As much as Batman and Superman have both enjoyed separate cinematic careers in their own movie franchises, the two spend quite a lot of time together in DC Comics lore, often as allies, but also as begrudging frenemies with vastly different heroic dispositions and philosophies. DC even pioneered the idea of comic book crossovers many decades ago, when they started a comic series, World’s Finest Comics, back in 1941, which was simply about Batman and Superman hanging out together, pairing up to fight crime, and yes, sometimes squabbling. When this idea eventually incorporated other high-profile DC superheroes like Wonder Woman, The Flash and Green Lantern, it would go on in the 1950’s to serve as the basis for DC’s top superhero ensemble even today, the Justice League.
Given the enormous amount of heritage between Batman and Superman teaming up in the printed panels, it’s kind of amazing that it’s taken until 2016 to get the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel sharing a movie together. At long last though, we now have Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hitting theatres, the long-awaited sequel to 2013’s frequently-contested Man of Steel, and the first proper expansion of DC’s shared movie universe, the DC Extended Universe. The hype for Batman v Superman has pretty well been endless too, with merchandise, trailers and other such marketing for the movie being all over the place since last year, which is appropriate, since a huge chunk of the DC Extended Universe’s early appeal hinges on this movie, the first time that Batman and Superman have appeared together in the same movie.
As you can imagine, this makes Batman v Superman a grand and spectacular experience that’s hard not to geek out over, and being one of the biggest movie releases of 2016, it definitely doesn’t disappoint in terms of thrills and scale!… Which is why it’s very frustrating that this is all that the movie seems to provide with consistent success. Batman v Superman is frequently dragged down by a sloppy, often overly convoluted storyline that has the whole affair feeling like a beautiful mess of ideas. It’s easy on the eyes, but ultimately draining on the brain, and in the end, this has DC still struggling to adequately compete with the juggernaut of their competitor, Marvel in the movie space.
That said however, is Batman v Superman as bad as some critics and fanboys are claiming it is? Absolutely not. It’s not even close to DC’s worst movie, and in several respects, it does slightly improve on some of the shakier elements of Man of Steel, even if it also introduces some new shaky elements too. If you were wondering, or somehow hoping, that Batman v Superman would be an unmitigated disaster that would sink the entire DC Extended Universe before it gets off the ground, that’s not what the movie ultimately is. This is more of a frustratingly uneven movie than a truly bad one, and it nonetheless demands to be experienced on the big screen due to how action-packed and visually stunning it is at the very least, even if one should probably still approach it with tempered expectations.
There are tons of characters at play in Batman v Superman, and honestly, the cast does vary in appeal a little bit, due to the scattered nature of the storytelling and direction. This is especially true when Batman v Superman incorporates some characters that only seem to serve to tease the crossover Justice League movies to come, and I’ll get to them in a moment.
Some of the faces will no doubt be familiar from Man of Steel, namely the Superman cast like Amy Adams’ Lois Lane, Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White, Diane Lane’s Martha Kent, and of course, Henry Cavill’s Superman. Since they’ve already played their parts in establishing Superman in Man of Steel, Lois, Perry and Martha don’t do nearly as much in Batman v Superman, which may disappoint some Superman enthusiasts. Martha Kent is more or less a plot device that is tossed in late in the movie, Lois Lane is a plot device that simply bumbles around every now and again throughout the movie, and Perry White basically shows up to make self-aware wisecracks at the Daily Planet, which is one of the only times that Batman v Superman pleasantly lightens up a bit. Yes, if the frequently brooding, moody cast of Man of Steel got on your nerves, then you’ll be annoyed to know that their mopey emotional state hasn’t really changed in Batman v Superman.
Cavill’s Superman has definitely gained some added appeal in Batman v Superman though. Now outed to the world after his destructive showdown with General Zod during the climax of Man of Steel, Superman finds himself the unrelenting subject of controversy, as some of the population embraces him, while others fear and hate him for his god-like abilities. The way that the movie continues to portray a more grounded and uncertain Superman is very effective, and Batman v Superman does push this character arc forward effectively, as all of Superman’s heroics come at a cost, and that cost weighs on him. Superman is good, and he is trying to do the right thing and use his powers to protect humanity, but sometimes, all people see is the mess, or the presence of an unwelcome alien, and he can’t change that, no matter how many lives he saves. Cavill is of course still mighty and imposing in the part, and while he’s still a questionable Clark Kent that isn’t disguised very well in this canon, he’s still a pretty cool Superman, especially when Batman v Superman effectively derives some good political and social commentary from his character.
