It’s finally here, one of the most eagerly-awaited films of all time and one of the most expensive. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the cinematic fight night that promises the hotly-anticipated bout between The Caped Crusader and The Man of Steel.
You’re going to have to set your Zack Snyder tolerance levels to their highest setting to get any joy out of this movie, because the director of Man of Steel and Sucker Punch now has carte blanche with the DC universe, and someone has given him access to all the most valuable toys in the box.
In the aftermath of the destructive battle between Zod (Michael Shannon) and Superman (Henry Cavill), one man watches on in the midst of the wreckage. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) fears the new extra-terrestrial threat will go unchecked, and is determined to bring Superman to heel using his own brand of vigilante justice. Haunted by nightmares and visions, Wayne prepares to unleash his full powers as Batman against Metropolis’s finest.
Meanwhile Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) is also disturbed by the implications of an alien-being acting with impunity and serving out justice. She is approached by billionaire philanthropist Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) who has discovered a potential weakness in Superman’s armour, and proposes developing a weapon to contain him.
As Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent tries to foster his relationship with Lois Lane (Amy Adams), the journalist has a chance meeting with Bruce Wayne, and the two men size each other up, unaware of who the other really is. Into this heady mix, a mysterious woman (Gal Gadot) appears, and she seems to hold a number of aces up her sleeve. Unable to wait any longer, Superman and Batman face off for differing reasons, with Lex planning his own intervention.
There is a lot of build-up for the big battle, that comes a little too late in the day.
We don’t need another origins story for Batman, and thankfully this is kept brief, but it still feels like we are retreading over old ground. The question of where this Batman fits into the existing versions is muddied by the fact that the character is an older incarnation of Bruce Wayne and so could be linked to The Dark Knight.
There are lines deliberately peppered throughout the script that make you wonder, and these are further confused by Wayne’s visions. Our grasp on ‘reality’ could be as unstable as his appears to be. What if the whole backstory is a fictionalised version? We know there are fantasy elements at play, as at one point young Bruce flies to safety with the assistance of a colony of bats.
Putting aside these visions (and it is a big ask as they begin to play an all-too important part in the narrative and plot), What of Ben Affleck’s take on Batman? Thankfully this is one of the big successes of the film. He is a beast in the caped crusader guise. The violence the character displays is of another level entirely from what we have seen before. The fighting style is meant to break and maim. The one rule that Christian Bale held firm on, seems to be a particularly bendable one now.
Henry Cavill is serviceable as both Superman and Clark Kent. He’s too good looking as the journalist of the Daily Planet – believe me, I’ve spent enough time around them to know that they rarely look like male models (or Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight for that matter) – but is just too ineffective against other players. His best moments are tied to Lois Lane, with Amy Adams providing a heart to the otherwise senseless violence. You do believe that Kent will do everything within his power to protect the woman he loves, but her bumbling actions are likely to annoy as much as they are to enthral.
You therefore have to hand it to Gal Gadot who steps into the Wonder Woman role with some gusto. She proves that a powerful female superhero can match up to the boys, and leaves us looking forward to the stand-alone Wonder Woman film out next year.
Of course, a lot of what happens veers towards spoilers, so we’ll avoid those here. It’s safe to say though, that there are also a great many problems with this film.
Eisenberg’s Lex is just a little too lightweight at the start, although he does grow into the role. It’s a deliberate decision for him to play it the way he does, and we get what he is going for, but for some it will be too mannered. Whereas You can project onto Batman, and to some extent Superman, you really can’t with Lex (unless you are a psychopath, of course).
The introduction to Bruce Wayne, as he races through the streets filled with the carnage of the finale of Man of Steel is arguably the standout moment. The problem is that we then have nearly 150 minutes to get through.
Affleck manages to make us believe that he can take on Cavill in a fight. Both men are bulked up from their usual standards, but somehow director Zack Snyder manages to make Batman look truly monstrous. This is aided by his new found brutality, but also by the anger employed by Affleck.
There is an inherent problem in making Gotham and Metropolis close neighbours in this film however. It’s made worse by every character forcibly mentioning the lack of human causalities, clearly to avoid the outcry over the death and destruction at the end of Man of Steel.
There’s also an annoying lack of logic at times. Batman manages to change costumes regularly, even when confined in his tiny cockpit. He relies on Jeremy Iron’s Alfred to do all the sleuthing, whilst he seems to have turned into a troubled mystic. Superman is meant to have been AWOL for a portion of this film, but it’s all so poorly handled that you scratch your head wondering when exactly this was meant to have happened.
The final act, peppered with spoilers, touchstones and hooks for future films, is almost impossible to discuss. That’s probably going to work in the film’s favour, as it is also pretty bad. This is not Batman and Robin levels of bad, but it’s also nowhere near the excellence of The Dark Knight.
The real problem DC face right now, is that everything is geared towards the team-up movies of The Justice League, when the only thing they really are getting right are the standalone films. Batman and Wonder Woman need to go their own way as quickly as possible, and even Superman would be better served with a sequel of his own.