Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – some thoughts

It can be difficult to be a fan of something and to also be objective in discussion of that thing. I’m a fan of many books, comics, games, movies, characters, music and countless other things and yet I strive to be a fair critic where I can. In the case of Superman maybe I’m not the best person to offer up any sort of review because I wear my fandom of that character on my sleeve, literally. But I shall try to be fair in talking about my thoughts since seeing the movie a few days ago.

Overall I really enjoyed this movie. It might not be a particularly great movie but it’s a whole lot of fun. If you like comics, DC comics particularly, then this movie delivers the goods. It’s not subtle, it has no finesse, the story is a mess, and major plot points are telegraphed. But good wow it’s great to watch!

The bad stuff

I’ll start with the negatives, because it’s as good a place as any. The story is almost a complete mess, jumping from one ludicrously convoluted plotline to another for about the first 75% of the movie. There are numerous threads, which in the hands of a more skilled and nuanced director and writing team may have found themselves cleverly drawn together, but in this movie they were just noise. My biggest criticism would be that there was just too much going on with too ambitious a story. I’m not arguing for something as one dimensional as a Marvel movie, but a more streamlined story would have made for a shorter run time (the movie is also over-long, by about 30 minutes) and a less jarred feeling as the movie shuffled from Batman to Superman to Lex to Lois to Wonder Woman to politics to activism to whatever the hell else was on screen.

This excessive amount of story also leads to an excessive amount of characters. There were too many given too little to do. Instead of Perry White or Alfred Pennyworth driving the background character elements or acting as the chorus they were often thrown in just to bounce back dialogue with a more important character. Amy Adams, Laurence Fishburne, and Jeremy Irons are underused and under-served. Snyder seems to have no clue about what to do with Lois Lane. Perry White is just the boss. And while Jeremy Irons delivered a delightfully more cynical and practical Alfred we were given almost no time to appreciate his contribution. Holly Hunter and Scoot McNairy were part of a whole other plot device in the film and while they were solid I think it fair to say that if the movie were edited to remove them it would not have suffered the loss.

A lot of the action and major plot points are telegraphed well in advance too. There’s a consistent hammering home to the viewer that makes you want to scream. I feel like I could have stood up and shouted “Look, they’re both called Martha, we bloody well get it, move on”. This unfortunate repetition is intrusive and again jarring from the experience. It doesn’t hamper the enjoyment of the movie but it does drag it a little close to stupidity.

My final big complaint about the movie would be that there was a ridiculous amount of telegraphing and advertising for the Justice League movie. On two or three occasions it becomes the actual focus of what’s happening on screen. Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg were all introduced as potential JL members in a rather hamfisted way. While it could be argued that their introduction could have been more subtle and natural (or comic booky as with the Flash – more on that in a moment) I think the pacing and progression of the movie would have been served by their omission.

The good stuff

There are a lot of positives though. The biggest one being Ben Affleck. While I was horrified by his casting announcement a few years ago I grew ready to see what he delivered. And oh wow did he deliver. Physically imposing and impressive he delivers an interesting turn as a Batman previously reserved for comics such as The Dark Knight Returns and All Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder. His Bruce Wayne is just a shallow mask for the Batman, a criminal vigilante driven by dark thoughts and bitterness. This Batman is a older, tougher, murderer. In a scene all but ripped from the Arkham game series and a few Dark Knight Returns panels we see a Batman delivering hard on the punishment and low on the soft touches. It is a beautifully brutal bright point of choreography and action in a movie where finesse is almost nowhere to be seen.

Henry Cavill again presents a solid Superman. A shining icon for humanity, but a tortured immigrant. This tortured behaviour is a long repetitive act carried over from Man of Steel and it is somewhat burdensome, but his hope and bravery is strongly presented and he is every inch the hero. His Clark Kent though… Well it’s poor. The duality of the character is completely lost. I believe Cavill could offer something here but I would venture a guess that it just wasn’t written in to the film.

Including Wonder Woman makes sense from a marketing and JL set up point of view. In the new era of comic book movies we finally get to see the biggest and best, and she isn’t window dressing, she’s an incredibly brave and dangerous warrior. She kicks ass! Gal Gadot looks and acts like warrior royalty, offering a glimpse of the superior and smart princess that Diana is in the comics. Her star turn comes late to the movie though. Brief appearances throughout the movie are interrupted by the twelve other plot threads and so she was yet another character shoehorned in to an overstuffed movie. Possibly my favourite ‘WTF?’ moment of the movie though occurred when she appeared on screen in her armour. The music at this point is completely and utterly insane. It makes no thematic sense, ripping you all the way out of the scene and into a moment of confusion.

Lex and Doomsday are interesting too, in their own ways. The frenetic Lex Luthor is a new approach to the character on screen and it speaks to a background we’re not given. His obsession and drive and hatred is well portrayed but the why of it all is left out. I was content to see him as a bit of a mad scientist type but so much time was wasted on pointless plot threads that he never really got a chance to shine. Doomsday, inextricably tied to Luthor, was a monster I feared was too much too soon for the universe. And he looked silly in the promo material. Turns out though that the evolving look of Doomsday worked for the character, as did his Kryptonian super powers. He was the perfect monster, and in a clever move the Zod origins allowed a mirroring of a scene from Man of Steel. Possibly the most subtle moment in a battle full of noise and confusion.

The amazing comic book stuff

There is a scene in the movie ripped all the way out of the comic books. It features The Flash and I smiled with glee as I realised what they were showing on the screen. It was also the most natural and sensible introduction to a Justice League character not starring in the movie. More of that would have been welcome.

The first thing you really see in Batman’s ‘Knightmare’ is an absolutely enormous greek Omega letter carved in to the ground. This means exactly what a DC Comics fan will think it means and is confirmed moments later with the arrival of some little beasties. It’s also doubly confirmed much later in the movie by Lex. This does bring up two issues though: was Batman having prophetic visions and why oh why did they cut out the stuff where Lex learns about what he says? Background on Lex was lost to random other stuff in the movie that could have been cut out entirely.

Alfred is pretty much a mechanic or an engineer in this outing. He fixes Batman’s stuff, much as we would expect as comic fans, and we’re given small explanations for his suit (cool), his armour (super cool), and various other little bits. My favourite was a moment where the Batman voice changer was mentioned. No Bale inspired throat ripping growl here, just a modulator, a nice touch.

Final thoughts

The critics are ripping this movie to shreds. I’ve seen one reviewer complain about hairstyles, and io9 offered an article suggesting the movie had ‘no redeeming features’. I could argue with both of those nonsensical articles but they’d be entire pieces of their own, and I haven’t got the time. The depth of hate and low scores of reviews are wildly undeserved. This is not a great, beautiful, or well crafted masterpiece. It’s a daft and mental, but incredibly fun, superhero punching session. It doesn’t retread ground like every Marvel movie, and it’s disturbingly violent in places, but it offers just enough originality and lunacy to be worth the watch.

These are not Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Lex, or Doomsday I grew up with or who I dreamed of seeing together on the big screen. But they are interesting versions of the characters and well delivered by capable actors. The biggest flaw in this movie may be Zack Snyder but if you can get past his blunt sledgehammer style of film making the DC Trinity are worth seeing together.

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