For most of the movie’s first act however, we instead see things from the perspective of Bruce Wayne/Batman, as this sequel starts introducing the Dark Knight of the DC Extended Universe. Despite many people being worried about Ben Affleck’s casting, he’s actually the biggest strength of Batman v Superman, and is sure to be a new favourite big screen Batman amongst superhero enthusiasts! Grizzled, cynical and uncompromising, Affleck’s Batman has been skulking the alleys of Gotham City, fighting criminals for around two decades now, and is considered to be an urban legend by most of the city’s population. His Batman is a lot more dark and lethal than prior big screen portrayals, with the one sticking point to Affleck’s version of the character being that he’s all too happy to murder criminals, which kind of deflates some of the moral struggle that makes Batman so appealing in most other DC media.
Even then though, Affleck’s performance is fantastic, and will definitely leave the naysayers with their feet in their mouths! Embodying both the rich boy charm and the unyielding subconscious rage that defines the best of Bruce Wayne’s character, Affleck’s portrayal carries the required added weight and gravitas to fit firmly in with the other DC Extended Universe personalities. Even being one of the darkest Batman incarnations yet on the big screen, Affleck is also very charismatic, and has sublime chemistry with Henry Cavill, especially when they trade blows and debate ideologies.
Affleck’s Batman is also incredibly vicious, being legitimately believable as a dark hero that people would reasonably mistake for a demon, but also badass to the point of firmly putting even Michael Keaton and Christian Bale to shame in that department. One of the best scenes in Batman v Superman showcases Affleck’s Batman taking out a confined room full of thugs with extreme prejudice to rescue a hostage, and sports some of the most hard-hitting, speedy and glorious choreography that Batman has ever been blessed with! If you can get past the lethal force, which has Batman operating more like The Punisher than a dark street-level Superman in this shared universe, then this is one of the best big screen Batman portrayals to date, easily!
Beyond Superman and Batman, Batman v Superman has a bit of a mixed supporting cast of new faces. Again though, the actors you probably doubted are the ones that actually have the best and most appealing performances in the movie. Jeremy Irons’ Alfred Pennyworth is a predictable highlight however, whose imposing demeanour, hands-on attitude and dry wit have him actively participating in Bruce’s nightly crusades in a sort of Oracle-esque role. Irons’ Alfred is also a more neutral and grounded presence that isn’t afraid to bluntly speak his mind though, and is the sole voice keeping Bruce’s paranoia about Superman in check. He could have used a tad more screentime, but what we got with Alfred is still plenty appealing here.
There was a fair bit of doubt surrounding the casting of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, but as with Affleck in the role of Batman, Gadot is pretty awesome in the role! She’s an extraordinary Amazon woman who has lived for centuries, and manages to convey that incredible weight of several lifetimes on Diana Prince’s shoulders, though also with sort of an exotic, playful edge that balances her feeling strong, independent, and just the right degree of sexy. Gadot’s dynamic with Affleck is particularly enjoyable, with the two having a sort of heroes’ flirtation in their shared study of metahuman events that have come to light from Superman’s appearance.
You don’t actually see Gadot’s Diana don her Wonder Woman clothes and arsenal until the climax, but it’s definitely a cool moment when she, Affleck and Cavill stand in frame together, ready to take on the big bad guy! Oh, and speaking of which, as the marketing revealed, monstrous mutant Superman villain, Doomsday is in Batman v Superman, and he is literally treated as a simple excuse to unite Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman for the climax, and nothing else. The fight with Doomsday is mind-blowing and absolutely amazing, but his character is yet another plot device that simply feels tossed in out of nowhere, to serve as a transparent excuse for a fight.
