Whereas The Avengers played like a culmination of a well-crafted setup, this plays like they decided to shift gears after Man of Steel and decided to bring back Batman and launch a shared universe as quickly as they could. It's often messy and never quite fully realizes any of its ideas, and it certainly did not need to be 2 and a half hours long (perhaps, like Snyder's heavily divisive take on Watchmen, this will play better when viewed in chapters.). But when it works, this is exciting comic book fare that gives us a teaming of the World's Finest many of us have waited all our lives to see. It's a must see for DC superhero fans, and delivers enough genuine thrills to be worth the price of admission. Here's hoping that in the future DC and Warner Bros. manage to fully crystallize the vision of what they're trying to to do the way Marvel has at it's best, and these heroes get a movie as truly super as its title characters.
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