DC Comics – a company that in comic and TV form I love deeply, but cinematically has let me down so many times. From the brilliance of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy to the less than stellar results of both Green Lantern and the later 90’s Batman films, the inconsistency of DC’s comic to film adaptations have left many to speculate what they’ll be like in the future. But at Comic Con 2013, a ray of light seemed to shine down from the cinematic comic book heavens, and it was in the shape of a Bat mixed with a giant oversized symbol of hope. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice could well have been the movie to get DC on the same track as the Marvel Comics Universe, and I – like many fans of the Justice League – had high hopes for the film. But did those dreams exactly come true? Eh….not really.
I’d like to say before any of my opinions are written, that I have a bit of a disclaimer: Though I cannot say I am the leading expert when it comes to the history of comics, I feel I am enough of a general fan of DC (comics, movies, TV) to give a balanced view on this new film. So before you all go crying that I keep a “fake geek girl” card in my pocket, I’ll just go about reading my beloved childhood copy of The Killing Joke in your general direction while also popping in my favorite episodes of Bruce Timm’s take on the Justice League. Now, without further ado, let us dig into this interesting piece of cinema we have on our plate.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice tells a familiar tale of misunderstanding, where Bruce Wayne aka Batman (Ben Affleck) and Clark Kent aka Superman (Henry Cavill) don’t seem to see eye to eye on everything, to the point where they both want to stop the other in their tracks – aka beat the other to a bloody pulp of justice. While that’s going on, the world itself is conflicted about what to think of Superman after the events of Man of Steel: is he a threat or a savior? Everyone has a different opinion and is taking sides left and right. But one person that cares more about their personal goals than anything else in this DC cinematic world is Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), a young Mark Zuckerberg wannabe who is obsessed with gaining power and seeing Superman and Batman crush themselves in the process. Oh yeah, and Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is in there too, to stir things up.
First and foremost, if you thought Michael Keaton or Christian Bale were your Batman, I’d strongly urge for you to consider putting Affleck into that category. He exudes a brilliant mixture of the flaws and charms of both the Bruce Timm animated incarnation and Frank Miller’s Dark Knight rendition. Though this might be the most blood-thirsty Batman to appear in some time, there is still a sense of sympathy that Affleck brings to the table. You can read every emotion on his face without a word being spoken, and if we consider some of the awful lines he has to say in this movie, those moments of silence and carefully crafted acting are a godsend.
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman (along with the theme music that accompanies her) brings a much-needed fresh energy into a movie that needs it greatly by the third act, and though she doesn’t have a ton of dialog, you feel that Amazonian pride leap through onto the screen, especially during her fight sequences. However, let it be noted that Gadot is not the most perfect of actresses, and even she can’t save some of the stiff lines from coming off, well, more wooden than Pinocchio’s lying nose.
Also, let us have a moment to praise the genius that is Jeremy Irons, giving single-handedly the sassiest Alfred to appear on the silver screen. If ever there were a character that deserved his own spin-off movie or mini-series, Irons’s take on Alfred would win that in a landslide. He, along with the majority of the cast (save for one), deliver performances that are above and beyond what is required of them for a movie of this kind, and should be patted on the back for at least trying to get through the sloppy material handed to them.
The film is also a wonder to behold visually. If Snyder is a master at one thing, it is bringing fantastic visuals to the screen, the kind that we as children dreamed about in our comic book fantasies. With the help of his reliable right-hand cinematographer, Watchmen’s Larry Fong, the material of these iconic heroes’ world is brought to life in a manner that pays tribute to many past comic panels and yet wonderfully showcases what this new cinematic universe holds for us in our future films to come. Particularly, the sequences that revolve around Wayne Manor are some of the most haunting and gripping of any DC film prior.
Unfortunately, aside from those few praises, what remains could be one of the messiest Superhero films to have arrived on the big screen since the troubled times of the late 90’s. Of course, this isn’t Fantastic Four levels of bad, but the degrees of separation between the two films is slim at best.
I’d like to address what I arguably I feel is the worst aspect of the entire film: The Editing. Clunky, immature, and disjointed to a point of no return, it is hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong here in the cutting room. Was it the studio, forcing Snyder to trim as much fat as possible, to a point in which he just threw a bunch of scenes into a hat and glued them together as best he could? Could it have been editor David Brenner’s fault, who might have had the confidence to try and cut a once three-hour film into a “suitable running time” for most movie goers? Or was it Snyder’s lack of skills as a storyteller coming from out of the shadows? The world may never know.
If you doubt the possibility of such a large error, let me describe one non-spoiler sequence of scenes. In walks Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White, asking his Daily Planet employees where Clark could have gone off to, to which they tell him that no one knows. He then follows that by saying in some variation “What does he do? Click his heels twice, and end up in Kansas?!” Now, in most cases, many editors would follow that with a scene of Clark visiting his farm home in, you guessed it, Kansas (which does indeed happen in the film). Instead, Brenner and Snyder follow that line of White’s with multiple unrelated moments, to only show minutes later Kent landing at his farm home. If you think this sounds annoying, guess what? 75% of the film is handled in this manner. Oh joy, said no one ever.
There is also Jesse Eisenberg, who continues the time honored tradition of all movie renditions of Lex Luthor being a complete and utterly confused mess. Did you think any portrayal of the character could be more cartoony than Kevin Spacey in Superman Returns? Well, this Lex has Spacey’s beat out in that regard. The moments in which Luthor is supposed to be “intimidating” come off as just pathetic and whiney, which is both a fault of the script and of Eisenberg (but mostly Eisenberg), who rather than attempting to bring some sort of well-rounded new performance, falls into his old tricks that scream shades of his Mark Zuckerberg character from The Social Network. Is he scary or menacing? Well, when it looks like Lois Lane could make him cry at the drop of a hat, then no.
But the real crime is the script and direction. It’s as if Zach Snyder, Chris Gerrio, and David Goyer were given a bunch of action figures to play with, and after reading the brief description of each toy on the box, they spent two and a half hours smashing them together and believe that is how a story is told. And though this method of plot development might have been fun when you were five years old, when you are creating a 250 million dollar project, you would have hoped that this team would have cared a bit more about the end product.
With so much potential pouring out of its every frame, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a great example of how a film franchise should never be handled, especially when you are trying to compete with a studio (Marvel) that has grown and fostered their films like a fine wine. Though many will applaud DC for setting up a cinematic universe in one film, there’s still a point to be made that even if you can do it, it doesn’t mean that it should be done. Quality is always what should be strived for, and considering that I’ve waited my whole life to see these two titans battle it out on the big screen, I would have waited longer if the film could have been placed in better, more refined hands.