Speaking of transparent excuses, yes, you do see cameos from future Justice League movie personalities, The Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman in Batman v Superman (there is no reference to Shazam or Green Lantern, beyond the ‘Carrie Ferris’ character that returns from Man of Steel who already slightly teases Green Lantern), and all of them are dumped into a hilariously obvious sequel setup that Bruce and Diana share in one scene. Ezra Miller’s Flash actually gets two cameos, though both serve as obvious sequel setup, and will probably just confuse people who aren’t DC fans that already have a big stake in the progression of the DC Extended Universe. Objectively, the cameos are cool and make for neat teases of what’s to come in this shared universe, but they also feel pointless and awkwardly tossed in, as if Batman v Superman is so focused on looking ahead to future movies that it forgets to actually refine itself and enjoy where it’s at in the universe’s timeline. Frankly, Batman v Superman sometimes gets a little carried away with setting up Justice League movies, and this is an issue in a movie that already feels rather overstuffed with its cast.
Even if the cast is overstuffed though, it never feels like it’s truly bad. The only semi-weak link among the roster feels like Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, the one bit of casting that DC fans might have been a bit justified in worrying about. Eisenberg’s twitchy, unstable portrayal of a more boyish Lex is decent, and the character at least has the required sense of grand, Machiavellian brilliance that Superman’s arch-nemesis demands. Eisenberg’s Lex is also occasionally annoying and overplayed though, and sometimes feels like he actually has more in common with The Joker, if The Joker was a high-powered businessman, than a recognizable Lex Luthor personality. In the end, Eisenberg’s Lex is acceptable, if you keep an open mind, and he’s more effectively dangerous than you would think at first glance, though he also doesn’t feel like he measures up to highlight Lex Luthor actors like Clancy Brown or Michael Rosenbaum.
If you’re an open-minded DC fan, or simply appreciate thrilling action blockbusters, you’ll have fun with the personalities on display, even if the movie comes off as heavy-handed and sloppy with how it structures some of them. More casual moviegoers might feel a little overwhelmed by the already weighty scale of the DC Extended Universe here though, which feels like it’s carelessly being dropped onto them with the weight of a ten-ton anvil in Batman v Superman. Taken individually, most of the movie’s personalities are good, and the heroes especially no doubt have great things ahead of them in the DC Extended Universe movies to come, though it would have been nice if this movie wasn’t frantically trying to see how much Justice League setup it could get away with in just under three hours, which might have resulted in more refinement with the character arcs and how they come together.
Ohhhh, boy. Here we come to the big Achilles’ Heel with Batman v Superman; The storyline. Like I said, Batman v Superman too often acts like it wants to be a nearly three-hour trailer for the Justice League movies, as opposed to its own confident standalone offering. When it relaxes a bit, and focuses on developing ongoing storylines with Batman, Superman and Lex Luthor, the movie is a lot more enjoyable. Even the handful of Wonder Woman appearances are used pretty judiciously, having her play an important role, though wisely making sure that she doesn’t overtake the two title heroes in this particular movie.
The major issue with this storyline though is that it’s a complete mess. Batman v Superman is constantly all over the place, routinely losing focus, and getting too far lost in future movies that won’t hit theatres until next year, at minimum! There’s no structure to the rate that the movie just awkwardly jumps between its various sides, with Superman’s and Batman’s storylines barely flowing together at all, and Lex Luthor only providing a loose excuse to string it all together for the third act. Even if the fundamental character of Lex is… fine, and certainly feels like a credible baddie to the necessary extent, Lex’s motivations are often confusing and inconsistent, with the excuse to have Batman and Superman fight as the movie’s centerpiece before the climax feeling, frankly, a bit flimsy and forced. It feels like the movie is already tipping its hand to the fact that Lex’s actions are probably being puppet-mastered by someone or something else, which somewhat deflates Lex’s otherwise impressive menace as Superman’s greatest foe here.
The other major issue with Batman v Superman is that, beyond its handful of highlight scenes, most of the movie is surprisingly unmemorable. You’ll no doubt remember the many amazing action sequences, and some of the better character moments with Superman, Batman, Lex Luthor and Wonder Woman, but the rest of the movie will just feel like a blob of scattered events when you try to recall it, with nothing but grey haze to connect them in your memory. Batman v Superman doesn’t have that refined, careful sense of flow like Marvel’s Avengers movies do, which is what makes those movies and their events so much easier to recall and keep straight.
