It's been a long time coming, and now- finally- I get to chime in with my final verdict on BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE. For those of you who've followed me the last couple of years, you know I've certainly been- shall we say?- "opinionated" when the subject of this film arises. Well, you may be surprised to hear what I have to say, as it may not be as terrible as you'd think.
First, I'd like to give you the opportunity to spend the night with me. No, not that way! I made a video journal, documenting my Thursday night, March 24, when I went to go see BATMAN V SUPERMAN. So you are hereby invited to watch the video below if you'd like to check out my comments in live-action form. If, however, you'd rather just stick to a written format, then feel free to scroll right past that and meet me there.
Just like all my reviews, the video is SPOILER-FREE! A full, spoiler-laden discussion will be included in the next LOS FANBOYS Podcast.
It cannot be over-stated how underwhelming the first two-thirds of this movie is. It's a collection of scenes thrown together in a very scattershot manner devoid of pacing, momentum, or a cohesive story that can really draw you in. We're given an introduction to Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), a chance to get reacquainted with Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), we meet Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), and we're offered glimpses of the rest of MAN OF STEEL's returning ensemble cast. With subplots ranging from a controversial incident in Africa, Luthor's dealings with Senator Finch (Holly Hunter), Wayne trying to steal intel from Luthor- a goal he discovers Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) shares, Clark wanting to investigate Gotham's bat vigilante, Lois looking into hybrid bullets, a Senate hearing on whether or not Superman should be allowed to do what he does, and a former Wayne Enterprises employee who may or may not be plotting against Superman, there's a lot going on. Add to the mix a few vivid dreams/nightmares from Wayne, then place those into your playlist and hit "Shuffle."
That's seemingly how director Zack Snyder did it, so feel free to do the same.
For an hour and forty minutes, we jump around from thing to thing with very little rhyme or reason. Sometimes the next scene builds on what came before it; Other times it completely undercuts it and hits "Reset" on the tension button. Truly confounding.
Then we get around 10 minutes of the titular BATMAN V SUPERMAN slugfest, which is about as fun as watching your dad bludgeon your mom with a television. Look, I understand that there's a segment of the fandom that has always wanted to see these two comic book titans go toe-to-toe but, honestly, the way it all unfolds in this film just makes the whole thing a whole lot of head-scratching. Thankfully (or not, depending on whether or you not you bought the ticket mainly to see them fight) it's over fairly quickly, and that is where things finally take off.
Yes, the moment that Batman and Superman make their peace with one another is the moment when the film goes from a total drag to something that resembles cool. Unfortunately, that's around 1:50 into a 2:31 movie, so you'll have to sit through a lot of vegetables before you get to have any dessert. Those final forty minutes house all of the emotion, all of the best action, and the clearest, most relatable plot points.
The film's tone is unfortunate, because it makes reaching that 1:50 mark an overall joyless slog. I suspect I only stayed as invested- and as patient- because of my prior investment in these characters. I wouldn't be surprised if folks stopped caring long before the good part finally arrives.
Speaking of investment, I believe Snyder relies too heavily on our prior kinship with these heroes in BATMAN V SUPERMAN. Some of the biggest beats in the story, and the most heated exchanges, only work if you're fully behind one or both of these comic book giants. Problem is, we don't love them yet, nor are we given enough time to. It sometimes feels like Snyder tried to use a shortcut in that department, relying on us to summon our own memories of a childhood spent in Superman underoos- instead of actually making a hero that would inspire a new legion of underoo-wearers. This is particularly true of Superman, and I think there's a culprit here that many have overlooked:
For whatever reason, I feel Cavill has gotten a pass. When people talk about MAN OF STEEL's flaws, and some of their disdain for the BvS trailers, they point to a humorless Superman devoid of warmth or empathy. Who they usually attribute that to is Zack Snyder, but after watching this film I'm willing to state bluntly that Henry Cavill is simply not a great actor. Great actors have the ability to create magic out of nothing. Just ask everyone else in BATMAN V SUPERMAN, who worked under the same director, using the same script, and managed to leave a stronger impression than Cavill did. He's wooden, smug, emotionally unavailable, and brings an added joylessness to an already too-serious film. Every other actor managed to sneak some fun, humor, and mischief into their portrayals. All except for Cavill.
And this movie could've used more fun, humor, and mischief.
