First, let me get some good remarks about this film out of the way. Most of the performances turned in are solid work. In particular, Jeremy Irons is a natural fit as Alfred Pennyworth and Ben Affleck works well as an older Batman, one burnt out from years of fighting crime only to see Gotham City continue to suffer as it has. Now, I make these remarks at the start so that I may have room for my critiques on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. There is plenty to write about, considering all of the expectations and intents that were forced upon it. This is a film that is meant to announce the dawn of the DC Cinematic Universe, Warner Bros Pictures’s avenue for challenging the box office might of Marvel Studios and their shared universe. It is a film meant to be a serious contender against the lighter touch of the Marvel Studios films. If this is to be a grand announcement, then it is a failed one. How can I come to make such a statement? Well, dear reader, allow me to explain. First, a little synopsis before my remarks.
During the events of Man of Steel‘s climactic battle in Metropolis, an aging Bruce Wayne saw the destruction brought about by Superman and saw a potential threat to humanity. This threat causes him to once more don the mantle of Batman, fighting crime with a brutal ruthlessness. In the meantime, Superman has been using his powers around the globe to help out those in need or intervene in dangerous situations. However, his actions have been met with concern over how he should be using his powers. Chief among these critics is Lex Luthor, a brilliant scientist and businessman who has found a way to fight Kryptonians in the form of a mineral known as Kryptonite. When his plans to develop Kryptonite weaponry are stymied by politicians, Luthor decides to deal with the issue of Superman on a grander scale. With scheming and prodding, he builds up a public distrust of Superman and stirs up the anger in Batman. His ultimate plan: a fight to the death between Superman and Batman. Even as the battle of the ages stirs and builds, a mysterious woman named Diana Prince seems to have her eye on both heroes and the new world forming around them.
Firstly, the filmmaking suffers in all sorts of departments when it comes to its story. This film was meant as the big stepping stone to a DC Cinematic Universe, but it is clumsily handled in its presentation. Diana Prince (better known as Wonder Woman) and her subplot essentially consist as a vehicle solely for working in details about the other eventual heroes who will be used in the Justice League films (Should they reach that point). Most of that presentation is done in a sledgehammer-like fashion of reveals, but this desperate attempt is most evident in a psychic nightmare (at least, that is my best description for it) sequence that serves to hint at the major villain Darkseid down the road and has no proper explanation as to why it happens. In fact, the film is marred with incoherence throughout. Several times, the film will launch into a dream sequence with no hint of it happening. Characters will launch into action with no explanation for the barest of ones. Time that could have been spent building up relationships or offering reason to action is instead cast aside for the sake of drama and supposed action. It causes it to be hard to feel anything for the characters onscreen. Even the action is unclear in its dark color palette. Worst of all, however, is how it treats its main characters.
When it comes to superheroes, Superman and Batman are two of the biggest icons. They are striking figures, ones who also serve as shining symbols. Superman is hope. Batman is vigilance. This film does not paint them as such. Superman is presented as a figure who is constantly glum or depressed about his powers and his work, practicing no restraint on criminals as he uses them. Batman is presented as a burnt out paranoid whose cavalier brutality seems to showcase a willingness to kill in conjunction with several instances of him using guns. There is no real distinction between them, no sense of Superman’s optimistic nature and compassion nor Batman’s masterful intuition and devotion to justice. Instead, both are presented in the same moggy coat of “grimdark” seriousness that plagues this entire movie. Even worse is that a “Batman vs. Superman” film could have been interesting, if it allowed itself to tell a tale of two heroes who initially clash over differing approaches and come to realize their effectiveness as a team. Instead, audiences have been served an incoherent story about two cynical figures who fight each other while pieces to step up other movies get shoved in the middle of this one. There is no heart or understanding of its characters on display, merely a desperate bid to cash in on a current film trend with no understanding of why the trend has had success.
Honestly, I have more to say on the subject of this film, but I am afraid of overstuffing this blog post and some of it would get into the territory of spoilers. So, dear readers, I will have another post on Monday that explores more of the film’s content and presentation which has prompted such a negative response. I will even go into spoilers in that post, just so you know. In the meantime, I do not recommend seeing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. If this mirthless mess is meant to be the grand opening door for a whole shared universe of DC Comics films, then I would prefer to shut this particular door.