Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

  • Year: 2016
  • Director:  Zack Snyder
  • Series Rank:  #8
  • Year Rank:  #68
  • Oscar Nominations:  none
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Batman Villains:  Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor), Robin Atkin Downes (Doomsday)
  • Batman Allies:  Henry Cavill (Superman), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Jeremy Irons (Alfred)

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a film beset with a lot of problems, the first of which is the title, which is terrible.  Clearly the marketing people at Warners stressed that both names had to be in the title and then some idiot decided to put a v in there.  That wasn’t the only problem before the film had been released, of course.  It was contending with the fact that its director Zack Snyder, makes empty violent spectacles with little depth to them.  He had somehow gotten the reputation for being a comic book director even though his comic book movies are mostly terrible.  Snyder reminds me of this paragraph from the Rolling Stone Album Guide: “A New York Times headline once suggested that ‘If There Hadn’t Been a Bruce Springsteen, Then the Critics Would Have Made Him Up,’ but that’s utter nonsense.  If rock critics had tried to invent a Springsteen, this is what they would have come up with – a singer who understands rock’s drama and tradition but lacks the vision necessary to transform them into something greater.  In other words, John Cafferty.” (p 105)  In this case, it’s not the critics inventing a singer like Springsteen but fanboys creating a director like Tim Burton: someone who has a sense of style and flashiness but without the greater understanding of how to make this work to his advantage in making a coherent film that utilizes the style instead of just relying on it.  In other words, Zack Snyder.

Another problem is that the creators of this film knew what kind of film they wanted to make and sabotaged themselves in making it.  They wanted to make a dark vision of the superhero world, a clash between basic fundamental approaches to fighting crime that deals with the difference between fighting street level crime and cosmic dangers and the requisite human cost in those fights.  They succeeded at that in part, but by relying so much on the ending two fights they ended up glossing over what they were trying to do, something made far worse in the original theatrical release of the film (and almost certainly contributed massively to its negative reviews).  Let’s just look at this film’s climax in comparison to The Dark Knight Rises, a film that ran 13 minutes longer in its theatrical release than this film (and just under 20 minutes shorter than the extended edition).  In TDKR, it’s 24 minutes from the time Batman reappears in costume to Gordon on the ice to the explosion of the bomb.  It’s just under 4 minutes from the time he first throws a punch at Bane until he is stabbed, with scenes of three other characters in other places during that time.  But here, it’s a full 10 minute fight scene from the time Superman lands to the “Martha” scene and later, it’s another full 10 minutes from the time Batman engages Doomsday until the end of the fight.  That’s almost 20 minutes of pure fighting and that’s not any shorter in the theatrical version, where all the cuts are from things that actually help make the movie more coherent rather than in the fight scenes.

All of this might make it sound like I don’t like the film and that’s actually not the case.  I think the directing is weak, I think the screenplay is a problem (more on that below) and I think the editing is badly done.  But there is a lot to like about this film.

Let’s start with the acting.  While the Nolan films had great actors all over the place, the other Batman and Superman films hadn’t been as blessed.  The actors weren’t bad but they weren’t necessarily a strength of the film.  But look at what we have here – Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne and even Harry Lennix carrying over from Man of Steel, adding in Holly Hunter, and of course a magnificently droll performance from Jeremy Irons as Alfred, his best performance in years (the only glimmer of any humor in the film).  Henry Cavill continues to be a strong Superman, Ben Affleck does a strong job handling both personality sides of Batman and Bruce Wayne and then there’s Gal Gadot (more on her later).  Yes, Jesse Eisenberg comes across as a bit too insane as Luther, but I blame that on the script more than on the performance.

The film does a solid job with the technical aspects.  The chase scene of Batman going after the kryptonite is fast-paced and exciting.  The battle itself between Superman and Batman, if way too long, is not only well done on the technical level, but does a great job of echoing Dark Knight Returns (as do the shots of Superman in space after the bomb goes off).  And the glow coming off that magic lasso as it goes around Doomsday just made my heart light up.

The constant complaint about this film, and I can understand it, is that it is too dour.  But I think it made a good choice to immediately address the ridiculous amount of destruction that laid waste to the screen and everything on it in Man of Steel.  That means we’re dealing with a really serious Bruce Wayne and a confrontation that takes too long to set up.  What’s more, by adding together all of Luther’s plot to get the two heroes to face off, it gets confusing for a lot of people, especially those who only saw the theatrical version and didn’t realize how much of the plot got left on the cutting room floor.  I am reminded that the Academy Awards used to have a category for Original Story that was separate from the Screenplay category.  This film has a really solid story at its heart (the different philosophies of Batman and Superman and how they would lead to confrontation and even the simply connection between them that could make them pause just long enough to realize what was going on) but the script couldn’t figure out how to make it work coherently.

For the record, I will point out that not only is my mother’s name Martha, but my father’s name is Thomas.

But much of that is forgiven when Doomsday goes to blow Batman away and suddenly the Amazon Princess leaps in front of the blast.  Suddenly the sexiest thing on two legs is the new star of the film.  It’s not that she’s gorgeous and wearing a skirt that makes her sexy.  It’s that she’s smart, she’s determined, she’s utterly without fear and she seems like she’s kind of enjoying this.  “I’ve killed men from other worlds before” she says and then she’s in there with a smile, swinging her sword around and kicking some major ass.  What’s even better, the music suddenly kicks up a notch, because, a year before her own film, in comes her score and it’s the best thing we’ve heard in the film.  To see the DC Trinity standing together there, ready to go into battle side by side made all of this worth sitting through.

There’s no question that this is a flawed film, especially in the original theatrical version (which makes it all the more stupid that the extended edition wasn’t ever released to Netflix).  They needed to tell the story coherently and they didn’t do a good job of that, sticking too much with the fight scenes.  But to see the three of them together on screen and finally make our way to Wonder Woman, I do indeed find myself with good hopes for Justice League.