Not because it needed to ape Marvel. Not because it should've been a comedy. Not because Snyder isn't allowed to make a more "grown-up" superhero film. Simply, it needed it because it actually had some, and every time those tiny moments of levity occurred it was a breath of fresh air. Moments of lightheartedness help the overall narrative to breathe, and to give you a few seconds of joy before diving into the next hard-hitting, emotionally gray sequence. Without them, you end up just feeling beaten down by all the self-seriousness, all the hostility, and all of the wanton aggression on display in nearly every scene. In a film like this, humor helps grease the wheels of the plot and to remind you why you became a fan in the first place. Sadly, there are only three or four fleeting moments in the entire film.
Now, enough of the bad stuff. Let's talk a little about the good.
Ben Affleck is, indeed, a phenomenal Bruce Wayne/Batman. He imbues both parts with plenty of grit, heft, and gravitas. His sequences are, far and away, the best parts of the film. The sequence from the trailer, where he takes out a bunch of dudes at a warehouse is even better than in the trailer (more on the trailer stuff later). I simply cannot wait for his solo BATMAN project.
Gal Gadot, while in a very limited role here as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, leaves a very strong impression. She's a jaw-dropping beauty, but it's her inner strength that seems to radiate through her pores that really makes you take note of her. She makes the most out of her limited time, and I consider it a missed opportunity that her cat-and-mouse game with Wayne wasn't more of a focal point of the disjointed first parts of the film. Her arrival as Wonder Woman did, indeed, lead to wild cheers- so the hype is real, and it is just.
I didn't mind Eisenberg's Lex Luthor. Yes, I know that puts me in the minority, but I was able to put aside the kind of Lex I had wished to get and simply enjoy the Lex I got. Is he a little much? Sure. Did I want to see him get squashed like the annoying insect he is? Absolutely. But I consider those to be character choices. He made them, and they worked. It's not what I would've originally wanted to see but I can't fault them for trying to create something original.
I actually really liked Doomsday. I found the character terrifying, imposing, and I felt Snyder built his sequence in such a way as to fill you with dread about the ramifications of bringing this creature to life. The entire closing sequence revolving around him was a high light of the movie, and it's a shame that the film leading up to it was so piss poor.
Terrio's script gets a mixed response from yours truly. There are some things he did that I absolutely loved ("Martha"), and others that made me cringe. We'll never know what was his, and what was left over from David S. Goyer's original script, so all I can say is it's a very mixed bag that leans more on the underwhelming side. I'd like to see what he's learned from BvS and how he applies that when writing JUSTICE LEAGUE.
As for the man at the helm, Snyder, he tries to do too much. That can't be blamed solely on him, of course, as he had a studio standing on his shoulders telling him they wanted a cinematic universe to come out of this film, but the fact still remains: There's too much going on in this film, and very little of it actually succeeds. Snyder does a serviceable job trying to tie everything together but, in the end, the film collapses under the weight of its own ambitions. Indeed, by the end, you sort of give up on trying to connect with everything going on and are just happy to see something interesting happen. There are things that I'll tackle in my spoiler discussion on LOS FANBOYS that I won't get into here; Things that, if you take a moment to think about are absolutely ridiculous, but you don't think about in the moment because you just spent nearly two hours getting your brain beat in.
In the end, his "iPod on Shuffle" approach in this film leaves you feeling numb when you should be feeling exhilarated.
As for the trailers? Don't believe the hype. We've been told that those of us who predicted the entire film based on Trailer #2 were wrong, and that there were still big surprises in store for us. Nope! If you think you pieced together this film from the trailers, you probably did.
I'll close with an observation about the film's much-ballyhooed world-building. I can comfortably say that this film does a far better job laying the groundwork for future films than IRON MAN 2 did, when Jon Favreau was forced to devote tons of screen time to setting up THE AVENGERS. Our glimpses at the other members are handled in inventive ways (though Flash's might be a little too "inside baseball" for more casual fans). However, the one big stain in this department comes with a scene at the end that's meant to get us hyped for the next big threat that's on the horizon. It comes more or less out of nowhere, and there's little reason for Bruce Wayne to even know that this entity even exists so when the idea of building a team is presented, there's no good logical answer to the question: Why?
With BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, you get one-third of a good movie and, unfortunately, it's the final third. The rest is a plodding, mirthless exercise in watching Snyder set up the dominoes hoping you'll be crazy excited when he knocks over the first one later on in the film. If you make it to that point and still care, that means you're a real fan. Snyder banks heavily on your prior fandom of these characters. If you're someone who's more on the fence, but you were going to see this out of curiosity, you may be better off sitting this one out. For the rest of you, the ones who have been dying to see this movie and/or love Batman and Superman, there's nothing I can say that's going to stop you, and that's fine. Even I enjoyed a portion of this, so there's definitely some rewards in there for longtime fans. Go enjoy them!