Following years of hype, Alex McDonald asks whether or not Batman vs Superman was worth the wait.
After three excruciating years of intense fan anticipation, it’s finally time for DC to put their money where their mouth is. Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice has walked a long, long road paved with criticism, and with the weight of Marvel’s unrivalled success on their backs. Yet as time went on, and the release got closer, criticism gave way to hype and “the greatest gladiator match in the history of the world” became a landmark event for pop culture. I went into this film apprehensive because I thought Man of Steel was fine but not anything special, yet I was full of hope that this could be better.
This film a mess. It suffers from the same problems that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had; it tries to do too much too quickly. The film lacks focus because there are four individual storylines, all competing for screen time in a bloated 2 and a half hours. We have a Batman film, a sequel to Man of Steel, a versus movie and a Justice League origin film. All of the components are fine, but they don’t mesh well together and as a result we have a film that lacks cohesion with poor pacing.
That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty to enjoy here: The film handles Batman very well for the most part, despite a few glaringly incorrect character traits. Ben Affleck proves all of his doubters wrong here and is arguably the best part of the whole film. He captures the tortured nature of an ageing Bruce Wayne who is battle hardened and jaded, while still being able to put on the cocky, arrogant public façade. This is probably the best action we’ve seen Batman perform as well. The fluidity and ferocity with which he moves is exhilarating, with one sequence in the third act in particular being the standout. Affleck’s Batman certainly isn’t perfect, more so because of characterisation than performance, but it is still as good as if not better than Michael Keaton’s in Batman and Batman Returns.
This film is also beautifully shot from start to finish. Director Zack Snyder is incredibly capable at depicting action sequences with certain shots feeling like they’ve been pulled straight from a comic book, much like his adaptation of Watchmen. The titular fight in particular was enthralling to watch, as the two titans squared off in glorious style (although it was a little too short in the grand scheme of things). The colours are subdued throughout which lends itself to the grounded and brooding tone that characterised Man of Steel. Snyder’s style has set the tone for the future of the DC cinematic universe and it is starkly different from Marvel’s take, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Henry Cavill does an admirable job as Superman, but sadly he just isn’t given enough to do. He’s given very little to grapple with as an actor and the character doesn’t progress much from his gloomy first outing which leaves him wooden at times. The themes that surround Superman are interesting philosophically, but I feel they would have been better served as the crux of a proper Man of Steel sequel.
Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman surprised me. I didn’t think much when she was cast considering her biggest role was “interchangeable badass female number 3” in the Fast and Furious franchise. She was able to pull off the role of the mysterious Diana Prince quite effectively and she seems more than capable to sell the physicality of the Amazonian warrior.
But solid performances and great action alone does not make a film good. As I said before, this film is all over the place story-wise. The first hour in particular crawls along as it tries to set up a myriad of subplots that are never truly fulfilled as they jump back and forth awkwardly between each, meaning that the audience never gets a chance to invest in any of them. The pace drags throughout and scenes take place that fail to have any impact on the story whatsoever. The film limps towards its third act and, despite having a few action scenes sprinkled throughout, kids are likely to be bored by the dialogue heavy and largely joyless affair. If you thought Man of Steel lacked a fun edge, you won’t find any more humour here.
Furthermore, even though the third act definitely ramps up the excitement, the incitement of the titular brawl is disappointing. Batman’s motivations are clear and developed from the outset but Superman’s dislike of the Batman is a little vague and his ultimate provocation into battle is a result of lazy writing, as is its conclusion. Without spoiling anything, it’s laughable. The climactic fight with Doomsday (thank you trailers, for spoiling that big reveal) also lacks awe because the CGI is poor for such a big budget blockbuster. It pulls the audience out of the scenes and with it their emotional investment in the fight, regardless of how cool it is to see Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman team up for the first time. But the problems don’t stop there…
Jesse Eisenberg (who I really like as an actor) proves himself to be a poor casting for Lex Luthor: To his credit, he makes a choice and commits to it. Unfortunately, he makes the wrong choice. He plays Luthor as insane and somewhat socially awkward and it ultimately fails to intimidate. He is often manic which serves only as a distraction and he stands out for all the wrong reasons. While the character seems to be very intelligent, his evil schemes aren’t very well thought out and often slip into the realms of cliché. I can’t help but think that a more commanding on-screen presence would have been a better choice for Luthor (Bryan Cranston springs to mind) who could have given his twisted yet interesting philosophy more gravitas.
My biggest issue with the entire film is its subtitle: Dawn of Justice. While they are two very different animals, it’s difficult not to draw comparisons with Marvel. It took Marvel 4 years to build up and fully realise their universe towards The Avengers. DC tries to do it in 4 minutes via a laptop screen. Rarely has there been such forced and sloppy introductions of characters and I could scarcely believe this was the best they could come up with in order to tease and expand their universe. The entire scene is so out-of-place that it completely detracts from the narrative, just as it’s trying to build up tension before the third act.
Ultimately, despite my many issues with the film, it is hard to objectively call it abysmal. It is too competently made to be worthy of such an extreme judgement. The acting and cinematography is solid throughout but the confused and cluttered narrative prevents it from being the powerhouse that I wanted it to be. There is a lot of potential in this beautiful mess and it is a shame that a lot of it is wasted. Continuing in a disturbing trend that is plaguing the superhero genre, the studio is so preoccupied with setting up a film universe that they forgot to make a film.