The following contains no major spoilers, although a few plot points will be discussed.
Although Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is one of the most anticipated movies of the year, everybody seems to be walking in with a certain level of doubt. Almost three years ago, Director Zack Snyder kicked off the DC Extended Universe with Man of Steel, which certainly had glimpses of a great Superman movie. On the whole, though, many felt that the film was overly gritty and severely lacking in the fun department.
Batman v Superman seemed like it might be a fresh start for the DCEU, but it’s already starting to divide audiences. On Twitter, the film received high praise from those who attended its premier. Reviews from critics, however, have been mixed so far. Personally, I’ll be the first to admit that Batman v Superman does have a lot to admire. Yet, there are also numerous drawbacks that should have us concerned about the DCEU’s future.
The film gets off to a strong start as it addresses one of the biggest problems people had with Man of Steel: Is Superman doing more bad than good? For all the innocent lives he saved from Emperor Zod, he seemed to get just as many citizens killed. One particular person who sees Superman as a threat is Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne, who’s of course Batman by night. Witnessing Superman destroy Metropolis first-hand, the Dark Knight prepares for an inevitable fight with the Man of Steel. It’s not like Batman is a boy scout either, though.
Henry Cavill returns with another respectable performance as Superman, aka Clark Kent. Keeping a watchful eye on the ruthless vigilante in Gotham City, Clark views Batman as the true menace. This creates an interesting correlation between our main characters, as they come to realize just how different they are and how similar they are. Does this dynamic pay off, though? It does to an extent and that’s primarily because of our actors.
The Internet practically broke when raging fanboys found out that Affleck would be playing Batman, especially after his forgettable portrayal of Daredevil. Much like Michael Keaton before him, however, Affleck is surprisingly perfect for the part. As the Dark Knight, Affleck flawlessly shifts between being a levelheaded detective and a fearless warrior who’s just a little crazy. The rest of the cast does great work too. Amy Adams continues to shine as Lois Lane, who shares a genuine relationship with Cavill’s Clark Kent. Jeremy Irons is a fitting choice to play Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler Alfred, who stands by his master even if he doesn’t agree with his lifestyle. Laurence Fishburne also injects some humor here and there as the Daily Planet’s Perry White.
Ironically, the most memorable hero in Batman v Superman isn’t Batman or Superman, but Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Gadot doesn’t get a ton of screen time, but she’s always elegant and mysterious in the role. Then when she dawns her iconic bracelets and tiara, it’s easily the most badass moment in the movie. If you weren’t looking forward to the standalone Wonder Woman movie already, you will be after seeing Gadot’s triumphant display here.
Another standout performance comes from Jesse Eisenberg as the villainous Lex Luthor. This casting choice also had countless people concerned, but Eisenberg manages to steal every scene he’s in. The 32-year-old actor plays the character like Mark Zuckerberg if he were bent on world domination. While that might sound like an odd approach, Eisenberg makes it work with a creepy, weird, and fresh performance as the puppet master that pits our heroes against each other.
Alas, not every character is utilized to their full potential here. The destructive Doomsday eventually shows up, but he’s completely wasted in the same vein of Venom in Spider-Man 3. With a bloated running time of two and a half hours, Batman v Superman tries to pack in one too many characters in order to establish the DCEU ASAP. It’s obvious that the studio is doing this because they’ve fallen so far behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If they really want to catch up to the MCU, however, they need to take a step backwards first and give these character some breathing room.
Troubled pacing and length aside, the larger problem with Batman v Superman is that the filmmakers take this material far too seriously. Sure, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy showed us all that superman movies can be dramatic, important, and grounded in reality. In this film, though, Snyder puts so much emphasis on brooding and destruction that it’s hard for the audience to enjoy themselves. This leads to the biggest dilemma with both Dawn of Justice and Man of Steel: they aren’t that much fun.
Snyder definitely knows how to turn in a stellar action sequence. The climax of Batman v Superman is especially exhilarating, even if there are a few things to nitpick. Unlike The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy, though, there’s very little joy or optimism. Granted, Snyder is clearly aiming to give us a more “adult” superhero story, but Batman v Superman often overdoses on those darker elements. At times the film is so dark that it’s more depressing than anything else. Just imagine how grim the R-rated director’s cut will be!
Although the DC Extended Universe continues to show promise with Batman v Superman, it still hasn’t found just the right balance between being dark and fun. What’s so ironic about this is that the DC Television Universe has gotten the superhero formula down to a T. The CW’s Arrow, The Flash, and even Legends of Tomorrow have their fair share of heavy drama, but they’re rounded out with a healthy dosage of lighthearted moments too. The DCEU could certainly learn a thing or two from its small screen counterpart. For now, Batman v Superman is a solid addition to this franchise. If you were hoping that this blockbuster would save the DCEU, though, be prepared to keep waiting for a hero.