To give an example of the frustration with the storyline in Batman v Superman, imagine it like this; Imagine you were going to eat a meal, and you had a plate in front of you, and someone was going to give you several of your favourite foods. In the case of the Avengers movies, those foods would be carefully prepared, and arranged on your plate in a way that brings out the best in the individual foodstuffs for a very satisfying and pleasant meal. In the case of Batman v Superman though, it’s like someone just put all those foods you love into a bucket, then just overturns that bucket over your plate, and lets everything slop onto it. The fact remains that your favourite foods are still on the plate, and for some people, that will be enough to have them enjoy themselves. Others however will be angry at the carelessness of how their meal was laid out, and will find that foods are touching that shouldn’t touch, and sauces are melding that shouldn’t be melding, which ruins some of the taste of certain portions. Similarly, your satisfaction with the storytelling in Batman v Superman is a matter of perspective, but it’s nonetheless true that its story is told pretty carelessly.
There’s a great storyline that’s kicking and screaming to get out from Batman v Superman, especially when its characters do touch on great themes about the cost of heroism, and how the public is quick to celebrate or condemn those who they’re forced to trust with their safety. It’s just so heartbreaking that the story is told in such an overwrought, yet clumsy fashion, leading to Batman v Superman being far too long, and far too poorly structured for its own good.
It also would have been nice if the story wasn’t so damn joyless. Like Man of Steel, Batman v Superman will occasionally be tedious to watch, simply because it doesn’t seem to know how to lighten up. There’s so many missed opportunities for jokes and chances to effectively poke at the premise, which almost makes Batman v Superman come off as unjustifiably pretentious at times. Fortunately, the superb action will get you back into the spectacle pretty easily, but that action would have been all the more enjoyable, had it operated within a storyline that had any sense of actual cohesion.
If you’re curious about a potential post-credits scene in Batman v Superman, there is none, so just leave the theatre after the credits roll. If you’re curious about the recent Darkseid tease that came to light, referencing Superman’s and the Justice League’s most powerful adversary in most DC media, it’s a fairly interesting one, as Bruce falls asleep and sees a vision of Superman appearing to have enslaved Earth, as the implied lead enforcer of Darkseid, after Lois Lane is killed. This leads to a surreal moment where The Flash appears to come to Bruce Wayne from the future, to warn him that Lois is the key to saving Earth from Darkseid, and a rogue Superman, which partially leads to Bruce’s misunderstood initial hatred of Superman in this movie as well. This scene is kind of on-the-nose for the DC faithful, but it’s a neat Easter egg for DC fans, even if casual moviegoers will probably be very confused as to what just happened.
If you’re wondering whether Flash, Aquaman or Cyborg actually have any real bearing on the story of Batman v Superman in the end, they don’t. They simply show up in an E-mail from Bruce Wayne to Diana Prince with video footage teasing their abilities very quickly, with Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa and Ray Fisher making their respective cameos as Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg, respectively within this footage, not counting Miller’s other cameo as the future Flash. It all amounts to more Justice League teases, and is a bit heavy-handed as far as sequel bait goes, even if it’s nonetheless cool to see some of these upcoming big screen DC heroes in action, even if just for a second.
Lastly, if you want Doomsday to maintain his famous pedigree of being the one villain to successfully kill Superman, then good news, Doomsday does kill Superman at the end of the climax, even if it’s obvious that the death won’t stick. The movie ends as dirt starts to fly up from Superman’s coffin, pretty much giving away that he’s coming back to life. Given the heavy teases for the Justice League movies though, killing Superman feels a bit pointless, since he’ll obviously be alive and kicking in Justice League: Part One next year. It mainly feels like this scene was simply put in to satisfy fanboys before they complained further about the one-off, shoehorned Doomsday appearance in the climax, and frankly, it’s kind of a bizarre way to end Batman v Superman.
