Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Directed by Zack Snyder
Written by Chris Terrio & David S. Goyer

Everything we’ve seen to this point in either Batman or Superman movies is one simple fact: they’re good superheroes. Anyone familiar with these characters knows their backstories, knows their accolades. With decades of content behind them, I think it is fair to say these are beloved good guys in print, television, and cinema. Each has had it’s exemplary vehicle, though ask fans and I’m sure their favorites are not the same. For me, the Christopher Nolan Batman movies are my favorite, while the Christopher Reeves Superman and the Lois and Clark television series are easily my two favorite depictions of the characters. So yea, I know good Superman and Batman content is out there, I’ve seen it before. So what happens when Zack Snyder steps in, and all of a sudden Batman and Superman are…what? Bad guys who hate each other? Or maybe they’re just jealous?

Whatever the case, Snyder’s rendition of the characters pits Metropolis and Gotham as twin cities across the bay from each other. Superman (Henry Cavill) is the hero of the clean and safe Metropolis, while Batman (Ben Affleck) is the costumed vigilante hero of the seemingly rundown Gotham. After the alien invasion of Man of Steel, Batman, like many other citizens, mistrusts Superman and his powers. Meanwhile, Superman mistrusts Batman’s increasingly questionable tactics, feeling Batman believes himself to be above the law. Partially in thanks to businessman Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), and a congressional committee headed by the Superman skeptic Senator Finch (Holly Hunter), the battle for who is right and who is wrong begins to be waged between these bay area rivals.

I couldn’t help but see the Batman and Superman rivalry as mirroring the current political climate, which pits two parties whose intentions are generally good, who look to protect and serve the people they govern, but whose rivalry seems to whittle each other down to simple evils. I think what hurts Snyder’s narrative, which by the way was written by Chris Terrio and Nolan Batman collaborator David S. Goyer, is the fact that in this superhero movie, neither lead is in fact a hero. Their past accomplishments be damned, but neither is a very likable character here for the simple reason that they whine about each other like schoolboy hoping to take a certain measurement, paranoid the other might be better than them. This is such a shame for two beloved good guy superheroes to have stoop this low to force movie goers to pay for a big, loud, CGI fight night.

There are moments here, as I seem to find with most Zack Snyder films, that really work. For instance, the way Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is handled is great, keeping her a mysterious character to the very end. But the performances were mostly good too, especially from Jeremy Irons (Alfred), Holly Hunter (Sen. Finch) and Jesse Eisenberg, whose over the top delivery is somehow balanced with unexpected subtlety as well. Snyder, too, has a good eye and the cinematography is beautiful at times, but his pitfall is the action scenes, as the film ultimately falls victim to the CGI action movie routine of a 45 minutes long mess of a mindless CGI action scene in the final act. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen did it, Man of Steel did it, and now even Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has done it, even if it does manage to be a better film overall than the other two mentioned.

I think there is something to this premise, I really do, Zack Snyder’s blunt object approach really strays from the subtlety required to make a such a delicate relationship such as Batman hating Superman and vice versa work. Because the film lacks subtlety, the characters and their motivations lack subtlety, resulting a film which projects its heroes as jealous men full of anger who violently and vengefully lash out at each other, losing sight of their true intentions as superheroes. Why did Batman decide to fight crime, why did Superman? The very basic principle of the superhero movie gets totally lost in the shuffle, resulting in a completely brooding, extremely loud, angry and nasty narrative. It has it’s moments, fleeting as they may be. Ultimately I would imagine the film is exactly what you would expect, which means if you read this review and think I’m a contrarian, see the movie. You’ll like it. But if anything above scares you, save yourself the $15 bucks and two and a half hours.

**1/2 – Average

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