Zack Snyder once again returns to helm Batman v Superman, after helming Man of Steel and kickstarting the DC Extended Universe in 2013. Zack Snyder also doesn’t seem to have learned from the shortcomings of his direction in Man of Steel either, which are either back in the same fashion, or sometimes made worse. At least the obnoxious in-film advertising from Man of Steel seems to be largely gone from Batman v Superman though, so that’s a plus.
Fortunately, Snyder’s strengths as a director are also made even better in Batman v Superman, to compensate. Snyder remains one of the best helmers in the business when it comes to grand, sweeping and spectacular action, and that’s more true than ever in Batman v Superman, which feels like a truly epic experience, even with its flaws. Snyder’s great sense of filmmaking power and gripping spectacle is perfectly fitting of the god-like heroes that headline the DC Universe, with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman all feeling mightier and more impressive than they’ve ever been in any other bit of DC media! When Batman v Superman manages a cool scene, it’ll stand as one of the coolest scenes in any blockbuster this year for sure, even if the movie’s mistakes are fairly sizable mistakes when it comes to the direction.
That’s really the main thing that trips up Snyder as a director; He’s all power and no grace. Batman v Superman, like most any of Snyder’s blockbusters since 300, is very scattershot, convoluted and often sloppily laid out, even if it’s also frequently fun and enjoyable to watch in the moment, especially for open-minded viewers that love DC. This uneven set of strengths with Snyder is the main reason why Batman v Superman itself feels so uneven. Its action and visuals are directed with the utmost of sophistication and appeal, but the actual narrative that’s supposed to hold the fun together is rickety and apathetic, as if Snyder only truly cares about when the heroes can be their heroic selves, and the rest is just unimportant details.
There’s obviously more to DC’s larger-than-life characters than how mightily they can hit things, and Batman v Superman only occasionally manages to grasp some of the potential behind the numerous philosophical and ideological debates that Batman and Superman naturally invite as two of the most well-known and iconic superheroes in existence. When the DC Extended Universe starts achieving more balanced direction in its offerings, there’s loads of potential for it to stand with the Marvel Cinematic Universe as among the best movie franchises in the world at this point, but for now, Batman v Superman still seems like, for all its efforts to be edgy and deep, it’s still being managed with a set of boyish, ADD-fueled priorities.
MUSIC & SOUNDTRACK
Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL collaborated on the music suite of Batman v Superman, and I actually have to admit that this is one of the best soundtracks that a superhero movie has had in a while, even considering the very entertaining soundtrack in Deadpool last month. There’s lots of awesome variation in the music, which is appropriately grand and engrossing, with tunes like the virtually demonic organ composition for Lex Luthor and the left-field choice of electric guitar riffs for Wonder Woman all working to superb effect. If you’re a DC fan with a taste for music, this is no doubt a soundtrack that you’ll want to own for your audio device of choice!
True to form, the rest of the audio suite in Batman v Superman is very impressive, especially in how well it captures the sheer might of the DC heroes. Some of the sound mixing is a little off at times, with certain action scenes feeling louder than others for some reason, which is especially apparent in an IMAX theatre, but that’s pretty minor, and it’s doubtful that many moviegoers will notice. Even then though, all of the action in the movie is very thrilling and engaging, and the audio in general gives the DC Extended Universe a great sense of weight and tension. Taken as a raw action movie, Batman v Superman is a pretty badass flick when it comes down to it, if also a rather overlong and overstuffed one.
Needless to say, Batman v Superman, if nothing else, is a visual masterpiece. Even with the movie’s narrative issues, this movie will no doubt be one of the top spectacles seen on the big screen this year, and is an enormous treat for the eyes. Even the human character of Batman lends himself to some truly explosive moments of action-packed brilliance, with the choreography behind all of the heroes also being incredibly impressive, despite the CG-heavy abilities behind characters like Superman and Doomsday. The effects lend themselves well to the teasing cameos of The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg as well, who at least let viewers sample the promising effects that will be fueling their characters in upcoming Justice League movies here, as well as their own individual movies to come.
As for how Batman v Superman stacks up in 3D, it’s not bad, and definitely an improvement over the lacklustre 3D job in Man of Steel. The 3D still isn’t great, but it’s not bad, and it does add some effective immersion to the larger-scale scenes, just as it also makes some of the action scenes more powerful and intense, especially in an IMAX 3D showing. As for the IMAX 3D cut, it’s actually pretty solid, especially considering that several highlight scenes in the movie were filmed with IMAX cameras. The IMAX scenes in an IMAX 3D showing are absolutely stunning, and give Batman v Superman an even greater sense of colossal scale, even if it is somewhat distracting when the aspect ratio of the screen keeps changing as the movie moves in an out of IMAX scenes. Outside of the dedicated IMAX scenes, the IMAX 3D cut is less noteworthy, but overall, it’s worth the heftier price of admission if you want the most out of the experience, even if you can still easily enjoy the visuals in a standard 3D showing, or just watching Batman v Superman flat in 2D.
Finally, if you were irked by the sheer amount of destruction throughout Metropolis in Man of Steel, Batman v Superman doesn’t eliminate it, even if most of said mayhem and property damage takes place in unpopulated areas of Gotham City this time. The more secluded sets to destroy in this movie helps to enjoy the power of the movie, without the nagging issue of the innocent body count, even if said sets are still constantly ripped apart by the characters. The final Doomsday battle will likely be the highlight of the effects to most viewers, especially given how effectively mighty Doomsday ends up being, and it truly is a spectacular climax that DC fans especially will enjoy for the sheer eye candy at least. Like the all-important fight between Batman and Superman though (also a fantastic highlight moment, as expected!), the Doomsday fight still feels like it’s entirely done for its own sake, leading to gorgeous centerpieces punctuating that frustrating pile of narrative sludge that is such a frequent problem in Batman v Superman.
Batman v Superman is as gorgeous as it is frustrating, as mighty as it is scatterbrained, and as cool as it is self-indulgent. It can be a frustrating experience, with missed opportunities and frequent storytelling issues, but it’s too well-polished and grandly realized to truly write off as a bad movie. There’s clearly a lot of heart put into Batman v Superman, let alone how breathtaking it looks and feels, but for whatever reason, the movie just never feels like its plotline fully gets off the ground, as if it’s deathly afraid of somehow using up its best tricks before the Justice League movies arrive.
It’s too long, its plot is all over the place, and it really needs to lighten up, but Batman v Superman still absolutely must be experienced on the big screen, since it’s still a masterpiece of blockbuster filmmaking, even if also a dud in storytelling. It’s a uniquely compelling mess of very cool ideas, one that will delight some and infuriate others, but when all is said and done, the movie at least manages to leave you anticipating future movies for the DC Extended Universe, despite its flaws. Regardless of one’s opinion on it, this movie is also an important milestone for filmmaking that is recommendable as a bloated, gorgeous novelty, as, for better or worse, this is the first time that Superman and Batman have appeared together in the same movie, let alone Wonder Woman, who hasn’t properly appeared in a feature film at all before now! That alone demands to be experienced for how cool it all looks at least, especially when it’s hard not to geek out at the Big Three standing together in a movie at last during the climax.
Maybe you will hate Batman v Superman, maybe you will be let down by it, or maybe you will love it for what it is, but even if it’s not the revolution that DC had hoped for, it’s a movie that should be seen in theatres, even if as a fleeting appetizer for the potential of the DC Extended Universe to come. This movie could be justifiably considered disappointing for sure, but to call it a disaster, a failure, or an affront to superhero fans, would be to demonstrate a woeful lack of perspective. Batman v Superman is still leagues better than DC’s cinematic low points like Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Batman & Robin, Steel, and in the case of Marvel, last year’s godawful Fantastic Four reboot from 20th Century Fox. Ultimately, this movie is more intensely flawed than truly terrible, and one should bear that in mind before passing judgment.
In the end, DC is still playing second fiddle to Marvel in the movie space, even after firing this big gun, but there’s still the promise for something greater on the horizon throughout Batman v Superman. Just don’t keep us waiting too long for your true masterpiece, DC.
Visually spectacular, heroically grand and frustratingly sloppy, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is definitely not bad, but it's far more uneven than it should be.